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A coming of Age Story from The Camerons of Tide's Way, available for free on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

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Blogging By the Sea
Tuesday, December 26 2017

     I’ve been writing since high school, but when I got serious about writing a novel, I kept hearing the adage, “write what you know.” Well, at the time I was thoroughly immersed in regency romance. So that was what I tried first. That attempt, in pencil on yellow lined paper (before personal computers) still exists in a file drawer where it will probably still be when I’m gone. Intrigued by the idea of time travel and fascinated by history, I tried that too. Later, based partly on an experience my brother shared about his return from Vietnam and the musical Miss Saigon, the inspiration for my first published work, a mainstream novel came to me. Some of my readers asked if there was going to be a sequel, but I had no idea where I’d go with that possibility so I turned to historical romance, partly because I love history and the research was a lot of fun, especially the field trips, but after a number of rejections, I decided to try contemporary romance just to see if I could. That turned into a four (going on five) book series with Bell Bridge Books, and now I’m embarking on a whole new genre – mystery/police procedural. Some might ask why I hop around so. Most authors find their niche and stick to it. The only answer I have is that my whole life has been about pursuing new experiences and being energized by new challenges. Why wouldn’t my writing follow the same path? Along the way, I’ve learned not just the rewards of trying something new, but also the challenges of switching genres. 

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     So, maybe you’re like me and just want a new challenge. Maybe you’re burnt out on one genre or maybe you just keep getting rejections in the genre you’ve been writing, and you’ve decided it’s time try something new. How do you approaching the new genre, and find your new voice?

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     The first challenge depends on where you are in your career. If you are a successfully published author with a devoted readership, you have to be careful not to disappoint. Consider how a lover of Nicholas Sparks might react to open his latest book and discover a character like Jack Reacher, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Or perhaps a fan of Tom Clancy eagerly opens his newest book and it reads like a Hallmark Christmas movie? A switch this drastic might might mean taking on a new pen name. Nora Roberts did this when she jumped from a very successful romance path to suspense and chose to do so under the name J.D. Robb. Choosing a new pen name can be a wise choice, but along with that comes an entirely new campaign for brand recognition. I haven’t yet met an author who likes the marketing aspect of being a published author so if you don’t have a big house marketing department behind you, this might be a reason to keep the same name and pray your readers still enjoy your books.

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     On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you have written several stories in a genre you’re very familiar with, that were well researched and fit the genre expectations, but you keep getting rejection letters with comments like “Just didn’t grab the reader’s interest, or not inspiring” etc, maybe it’s because you weren’t on fire about the genre or your characters and stories were just writing to the formula. Changing genres might be just what you need to ignite that spark and you’ll discover your niche in a whole new type of story. It can also be a spark if you have been writing and publishing the same genre for years and feel burned out.

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Whatever your reasons, now that you have decided to change genres, there are a few hurdles to get past.

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  1. Knowing and understanding the genre expectations. Hopefully you aren’t attempting a genre you’ve never read before just because it happens to be popular. If it is, I advise you to read, read, read. Read all the currently popular authors in that genre and boil down what you see as a pattern of success. There are also “How To” books by the dozen to give you a start. Understand the expectations of readers in that genre. If you’ve been writing thrillers where the evil boy next door gets away with poisoning the dog, you’ll quickly discover that in a romance, you never kill the pets, or the kids. Going the other way, you’ll just as quickly discover that Mr. Nice Guy, Beta personality, who was a perfectly acceptable hero in a romance will have an uphill battle to hold his own in a world of Alpha people fighting the evil of the world at every level. The local volunteer fireman who rescues kittens from trees and serves up dinners to the homeless on Saturday nights will have to up his game if he’s going to compete against the likes of (Vince Flynn’s) Mitch Rapp.

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  1. Character or plot driven? One genre might depend entirely on action and is plot driven, as a thriller or mystery. In a mystery the plot is set: someone has been killed, the protagonist will follow the clues and the killer revealed. Of course, the characters will influence how this is done, and they should have a character arc as well, but you still need this basic plot-driven framework. While there may be an overall story conflict in a romance the conflict is primarily between the hero and the heroine and much of it internal rather than in action. All books need a story arc and character arcs, but some genres rely more heavily on one than the other. Know and understand this aspect of your new genre.

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  1. Voice. If you’ve successfully written in one genre, you have developed a “voice” for that type of story. Now you have to find your voice all over again for this new genre. Otherwise all your stories will sound as generic as a big-city news-desk anchor who might sound like a New Yorker born and bred or a Midwestern cowboy outside the studio, but once on the air they have the same non-descript diction and pacing. It’s supposed to be professional, I presume, but in your books you want your voice to stand out and be different from everyone else writing in that genre.

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  1. Understanding the pace of your new genre. A thriller, by its very nature is fast-paced, edge of your seat with not a lot of time for introspection. As soon as your hero gets a little comfortable, something bigger and more dangerous is thrown at him until the grand finale when he’s jumped all the tall buildings and saved the world, and lived to tell about it. A main-stream novel is slower. It gives the characters more time to develop for the reader. Like meeting someone new and hitting it off, you spend time with this protagonist as the book unfolds, learning how he or she thinks, what they are afraid of, what makes the laugh and what they want or will settle for. Introspection is a part of this getting to know them. It’s not meant to have you biting your nails to the quick. Mystery can combine a little of both – your protagonist is hunting for a bad guy and you learn more about him or her from the way they handle this investigation and the other aspects of their lives, but what if they are tracking down a serial killer? Suddenly there is some angst to get this job done sooner rather than later, so there’s less introspection and more immediate action, or even frantic, deadline driven action.

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  1. Research: You will, no doubt, end up doing considerable research for settings, careers, and other aspects of your new genre. Thankfully research today is a lot easier to do right from home due to the miracle of the internet, but don’t ignore the options of being there, learning first hand what the “Feel” is for this new area you want to write about. Want to write police procedural: Sign up for a ride-along with your local law enforcement. If you want to write an edgy political drama, why not spend some time following a politician around, wander the halls of the capital, sit in on sessions of congress, or talk to staffers who know a lot about the dirty underworld of politicians and how things work? There are some things we can’t research first hand. It would be a little difficult if you’ve never experienced either the adrenalin rush or sheer terror of combat to write about being in the midst of a firefight, and maybe you shouldn’t try, but if you must, try talking honestly with someone who has been there-done that and is willing to be open with you. My best advice for gaining some experience of this kind of heart-pounding activity would be to “listen” to a well done audio book where the characters are IN such a situation and the writer has pulled you right into the heads of the characters. Close your eyes and let the reader make you part of the action. Let your heart race and feel the sweat trickling down your back. And when the scene is over, if your hands tend to shake and you feel a little dizzy, then the writer did his job and you’ll understand a little better what it might have been like to actually be there. The same is true if you want to write a romance and you’ve never been in love. Not that many adults haven’t at one time or another been in love, but watch a few of those Hallmark movies and pay attention to what’s going on between the hero and heroine and try to imagine yourself in their skin.

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  1. Lastly there are the MAJOR jumps in genre. From short story to novel, or lyrical prose to poetry. From children’s literature to erotic romance. From essays to novellas. I would think you have to really have a very strong urge to make such a leap, but if the urge is there, make the jump. Give it a try and share it with people you trust will give you honest feed-back. You can always go back to what you know if it doesn’t work out, but you’ll never get rid of the itch if you don’t try.

                                               

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 09:00 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, December 16 2017

December’s Round Robin topic is: What makes a character memorable?

To be honest, some of what makes a character memorable is how they happen to resonate with each individual reader. What is memorable to me might not be so memorable to someone else. But there are some things memorable characters all have in common. They are deeply drawn, complex characters with clear and relatable goals and motivations for which they will sacrifice just about anything. They are also flawed, sometimes physically, but more often emotionally or mentally. Currently one of the big draws in romance is billionaires and Navy SEALS. But if that’s all they are, the reader isn’t going to remember them a week later. A billionaire who can have anything he or she wants, commands their empire without conflict and never has to make a sacrifice is a flat, un-endearing character. Admittedly, to become a Navy SEAL a man (or someday a woman) has to sacrifice a lot, but once there, what makes them memorable? Do they have a chest full of medals, but have lost the only person they loved because of the drive to get to the top? Or did they become one of America’s elite, but now they have been injured or are suffering PTSD? How they handle that challenge might make them a memorable character. And that billionaire – what could have happened to him along the way to make him someone you care about? The same is true for action/adventure with larger-than-life operatives who live life on the edge, saving the world, but after you’ve read several authors, the characters begin to blend together. Only characters like Jack Reacher or Mitch Rapp stand out in your mind in the months and years after the book has been read. And again, it’s because they carry wounds they do everything to bury, or have personalities you can’t forget. (Don’t judge Jack Reacher by the movie staring Tom Cruise because much of his character is left out of the movie. In the books he is a very different man.)

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I think conflict is the number one thing that makes any character memorable. If life comes too easy, there’s not a lot to celebrate, but if what they desire most requires sacrifice, loss, delayed gratification, and a ton of hard work to overcome the hurdles in the way, then the character begins to come to life for readers. Another thing that brings a character into vivid color for a reader is his or her flaws, fears, and failures. Peering into their hearts and seeing and feeling the things that crush their souls, or their determination to overcome despite the hurts and fears draws the reader into their lives and makes them care almost as passionately as the character themselves. That’s what makes a character memorable.

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I’ve read literally thousands of books in my lifetime and as much as I enjoyed them while I was reading them, few of the characters have remained with me years later. Those exceptions were not all good guys either. Back when my son was still living at home (longer than I’d like to admit) we were both reading the book, As the Crow Flies by Jeffrey Archer and both of us wanted to strangle Mrs. Trentham who always seemed to be at the bottom of every set-back for our hero. Archer did not make her a two dimensional villain – she had her motivations, love of her son being the strongest. In spite of the fact that we wanted her to fail, you couldn’t help but understand why she did the things she did. Another character I love to hate so many years later that I have trouble recalling the title of the book, was Amber St. Clare from Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber. Amber was not a villain, but like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, she made a lot of bad choices along the way and blew one good chance after another in her single-minded pursuit of an unattainable and unhealthy goal. I spent the entire book waiting for her to make a good decision and nearly threw the book out the window when I got to the last page and she was still the same old Amber. But I never forgot her either.

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One of the heroes I will never forget is Jessie Best from Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess. Jessie was not blessed with great intelligence. He was not wealthy or particularly talented, but he loved one woman against all odds and was always there for her. He battled doubters and detractors and never wavered in his devotion. He knew what he knew and had confidence in his abilities even though he knew he wasn’t very smart. He was an imperfect hero, but a memorable character that has remained in my heart and mind long after all the more perfect heroes have faded into obscurity.

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Long before Starz and Sam Heughan put a face on James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, this hero was the most memorable character in all the books I’ve ever read and still is. In Outlander Jamie starts out young, inexperienced, an outlaw and a man already beaten viciously by his personal nemesis just for trying to defend his sister’s honor, yet he has his guiding principles, courage, determination and honesty, and once he meets Claire Beauchamp, his heart is given irrevocably to her, even when it costs him everything.

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One other character that has always appealed to me wasn’t even a major character. In W.E.B. Griffin’s Brotherhood of War series, Craig W. Lowell starts out as a freshly minted lieutenant at the close of WWII. As the series continues he becomes a captain, then a major and a colonel. He’s handsome, wealthy, charming and can fly anything with wings, but he’s also always making poor choices in his personal life and getting in trouble with the brass. Women have always been his downfall, but when he finally falls in love, it’s with the one woman who could ruin his career forever, yet here he stands fast and manages to end up keeping both. He has his nemesis, an officer who would like to see him cashiered out of the Army, but Lowell is good at his job, and as he gains experience, does some things better than anyone else. In each new book, I eagerly looked for Craig Lowell, because he became my favorite character in spite of everything.

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So why not hop on over to check out what these other authors find most memorable in a character?

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-18Y
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/ 
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 12:01 am   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  Email
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    Skye Taylor
    St Augustine, Florida
    skye@skye-writer.com

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