How to build a complex plot based on a simple message (Part 3)


Part 3: Choose your genre

After you choose your message and your direction, you should select your genre. Your message doesn’t limit your genre. Anymore, your genre doesn’t even limit your genre.

A great example of cross-genre reading is Ghosts in the Snow by Tamara Siler Jones. It’s a brilliant combination of thriller, fantasy, mystery and crime novel. Additionally, the whole urban fantasy genre is a mix of mainstream and fantasy (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.).

Combining genres has become extremely popular. But your message can remain constant no matter what kind of story you’re telling.

Examples? Okay, these are my opinions, but this is my blog . . . so I guess it’s all my opinion. =)  So let’s say your message is SACRIFICIAL LOVE.

Eli by Bill Myers is a book about sacrificial love, a retelling of the life of Jesus Christ in modern times. It’s somewhat mainstream, although it has bits of science fantasy involved.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (no correlation on the last names intended) is a book about sacrificial love. It’s also set in modern times, but it’s an urban fantasy about vampires and werewolves in modern-day Washington State.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is also about sacrificial love, mother for her son, husband for his wife, etc. But it’s steampunk, set in an alternate universe Seattle.

The message is the same. The genres are completely different.

When it comes to choosing a genre, the sky is the limit. Actually, the sky isn’t even a limit. It’s whatever you can imagine. But remember that when you choose a genre, you should pick one you know something about. Because genres have followings. And followers have expectations.

If you claim to have written a hard science fiction novel about sacrificial love, you’d better have all sorts of technical details and futuristic settings replete with technology and theories of construction, as well as your own personal theory about terra-forming, mixed in with your message about sacrificial love. Otherwise, it won’t be a hard sci-fi book.

There is always the possibility of surpassing your genre, though. I’ll post about that later on.

Let’s review what we know about our sample/example plot so far:

Message: Stealing is wrong.
Direction: External.

Now, for genre? Well, shoot. Let’s do steampunk.

Steampunk is a relatively new genre that’s started making waves across genre fiction. It started out as a mix of science fiction and historical fantasy, but it’s become a genre of its own, usually combined with the concept of alternate realities.

Generally speaking, steampunk is set in the 1800s when steampowered technology was prevalent. However, in the steampunk universe, something happened to prevent the spread of more advanced technology, meaning that steampower was all the people of the world had to go on. As a result, most steampunk books are usually Victorian or Wild West in setting with anachronisms like cars and aircraft and other technologies powered by steam.

A so-so movie example is League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, if you would like a visual.

Going back to the Boneshaker example – Boneshaker takes place in an alternate reality where England came in support of the South during the Civil War. The Civil War lasted far longer than real history says, which created a giant rift in the population of the still-forming United States. Boneshaker doesn’t really have anything to do with the war, but the setting and universe affect the characters (we’ll deal with this when we get to back story). Zeppelins play a large part in Boneshaker.

Message: Stealing is wrong.
Direction: External.
Genre: Steampunk.

After you have chosen a genre, the next most important step (possibly more important than any other) is choosing a character. That’s what we’ll discuss in Part 4.

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