Distinguishing Between Fiction Genres

Literary Agencies and Publishers use a plethora of terms to describe different categories of fiction genres. Since they don’t always use the same standard terms, this post will hopefully help clear up any confusion as it pertains to Fiction, Fantasy, and/or Science Fiction genres.

  • Speculative Fiction: A broad term that covers all the fantastical sub-genres of fiction, such as fantasy, science fiction, and horror, etc.
  • Genre Fiction: This includes horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.
  • Fantasy: A fiction novel that fuses fantasy elements into the story. They can be magic, it could be unicorns, it could be Greek gods, etc. Anything that isn’t real that is a part of the story turns it from regular fiction into fantasy.
  • High Fantasy: Contains lots of magic, swords, dragons, elves, etc. Is also usually set in its own world.
  • Low Fantasy: Staged in the medieval era, but many of the classical fantasy elements aren’t present, or are used sparingly. George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is a good example of this.
  • Sword & Sorcery: Same as High Fantasy.
  • Urban Fantasy: This takes the real world of today, and throws fantastical elements into it (such as magic, monsters, etc).
  • Epic Fantasy: Is set in its own world. This is also known as High Fantasy.
  • Steam Punk: In my experience, this has always been in a category of its own. It is a blend of fantasy and technology (of the steam-engine variety).
  • Science Fiction: This usually is set in space, or some time frame in the future. Usually incorporates technology that isn’t invented yet.
  • YA: This is young adult.
  • MG: Middle Grade.
  • Literary Fiction: Used to distinguish serious fiction (that is, work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature)
  • Contemporary Fiction: Includes stories that could happen to people or animals. The characters are made up, but their actions and feelings are similar to those of people we could know. These stories often take place in the present time and portray attitudes and problems of contemporary people
  • Commercial Fiction: Attracts a broad audience and may also fall into any subgenre, like mystery, romance, legal thriller, western, science fiction, and so on

If there are some that I missed, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll continue to add to this list to make it as comprehensive as possible.

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My Short Story is about to be Published!

Myths Inscribed is an online magazine for fantasy fiction only. It was recently created by the wonderful people at MythicScribes.com (a great place to connect with a large community of fantasy writers).

After submitting to them on January 7th, they got back to me on February 16th with the news that they had provisionally accepted my 5,000 word short story, The Ravenous Flock, as long as I agreed to their editing terms. What they proposed is that they wanted to work with me to perform some edits, as well as work with me to decide where to cut the story in half (as they want to publish it in two parts across two issues). If I agreed, no other name other than mine will be on the story; and the story, all revisions included, remain exclusively mine. This extra service that they provide distinguishes their magazine from nearly all others on the market, and is something that they are proud of.

I happily agreed to the terms and I look forward to my first experience with a real editor. I have always thought I knew what they do, but now I will have first hand experience working with one. As Myths Inscribed is a new ezine, they do not offer financial compensation for your work. While this fact is considered “less prestigious” by some (for example, I can’t join SFWA unless I sell a short story for $50 or more), to me, it marks a significant milestone for any author. I have now crossed the threshold from being unpublished to published. My short story was still chosen above others from the “slush pile” all the same, and now it can be added to my author bio. In addition, this publication credit adds extra credibility to my novel.

Since my short story predates the events of my novel and is written in the same world, same style, and contains some of the same characters from my novel, this publication credit should add tremendous value toward getting my novel published. Not only will this help it get published, but once my novel is published, this short story will help sell my novel – and here is how: Per the terms of Myths Inscribed publication policy, after they publish my work, all rights are immediately returned to me, meaning I can do what I wish with my short story. At that point in time, I plan to further self-publish it on Amazon for $0.99. Once my novel is available for purchase, I’ll use my short story as a marketing tool to drive interest toward my novel and will most likely give it away for free at that point to gain readership and a following.

More to come soon as I plan to share my lessons learned with working with the editor!

Creating a Believable Hero

Within the massive umbrella of the fiction genre, many authors choose to tell the tale of the adventures of some incredible hero. That hero could be incredible for many various reasons and is also the perfect person to overcome the conflict at hand, but they don’t always exhibit the fundamental qualities of a leader. Is every hero a leader? No. But does every hero lead?

The crux of that question is what I want to explore here. In a vast majority of fiction novels that involve the protagonist as a “hero”, the hero is always thrust into greatness – despite their initial hesitancy. They either already have the power or are given the power to be triumphant and save the day, but despite all that, they are not a leader by any stretch of the word. Sure, they may have followers throughout the novel, but it is not because of their innate leadership skill; it is because of the power they wield. It is the circumstance of great responsibility that they find themselves in which forces them to do what they think is right (usually after being coerced by peer pressure) despite wishing they weren’t involved at all.

Now, while it is an interesting dynamic to show how a hero has matured as a result of the quest/adventure (such as a coming of age story), the character still only holds Legitimate power, when they should have Referent and/or Expert power to be a successful leader. (More on the 5 different types of power Here). In my opinion, this “regular person as a hero” is a paradox that is found over and over again throughout stories that even date back to myth and legend (of which I wrote about here: The Hero with a 1,000 Faces).

What about the hero that forges his own destiny? That grabs life by the horns? That has worked all his/her life for this one moment? Sadly, we don’t see many stories of heroes like that. In fact, don’t those seem like traits usually found in the villains of our novels? Why does our culture craft stories that reward the unprepared and unmotivated hero, yet thwart the dedicated, scheming villain? I’m not saying the villain should win; I’m saying the roles should be reversed. A hero – that is also a leader – should have prepared his/her whole life for the quest that is laid before them. This hero would have a powerful influence over his/her followers and would likely change the entire dynamic of the story. Instead of a one-in-a-million success story, the reader will be on the edge of a potential tragedy, where the heroes’ entire purpose in life might all be for naught if he/she does not succeed.

Every author should, at the very least, do some minimal amount of research when engrossing themselves into the role of their hero/heroin. I am currently reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell to understand the characteristics that a true leader should exhibit. To name just a few:

  • Unselfishness
  • Vision
  • Influential
  • Willing to Sacrifice
  • Self-Discipline
  • A Planner
  • Respect
  • Intuition

While my first novel depicts a classic coming-of-age story, my second book is going down this path of depicting a main character that is both a leader and a hero. Now, you might be asking, “Should every hero be a leader?” I think that is something that only you can decide.

Staying Focused as an Author

Many authors suffer from the greatness of their creativity, especially fiction writers. They will be in the middle of composing one manuscript that they have been working on for quite some time, and then Poof!, a MUCH more awesome idea pops into their head. They become an immediate slave to their creativity and begin fostering the new idea into something more, causing their first story to begin collecting dust. Worse yet, it most likely happens to them again and again. And in more extreme cases, their brain may be generating so many good ideas that they fail to even start on one. Does any of that sound like you or someone you know? I’ll offer some advice to help you stay focused on your project at hand.

So how does an author like this ever finish anything they’ve started? Well, it’s not easy, but no one ever said being an author was. Completing a manuscript is a long arduous process that requires self-motivation, determination, and focus. While it is possible to keep exploring every idea of your imagination, then you’ll be stuck with writing multiple books at once – which is a less than ideal situation. It’ll become a chore to remember the details and nuances of each of your works-in-progress. It’ll also most certainly degrade the quality of your work. Plus, if you are serious about becoming published, you will already be overwhelmed. One author described the publishing life as, “You will be marketing and promoting book 1, while editing book 2, while writing book 3.” Staying focused and concentrated on one book at a time is key to success. “But I want to have multiple completed manuscripts to increase my chances of getting published,” you say. Well, as someone that has tried multiple business ventures simultaneously in hopes that one gets traction, the reality is that it forces you to spread yourself too thin. Instead of having one great book/idea/business, now you have many crappy ones that don’t go anywhere. Pour all your energy and love into one book and success will follow.

If you are just overflowing with ideas and are having trouble just getting started, this is what I suggest:  Write down all of your ideas in short summary paragraphs. Compare them all to each other. Separate them by judging your own ideas so that you now have your “A-List” ideas and your “B-List”. Grade them using whatever criteria is important to you, for example, maybe one is better than the other simply because it would be more fun to write, or one idea could be made into a series, or perhaps one is more “commercial/salable” then the rest. The choice is up to you, but whether you think writing is an art form and shouldn’t be judged on it’s ability to sell, the bottom line that every author must recognize is that we are entertainers, and as such, we must please our audience. As entertainers, you have decided to choose a life of servitude, to create stories that are designed to captivate the imagination of the masses. And if you don’t judge your ideas that way, literary agents and publishers will. So now, looking at your A-List, most likely you have just honed your creative mind to concentrate around 1 or 2 (3 tops) best ideas. Pick one, then create realistic goals/milestones/deadlines for yourself and post it up all around your desk. Whenever you feel yourself getting distracted, look at your goals – they will keep you on a path toward success.

If you are a person that has no problem getting started on a manuscript, but gets ideas right in the middle of your novel, here’s what I do: I write down every new idea in a single document so they are never forgotten – I call that document my “bag of tricks.” Because I write in the fantasy genre (and because I am writing a series), many things can happen in my world. Whenever I have lost my muse/creativity, sometimes I will dig out an idea from my bag of tricks. It will help me create a scene, introduce a new character, or allows me to insert a minor conflict, etc.

While it seems like the mind can be working against you, you should never stop your mind from conjuring up new ideas. Find a way to work with it, to leverage your creativity while staying focused. You must create your own method or process toward completing your novel. Use my processes above if they seem right for you, but be sure you take steps to manage yourself, to corral your creativity, to focus your efforts. Feel free to offer any suggestions of your own in the comments section below.

The Hero with 1,000 Faces

The video below gives a great synopsis of Joseph Campbell’s book A HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. It’s a very interesting topic that suggests that all heroes in literature all tie back to heroes of ancient myths, claiming that they all journey down the same path. That a hero’s adventure is symbolic of our own life experiences toward conquering a fear. A quick summary of the journey is listed below:

  1. The hero is introduced in his ordinary world
  2. The call to adventure
  3. The hero is reluctant at first
  4. The hero is encouraged by the wise old man/woman
  5. The hero passes the first threshold
  6. The hero encounters tests and helpers
  7. The hero reaches the inner most cave
  8. The hero endures the supreme ordeal
  9. The hero seizes the reward
  10. The road back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the elixir

After watching the video, it is amazing to see the oversimplification of a hero’s journey and how they all relate in that context. This has to do with how we tell stories, which is very similar to Christopher Booker’s analysis of why we tell stories, explained at length in his novel THE 7 BASIC PLOTS, which I’ve talked about here.

So, now that we understand how similar stories of today are compared to stories of ancient myth and legend, let’s take a look at the different type of heroes that exist in our stories. An archetype is a prototype or model from which something is based, a framework of sorts. The character archetypes listed below are derived from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and are deeply rooted in the myths and legends of many cultures.

  1. Hero
  2. Mentor
  3. Threshold Guardian
  4. Herald
  5. Shapeshifter
  6. Shadow
  7. Trickster

In my novel, The Soul Smith, it has been said that Erador is opposite of the ‘reluctant hero’ archetype – that he is eager to go on the adventure. What archetype is your character?

How to Write a Synopsis For Your Novel

Synopsis of Hamlet. This mind map gives a visual display of why it is so difficult to capture everything from a novel within the short length of a synopsis.

In my journey toward seeking representation, I have queried over 50 literary agents, all of which did not require a synopsis as part of the submission. I kept a reserve of ~20 other literary agents that I would submit to if my first round of submissions didn’t go so well. These 20 all require synopsis’s.  Unfortunately for authors, literary agents do not have standardized requests. Some ask for 1 page synopsis’s and others want 2 pages (a rare few even ask for a 3-5 page synopsis), which of course must be submitted along with your Query Letter and/or a sample of your work. While I do have one very promising agency reviewing my manuscript (fingers crossed!), I am preparing for round 2 (just in case) and just completed my synopsis.

SYNOPSIS TIPS & FORMAT:

At the top of the page (left or center) provide this info: Synopsis of “Title”. Genre: ____ Word Count: _____ By: “Your Name” (however, you can put your pen name if you wish).

Since most agents/publishers ask for either a 1 page or a “brief” synopsis, I think it’s best that you craft it to be within 1 page, single spaced. A synopsis is a narrative of your story, written with the same style and sense of excitement and wonder of your novel. Do not simply say, “Here is the main character, and this is what happens to him/her,” you must make the synopsis drool-worthy.

Synopses are always, ALWAYS, written in 3rd person and in the present tense. No exceptions! The synopsis must introduce your main characters. When you do so, you must make their full name in ALL CAPS, but only for the first time you mention their name. This makes it easy for a reader to locate the introduction of a character.

You do not have to detail all your sub-plots or all your characters, but the main story line must come across in your narrative. So it is best to ensure that you have captured all the major scenes and major plot elements and conflicts, and most importantly: The ending. Yes, you must give away your ending. How you conclude your story is especially important to agents and publishers.

PRO TIP #1:

Have a reader that is unfamiliar with your story read your synopsis and give you feedback. It can be difficult for you to be objective about your synopsis since you understand the meaning behind every sentence.

PRO TIP #2:

Think outside the box. You don’t have to write your synopsis in the same order of events as your novel. You can explain things out of order, which can help when you are trying to condense things down to one page.

PRO TIP #3:

Before writing your synopsis, bulletize the main points that you want to write about. This will help keep your novel at a high level and will help prevent you from diving into the details.

PRO TIP #4:

Don’t go down a rabbit hole. Beware of explaining one event/scene that forces you to explain another. Rabbit holes add additional details to your synopsis that only raise more questions than answers.

PRO TIP #5:

Less is more.

PERSONAL OPINION:

Why did I delay writing a synopsis, you ask? Because, summarizing your entire novel into one page is quite possibly the Achilles Heel of every author. Reducing my 100,000 word novel into an ~900 word page is difficult, to say the least. For most novels, there are so many complex sub-plots that hold a lot of weight to the overall story (as shown in the picture above), and not being able to fit them into your synopsis can be torturous.

When I joined NaNoWriMo this year, in order to fill out my profile, it made me write a synopsis of my novel before I even began writing it. I must say that writing the synopsis beforehand helped me identify character motivations that I hadn’t even considered in my outline. It was profound, and it helped me expand on my planning. However, if you were to write a synopsis before hand (which is similar to the Snowflake method of outlining, which I discuss here), you can bet, with a certainty, that you will need to revise it after you finish your novel.

STEPHEN KING’S APPROACH:

In his novel, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King doesn’t touch on writing a synopsis, but what he does talk about is plot – which is what a synopsis is supposed to capture. Steven King’s novels are not born from the conception of a plot, but are based on a single situation instead (I wrote more about it here in my discussion of the 7 basic plots). He is able to reduce his entire novels down to one sentence. It struck me that when writing a novel using this approach, it would probably be a lot more friendly when it’s time to summarize your novel into a synopsis. And even more helpful for the purposes of writing a Query Letter (explained here with additional detail here).

Write a Cover Letter for a Fiction Submission

As of late, I have been revising and submitting my fantasy short story, The Ravenous Flock, to fantasy magazines for publication. However, with every submission comes a cover letter. Usually, the submission page of the particular magazine’s website will tell you what sort of information to include in your cover letter, but 90% of the time they always want prior publication credits (if you have any), and subject matter expertise qualifications (if you have any).

As a side note: If you are having trouble finding magazines to submit to, I recommend going to the Writer’s Association that you want to join (SFWA, RWA, etc) and look at their membership qualifications. They usually have a list of magazines that they consider as qualified publication sources to become a member of that Writer’s Association.

If you are like me and don’t have prior publications (yet), it is hard to develop an impressive cover letter. But, if you are a fantasy writer and studied Medieval History as your emphasis in college, then that is the subject matter expertise that you should definitely include. But if you have neither, writing a cover letter can seem dry. (Also, please see my prior blog about writing an author Bio with no experience here).

When composing the cover letter, the salutation is very important. Always write “Dear [name of Editor in Chief]”. Personalizing the cover letter is critical to help you stand out among their slush pile (much the same way as a personalizing a query letter to an agent). To find the Editor’s name, it can sometimes feel like a treasure hunt. Most of the time, you can find it on the magazine’s website under the “About” page, however, once I had to view a free preview of their magazine to find the Editor’s name. In the event that you cannot find a name, you should resort to using their title: “Dear Editor,”.

Even though it is stating the obvious, it is important to describe your intentions in the body of the letter. In my opinion, it says something about your skill to be able to fit it all into one sentence. For example: Please consider my unpublished 5,000-word original fantasy manuscript, “The Ravenous Flock,” for publication at [name of magazine].

Remember to thank them for their time and for their attention/consideration. Be sure to end with “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” or “Regards” or any other polite sign-off. Always leave your full name, website (if you have one), and contact info such as phone number and email. But as I mentioned before, this is a rather short and dry letter that is all business and no creativity. I’ll leave the creativity up to you, as that can be considered risky. I chose to add humor to my most recent cover letter (below), but I cannot recommend it for everyone.

Dear [name of editor],

Attached, please find my unpublished 5,000-word original fantasy manuscript, “The Ravenous Flock,” for your reading pleasure. Oh! And please consider it for publication at [name of magazine] too.

Respectfully,

-Adrian V. Diglio

But be sure to check out these other sites that helped me craft my cover letter.

  • Underdown.org http://www.underdown.org/covlettr.htm
  • About.com http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/thebusinessofwriting/tp/coverslettershowto.htm
  • Streetdirectory.com http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/16061/writing/writing_a_cover_letter.html