Of all the members of GDB, I’m probably the least experienced writer of fiction (although some of the reports I wrote while in Government service would probably strike the average reader as at least a bit fanciful). So, while I’m getting the hang of this writing / editing / publishing thing, for my first post I’ll just list a few of the personal quirks that guide me toward one book and away from others. If you want your manuscript to stand out, at least while I’m reviewing it, please consider the following ideas, arranged by genre.
We’ve got child detectives, female detectives, gay detectives, alien detectives, vampire detectives, detectives in wheelchairs, ghost detectives, and even retro trenchcoat-and-fedora detectives. New types of crimefighters are getting old; what I’d like to see are some new types of CRIMES.
While we’re on this topic, see Father Knox’s Decalogue for the old-school perspective on detective stories. And if you’re feeling all righteously outraged about Rule #5, it means you didn’t comprehend it. Go back and read it again.
Good lovers begin as adversaries. GREAT lovers stay that way. Plot accordingly. Eternal bliss gets boring after a while.
I’m not sure what “gothic” even means. Every “gothic” story I’ve ever read has been just a standard horror story with lots of wrought iron fences and decaying cypress swamps. Be sure you know what’s “gothic” about your story: the setting, the characters, the events, the audience, or you?
Flannery O’Connor is your guide here, not William Faulkner.
I’ve heard terror defined as “the fear that something awful may happen,” and horror as “the realization that it has.” It can’t be all mood and atmosphere; eventually the Big Bad has to show up and start monsterin’. Pro Tip: unless it’s fiendishly smart, any Big Bad that can be killed with a gun isn’t all that scary (I’m looking at you, zombies).
Every boy knows that watching a woman removing her clothes is sexy. What men know is that watching the same woman put her clothes back on is ten times sexier. When you understand why, you’ll be ready to write erotica that appeals to men. (Except the fetishy stuff; the fetishy stuff is all about the visuals.)
One of my English professors said that a good framework for an SF tale is one in which everything is the same as it is now, except for one thing which is noticeably different. The rest of the story evolves naturally from that one difference. This is a good place to start: “How would people behave if _____ were true?”
If I have to read one more 1500-page epic trilogy about a brave-but-flawed young adventuress who teams up with a colorful bunch of rogues to win back her stolen throne, I just might have to rethink this whole First Amendment thing. If your big idea has a hand-drawn map and intricate genealogy chart in the front, test the waters with a few short stories first. (Yes, I have heard of George R.R. Martin.)
A NOTE ON SF vs FANTASY
There’s been a lot of disagreement over what makes a story SF or fantasy. The lazy argument is that SF has ray guns and aliens and physics, while fantasy has swords and elves and magic. I prefer David Brin’s perspective: in SF the protagonists are trying to change things, while in fantasy they’re trying to keep things the same or change them back to something earlier. What are YOUR characters doing?
Sometime in the 90’s, “urban” came to be defined as “for black people.” I prefer a different interpretation: an “urban” story is one in which the setting is so well-developed, the city literally becomes an essential character. How would New York deal with this problem? Los Angeles? Prague? Milan? Liverpool?
In the most effective Westerns, the hero’s deadliest enemy is the landscape itself; all the six-shooters are an afterthought. This is why Westerns can be set in the Old West, under water, the future or outer space. If the outdoors will kill you faster and deader than the bad guys, you might be in a Western.
A good YA tale knows what its readers fear and desire most, and pushes its thumb firmly into those pressure points. Remember that what moves the youngsters is often way different from what moves you. Listen to what they say when they don’t know you’re listening.
More as I think of it. Meanwhile, keep those stories in line, and slide a few of them our way!