Author Archives: accordingtohoyt

About accordingtohoyt

I am a novelist with work published in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical "novelized biography". I also write under the names Elise Hyatt and Sarah D'Almeida.

That Which Divides by Christopher Nuttall

That Which Divides  by Christopher Nuttall


A house divided against itself cannot stand.

-Abraham Lincoln

One does not join a community by loudly and obnoxiously demanding entrance.  One joins by sharing the community’s goals and working with others to achieve them.

-Jay Maynard

I was actually planning something along the lines of this essay before the kerfuffle over the Google Memo hit the internet, for reasons I will explain shortly.  And while this essay isn’t primarily about the memo – it has more to do with fandom and diversity in general – it does touch on some very important points.

Last weekend, my wife, son and I attended the Nine Worlds Geekfest in London.  For me, it was a chance to meet up with some of my publishers and friends, as well as buying a considerable number of books.  And I came away from the convention with curiously mixed feelings.

Nine Worlds talked – a lot – about inclusivity and diversity.  And I am all in favour of making conventions as accessible as possible.  A fan in a wheelchair is still a fan and a decently-run convention will make provisions for that fan to attend panels or visit the vendors, insofar as it is reasonably possible.  And yet, I couldn’t help feeling – as I read the anti-harassment policy and studied the ‘chosen pronoun’ badges – that they might have gone a little too far. Indeed, some of their policies struck me as ones that could be easily abused by bad actors.

I was particularly dismayed to note that the ‘bathroom wars’ in the US had spread to London, with the most accessible toilets on the vendor’s floor designated as ‘gender-neutral.’  People were specifically warned not to question people using the toilets, whatever gender they appeared to be.  Fans who wanted to use a specifically male or female toilet had to go up or down a level, something that might have caused problems for disabled fans.  These toilets were not designed to be gender-neutral and the prospects for everything from accidental flashing to outright sexual harassment were evidently not taken into account.  My wife – who comes from a very conservative country – stated that she would not be comfortable using a mixed toilet and I find it hard to believe she was the only one.  Furthermore, it would be difficult for someone who was being sexually harassed to use such a toilet to escape their harasser.  Who has the liability then?

A further oddity was a stall being devoted to a bookseller that specialised in LGBT books aimed at young children, placed in the main vendors hall (while at least one small press and a gaming workshop was placed on the second floor, out of sight).  While I did pick up a copy of Interstellar Cinderella for my niece, I do question the selection of that particular bookseller instead of another SF/Fantasy publisher.  (I actually assumed that the con hadn’t had many applicants from publishers or booksellers, but this was apparently incorrect.)  Why was this bookseller chosen when its links to fandom are very limited?

At this point, I’m sure a few readers are wondering what’s my point.  Indulge me for a moment longer.

The problem with ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ programs – however well-intentioned – is that they call attention to differences, rather than celebrating what we have in common.  I don’t care if the person sitting next to me at a panel is male or female, black or white, straight or gay or bi or transgender or whatever.  It makes no difference to me.  Why should it?  As a fan, I should not discourage anyone from fandom.  Saying ‘you can’t join our club because you’re a [whatever]’ is both cruel and stupid.

But, like it or not, humans draw lines between groups of people.  It’s how we’re wired, like it or not.  And the more people talk about differences between groups of people, the easier it becomes to fall into the trap of dislike, distrust, suspicion and even outright hated.  Worse, as I have discussed earlier, the bad actors in a particular group will be used to characterise the rest of that group.  This is not fair, but it will happen.  Humans are more inclined to remember the bad than the good.

It is neither fair nor right to deny someone the chance to visit a convention or join a club because they are [insert inherent attribute here].  But one might reasonably ask just how far a convention or a club should move away from its base to accommodate them, particularly when doing so runs the risk of alienating older fans.

The Google Memo is neither a screed – despite some media outlets insisting that it is – nor is it particularly well-written.  But it does call attention to a problem within Google – the belief, justified or not, that corporate managers are putting social justice causes ahead of practicality and meritocracy.  The fact that some outlets state that nearly a third of Google’s employees – or at least the ones surveyed – agree with the memo suggests that this is not an uncommon belief.  Indeed, given the simple fact that very few people believe that ‘confidential’ responses remain confidential in a corporate environment, it is quite possible that the total number of employees who agree is actually much higher.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone, after 2016.  Trump’s victory surprised the pollsters because, at least in part, people were reluctant to come out and say they were going to vote for Donald Trump.  The social cost was too high.

And while I cannot prove it, I would bet good money that most of the employees who agreed with the memo work in the ‘hard science’ departments.

Google has, in many ways, the same problem as many other institutions, from the media to the military.  The people who make policy are divorced from the realities of life on the sharp end (or shop floor or whatever.)  Worse, the number of ‘core’ workers is actually quite small, relative to the overall workforce.  The policy-makers can therefore blabber endlessly about diversity and social justice, while the people who do the actual work grow increasingly frustrated because their jobs are being made harder.  A computer doesn’t care if the person writing the program is male or female.  It does care about their code actually running smoothly, once it is uploaded.  And the ‘core’ workers know this because it is their life.

The suspicion that people are hired and promoted for anything but demonstrated competence is poisonous.  If it is not actually true, employees will still act on the assumption that it is true; if it is true, the good employees will not put forward their best because they will believe, rightly, that there’s no hope of rising up the ladder either.  Google may or may not have been within its legal rights to fire the memo-writer, but firing him does not inspire confidence in upper management.  There was not (so far) any solid attempt to prove the memo-writer wrong.  Instead, the writer was punished for daring to offer an opinion that went against the grain.

People – particularly men – respect demonstrated competence.  A person with a solid track record will not inspire too much resentment, regardless of his skin colour (etc, etc), when he is promoted.  But a person who does not do good work – particularly someone who creates extra work for his workmates – will be widely disliked.  And if he gets promoted, it will not be long before the muttering starts or employees start looking for new jobs.  People who know their own worth very well – and people with solid track records do – are not the sort of people who will willingly stick around when they feel disrespected and/or that upper management is intent on ruining its own business.

The average fan, I think, does not care about the ethnic, racial, sexual, religious or whatever makeup of fandom.  Why should he?

But, at the same time, he doesn’t want fandom to change to the point it becomes unrecognisable.  We are not forced to be science-fiction and fantasy fans.  We are fans because we love it!  We want to read books and see movies and chat endlessly about tiny details that baffle outside observers.  We don’t want to be lectured, we don’t want to be told that we’re horrible people, we don’t want to have our faces constantly rubbed in the fact that people who had nothing to do with us were awful, once upon a time, to people who also had nothing to do with us.

We are happy – more than happy – to include people who want to join.  But why would we want people who want to divide and change us?

And why would they want to join?


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Mystery Structure – The Cozy

Before I get into the post proper, I’m going to be gone for three Wednesdays starting next week.  I have a guest post lined up for next week, and will figure out the other two.  Do not be alarmed.  I haven’t forgotten this series, and will resume after I come back.  It’s just that I won’t be here, and connecting might be iffy.

Anyway, back to our series.  So, Cozies are a subtype of mystery, and I sort of get why the glitterati try to avoid the name.  They’re convinced it means “tea cozy” or something equally stupid.

If you divest yourself of that notion, “cozy” fits.

Cozies, a subtype of which is the “Malice Domestic” are murder mysteries that take place in and are solved in a small set of people, often related to each other.  Most of Agatha Christie’s work are cozies, except for what might very well be the worst thrillers in the history of thrillers.

My favorite of Christie’s work is the Hollow, closely followed by The Moving Finger (I WAS Megan from the Moving Finger, as much as one can be a fictional character.)

The crime, which is described in glossed-over terms and where you don’t indulge in exactly what went where usually shatters an otherwise “normal” situation.  IOW, if you didn’t have a crime, that book would be a mainstream slice of life.  (Yes, even the funnier cozies which would be mainstream comedy.)

One of the objections of those who hate cozies and one of the reasons that in the nineties various people, from editors to reviewers to writers of how-to books tried to read the Cozy entirely out of the mystery genre is that they say it’s not logical. No old spinster, no funny little man, no people with no qualifications can solve a crime better than the police.  The police are professionals and have training, and writing these things is pure fantasy.

This is me rolling my eyes.  Someone pointed out that mysteries are morality plays, and the cozies are very much morality plays. What I mean is: it’s fiction.  Yeah, surely, in those medieval stories the babe at the breast didn’t talk, and if it did, it wouldn’t give the right answer.  And of course, in most cases little spinster ladies or smashed up fliers don’t solve the crime before the police.  Or do they?  Do you really know if someone with internal knowledge of the people involved did put the police onto the right track?  How would you know?

Of course you have to sell it.  Why is the police not on the right track?  There are tons of explanations you can deploy, including having all the physical evidence pointing in the wrong direction, or having the people in the group where the crime happens be so close knit and tight lipped that they’re hiding some essential point from the police.  At which point only one of them can solve the crime.

Often in the first books with a ‘detective’ this means he/she is personally and closely involved.  After that, they either become known for doing this or their extended family has really bad luck.  There are the Miss Hart and Miss Hunt mysteries by Celina Grace where one wonders why anyone employs these women as maids.  you know someone is GOING to die.

Be that as it may, the book takes place in a tiny circle, and its plot is usually spiral-form.  You go over the same people again and again, each time with something that happened or was told before forming the crowbar with which the questioner will uncover the next circle of deception.

Dreams are acceptable in pointing you at the solution, but should not GIVE you the solution because fairplay is important in these books.  it is, in fact all about pitting your brains against another “normal person” (the detective.)

The other part of the structure is that there is often a second murder halfway through.  This is so expected, I know I’m halfway through the book when I hit the second murder.  It is often the running suspect up to that time that gets murdered.  Piling on clues (false herrings, of course) against him helps you hide the clues against the real murderer, so that when you have to redirect, the reader has to re examine everything just like the “detective” has to.

How unpleasant can you make the murderer and the murder?  Pretty unpleasant.  The motives can be anything from hiding other murders to far worse stuff.  Then how is it cozy?  Well, you don’t usually dwell on filth that you’re bringing up, just mention it, matter of factly.

So… are these mysteries really depressing?  Oh, heck no.  Yeah, sure, these “normal” people are often terrible, but it is a normal person that solves the murder and returns order to the world, and this is often done to save the innocent (often two people in love) from suspicion.  In the end, good triumphs.

How to have a successful cozy series: have a sympathetic amateur detective and sidekick/s.

Take Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, the books, not the series: she is everyone’s favorite grandmother, and you want to spend more time with her.

If you’re writing about younger “detectives” it’s not bad to have a little “romance” and will she won’t she going on.  It will make people look for the next book.

Must it be murder mystery?  Well, probably not, but some ghouls like me prefer if it is.  It makes the whole thing more important and puts the detective in more “peril.”

Oh, yeah, most mysteries have a “timing clock” that is something that will happen if the murder isnt’ solved.  In cozies this is often the imminent arrest of the wrong person, or of course, the killer striking again.

I think that’s what you need to know, but I confess I’m a little scattered with the impending trip, so I’ll be happy to take your questions.



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What A Mystery

So, in continuing our discussion of genre structure we’ve hit mystery, which is almost as much of a problem as science fiction/fantasy.

I’m not sure why these two genres have moved off so far into different structures, except that for a long time they were very popular and everyone read them. But then why hasn’t romance done that?  And it hasn’t.  Other than certain touch points like one will have explicit blow by blow (eh) sex and the other not the structure of all romances is fairly similar.  (You need a little more scene setting in historical, but that’s about it.)

I don’t know.  All I know is that everything from thrillers to cozies gets shoved under mystery, so we’re going to spend a while going over each of the subgenres.  We’ll have to do the same for sf/f, so bear with me.

So, in this post I’m going to identify various subgenres (and will probably miss some) by their central, most obvious characteristic, then leave the detailed structure to do one by one or two by two in future posts.  I’ll inevitably forget one or two subgenres, so please, people, remind me.

Thriller –

There is a big menace on the loose.  This can be a country or a person.  Someone is seriously endangered by this.  It’s kind of like tracking the hunt from the pov of the deer and hoping the deer wins.

It has sub genres:

Women in Peril, often a romance subgenre.  The woman is the one in peril.  She might or might not be involved with the detective trying to save her.  It might also be a woman detective who has a past of a similar death in her family.  These often end badly, but not when they’re part of romance, obviously.

International espionage – I don’t need to explain this, right?

It can overlap with scientific thriller or police procedural.

This is the structure most often ported outside the genre, like to science fiction, particularly hard science fiction.

Police Procedural

Your main characters are police, and it aims to be “realistic”.  It’s of course not realistic, because reality includes a lot of boring things.  The police are USUALLY the good guys.  Crimes get solved.  Mood is often brutal or dingy.

it has subgenres. They’re not VERY distinct, unlike Thriller’s.

Female police detective – often comes with a lot of psychological thriller elements, in that the vulnerability of the female officer translates to elements of WIP.

Noir – Often historical.

Almost cozy – while the police procedural is there, it backs off that and into the psychological makeup of the police officer.

Technical – think CSI.  this is where we become obsessed about pain transfer and particles in a living room.


The characters and their relationships are more important than the crime.  Or at least that’s how you solve the crime.  Derided by … won’t say idiots… for not being realistic (look, bub, it’s fiction) it’s the most popular type of mystery.  Attempts to eliminate it result in its splitting off into things like craft mysteries.

It has subgenres.  Oh, boy, does it ever:

Romance- First and foremost, it’s often found as a subplot in romance.  It also usually HAS a romance subplot.  Agatha Christie the grandmama of the genre had detectives who tried to  help couples.

Woman in Peril and ALMOST romance – Any of Patricia Wentworth’s books.  The emphasis is more on the mystery/peril than the romance, but it’s a dang close call.

Craft mystery – this is what happened when they tried to stop publishing cozies for being unrealistic (!)  It just became craft mysteries because the “craft knowledge allows the amateur to solve the murder.”  Yeah.  And I have some beach front property in florida.

Profession mystery – Carolyn Hart and her booksellers mysteries is an example, but there’s mysteries with hotels, restaurants and various stores.  I know there were programmer mysteries, at one type, wonder if there still are.

Location mystery – Can’t go on vacation? Want to live with the rich and famous?  Well, there’s Caribbean mysteries, and various college mysteries, and Hollywood mysteries.

Under this perhaps we should slip Historical Mysteries.  They’re a location and a time, and they have a structure of their own.  There is also some wisdom in picking location and time.

Buddy mysteries – dynamic duos can feature in any kind of mystery, but there is a particular kind of cozy people will tell you aren’t cozies, like say Nero Wolf Mysteries.  I mean, the characters are MEN and one even gets in fights.  But if you look at the structure they’re cozies.  This dynamic duo thing even has a structure of its own, both re: the relationship of the two characters, and their roles.  They don’t need to be same sex or buddies.  Agatha Christie used it for Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple.  And I arguably used it for the Musketeer Mysteries, an historical.  All the same, because of the variation of structure called for, it should be covered on its own.

Psychological mysteries – often focus more on the crime than the solution and creates a “certainty” with its psychological “tech” than is normally warranted by a soft science.  I was nonetheless addicted to these as a kid.  Like the Police Procedural, the hard part is seeming “realistic.”

YA Mysteries – can be any of the other types, but the protagonists are children, the crime is rarely a murder, and there’s a certain structure to them.

Mystery short stories – These are a completely different genre, in that just being about a crime is enough.  There need not be a solution.  In such they often become “crime and punishment” (or lack thereof) morality ( or lack thereof) plays.

Mystery adjacent – True crime.  Stories based on true crimes, often owe more to psychological mysteries than acknowledged.





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Romance Structure and genre expectations

So, I’m going to try to do a “this is romance structure” thing.

The idea is to do each of the genres in turn, so you guys understand what makes a romance a romance, what the expected romance structure and tropes are.

Two things to remember: first, structure doesn’t make the genre.  It’s expected in the genre, but it doesn’t define it.  So even if your science fiction has this structure, if the emphasis is on the science fiction/futuristic stuff/how society has changed, it’s not a romance, or even a science-fiction romance.  It’s science fiction with a romantic subplot.  Second, every genre has accepted “shortcuts” that make its story easier to tell and which will seem like total lunacy to someone not willing to be immersed/learn them.  I’ll list this for each genre, but I’m not judging.  These are simply short cuts so common to the genre they’ve become embedded in the genre and might be invisible to the habitual reader.  There’s no point at all if you’re not a regular reader sitting there and judging the genre.  It is what it is, and the fact you see these breaks in logic doesn’t make you smarter, it just makes you not an habitual reader of the genre.

We all know romance structure, right?  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl.  Sure.  But there’s more to it than that.  It’s more soemthing like this:

Girl (most romance is told from the female perspective) meets boy (actually these days they’re usually both in their late twenties, early thirties) and something special happens.  It must be obvious from the first moment that there’s attraction there.

For some reason (possibly having to do with circumstances) girl is afraid of boy/put off by him/thinks he hates her.  Boy might think badly of her or, because of his scars and background, might be afraid to let himself go, to trust her fully.

If this is a contemporary/now normal romance there will nonetheless be sessions of intense making out, complete with sensations that are beyond what the human body is (possibly) capable of feeling.  Depending on the kind of romance…  Well, let’s say that it’s a traditionally published one, where they’ve been pushing more sex-per-emotion lately: the make out sessions can go all the way and beyond.  I mean, my giving a book flying lessons the fastest happened when a writer took a regency virgin from zero to anal sex within the first ten pages of the book.  BUT the decision on how far between romance and erotica you’re willing to go is yours and, if traditional, your editor’s.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  It sort of broke the neck of my disbelief, but I promise you it has a lot of fans.

Anyway, you have the meetings and make out sessions — it’s harder to do if you’re writing a clean/no sex/sweet romance, because you have to convey all that attraction without what my best friend growing up called “rolling the melons”.  You’ll have a lot of significant looks, sparks when their hands meet, etc. — a lot of the meetings will devolve into arguments/sparring/etc, in which the characters think they’re in opposition, but we can see the underlying compatibility.

This is when the secondary plot starts and picks up steam.  Secondary plot? what secondary plot?

Any romance of more than about 10k words has a secondary plot.  I honestly think this is to slow down the internal timing, so that the main character, despite their frightening attraction, has enough time of knowing each other, etc, so that the reader “buys” that they have had enough time to fall in love.

But also the secondary plot supports, builds on, and pushes along the main plot.

It is almost a cliche these days for the secondary plot in a romance to be that the woman is chased/abused/involved in plots by her ex husband.  In regency this might be a guardian or a step brother or something.  The plot can also relate to the man’s past and make him seem more frightening/scarier which keeps them apart.

The plot can be any other genre or sub genre, including mystery or fantasy, or it can be romance, even.

If it’s mystery it should either start pretty close to the beginning or we should have hints where the guy reminds himself he’s here to hunt a murderer and could Ms. so and so, or her husband, father or fiance be the murderer, or the woman has dreams of waking from sleep walking with a corpse at her feet.

For romance, if you’re wondering how romance can be the secondary plot of romance, consider Pride and Prejudice.  The secondary plot that keeps them apart, underlies Mr. Darcy’s supposed perfidy, and makes the reader think all is lost, is Jane’s romance with Mr. Bingley which Mr. Darcy intrudes upon to keep them apart.  In the same way, Whickam’s not quite romance with Lydia is what brings that bit of misdirection to an end as Mr. Darcy’s wholly benevolent behavior in that case makes us realize he really meant everything for the best.  More importantly, it makes Lizzy think so, thereby bringing about the HEA, ie Happily Ever After.  Romance must have a happily ever after.  What if you just had this idea for being really clever and sneaky and they don’t get together in the end?  It’s not clever or sneaky and you’ll straight-up p*ss off fans of romance.

These days if writing a contemporary romance, a wedding might not be sufficient for your readers to think that the characters will stay together, particularly if the characters are already multiple-divorced.  Usually it takes the birth of a child for the HEA to stick.  This or an intimation that they settled down happily, like a real couple, are also needed if you find that your characters are married at the beginning of the romance (usually a marriage by connivance, contrivance or arrangement.  Forced marriage is a recognized sub-genre.)

Things that will seem peculiar if you come from other genres: In romance, narration is often two-voices, but unlike the neat divisions of other genres, it doesn’t happen in sections separated with ***** but sometimes sentence to sentence.  This is a narrative necessity, because if you’re not in both their heads you won’t know that they’re just saying these things because they’re scared or something.

Those of us who come from other genres might NOT be able to do this.  However the fans expect it, and might ding you if you don’t.  OTOH in the hands of a master — Heyer — you won’t even notice she’s “jumping heads.”  And if you read her a lot, to get the feel or whatever, you might find that you’re doing it in your science fiction which will make your editors wonder if you lost your mind.

Things that seem stupid but are short cuts to speed up the story in the genre: the locking of eyes and the “knowing” there’s something special there.  Physical touch that brings out reactions not known to humans not suffering of seizures. The way they keep thinking of each other.

All of these are essential, because if told realistically it would a) be boring and b) take forever to write out.  These short cuts get the plot moving.  No, romance readers don’t think that’s how life works, it’s just that these “contrivances” have become invisible to them.

Something to remember: if you’re running a subplot — and you probably are, if your story has any length at all — the subplot should end before the romance.  Ie. Jane and Mr. Bingley get engaged before Lizzy and Darcy; Lydia and Whickam get married before Lizzy and Darcy; or when it’s a mystery, the mystery gets solved before the characters decide to get married; the thriller plot gets solved, etc.  Your happy ever after is the last thing, that sends the readers off happy.

Homework: read Pride and Prejudice; Georgette Heyer’s Venetia; Madeline Hunter The Seducer.  For bonus points read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca which is usually called a thriller, but which if you analyze closely, both in structure and theme is a romance.




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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?



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Time Dislocation

Sorry guys, one of my colleagues just called to my attention that I was due here.  This shouldn’t have been needed (although alert readers will note my own blog is late this morning.)  The problem is that I swear I thought it was Tuesday.

It’s been a crazy week, not exactly bad (like the week before) just loony, with something interrupting the writing every five minutes, so that I’m a little disoriented.

This morning’s emergency involves tile, which will probably eat the afternoon too.  But a post about genre and structure is coming up.


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Hook them Up and Reel Them IN

Yep, Sarah has been reading from Kul again.

Unlike the crazy people demanding the return of gatekeepers (Return of the Gatekeepers, this time it’s Stultifying) I’m not going to claim KUL or even self published through Kindle is “a tsunami of crap.”

There are things that make me hit my head against the wall, but they were starting to creep into traditional publishing as well, perhaps for other reasons.

My biggest complaint right now is “This is not the genre it’s filed under” and honestly that was happening in traditional publishing as well.  I think, though I can’t promise, the reasons were different.  In traditional publishing it was “we’re going to port in “important literary work” under the label of mystery/fantasy and or science fiction, because we know the minute you read it you’ll like it much more than that bad genre stuff.”  In indie, at least when I talk to the author, it seems to be more of a naive sort of idea.  These are usually actual literary works, so perhaps the authors admired the previous literary works published under cover of genre and THOUGHT they were genre.  Or perhaps they simply wrote this thing (many of them are one-book people) and have no clue what it is and reason like this: there is a couple in the book who fall in love.  Ahah, Romance.  Or, someone is dead and they’re not sure how. Ahah, mystery.  Or, The protagonist has prophetic dreams.  I’m clearly dealing with fantasy.

This is very annoying, because I’ll be halfway through the book, wondering when the couple in love will become prominent, the crime will be investigated, and/or magic will come in.

Yeah, my fault for not reading the blurb carefully, but SERIOUSLY guys, don’t do that.  Genre is a very specific structure/beats/set of expectations (yeah, I can write about it, I think) and if  someone buys a book thus labelled, nine times out of ten they EXPECT those beats.  For some reason if the book is good enough to make me finish it, it makes me even angrier.  And those writers when they chance to write another book, are emphatically off my buy list.

Yes, this is all probably petty, but as a buyer I don’t HAVE to be nice.  There are a dozen other books waiting for me, and the growing irritation that you did NOT represent the book accurately and are robbing me of what I expected makes me annoyed with the book and you.

Which brings me to the other reason I reject indie books/get annoyed at the author: bad hooking.

No, I don’t mean you are walking the street in a defective manner, failing to attract customers.  Geesh.  Though in a way that is EXACTLY what you’re doing.

Yeah, the first level of that hooking is the clothes, and the presentation, or in other words, your cover and blurb.

The problem comes when you’ve dragged me in through your cover and blurb and I find you were not what I expected, or worse, you hold me at bay when I try to get close.

That last is worse because I often can’t even get a chapter in, which means if you’re KUL you will barely get paid.

What do I mean by not letting me in?  Imagine something like this (and it’s hard for me to write this, as I trained myself SO HARD not to do this stuff.)

Izvird was prone.  He slid off at a rustle, and shouted “hallo, in there.”  The slim, dark slave hurried, to find Mdervid standing in her court, glaring at Bridotin.  “Hallo,” he said.  “What goes on here.”  The beautiful queen of the Tiphonar glared.  “I can’t find my pritodin.”

If that sounds clear as mud, it is.  Now you see this a lot in fanfic, and people love some of this stuff (hey, I used to troll fanfics before indie, and sometimes fanfics for series I’d never watched, since I don’t like TV much) and I had to realize the only reason I didn’t get it was because I was not immersed in the series.  In the same way, you see a lot of this in later books in series, which is why so much of this went with force against all, including series by well known and beloved authors, whose early books were no longer in print.  I’d try and try to get into it, but by the end of the first chapter I was thoroughly confused and gave up.

It is very important, EVERYWHERE but particularly later in the series, for you to be ware you’re not writing JUST for yourself.  The point is NOT to put down the story in your head, so much as to communicate with the potential reader.  Writing that way becomes like playing chess against yourself, as you have to turn the board and read as if you didn’t know the story in your head.  It might therefore seem a little insane, but it’s essential.

And once you get used to doing this, it becomes second nature, and makes your writing way more accessible.  It is particularly important at the beginning to make sure the people know what they’re reading (genre cueing) and can visualize the scene clearly.  Later on you can get away with being a little muddled here and there (you shouldn’t be, but we’re all human) but in the beginning you have to firmly hook your reader and make where they are, in whose head they are, what the problem is, and the range of “possible” as clear as you can.

So let’s take that wretched piece of work above, and assume it is fantasy, okay?  Just because it’s easier.

The first thing you should do is not have “words without a referent.” All the names for instance, which are in a particular language without any description attached to them might be admirable, but they don’t give a modern reader any idea of whether the character is human, or three legged, or male or female, or…  Hell, even descriptions like “dark” or “blond” don’t tell you much if the name doesn’t give male or female indications.

So, first a line to indicate genre:

In the Magical city of Tiphon, in a terrace of the royal palace, Izvird, a boy-slave of the queen lies prone upon a broad marble wall, soaking the last rays of the setting sun, unnoticed by his betters.  An unaccustomed rustle of silk brings him fully awake.  He slides off the broad shelf, and stands blinking in the sun-daze.   Then he looks down over the wall in which he’d been laying, and beneath, and shouts “Hallo, in there?”  Since it seemed to him the noise had come from there, he ran down the short steps to the dark, cool space beneath, to find Mdevird, the queen, in her silks and jewels, glaring at the sacred fountain of Britodin.  “Hallo,” Izvird said, in an under tone, not daring to speak to the queen, but letting his wonder out in words.  “What goes on here?”

Mdevird turned anxiety-blind eyes to him and said, “My scrying bowl is gone.  I can’t find my pritodin.”

Not immortal prose, right, and honestly, I normally wouldn’t write anything like this.  (I’m not great on heroic fantasy, and my heart isn’t in it.)  But at least a reader would know what he/she was reading and be able to visualize it.

Yeah, I was once as guilty of this as anyone putting their stuff on KUL and riving me bonkers, but I’d weaned myself of it long before I sent a novel out.  Why?  Mostly because my husband would tell me “the story is mostly in your head hon.”

I’d learned the trick of playing chess on both sides by the time I put things up.

Do I always do it wonderfully?  Hell, no.  Particularly in later books in a series, it is sometimes almost impossible.  BUT I can TRY to do it.  And if I miss first time, I often catch on edits.

All we can ask is that each of us try.  But do try.  There is no point having an absolutely beautiful story and one I’d love to read and keeping it away from my mind, as much as possible.

To hook a reader, first you have to bait the hook, and that first morsel has to be tasty enough.

Now go and put on your literary fishnet stockings and high heels, and start hooking the best you can.



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