Saturday, August 30, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 4 - Determining Themes


We often think of the theme of a piece of fiction as a statement of the story idea. That's not necessarily what we're looking at here. Developing a theme or themes when writing fiction is not the same as developing an elevator speech to succinctly tell someone about your novel. Rather, a theme is what underlies your story idea. For example, your idea may be to tell the story of the relationship of a father and his son. The theme that runs through the story is not that the father and son have a relationship. It's the guilt or forgiveness or whatever emotion or underlying human quality drives that relationship. These aspects of the relationship -- these themes -- illuminate the meaning of it and add depth.

Some authors use opposing themes to enhance their writing. We'll see a good example of this if we examine the themes running through the movie It Could Happen to You with Nicholas Cage, Bridget Fonda, and Rosie Perez. The story is about a husband and wife who win the lottery. His (Nicholas Cage's) theme is generosity. He gives a waitress (Bridget Fonda) a 2 million dollar tip. His wife's (Rosie Perez's) theme is greed. She sues to get all of the money for herself. These themes, together, drive the story. Individually, each theme dictates the actions of the characters.

As a writer, the themes you develop will act much the same as your car's GPS system. They'll keep you on track and show you just where to go with your story. In addition to keeping you on track, the themes will help you determine what is important to your story and what can be left out.

So, before you write your novel, think about what themes you want to express through your story idea. For example, don't write a story about insecurity. Instead, write a story about a character who is insecure. If you create characters who care and who express aspects of the human condition, themes will evolve naturally. Watch for them and capitalize on them.

Once you develop a theme or themes, every aspect of your story will be formed by them. You characters, their actions and reactions, and your plot will be moved forward by your themes. Consequently, your readers will be moved by your story because it will show the depth of the human condition.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Writing Fiction: Session 3 - Choosing a Genre

Choosing a Genre

Before you begin writing fiction, you should determine which genre best fits your story idea. The quickest way to determine this is to check the upper, left-hand corner of the back cover of one of your favorite books. The genre is usually listed there.

In your study of your favorite books, you may have determined the parameters for writing a book of that specific genre. If not, you can obtain submission guidelines and genre specifics by contacting the publishers of your favorite books. Also, many writers for particular genres have formed organizations or associations to help them beat the publishing odds. Choose a local writing group or a national one as a source of valuable writing infomation.

There are sub-genres within many of the fiction genres. It's a good idea before you begin to write your novel, to determine the genre (and subgenre, if appropriate) because many of the publishers of genre fiction have specific guidelines for the books they will publish. For example, many have a limitation on the number of pages or number of words that make up the book. Others have specifications about what the plot can contain. For example, some will not consider a book with too much violence or too much sex; whereas others require a certain amount of violence or sex. It's best to do your homework on these issues to save you time and heartache later.

Here is a list of many of the popular genres and some of the writers' organizations you might find helpful. Where no link is listed, it'd be a good idea to contact the publisher for writers' guidelines before you begin writing.

Possible Genres:

Romance: This is one of the most popular genres. It may or may not surprise you that books in the romance genre make up most of the fiction market. When you think about it, this is not surprising since there is so much diversity within the genre and the writers in this genre are very well organized.

For example, the following are a few of the sub-genres of romance fiction:
  • historical romance
  • contemporary romance
  • Regency romance
  • Christian romance
  • inspriational romance
  • young adult romantic fiction
  • contemporary series or single
  • paranormal romantic fiction
  • romantic suspense

For more information about romance writing, send for the guidelines put out by your favorite publisher or check out information provided by the Romance Writers of America -- the organization of romance writers.

Horror fiction: When you write horror, you conjure up fear in your reader. For that reason, horror can occur in any genre or it can be a genre of its own. The Horror Writers Association will give you a start in understanding this genre.

Science fiction and fantasy: These two genres of fiction are closely related and their organization is combined. It is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

Mystery fiction: This could include cozies, police procedurals, who-done-its, etc. There are two major organizations for this genre. One is Mystery Writers of America and the other is Sisters in Crime.

Children's fiction and young adult fiction: This category includes everything from picture books to fiction for young adults. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is a large national organization for writers in this area. There are many local and regional chapters of this as well.

Christian fiction: The American Christian Fiction Writers is an organization that can provide you with information about writing in this genre.

Westerns: Western Writers of America is an organization of writers of Western fiction.

Historical fiction

Mainstream fiction: This is fiction that doesn't fit into any particular category.

Adventure fiction:




New Age fiction

There may be many more genres. If I've missed one, please let me know. The important point here is to realize that before you start writing your novel it's important to first study the books like the one you want to write and then study the genre. With careful attention to these two things, you'll make the best use of your writing time by being on target from the beginning.