The Right Slot

Okay, so, we’ve been talking about genre, and what genre to allocate your work to, and I realized that some of you are very confused about what defines genre.

I’m going to give you a handy dandy table of reference, and then we’re going to talk about things like structure and feel too.  Some of you seem to think that these “cue” genre and they don’t.  They can help you find the audience and give them the right cookies, or they can make your intended audience scratch their heads and go “uh” but they have nothing to do with the main compartment you place your novel in.

Kris Rusch says genre started as a marketing ploy; a way for booksellers to know where to shelve books, so people who like similar books would find them.  Because of this, at least seven years ago, she thought genre would be irrelevant in an electronic market place.

I don’t always agree with Kris, particularly on careers and trends, but I rarely say what I’m going to say right now: she was wrong.  Completely and irrevocably wrong.  I attribute this to the fact that seven years ago we were all very new to the new e-marketplace, and also possible to the fact that though, like me, she reads across genres, she might read DIFFERENTLY across genres.  I.e. they might be irrelevant to her.  To me, they’re not.

When I’m shopping for a book, I usually have a genre and often a subgenre in mind, as what I “need” right then and there.  And I get very upset when i get the wrong thing.

Think of it as though I eat roast beef and chocolate, I’d be very upset if I bit into my roast and it tasted like chocolate.

Most people are worse than I honestly.  Mystery readers in particular tend to get very upset by unnanounced supernatural in their mystery.  Romance readers are perhaps the most eclectic, but again, unless clearly marked as supernatural romance, some of your readers are going to get VERY upset if your historical romance suddenly and without explanation has wizards or vampires in it.

I have found myself horrified when the answer to an historical mystery was “demons” (because it violated the “this is a puzzle, and logical” mystery rule.)  I’ve returned half read a “mystery” which turned out to biography of Kit Marlowe (and for those who know me, yeah, that is weird, since it was well written and biography of Kit Marlowe is RIGHT up my alley.  But I wanted a mystery.  Etc.


The SUBJECT determines genre.  A non exhaustive list of genres and subgenres and subjects (this is off the top of my head and I’ll miss some.  If you guys want an exhaustive list it will take a long time.)

Fantasy – Anything that is technically impossible in our reality, by our physical rules, including but not limited to supernatural beings, all the creatures of Tolkien, etc.  Often draws on the myths and legends of mankind.

Has subgenres:
High Fantasy – Tolkien-like.  Also often known as heroic fantasy.

Alternate history – usually where magic works, but still related to our world.

Urban fantasy, which might of might not be a subgenre of alternate history.  It’s not just “fantasy in a city.”  Although both F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack and Larry Correia’s monster hunters are technically urban fantasy, as is my Shifter series, it would be more honest to call it “contemporary fantasy.”
Urban fantasy has a structure added to the theme and location, and that often involves a young woman with powers, a love interest on the dark side, etc.  Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Paranormal Romance – Like Urban Fantasy but way more in the romance and sex side.  In fact, it’s more a subgenre of romance, really.

Science Fiction – Deals in the realm of the theoretical possible.  And before you start yammering about FTL being fantasy, pfui.  With a side of pfui.  If you go far enough into the future, you CAN logically posit humans finding a way around that.  Even if we now think of it as impossible.  Think of a caveman looking at an airplane.

Has subgenres:

Hard SF – there goes your FTL.  You pretty much run by the close extrapolation of what we know today.

Space Opera- We make looser with the extrapolation and yes, I can have antigrav wands called brooms, and laser/antigrav (want to fight about it?) guns called burners.  Because. That’s why.
The rest should still make some kind of sense.  Humans still behave like humans.  Laws of economics, etc. still apply.  Laws of physics still apply, or you’d better do your handwavium faster than a fan dancer in a whirlwind.

Time Travel – it involves someone going back in time, or someone changing time, or.  Enough said.

Alternate history- pick a point in history, go differently from there.  There you have it.

There are subgenres to the subgenres, but for now, we’ll leave it at that.

Historical (as a genre)

Usually novels set around a person or even in the past.  Sometimes hard to distinguish from popular non fiction written as a novel.  (Usually the lack of footnotes gives it away.)

Mystery – There is a murder or theft or other crime, and the characters are solving it.

No, you cannot get away with “there is a death/murder” and no one is trying to solve it.  There is a series currently on Amazon calling itself mysteries, which is like this.  I think it was under this heading that someone shoved a biography of Kit Marlowe under mystery.  This is bullshit.  No, seriously.  You can get away with it in short stories, simply because the classical mystery structure works very badly for short stories.  BUT in novels, the crime is at the center of the novel, and it must be solved.

It has genres:

Cozy – think Agatha Christie (no, don’t care her descendants don’t like the term.  Also pfui) – the point of the murder is why it occurred and the relationships of the people around it, NOT the nitty gritty of blood splatter and how the murder happened, physically.

Has subgenre – craft mysteries – which came about when the main publishing houses decided cozies were not really mysteries and they weren’t going to buy them anymore.  Because it was a top down decision and many people still wanted them, cozies made a comeback as “craft mysteries.”  The early ones were (don’t argue, I read them) appallingly written, but now there’s some fun stuff there.  The idea is knowledge of the craft either brings detective in contact with murder or allows him/her to solve murder.

Noir – puts the emphasis on the things that cozy ignores.  Blood, guts, the world is a dark place and the detective is the one man of honor, etc.

Hardboiled – same with more shooting and less fatalism

Procedural – by the book mystery solving, often by police, think CSI.

Historical – Mysteries in the past, often solved by historical figures.

Not really a subgenre, but more of a side-spur – thrillers.  there is someone in peril and the bad guys have to be stopped and the clock is ticking. Usually present day or near future.


Romance has so many subgenres I REALLY am not going to attempt to define them.  Keep in mind two things: not all romances are about the sex.  In fact some don’t have any sex.  Those are published as traditional/clean/sweet romances and have an audience, too.

What you have to remember when writing romance is that while you can have mystery, fantasy or even science fiction as additional “genres” on your romance, you should be concentrating on the ROMANCE.  If you’re paying more attention to the murder or the whatever, you’re not writing romance.  And I don’t care if your characters fall in love.

Erotica- It’s all about the sex.  You can have sex in any of the above, but that doesn’t make it erotica (in fact some of you would be surprised how much sex there is in all other genres.  It’s still not erotica.)  In erotica the sex drives the plot and the plot itself is a thin (and probably transparent veil.)

Now, on structure: I don’t have time to give all the structures for every genre here.  If you’d like me to, I’ll go into it step by step later.

Suffice it to say that Larry Correia in MHI has a classical Urban Fantasy structure, with all the right beats…. disqualified because genre reversed.  BUT if you reverse genres you’ll see it’s classical.

Darkship Thieves has a classical urban fantasy plot, too.  It’s still science fiction/space opera on account of the lack of supernatural, and tons of spaceships and stuff.

So, don’t tell me “there’s no supernatural in my fantasy, but it’s supernatural because of structure/feel.”  Not enough.  It might make your historical read more like fantasy, but it’s not fantasy unless there’s supernatural in it.  And if you publish it as such, you’re going to piss off a  lot of readers.  (Of course, the real middle ages had prophecies and miracles, and if you work those in, it will feel like fantasy.)

This woefully inadequate explanation will have to do.

I realized years ago I started a series on structure, going genre (and subgenre) by subgenre, but then squirrel and I forgot.  Would you like me to resume that?


88 thoughts on “The Right Slot

  1. I realized years ago I started a series on structure, going genre (and subgenre) by subgenre, but then squirrel and I forgot. Would you like me to resume that?
    Yes please!
    As to everything else detailed in here. Very good, and I have used some of those definitions before. Like “High Fantasy”: Magic, wizards, fantastical races (elves, trolls, monsters etc.), epic quests. Regular fantasy: mostly magic and sometimes odd creatures. Low Fantasy; No to minimal magic, only humans, not set in our past or world (i.e. early iron age to medieval type culture). Don’t know if those are great descriptions, what I am working with though.
    Still working on how to define one story I am working with since I seem to be messing with either alt-history, or hard core steampunk (no magic or fantastical stuff involved).

  2. I still grumble about how unfair it is that my science fiction mysteries don’t count as mysteries. But maybe I should be happy, since mystery has all of TWO pro-paying markets for short fiction, while science fiction has at least five for these lengths, plus occasional anthologies.

    But boy, I’d like to sell one of these to Ellery Queen!

    1. A forgotten genre that no one reads any more, at least if you believe trad pub. Baen and indie on the other hand…

      1. “No one goes to that section of the book store any more. It’s too crowded.”

  3. I think the line on erotica is hard for me to grok. Reading your definition if sexual mores and desires drive the characters in their relationship if the main plot isn’t about getting some I would guess it is not errotica.

    1. I tend to think of Laurell K. Hamilton’s books as urban fantasy short stories padded out to book length with large helpings of erotica.
      Now the line between erotica and full out porn is getting harder and harder to determine these days.

      1. I liked her first few Anita Blake books. Sure, she was a girl, but otherwise it was like reading Robert B. Parker with vampires. Lots of fun. I think everyone at the local range had read at least the first two. Heck, she credited Massad Ayoob for help with gun stuff. What’s not to like?

        The later ones degenerated into really bad porn, which is hard to do, except once the books became Tolstoy-length and one hour of Anita-time took a hundred pages to explain in tedious detail, it’s hard to work up much interest. When you wish the characters would just hurry up already so the plot can crawl forward another inch on its bloody fingernails, that’s bad porn…

        I’m guessing she pandered to the most vocal of her fans, which was probably a sound career decision, but I gave up on the series long ago.

    2. Romance is about the relationship. Erotica is more about the act than the romance. Very much more. Porn is all about the act with only a flimsy plot or none at all.

      1. Umberto Ecco had a humorous essay about pron. He said that in Italy, if more than a certain percentage of the film’s duration was sex scenes, it was deemed to be porn. So characters spent long periods of time driving to assignations and being filmed. Thus, if you are watching an Italian movie and it seems as if all they do is drive around, then leap into bed? Porn.

        1. Was honestly thinking about some books from my misspent youth. They were clearly porn. Even the titles would cross over into X-Rated territory. Erotica . . . well, I’ve only read one book in that category. Bought it from a bargain bin thinking it was an SF or historical novel. It wasn’t. It did have a plot, but we’re talking explicit here. Yet it didn’t hold a candle to those porno books.

          Since I don’t read such now, and have no intentions of writing such, I don’t worry about boundary conditions. Yet when does a romance become erotica? When does erotica become porn? Something to consider if someone has a “romance” that pushes the erotica/porn boundary.

      2. Hmmm…this could be important if I finish Queen Takes Knight in terms of picking the genre to emphasize: mystery or sex and now apparently romance.

  4. Yes please.

    😉 Although I’ll personally contend that most Space Opera should be classified under Fantasy.

    1. I also would like a structure post.

      As for space opera and fantasy, to me space opera is a child of my favorite genre: science fantasy. Witch World, Dying Earth, CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine series, the Valerian and Laureline anime — I consider those to be science fantasies. If flying cars and wizards coexist it’s likely science fantasy. I used to see that label on the spine of books (probably Piers Anthony’s but my memory is hazy).

      The other child of science fantasy would be planetary romance, which I don’t see enough of. Dune, Barsoom, Enchantress of Venus, that sort of thing; if an adventure on another world has both swords and rayguns it’s likely a planetary romance.

      1. No. Space Opera — James White, to an extent Robert A. Heinlein — were here LONG before science fantasy, which, btw — and not being mean, it’s just a taste thing — I HEARTILY despise with a burning hatred.

        1. A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs were making the big science fantasy bucks when Heinlein was a wee child.

          And everybody rips off Burroughs and Merritt. Often at forty removes, but they do.

        2. Anthony should have stuck to pure fantasy – I actually did enjoy many of those books. His “science” was laughable.

          I agree with you that just about everything labeled “science fantasy” is pretty much dreck. Now, OTOH, I do enjoy many books that are “fantasy science”; i.e., where the author has carefully worked out a consistent framework for their fantastic elements (magic, elves, shapeshifting, whatever).

      2. Back to this core point: “Kris Rusch says genre started as a marketing ploy; a way for booksellers to know where to shelve books, so people who like similar books would find them.”

        What scientifiction and fantasic tales were like in the pulp era is a lovely discussion for historians and fans of the field, and worthless for indie authors looking at selling books in the current market. As a general rule of thumb for marketing in 2017, (and yes, there are plenty of exceptions. Still a rule of thumb!) fantasy offers an escape into an imagined world, while science fiction offers a way to explore “if this goes on” in a setting that strips it of currently emotionally charged baggage.

        Which is why we get women reading about the wise-cracking heroine full of waif-fu with the pretty clothes and the pick of men (usually in a love triangle)… oh, add werewolves, and call it urban fantasy or paranormal romance. It’s an escape.

        Or, the entertaining adventures of a the only wizard to advertise in the yellow pages, and his skull sidekick named Bob… Or the utterly engrossing epic of nasty nobles doing nasty things to each other, and there just might be planetwide winter and dragons coming…

        And on the science fiction side we get the American revolution vs. the French Revolution, and the critical difference in very similar philosophy that led to freedom for all vs. a revolution that ate its own, and everyone else. Set in Seacities, with burners and brooms, and cloning, and explosions.

        Or, What if a sentient race evolved on the surface of a star? What would they be like? Could we even recognize them? (Dragon’s Egg, by Robert L Forward.)

        So, here’s the crux on which science fantasy finds itself skewered: scifi and fantasy are split because the audiences these days are split, and are generally wanting two different things. Game of Thrones readers don’t want Redliners, even though both involve violent people doing violent things.

        They do, according to their also-boughts, want Redwall, and “The Last Days of Night” (a historical thriller with lots of intrigue), The Dark Tower, and The Name of The Wind.

        Therefore, something that promises to hit both genres is extremely unlikely to actually give both readers what they’re looking for. If you want it to sell, you’ve got to pick which genre it will best satisfy, and market it there. Andre Norton’s Witch World is being marketed as a fantasy, because it hits the “escape to another world, have adventure” notes fantasy is looking for. Same with CJ Cherryh’s Morgaine – and if you check the also-boughts, you’ll see once they get past other work by the same author, they’re heavily fantasy, proving that is the genre with the readers who most enjoy the work.

        Wen Spencer’s Alien Taste, which is an urban fastasy with aliens instead of werewolves, is under scifi /alien invastion and mystery/PI. It can get away with the second because the crimes are solved (very important to mystery readers), but it suffers from being in the scifi instead of urban fantasy… because that’s not where the readers who would best love it can find it.

        (Then again, that’s Wen Spencer. Given fantasies like A Brother’s Price and Ten Million Gods, I’m starting to suspect she’s congenitally unable to stick within the confines of a current genre. Brilliant author, hard to market.)

        1. To be clear, marketing wise I agree that you’d have to put Morgaine and Simon Tregarth’s adventures in the fantasy bucket nowadays. My comment wasn’t with respect to marketing, only to “what genre is it.” As a reader I know I’d have to use keywords to find more stories where a member of the science bureau’s away team can be mistaken for an evil witch.

          Agreed that science fantasy as a genre in and of itself isn’t a thing anymore, particularly given the belief some have that “engineering fiction” (to borrow Writing Observer’s term) is the only true science fiction. With FTL being condemned as magic to a significant portion of the audience it would make sense to put fiction where you “use the Force” in the fantasy bucket, or at least call it space opera if there are space ships. That’s not a problem; and fantasy readers seem a bit more flexible about that sort of thing, as demonstrated by the the also-boughts you mention.

        2. Okay, this gets into structure, and I’m confused. Alien Taste wouldn’t be fantasy, and I don’t deny it wouldn’t appeal to those into Urban Fantasy. But there’s the Men in Black films that are SF, and the premise for Alien Taste sounds like it would appeal to those who like MiB yarns.

          I’m confused, not arguing.

        3. And I suppose the active writers in here are more likely than I, as just a reader, to understand how works need to be marketed, and genres kept distinct for commercial purposes.

          But the field, and the readers, are poorer for it. Because so many of the stories in the past crossed those genre lines, and are well worth reading today.

          Lord of Light is clearly SF — with the the Hindu pantheon. Anne McCaffrey’s dragons are SF, as established by the author (although it might not have seemed that way, from the first stories in the series, where it might well have been thought to be fantasy, since dragons usually are). Heinlein’s “Magic, Incorporated” is a hardboiled fantasy. Poul Anderson’s, “The Martian Crown Jewels” is an SF mystery (and one of the best SHerlock Holmes stories that Conan Doyle didn’t write). Fred Brown’s The Mind Thing is a horror SF mystery.


          Tell me a good story, with interesting characters doing interesting things in interesting places, and I’ll buy it. That’s all I ask from an author, to get my beer money.

          1. Oh, like the Book of Ptah Lord of Light falls under ‘bringing the gods to science fiction.” The others can fall the same way. It’s the “I’m in the middle of a space opera and SUDDENLY ELVES” with no explanation that I abandon.

            1. The first time I read Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, I thought it was SUDDENLY ELVES and was a bit confused. On a re-read, I saw that she had, in fact, laid the groundwork so thoroughly that when I lent it to a friend of mine who was a Shakespearean nut (and had created a whole semi-improv show about it called Shakespeare On Request where she did at least one scene from every show in the canon*) she figured out a critical plot point so early that the writer of the piece was astonished when I related it in a comment thread.

              *”Including The Two Noble Kinsmen, because I’m hardcore.” She also had a fascinating choice where you could merge two “Night” monologues, one from Juliet and one from Lady Macbeth.

    2. The Kurthurian Gambit books really mess with this, too: Vampires and Werewolves are alien experiments gone wrong. Science Fantasy seems like a good label.

      I think the most important thing is to be clear. File it in Sci Fi and make sure the blurb mentions vampires. File it in Fantasy and make sure the blurb mentions aliens.

      Filing it under Mystery and making sure the blurb mentions biography seems intended to mislead.

  5. But I love your burners and brooms. Without them whatever would I constantly tease you about?

  6. “Think of it as though I eat roast beef and chocolate, I’d be very upset if I bit into my roast and it tasted like chocolate.”

    Just to be impertinent, I once saw a contestant on Iron Chef dust beef with cocoa powder before cooking it. I tried it at home and it worked quite well.

    1. Molé sauce with bitter chocolate in it. On enchiladas. Dang, I miss that restaurant – the cook retired and the family closed the place.

    2. Ah, but that still tastes like beef, with a hint of chocolate. But if it tasted like chocolate, with a hint of beef? Well, it might be good if you were expecting it, but not otherwise.

      Perhaps a better analogy would be expecting iced tea and getting iced whiskey.

      1. Or bacon-chocolate, and chocolate-covered-bacon. Do you want bacon with something added, or chocolate with bacon bits? (I’ve tried both and my choice would be “none of the above.”)

        1. I have yet to try chocolate with bacon bits, but I though that the bacon half-covered (they simply dipped it sideways with their fingers) with dark chocolate was wonderful.

  7. > I’d be very upset if I bit into my roast and it tasted like chocolate.

    Back in the early 1990s I quit reading new SF for twenty years, because every time I thought I was going to bite into beef I got lemon instead.

    1. That is when I shifted from SF to mystery, especially PI, and it wasn’t until indie that I came back (with a few exceptions although one of those exceptions fired me as a reader over Sad Puppies).

      1. Same here. I wonder how many people did same. by mid 2000s I abandoned mystery for history for same reason. By time indie hit, I was reduced to romance, and then that started going too….

        1. I didn’t abandon mystery for history but other non-fiction so a similar pattern. Also, it was more disappearance of midlisters whose back catalog disappeared. I continued on back catalogs in SF/F/Mystery after.

          Actually, it wasn’t just midlisters whose back catalog disappeared…see how much Lawrence Block was available new in bookstores by 2006.

          I have only recently tried romance and…I’m not embarrassed to admit how much I’ve enjoyed it (I have long copped to having the largest collection of romcoms owned by any straight man in America) but I am surprised.

          If you want to write I cannot imagine anything better than reading very popular romance authors. The first romance I read, Janet Daily’s Christmas on My Mind, was the most compelling page turner I’ve read in a long time. The ones I have read since that I finished are similarly compelling.

          I think romance, done competently, pushes some key emotional buttons that engage readers and we can all learn from them.

      2. Same here. I didn’t start reading post-1990 SF until a few years ago, and most of that is fairly recent stuff. There’s a 20-odd-year dead zone where almost nothing was published that I had any interest in reading.

        1. I didn’t go dry for quite that long. Michael Flynn and Firestar gathered me back in.

        2. I wouldn’t say there was nothing…the first few Coyote books by Steele are long term favorites…only when the “Earth is running out of resources and the asteroids/other planets/moons” can’t make up for it became a central element did one stop me from finishing.

          What is odd is it isn’t that the earlier ones weren’t political. The US has become a progressive wet dream Jesse Helms right-wing dystopia in the first one an that didn’t stop me. Perhaps that is because it was a libertarian plot to steal the first starship, thus showing more of a dark and light side of the American right than an “evil America overcome by right thinking leftists”.

          Where it broke down was when he just couldn’t sell it and it broke my ability to immerse.

  8. I always liked David Lubar’s definition for Magic Realism: “Might just be a trendy, oxymoronic term for contemporary fantasy, but let me go ask the angel who lives in my closet whether he has any thoughts on the matter.”

      1. Or “What Ray Bradbury did for years and years before it had a label.”

          1. …I didn’t say he wasn’t. I meant more in that he had a knack pulling off more than a few stories wherein something fantastical inexplicably exists in a world that otherwise seems mundane. Whether it be an unseen inhuman siren and a woman in a battle of wills over a husband on a beach visit or mail order mushrooms that are somehow quite sinister. Or even an empty, mysteriously hungry attic. There were many stories where he established no rules or offered no explanation, but it still worked.

  9. Huh. I thought Tolkien was High Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy was more Robert E. Howard.

    1. Heroic fantasy is an adventure sibling of hard-boiled mystery, except for fantasy and swords and stuff. You hunt monsters and evil mages and gods, and sometimes you even get paid.

      1. So it sounds to me like Heroic Fantasy is classic D&D, and High Fantasy is a high level campaign where you get into politics and leading armies and such? 🙂

        If LotR was JUST the quest to destroy the Ring, would that just be Heroic Fantasy?

        1. Nope. Wrong kind of heroes. Heroic Fantasy has noir elements, as mentioned above. The prequel–THE DEEDS OF STRIDER? That might work…

  10. I have noted the phrase “Pfui. With a side of pfui.” Specifically for use on those people who hammer on anything involving FTL travel. (Which people are actually just not reading enough in modern theoretical physics, IMHO.)

    What is commonly called “Hard Science Fiction,” I call “Engineering Fiction.” Throw enough money at the engineers of Boeing, or LockMart, or Genentech, and they will make that world so. There is a place for that kind of fiction, don’t take me wrong – but it is not “science” fiction.

    Rant off…

    1. There are a few of Nearly Famous Authors who get their freak on whenever anyone mentions FTL.

      “I have decided such a thing will never be possible, therefore any book that uses it is not science fiction; it’s just magic, so they should call it fantasy.” Spit and odd flecks of foam optional.

      Oddly, one of them goes foamy about FTL, but insists magic, alternate universes, interdimensional gates, and teleportation are Real SF.


    2. The problem with excluding FTL from Hard SF is that you thereby exclude Hal Clement from the genre. Which is indicates something is wrong with the definition.

      1. Well, you wind up excluding almost everyone. Niven and Clement, Simak, Heinlein, Vance, Norton, Laumer, van Vogt, Zelazny, Biggle, Brackett, de Camp, Piper…

        It seems when people go extremist, the next step is to draw a circle in the sand and declare everyone outside to be outcaste. “Only we have the One Truth!”

        1. The most useful definition of Hard SF I’ve read was that if the author had to solve an equation to write it, it’s Hard SF.

  11. I am surprised that Sarah does not mention her own “Daring Finds” series – perfect examples for the “craft mystery” subgenre.

    BTW, get them, read them. I am not a mystery kind of reader – but these are gems. (Okay, I am a woodworker though not a refinisher, so perhaps they spoke to me a bit more than they would to others. But if you can get through the first two pages with a straight face, you need to find the surgeon that removed your sense of humor and kill him…)

  12. Space Opera- We make looser with the extrapolation and yes, I can have antigrav wands called brooms, and laser/antigrav (want to fight about it?) guns called burners. Because. That’s why.

    *giggle* I remember a friend of mine showing his Star Wars: The Old Republic base, and there was a droid there … sweeping the floor with a laser broom. The stuff it was sweeping was swept aside, not burned up. That was the only thing there that broke my suspension of disbelief.

    Interesting on the ‘rules’ for genre and such. I got The Art of Elfquest recently, and one of the first little things is an anecdote from Wendy Pini about her meeting Marion Zimmer Bradley. Bradley walked up to her at one of the World Science Fiction Conventions and said “You’re Wendi Pini, aren’t you?” When Wendy said yes, Bradley said “Elves do not have cleavage.” “Those were her first words to me. I really pissed her off with my … elves.”

    Curious though: what about a setting where magic and science exist, along with magitek? What would that be called? Other than ‘manga setting.’

    1. I used to read every Elfquest I could find in my local library. It was hard to keep track of the story since I was limited to what the library had in stock and I couldn’t find things in order, but that comic had a sense of wonder about it that drew me in.

      … And I just googled it, and found Huzzah! They’ve put “every EQ tale published before 2014” up on the Web for anyone to read for free. I can finally go back and actually understand the story now.

      Thank you for mentioning Elfquest. I had been running out of good webcomics to read, and now I have another backlog to go through thanks to you. 🙂

      1. I once was able to get all the volumes up to Kings of the Broken Wheel, long ago. My income? picking up soda cans for recycling. This was during the few months we stayed with relatives in the US while Dad got things set up back in the Philippines.

        I rather miss the ability to do that; I’d have to move to South Australia in order to do so again.

    2. And for the record, Bradley is wrong. The very existence of half-elves means that elves and humans must be genetically compatible, including the ability to breastfeed the babies. Therefore, cleavage must also exist if half-elves exist.

      Even Tolkien, who kept any sexual activity in his books completely off-screen, and is extremely restrained in his description of his female characters (Lúthien is called “the most beautiful of all the Children of Ulúvatar” and the colors of her clothing, hair and eyes are mentioned, but no other details are given), had canonical half-elves in his world. So although it would not be in keeping with the spirit of Tolkien’s works to go into any details, clearly Tolkien’s elves, too, could be desirable enough to humans (and vice-versa) to have children with them.

      1. Not necessarily. Cleavage is not necessary for nursing, as far as I know. Prominent breasts don’t seem to be a big thing (sorry) in even the other primates. But I take your point.

        1. Well, the other argument, that I didn’t advance because it’s slightly more “earthy”, is that if elven women didn’t have cleavage, then there wouldn’t ever be very many half-elves born in the first place.

          Though I can also think of a good counterpoint to that argument, if most of the half-elves in the setting are the children of elven men with human woman. In which case the argument would go that the elven women tend to lack certain… endowments that human women have in much more abundance. And once the elves encountered humans, suddenly elven women were finding it much harder to find husbands.

          But that would be a specific setting, not necessarily a generality. And the best argument has always been that in general, elves tend to look like “humans, but better-looking”. (And in most settings that aren’t Tolkien, also with pointy ears — though it’s notable that Tolkien never described his elves as having pointy ears). In which case since prominent breasts are something that human men find attractive, if your elves are “human but better-looking” in appearance, their women would (by necessity) also have that feature as well.

          Which is why, ultimately, MZB’s reaction says more about her than about the popular conception of elves, as GWB points out below.

          1. … though it’s notable that Tolkien never described his elves as having pointy ears …

            I need to correct the record, since I just found out that this is, in fact, false. Tolkien never describes elven ears in the actual text of the Silmarillion or LOTR, that much is true. But Tolkien did write a letter to his publisher in which he described Hobbit ears as “only slightly pointed and ‘elvish’.” And in his linguistic notes in the Etymologies, he mentions how the Elvish word for “listen” has the same root as the word for “leaf”, and explains, “The Quendian ears were more pointed and leaf-shaped …”

            So in fact, everyone who portrays Tolkien’s elves as having pointed ears is actually getting it right, contrary to what I had previously thought. Huh.

          2. “In which case since prominent breasts are something that human men find attractive, if your elves are “human but better-looking” in appearance, their women would (by necessity) also have that feature as well.”

            (Waggles hand) That makes sense up to a point, but as mentioned, having your elves mostly resemble underwear models is more about you than the popular conception of elves. Most people, come down to it, envision elves as being built like runners–lean muscle and, in the case of the women, breasts that are obviously there but are…proportional, rather than 36-24-36.

          3. I did deduce the other argument, but since I at least half-agreed I didn’t bring it up. 🙂

            As 60guilders points out, “willowy, but proportional” might also work–from the exotic angle if nothing else. And that could go both ways–“The Elfin Knight” could be as fascinated with top-heavy mortals as the Rhymer was with the Elfin queen. (And vice versa, of course–those chunky mortal males are so much more…substantial…)

            Lots of room for interpretation.

    3. Only someone who believes androgyny is beautiful would believe elves don’t have cleavage. Sheesh.

      I’ve seen a couple of books where both magic and science exist (besides Correia’s fantastic Grimnoir series). It seems they usually have one decreasing and the other increasing. Or different realms. Not sure what to call it.

      1. That, or is sexually attracted to children, like Bradley was.

        Doc Mauser and TLKnighton and I had an… encounter with the mindset before, where the example individual got upset at the sexuality of an illustration (massive boobs, cleavage, loins and crotches), then would retort that the same weren’t ‘sexualized.’ Which, as the good Doc eventually concluded, erased most feminine and masculine features of attraction except for androgyny and children. Considering that crowd though, I’m starting to think that it’s a feature, not a bug.

        1. Mmmmmmm. Not quite–especially about the kids. I’m not willing to go with “they’re all secretly pedophiles” without a bit more proof than that–it seems a bit too much like the claims that supporting a policy with disparate impact makes you racist.
          However, the androgyny is a distinct possibility, considering the degree to which these people seem determined to treat men and women as being exactly the same aside from the plumbing.

          1. If GWB and Shadowdancer were generalizing, I would agree with you. But I think that both of them were talking about the specific case of Marion Zimmer Bradley, not a generalization. And in the case of MZB, there is proof — the testimony of her daugher, Moira Greyland.

            1. It’s the “that crowd” that made me think she was generalizing a bit. but MZB’s case–yeah, she was definitely a pedophile.

  13. Okay, stupid (or at least ignorant) question here… I’m not an author, but come here because I find the topics (and people) interesting…

    I’ve seen “beats” referred to a few times. At first I thought it referred to pacing, but context makes me think it’s something more. Can someone give me a brief definition of what it means in writing?

    1. I’m going to guess from context just to see if I get it right. It’s called “beats” because it is analogous to beats/meter in poetry. It the expectation of how the plot moves from point to point.

      For example, the beat of Castle (the TV show) is “first person brought in is never guilty” followed by “tangential critical clue” followed by “we got the bad guy” ending with “sappy moment”. The “tangential critical clue” is usually the result of witty banter with either the guys or Castle’s family.

      The “saving the bad boy” romances start with the two arguing, then reconciling their different personalities (“argue” becomes “banter”), then they get together romantically, then there is an obstacle to them actually having sex. Said obstacle is overcome and sex. Finis.

      IIRC, this is actually written down somewhere for various types of movies, which is why so many seem to be the same – it’s adhered to a bit too strictly.

  14. The rest should still make some kind of sense.
    Well, this is true of all writing. Consistency in your world is important – and that’s beyond plot. It might be true that most folks will not notice your 747 in a 1950s setting, or that you get intersecting streets wrong in Chicago (yes, they will notice if you screw up NYC). But if you do that a bunch, or you choose an anachronism that is plainly so, or you contradict yourself, it will be tougher for your audience to immerse themselves.

  15. re: “genre would be irrelevant in an electronic market place” and ff.

    If there were sufficient keywords to be able to search or perhaps if the sub-genre’s were detailed enough, I think she would have been right. One of the big frustrations i have is not being able to filter out the stuff i don’t even want to see (I’m really tired of vampires, were-things, and elves, maybe because I find the writing in most of those is not particularly good and, yes, I know “90% of everything is crap”). I’d really like to be able to do a real SQL (or even google advanced) search where i can say the equivalent of “leave out the XXXXX”. OTOH, maybe i’ve just been too lazy to figure out how to do that

  16. I know I’m the person being yelled at for saying I have fantasy without the supernatural. 😀 The problem is, the sub-genre called “medieval romance” (which is not “romance” as it’s defined today, but more like “how do we entertain Eleanor of Aquitaine today?”) simply does not exist as a publishing genre at all. You have King Arthur tales, they’re put in fantasy, even if they’re not the ones with Merlin or the Green Knight. You have Robin Hood tales, they’re put in fantasy, even though they’re entirely without magic or a magical world of any sort. Cynthia Voight writes a book called Jackaroo that has no magic or supernatural setting, and yet it’s put in fantasy.

    So I have a medieval-inspired world with a defined religion, and beliefs in the supernatural (without any proof or denial thereof), and a world that is not any flavor of Earth, though it rhymes. People who read fantasy say it feels like fantasy. If I call it “medieval romance,” the romance folk are going to get on my butt and be upset because they’ll misunderstand the term. How else am I supposed to market it?

      1. Maybe. But the problem is the elevator pitch. If you spend a lot of time having to explain what your genre is, you’ve already lost them. If I say, “Fantasy, no magic,” people get it instantly. (The fact that my writing style maps most closely to writers of YA fantasy doesn’t hurt either.)

        Basically, it feels like the source material for a fairytale, or at least that was the goal. The sort of thing that people would get hold of later and insert all sorts of magic.

        1. I should probably note that I’m published through a small press that specifically looks for cross-genre or otherwise hard to categorize works. The attitude is sort of “let’s scoop up all the good stories that get ignored elsewhere because nobody knows what to do with them.”

  17. Here’s a question: if the Elves, Dwarves, and Ogres are in fact arriving from or discovered on different planets, is it SF or Fantasy?

    And an answer: Mystery, obviously, because we STILL don’t know how the Dwarf Bard’s phaser went off in the crowded banqueting hall and decapitated the High Priest of the Elven delegation. Most of the evidence says Martian saboteurs…

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