The Token Guy’s Two Cents, by John Robinson

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.)


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!



Filed under Uncategorized

9 responses to “The Token Guy’s Two Cents, by John Robinson

  1. John, I enjoyed reading your blog. You did a great job defining the different genres. I especially appreciated how you defined SF versus fantasy. Many writers confuse the two.


  2. Ditto what Pam said! Leave it to a man put things in perspective! Great first blog!


  3. John,
    Awesome post, you have a wonderful way with words. I knew that the moment I read your short story in Carousel Deja Vu. Thanks for sharing your guidlines for the genre.


  4. Melissa Klein

    Wonderful post. I especially enjoyed your take on love scenes under the Erotica genre. I recently wrote one similar to what you described, so I’m glad to know I was in the ballpark on the male POV. Although, I am blessed with many wonderful guys in my life, nothing is guaranteed to clear a room quicker than for me to ask for their input on writing love scenes from the guy’s perspective. Perhaps you might consider offering your take on the romance genre again.


  5. John,
    Amazing post. Your perception of the genres is dead-on. At Gilded Dragonfly, we can take some smash-ups that combine a couple of those genres, so any of our readers who have written smash-ups need to send them in….


  6. John Robinson

    Thanks for your kind words, everybody! Looking forward to our next collaboration (caper?)…


  7. I loved Melissa’s comments! Sooo true!


  8. Jackie Rod

    Thanks for your insightful comments on the various genres, John. I agree with you about the redundant trite messages we are seeing too often in print these days.


  9. John, your genre descriptions are wonderful and I love your humor. It’s such a gift. I wish I had that ability. Writing can be taught, but those who possess natural talent enriched with humor are truly gifted.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s