The 52/25 Challenge:
Interview with Lizanne Herd

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

In December 2010 I joined a brand new writing challenge group: 52/25. The idea is to write twenty-five stories over the course of fifty-two weeks. I joined in order to get into the habit of writing more short fiction and to meet new writers. For this month’s Absolute Blank article, I sat down (virtually) with group founder, fellow writer, and friend Lizanne Herd to ask her about her passion for 52/25.

Toasted Cheese: Where, when, how did you get the idea for 52/25?

Lizanne Herd: I’ve been participating in NaNoWrimo off and on for six years. I tried to get going on it this past November, but I became stymied almost before I started. I had big ambitions: I wanted to go untraditional by writing 50,000 words in short stories rather than a novella. I even had a list of story ideas and a plan. By Day Two I was done. I could not carve out the time I needed and frustration made it all fall apart. I had also attempted a NaNoWriMo mini-podcast, which I did for about four days before discouragement and embarrassment made me file that away as a “fail.” So, I had to think of a way to salvage my plan.

I still liked the idea of a portfolio of shorts. I’m not much of a novel writer as it is, so I got to thinking: maybe something that functions like NaNoWriMo but caters to the heart of the short story writer.

Once the wheels in my head started turning on this, the pieces fell together pretty quickly. I posed the idea to a few people who liked it and I decided to Just Make It Happen. I made the Facebook page, grabbed a little blog room and invited people. The guys at Dunesteef Audiofiction Magazine liked the idea and offered me ad space, so I threw together a fifty-second pod-ad and people started dribbling in. Here in the second week of February we now have nineteen people. Which isn’t too bad, considering NaNoWriMo’s first year was twelve.

TC: How do you use social networking, blogging, etc. as part of the 52/25 Project?

LH: Facebook is such a natural for this kind of interface. It is so immediate. Even solitary and secluded writers will take the time to share on Facebook. Plus, most writers look for excuses to stop writing for a moment and see what’s going on Out There. Irony: Writers are notorious loners, so getting them together on a social networking site makes me happy. It encourages a feeling of community and shared identity. For such a solitary activity, writers don’t really want to be that alone. Which is the whole reason I created 52/25.

I have the 52/25 blog mostly to post the podcasts. I was a bit nervous about doing the podcast, since I know so many people who are really good at it and I’m just some mook with a nice microphone and mixing board. But it seems to be working! Hopefully I can expand on the blog as the year goes on. Right now it’s just a placeholder. Any ideas?

TC: I dig the podcasts. I’m lucky to find time to sit and listen for those 10 minutes. I think people have thrown over traditional blogging for Facebook, Twitter, and podcasting anyway so you’re ahead of the curve. Tell us about the 52/25 podcast (technically, schedule, content, etc.).

LH: [Dunesteef Audiofiction Magazine co-creator] Rish [Outfield] encouraged me to do the podcast. The audience is limited, but I hope it is well-received within that circle. I have a fairly slim structure, where I talk about member progress, my own progress, some (hopefully) words of encouragement and either an interview or a contributed recording by one of the members. I have only recorded two episodes, but my plan is to record every two weeks to correspond to the story production rate. The episodes run from about ten to twenty minutes, depending on contributed material.

TC: I love that we’re all invited to participate in the podcast. It tightens that sense of community. Besides the two of us, who are some of the writers involved in 52/25 so far? What are some of their projects, that you know about?

LH: We have some amazing participants that don’t always wave their flags. So let me.

  • Big Anklevich and Rish Outfield: These are the creators of the Dunesteef Audiofiction Magazine. They’ve run this spec-fic fullcast production for over two years. Along with the stories they produce, they include abundant discussions after each story. In addition to fun stories, their discussions are well worth listening to, especially if you like to listen to funny, bawdy, sometimes edgy banter. They joined 52/25 to force themselves into better writing habits and to write more of their own material.
  • Nathaniel Lee: Nate is a very prolific writer. He writes a 100-word drabble every day on top of everything else. You can find a lot of his work at his site Mirrorshards. He’s had short fiction published all over.
  • R.E. Chambliss: She’s a novelist, not a short story writer per se. She joined 52/25 to beef up her writing time. She does podcasting, voicework and she writes writes writes! Her blog can introduce you to her work.
  • Most of the people I don’t know too much about. A few of them have their own podcasts, but since they didn’t join 52/25 for publicity, they’ve been somewhat reticent about giving me links.

TC: What have you written so far as part of 52/25?

LH: I have this enormous binder of story ideas. I took on as my first story an idea that’s been rattling around in my brain for a good long time, close to three years. It is a more scientific take on the Jekyll and Hyde story. It is a very long story coming in at just over 12,000 words. I think it could be fleshed out into a novel if I ever get the desire.

I then moved on to a story that I actually wrote three years ago for a contest. I am rather fond of the story and I always wanted to work on it until it was publishable. So, I took all the constructive crit I received on it and finally polished the thing. You can find an early draft of “The Marble of Notness” posted on the boards at Toasted Cheese.

I am currently trying to put butt on chair and fingers on keyboard for story three, but I’ve only gone so far as research and branch-outline. Sigh.

TC: That’s further than I’ve gotten. I haven’t done a new short story yet but the project is so flexible, I can catch up if I want to. It seems I have a thousand things to do and a lot of them are creative projects. What creative work have you done that doesn’t relate to 52/25, particularly since the new year?

LH: I am so glad you asked! I do a lot of pencil art. You can find some of my work posted on the art page of my personal website. I am in the regular artist rotation for The Drabblecast, which if you aren’t listening to it, shame on you! It is one of the best spec-fic podcasts out there.

I have been working on art pieces to send to Illustrators of the Future, which is a high-profile contest, both for writers and artists.

My friends and I just started a new trivia podcast called Guru Showdown. Each week a contestant challenges trivia gurus for fame and notoriety and hopefully prizes in the future. Want to be a contestant? I am the Animal Guru. I am undefeated. Hear me roar. Seriously—I roar.


Speaking of roaring, Lizanne has roared three times as the “Gold” winner of our Three Cheers and a Tiger 48-hour short fiction contest: “The Ships Come Tomorrow,” “In Memory of Maggie,” and “Dante’s Grid.” Her entry “Picasso’s Guitar” received an honorable mention in our 2007 A Midsummer Tale creative non-fiction contest, her poem “Ideas” was our Best of the Boards in September 2007, and her story “Offal” was our Best of the Boards in December 2010.

Final Poll Results

Personal Challenge

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Join 52/25! Take the challenge to write, edit and submit your short fiction for publication every other week for the next year.
  2. Take a first step. Set a deadline for two weeks from today. In those two weeks, get an idea for a short story (any length), write a rough draft, edit and polish your piece and send it out for publication. If the story is rejected, try again (and possibly edit it again as well). Don’t forget to use our forums to get feedback on your piece. If you miss your deadline, don’t give up! Your next attempt may only take a few days.
  3. Set up your own challenge-based writing community. Base your community on genre, style, deadlines, quantity, word count, publication, and/or the writers themselves. Create a Facebook page, Twitter ID, blog, message board and/or other “meeting place” whether you’re online, offline or both.

Writer’s Glossary, Part III: The Business of Writing

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

This is the third installment in the ongoing Writer’s Glossary series. Part I covered Elements of Fiction Construction and Part II covered Genres, Subgenres and Supergenres.

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).

People:

Elements:

  • Hook: the opening sentence or sentences that involve a reader. A narrative hook may be found in a novel. The hook of a query letter is a single sentence that intrigues the recipient.
  • Synopsis: shares what the work is about, including the major characters and plot points (including the ending). Synopses can vary in length. Some synopses should be two or three paragraphs; some should be two or three pages. Synopses are most often used in query letters. (See: 10 Secrets Of A Synopsis That Sells)
  • Pitch: usually a single paragraph, a pitch is used to “sell” a novel to an agent or publisher. Pitches are often spoken synopses and allow for flexibility as they’re a form of verbal communication. Include the opening conflict, the journey and the opposition. Pitches come in handy at conferences and other face-to-face interactions with agents or publishers. (See: Your First Writers Conference: A Guided Tour)
  • Query: a letter (increasingly in e-mail form) asking an agent or publisher if there would be interest in reading a full manuscript. Query letters generally include a synopsis, contact information, and a brief biography, including publishing credits (if any), a.k.a. “backlist.” Every agent is different and many are strict about what to include in (and exclude from) a query. (See: The short, sweet guide to writing query letters)
  • Cover letter: accompanies a submission, including contact information and a brief biography. Summarizing this story or poem is not always necessary; check the submission guidelines of the publication. (See: Please and Thank You: The Purpose of a Cover Letter)

Word count standards:

These vary by publication but this is a basic guideline. Always check on the expectation of word count with the publication. For example, Toasted Cheese has a maximum word count of 500 words for flash, 5000 words for fiction.

  • Micro-Fiction: up to 100 words
  • Flash Fiction: 100 – 1,000 words
  • Short Story: 1,000 – 7,500 words
  • Novellette: 7,500 – 20,000 words
  • Novella: 20,000 – 50,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 -110,000
  • Epics: Over 110,000 words

Submissions:

(See: Five Quick Tips for Getting Your Story Published )

  • Page Counts: industry standard preferred length is 250 words per page (ex: a 400-page novel = 100,000 words)
  • Simultaneous submission: a single piece sent to several publications at once
  • Multiple submission: more than one piece sent to a single publication at once
  • Slush pile: a collection of unsolicited manuscripts
  • Lede/lead: the introductory sentence; this term is most often used in journalism
  • Byline: a printed line giving the author’s name
  • WIP: Work-in-progress
  • Manuscript: the raw copy
  • (Un)solicited manuscript: When someone asks you for your manuscript, either via your query or other means, it becomes a “solicited manuscript.” Otherwise, it is “unsolicited.”
  • Partial: A portion of a manuscript. The length varies. Standard is up to 25 pages or perhaps up to 10,000 words, likely less. Partials are usually requested or you will be given other indication as to what the length of your partial should be.
  • Pseudonym: a false name under which an author’s work is published/credited

Rights:

  • Copyright: the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.; as a verb “copyright” means “to secure a copyright.” Copyright is automatically created with the creation of the work. (See: Automatically Yours: Introduction to Copyright)
  • First Rights: the right to be first to publish the material in either a particular medium or a particular location
  • FNASR: “First North American Serial Rights.” When submitting a piece for publication, the author sells or gives the publication the right to be the first in North America to publish the material once. Unless the author grants other rights or licenses as well, all copyright to that material reverts to the author.
  • First American rights: the right to publish a piece first within the United States
  • First Canadian rights: the right to publish a piece first within Canada
  • First British rights: the right to publish a piece first within Britain
  • First Australian rights: the right to publish a piece first within Australia
  • First World English rights: The right to be the first in the entire English-speaking world to publish the piece including Australia, Canada, the UK and the US (including FNASR)
  • One-time rights: the publication is purchasing the right to print the piece once and only once (not necessarily first)
  • Reprint Rights, or Second Serial rights: the right to print as a reprint
  • Nonexclusive Reprint Rights: the right to sell reprint rights to the same piece to more than one publication, even at the same time
  • Anthology Rights: the right to publish a piece in a collection or anthology, often as a reprint
  • Translation Rights: the right to print the piece in a non-English language
  • Excerpt Rights: the right to use excerpts from the piece in other instances (example: an educational environment, such as a standardized test)
  • First Electronic Rights or First World Electronic Rights: the right to be the first to publish the piece on the Internet, via e-mail, as a downloadable file or program, on CD or tape, etc. FER/FWER are negotiated separately from other First Rights like FNASR.
  • Archival Rights: the right to archive or make archived works available on the Web
  • All Rights: the author remains nominally the copyright holder but without economic rights left to exploit including reprints, anthologizing, electronic publishing and further sales without further remuneration
  • Moral Rights: include the right of attribution and the right to the integrity of the work; generally, moral rights cannot be assigned to another party like economic rights can, but they can be waived
  • Work for Hire rights: “work for hire” rights apply to writing done within the scope of employment (such as a newspaper journalist or textbook writer) wherein the actual copyright belongs to the employer
  • Exclusive rights: the publisher asks that the piece not appear anywhere else while they are exercising their right to it, usually a set period of time
  • Nonexclusive rights: the piece may be displayed, published, copied, transmitted, etc. elsewhere while under right.

Publishing:

  • Print Run: a batch of copies of a book, produced by the same single set-up of the print equipment
  • Lead time: the time between the undertaking and completion of a project. For example, the lead time on a newspaper article would be from the assignment of the story until the print deadline.
  • Advance: payment given in anticipation of the completion of a project
  • Royalty: a percentage of sales given to the creator of the work (i.e. the author)
  • Self-publication: the publication of material by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher, vanity presses, or print on demand (POD). Many authors began or continued their literary careers as self-publishers.
  • Vanity Press (a.k.a. “subsidy” or “joint venture” presses): appealing to the “vanity” of authors, these publishers make the majority of their money from fees charged authors rather than from sales, paying little to no attention to quality of the work or of the published product
  • POD: Print on Demand, a form of technology that allows small print runs of media. Unlike vanity presses, POD publishers generally have connections to booksellers and have a reputation for creating quality finished products but also pay little attention to the quality of the content. Sales and fees are both sources of income for POD publishers. (See: Publishing and Print-on-Demand: What POD is, what it isn’t, and when it might be right for you)
  • ARC: Advance Review Copy; a type of galley
  • Galley: an unformatted version of a manuscript, usually distributed for review purposes
  • ISBN: International Standard Book Number. Defined by ISBN.org as a way to “establish and identify one title or edition of a title from one specific publisher and is unique to that edition, allowing for more efficient marketing of products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.”

Bookstores:

  • Sell-through: the percentage ratio of the number of copies produced/sold to the number of copies returned to the publisher for credit. Basically supply and demand.
  • Modeled: A book is “modeled” when it remains available in a store, typically on the shelf. “In line” generally refers to a store’s available stock, including their warehouses or possibly other locations. So while the book might not have a full table of copies near the door, a single copy available for purchase on a shelf in its genre section means it’s “modeled.”
  • Remainder: a book no longer selling well, reduced for sale by the publisher, distributor or bookseller and marked in a distinctive way (usually with a felt marker slashmark on the page edges near the spine)
  • Stripped book: a mass market paperback stripped of its cover and meant to be pulped or recycled. The covers are returned to the publisher as evidence that the book has been destroyed although “stripped books” may not always be pulped
  • Chapbook: a small, pocket-sized book, usually with a flexible cover (of cloth or paper). Most often chapbooks are collections of poetry although they may also contain short stories or other creative media, usually with a unifying theme.
  • Zine: a small circulation publication usually created by hand instead of by a press; cost of creation usually exceeds profit. (See: Been There, Zine That)

Final Poll Results

Four Exercises

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. At Chasms and Crags, suggest topics or terms you would like to see in a future Writer’s Glossary article.
  2. If you don’t have a “beta reader,” find one. If you’re shy about asking friends for feedback, join a writing community (like ours) and establish yourself. Become a reader for other writers and your constructive feedback will not only bring you invitations to become a beta reader but also offers like “Is there something I could look at for you?”
  3. Visit the remainder table at your local bookstore with a budget in mind. Take a chance on one or two books that look interesting. Give yourself a New Year’s gift!
  4. Resolve to finish that story or novel in 2011. When it’s done, send it for publication, begin sending queries to agents or investigate print on demand options.

Fresh air and verbs are good for you: Writing and Summer Vacation for Teen Writers

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Over the summer, you might want to find or create a writing workshop or writing group. What are writing groups and writing workshops?

Writing circles and buddies

A writing group (sometimes called a “community” or “circle”) is an informal get-together where writers get together to talk about what they’re writing, to get advice and to share their writing with the group so they can get feedback. Feedback is a reader’s opinion about the writing: what the reader liked, didn’t like, would change, would keep, etc. The purpose of getting feedback is to make your story or poem better, to increase your confidence in your writing skills and to create a personal connection with your readers. Examples of feedback are movie reviews and book reviews, like you see on Amazon, GoodReads and Library Thing. Sometimes the group has a leader who guides the discussion, like a teacher would. Every group is different.

Writers’ circles may be in person or online. Circles may be found at high school or college campuses, bookstores, libraries or community centers. Sometimes groups meet at members’ houses. Some groups require membership (Pennwriters is an example in my area), complete with yearly conventions, monthly meetings and more. Barnes and Noble’s “Writer Within” series is free and meets in their stores once per month, a good option for bringing an adult along (she can browse and give you privacy while you participate in the group). The size of writers’ groups varies. Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean your local writing groups will be dinky. If it’s the only game in town, it might be huge!

I recommend that young writers look for free groups with minimum posting and writing requirements. Find out if you like meeting with a group before sinking one cent into it. Put your writerly money toward pens, ink cartridges, your own laptop or some technique books.

Chances are good that your local writing group won’t have a lot of people your age unless it’s a group specifically designed for young writers. This can mean a lot of things for you. A good group will let you get comfortable, encourage your participation at your pace and encourage your work. Some writers automatically believe that young writers aren’t good writers. This isn’t true. No matter how much experience you have or how old you are, you can write a great story (or you can write junk). Don’t let anyone in a writing group make you feel that your writing isn’t worth pursuing. You might feel you have to leave a group because of prejudice and that’s fine. That’s not quitting. It’s experimenting. You found one group. You’ll find another. If you can’t find one, make one.

Creating a writing circle

All you need for a writing group is a couple of writers who want to become better writers. Trade files and do some feedback (you can do this online as well as in person). If you have a writing mentor at school (an English teacher, for example), let her know you’d like to create a writing group and ask if she thinks other students would be interested. It might become an extracurricular activity complete with a supervisor. If not, you can get a few leads of who might be interested in getting together a couple of times over the summer (or online) for a writing group.

Before you set up your group, decide how often, if at all, you want to meet or chat. Summer is full of vacations, visiting relatives, stuff like that. The fewer structured get-togethers you have, the greater your chance of success.

Figure in the time and hassle of travel. If you don’t have a way to get to a writing group (or if your friends can’t get to yours), online groups might be a better alternative, even if it’s a group you create.

One way to create an informal online group is to make a Facebook group that’s invitation-only (to keep your work somewhat private; read Facebook’s privacy policy for more information). I suggest you share your work in another way, on a free private message board or via e-mail, but the “meetings” can happen on your group’s wall. You can make a quick, free private forum at sites like proboards.com. You can also create a Tweet Chat by using your own specific hashtag. If you do any of these, invite a TC editor so we can congratulate you on taking the plunge!

For some advice on giving and receiving criticism of your writing, we have articles about those topics. There are more articles online if you search “fiction (or poetry) critique how to.”

Writing alone

If you need some feedback, writing circles and writing buddies are great. But you don’t need anyone else to read your writing. You might feel more at ease keeping your work to yourself right now. Keep practicing the basics. Try new things and if they don’t work, try something new.

Writing books and websites are also essential (and easy) reading. I’ve included a suggested reading list of some books and websites at the end of the article. If you’re feeling bold, you can enter writing contests that give away writing books or bookstore gift credit as prizes and earn your writing books through your writing.

Writers work alone. Even writers who collaborate primarily work by themselves. And not sharing your work doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. You know the definition of a writer? Someone who writes. That’s it. You don’t need to be published. You don’t need to write a certain number of words, pages or lines of poetry.

Stay Motivated

Write for fun. No one writes because it’s a chore. Writing is a passion and a delight. Enjoy it!

Allow “shitty first drafts” (see Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott in our suggested reading list) It’s okay to produce junk. It’s like getting lost to find out where you are. It’s practice. And yes, I used the s-word. Sometimes a word that gets bleeped on TV is the best word for a situation. The entire English language is there for you to use so use it. Pick simple, straightforward words.

Everything you write is worth a second draft. Even if you hate it, that’s okay. It’s practice. No one expects a novice athlete to score on her first time on the field. Don’t be embarrassed by what you write; the best cure for embarrassment is practice and everything you’re writing is practice. Don’t be afraid to fail; failure is subjective anyway.

Writers do not magically know everything once they hit 18. Or 21. Or 30. Or 50. Age means nothing. Publication credits mean nothing. What matters is experience, a writer who writes, who continues to learn and who shares with you what he’s learned without insisting it’s a Great Truth.

At the same time, don’t tune out well-intentioned writing advice. Even blowhards might have a valuable tip you can use. Writers love talking about writing. Come up with a couple of open-ended questions for writers (these can come in handy at writer group meetings). In the book you’re writing, what does your main character want? What poets inspire you? What were the first things you wrote?

Feel free to imitate your favorite writers. Think not only of stories, poems and books but songs, TV shows, movies, vlogs, blogs, anywhere you feel moved by characters, story or other aspects of writing.

Review with writing in mind. Why did you like it or dislike it? What worked? What were your thoughts about the characters or setting? What can you use for your own writing? You can post at sites like GoodReads or start your own blog (or create a category in your existing blog) for your reviews. It’ll be a good way to preserve your thoughts and can inspire you later.

Read a lot. Not just your summer reading lists but for pleasure as well. This article counts. Blogs count. Read news articles, sports recaps, TV reviews, graphic novels, fanfic, anything you can get your eyes on. This can help you learn things like structure, pace and word choice without hitting you over the head. Notice style differences among all the things you read. The copy on the back of a shampoo bottle is different from the “program info” on your TV menu.

Maintain a journal. You can do it online via a blog, which is an easy way to stay organized (set your privacy settings when you begin). You can keep a journal on your computer (consider password-protection for your file). You can also keep a longhand journal. You don’t have to write true stories. Include fiction, poetry, whatever you’re into writing. Write using collages.

Write songs. If it helps, think of yourself as a collector rather than a writer. Collect bits of writing, pieces of inspiration, a sentence or paragraph as the mood strikes. You can piece together later.

Try wild things. The only limit is your imagination. Writing is a creative pursuit. Challenge your creativity! Express yourself and who you are.

Use timers. Fifteen to twenty minutes is a good place to begin. If you find yourself zoning out, you’ll learn to snap back to attention. If you find yourself on a roll, you’ll learn how to leave off in a good place for your next writing session. Try not to stop your session without knowing what will happen next.

Keep an idea file. Keep all your abandoned pieces in it. Jot down writing prompts (check Twitter for free daily writing prompts from a variety of sources).

Eavesdrop. Pull inspiration from what you overhear. A good trick is to go to a busy place and pretend you’re listening to your MP3 player (or listen with the sound low) and write down snippets of what people are saying. You can also write down how they look, their body language, their action, anything that might come in handy for future characters.

How-To Basics

There are a lot of resources out there to help you with your basics, like how to punctuate dialogue or what the parts of a story or poem are called. You’re here because you’re ready to move beyond that.

For stories and poems, you need structure and organization of ideas.

You’ll need a narrative voice. People seem to think a narrator is obvious in fiction but not as obvious in poetry. You don’t have to write poetry as yourself any more than you would fiction. Give yourself the freedom to be someone else on paper.

Keep your dialogue realistic. Read it aloud (or whisper it or mouth it) and think, “Do people talk like this?” Dialogue can be fragmented, interrupting, incomplete and incoherent. The attribution tag “said” is your friend and it doesn’t need an adverb to go with it.

You can set your story anywhere geographically or anywhere in time. Don’t discount your own backyard.

There are lots of kinds of fiction and poetry you can write. Check out our Writer’s Glossary for more on genres (and try the exercises).

You don’t have to finish everything you start. If it’s not going anywhere or doesn’t feel right, shrug it off, put it in the file and start fresh.

Prompts

Create your own prompts. Set them aside in your idea file or get writing immediately. Trade prompts with a writing buddy or post in your group for everyone to write something based on the prompts.

  • Find five images to use as visual prompts
  • Write or copy five text prompts (like on our calendar)
  • Write five opening lines.
  • Write five end lines.
  • Create characters and build stories or poems around them
  • Write five random lines of dialogue. The more detailed or weird, the better.
  • Make five lists of five things each. Five things you touched the last time you went to a grocery store. Five smells in your school’s hallways. Five things that irritate you when you’re in a crowd. Five people who make you curious. Five jobs you’d like to try.

Getting unstuck

It happens to everyone. If you feel stuck but aren’t ready to quit the piece, here are some things to think of while you work:

  • What happens next?
  • What happens if…?
  • What’s something bad that could happen here?
  • What’s something wild that could happen here?
  • Who could come into the scene?
  • Have a character do the opposite of what you would do.
  • Give your main character a best friend or romantic interest.
  • Use a character from one of your favorite stories. Change the name and a feature or two to make the character fresh. You can change more when you rewrite.
  • Set your story in a different time.
  • End the scene and begin a new one.
  • Write something based on a dream or give your story a dream-like twist.
  • Start with your ending in mind and write towards it.
  • Write in a different place. If you usually write in your room, go to the kitchen or a cafe. If that’s not an option, sit in a different spot or position in the room you usually use.

Now go write something already. Then play outside. Or both.


Suggested reading:

Final Poll Results

Exercises for Teen Writers

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Create a physical book or zine. If you want to make a book that looks like it belongs in a bookstore, try Magcloud.com, Lulu.com, CreateSpace, Café Press and/or your local printing shops or office supply stores, etc. Look at the inside covers of books to learn where/how they’re printed, particularly in the “local interest” section of bookstores. Read our article about “print on demand” to learn about publishing terms and consult an adult if/when contracts or other agreements are involved.
  2. Write a short story or poem and share it with a relative or friend. Don’t ask for feedback or critique unless you feel you’re ready for it. Read our article on accepting critiques.
  3. Write something secret, just for you to read.
  4. Visit age-appropriate online writing forums to see how feedback is given, what it means, how writers interact, etc. Toasted Cheese is appropriate for writers 13 and over. If in doubt, have an adult visit writing communities with you.
  5. Create your own writing group and meet to share your writing and talk about writing. Your local bookstores or libraries might be willing to help you create a writing group or to provide a meeting place. Begin with friends and people you trust, not only for your personal safety but for a comfortable sharing environment.
  6. Search for images that inspire you. Do a Google image search for specific words, artists, photographers, etc. and write a story or poem based on what you find.

 

Delicious Morsels:
Interview with Bizarro Fiction Author Jeremy C. Shipp

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Jeremy C. Shipp’s writing includes short fiction, novels, a screenplay and more. Visiting his website is like taking a trip through a liquid funhouse with the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson. Naturally we snatched him up for an October interview, coinciding with the release of several delicious morsels of new work.

Toasted Cheese: October is a busy month for you, with Cursed and Harlan County Horrors both being released. What other work do you have coming out?

Jeremy C. Shipp: I love October, because of Samhain/Halloween, and so this is an extra special month for me. I also have stories upcoming in Cemetery Dance, Apex Magazine, and other publications. I’m not sure exactly when these stories will be published, however.

TC: For your Harlan County Horrors anthology story “Kingdom Come,” you were given a setting—Harlan County, Kentucky—for a horror story. Where did you go from there? Tell us about your process for writing the story and what it’s about (without spoiling the surprises). Was the process typical of how you work?

JCS: My process for writing “Kingdom Come” was not typical for me, because I don’t often research a specific place before writing a story. With “Kingdom Come,” I read everything I could about Harlan County, and found a place I connected with, Kingdom Come State Park.

With “Kingdom Come,” I wanted to write a dystopian tale that reflects, in a fun-house mirror, the systemic evils that Harlan County has faced in the past. The story is about a man who goes on vacation with his family, and begins to lose everything. His family, his mind. And only by losing everything does he find the truth about himself, and about Kingdom Come.

TC: In other interviews, you’ve said that the theme of equality—and the danger of hierarchy—runs through your work. Is this a conscious choice or something you discovered in looking back at your work?

JCS: I never attempt to convey certain messages in my writing, but my worldview is reflected and explored in my writing. I believe whole-heartedly that hierarchical thinking is one of the greatest evils in the world, and so many of my characters must face this evil. I do what I can to make the world a better place, even in the smallest of ways, and so my characters do the same.

TC: Even though you write fiction that encompasses multiple genres, do you consider yourself primarily a writer of “bizarro” fiction? How fluid do you find genre and how do you play with it and the reader’s preconceptions?

JCS: I never set out to write a bizarro or horror or dark fantasy story, but these are how many of my tales are categorized. And I’m glad. Genre, to me, has more to do with community than literary conventions. The bizarro and horror communities have embraced me and my writing, and I have embraced them back. Within these communities I’ve found writers and readers and editors who connect with my writing. This is a blessing.

As far as my actual writing process goes, I write what’s in my heart and mind and spleen. I try to open my mind, and travel beyond the boundaries of my own preconceptions of what a story is or isn’t. This is not only a meaningful experience for me. It’s fun.

TC: Tell us about the theme of “transformation” and how you use it.

JCS: The transformations in my stories are usually emotional, spiritual, ideological transformations. For example, Bernard in “Vacation” experiences a major paradigm shift. And his shift reflects my own ideological transformation.

My characters aren’t heroes. They’re ordinary people, with insecurities and prejudices and weaknesses. Sometimes they must help save the world, by defeating the darkness in themselves. They must learn to love and accept themselves. They must discover their inner power. And so, they must transform.

TC: Darkness and humor aren’t what some would consider a natural combination. Tell us something about your opinion on the combination or separate elements.

JCS: First of all, on the subject of darkness, I want to say that while I believe in evil systems and ideas, I don’t believe in evil people. In my mind, everything in existence is inherently worthy of respect. Anyway, I believe that humor can be used to battle evil. Also, the darkness of our world is often ridiculous and absurd. And so, for me, darkness and humor go hand in hand.

Of course, I’m very conscious about my use of humor in stories. My goal is never to make light of serious situations. But humor and absurdity often exists, even in the darkest of times.

TC: You write a lot of strong, central female characters. Tell us about some of your favorite female characters and how they evolved as you worked on their stories.

JCS: My goal is always to create characters who will be viewed as whole human beings. I don’t want to create stereotypes or archetypes. And so, my female characters are strong, fragile people. Because everyone in the world is strong and fragile.

My favorite character so far, probably, is Cicely from Cursed. She’s a passionate, creative, weird human being. When I first started writing Cursed, I didn’t understand her completely. She was a stranger to me. As the story continued, my understanding of her deepened, and she became more and more complex. This is the reason why I love writing novels so much. I get to stick with the same characters for so long.

Another character I’m very fond of is Bridget, from the novel I’m working on now. Bridget is a depressed, unhappy person, with a lot of love bottled up inside her. There are forces in the world that want to claim her, and hopefully, she’ll find the strength to follow her own path. She believes she’s an uncaring and unworthy person. She hates her body. But I hope she’ll learn to love herself. I’ll do what I can to guide her in that direction, but in the end, she’ll have to make all the hard decisions herself.

TC: Do you find that fans gravitate toward a certain aspect of your work? How vocal are your fans?

JCS: Judging by the feedback I’ve received over the years, my readers seem to be people (and yard gnomes) who enjoy stories that are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I try to write stories that are socially, emotionally, and spiritually conscious, and my readers appreciate this. I’m very lucky to be a cult writer who has a very vocal and very supportive fan base. It’s because of my fans that my readership grows every day.

TC: Have you found that online/electronic publishing opens your work up to a greater audience or is it difficult to find readers open to taking that ride?

JCS: Most of my readers seem to enjoy both online and print media. Many of my online stories are free to read, which is nice, because this allows readers to try out my work without spending any money. Then, if they connect with my writing in a positive way, they might end up buying my print books or subscribing to Bizarro Bytes.

TC: Tell us about Bizarro Bytes.

JCS: Bizarro Bytes is my story subscription service. For $12, subscribers get twelve new, previously unpublished bizarro tales written by me. They get a new story every month, delivered to their email, in the e-book format of their choice. Higher level subscribers also get added bonuses, like their name in one of my stories. You can read more about Bizarro Bytes here.

TC: Who are your influences (not only writers but directors, musicians, artists, etc.)?

JCS: Myriad artists inspire me. Hayao Miyazaki, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, Takashi Miike, Terry Gilliam, Jim Henson, Chan-wook Park, Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips, David Firth, George Lucas, Joss Whedon, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Arundhati Roy, and many, many others.

TC: What inspires you? What challenges you?

JCS: I’m inspired by all the wonderful artistic creations that I love. I’m inspired by my friends and my family and the people I overhear in the grocery store. I’m inspired by the horrors of our world. Civilization as a system challenges me. At times, I have to work hard to stay hopeful and positive. So every day, I write out ten blessings. Ten things, big or small, that touch my heart. This helps.

TC: What writing advice do you wish you’d heeded sooner? What writing advice do you wish you’d never listened to?

JCS: I’m lucky, because most of the advice I’ve been given over the years has been helpful in some way. And when someone gives me bad advice, I can usually recognize that fact.

TC: What are you consuming lately?

JCS: I’ve been consuming daal, green smoothies, bizarro books, American Born Chinese, The Dark Crystal, Return to Oz, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Let the Right One In, Kare Kano, Naruto, and The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

TC: What are you working on?

JCS: I’m currently working on a new novel called Bridge, a story collection called Fungus of the Heart, a short film that might end up being called Fairy, and a comic series. I can’t say much about any of these at this point.

TC: Please tell us about your short film Egg and the process of creating it.

JCS: Jayson Densman, director extraordinaire, is a fan of my books and stories, and he approached me about doing a project together. So I wrote the script for Egg, specifically for him. Egg is the story of a man’s shattered psyche. He’s searching for the truth about his past, but this is difficult, because his memories are always changing. You can watch the trailer on YouTube.

TC: Finally, what do we need to know about the gnomes?

JCS: Yard gnomes are compassionate, magical creatures that live in hunter-gatherer-based eco-villages. They believe that every word they speak and every muscle they move should be an act of love. Also, they’re doing everything they can to prepare for the collapse of civilization, but they try not to worry too much about it.


Jeremy C. Shipp is a weird author of bizarro, horror, dark fantasy, and magic realism. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 publications, the likes of Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Harlan County Horrors, Apex Magazine, Pseudopod, and The Bizarro Starter Kit (blue). While preparing for the forthcoming collapse of civilization, Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse with his wife, Lisa, and their legion of yard gnomes. He’s currently working on many stories and novels and is losing his hair, though not because of the ghosts. His books include Vacation, Sheep and Wolves, and Cursed. And thankfully, only one mime was killed during the making of his first short film, Egg.

Final Poll Results

Dark & Weird Writing

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Write a horror story using the these Jeremy C. Shipp story titles as elements: parasite, invitation, dog, camp, losing.
    1. Challenge yourself to add humor to your horror story.
  2. With the theme of “transformation” in mind, (1) write for 20 minutes (2) write 500 words or (3) incorporate it into an existing story or poem.
  3. With the theme of “equality” in mind, (1) write for 20 minutes (2) write 500 words or (3) incorporate it into an existing story or poem.
  4. Write something simultaneously as dark and as weird as you can imagine. Set it aside and come back to it as an editor and suggest where the “author” could go darker or weirder. Come back later as a writer and use the “editor” suggestions to rework your story.

Writer’s Glossary, Part II: Genres, Subgenres and Supergenres

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Part two of our “Writer’s Glossary” series concerns what we write, specifically genre. The examples given are by no means all-inclusive but are designed to give an overview of genre, subgenre and supergenre. This article is meant to answer general questions about genre and to inspire exploration of new-to-you themes, character motivations, settings and more. If you’d like to talk about additional genres, subgenres or supergenres, join the discussion on Just the Place For A Snark or create a new discussion on our genre board.

The liquidity of genre allows for hybrids of any kind the writer can imagine. Think of genre as banks that guide the river of your story as it goes along, maybe merge with other rivers to create vivid new bodies of work, branching off in new directions or staying a central course. For ideas of melding genre or exploring new-to-you genres, try our A Pen In Each Hand exercises that accompany this article.

Click here for more information on any of the books mentioned in this article.

Writer's Glossary, Part II

Background Photo: SpeakingLatino.com/Flickr (CC-by-sa).


Genre: the style, form or content of the work. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Adventure: Physical danger and risk are main themes with strong focus on the hero’s actions.
    • Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, Hoot
  • Biography: An account of someone’s life (an account of the author’s life is an autobiography).
    • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Theodore Rex, Lulu In Hollywood
  • Comic books: features a story told using art as visual narrative and relying more heavily on dialogue.
    • Seduction of the Innocent, The Killing Joke, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
  • Creative non-fiction (CNF): Uses literary technique to tell a true story (compare to journalistic writing); when the story follows a fiction-like arc, it is sometimes called “narrative nonfiction.”
    • Coming Into The Country, The Accidental Buddhist
  • Crime: Criminal activity, motive and detection are main themes.
    • The Big Sleep, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Get Shorty
  • Diary / journal / personal weblog writing: Meant as a method of personal reflection, often only available to the author.
    • The Diary of Anne Frank, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery
  • Epic: Action takes place over a long period of time, centered on a heroic character or group of characters and exceptional events. Compare to epic poetry.
    • The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King), War and Peace
  • Erotica: Uses literary technique to tell a story with action centered on sexual arousal and activity.
    • Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Story of O, Delta of Venus
  • Essay: “A literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything, usually on a certain topic. By tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece”[1] Essays may be non-literary, such as photo-essays. Narrative essays use literary techniques like arcs and transitions (compare with academic essays).
    • Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim, James Baldwin: Collected Essays
  • Fan fiction (fanfic): Uses established characters to tell original stories not written by the creator of the characters.
    • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
  • Fantasy: Uses magic and supernaturalism as central to the plot and setting. Compare to science fiction and horror.
    • The Wizard of Oz, The Mists of Avalon, The Hobbit, The Earthsea novels
  • Horror: Uses literary techniques to frighten, unsettle or horrify the audience; employs macabre and/or supernatural themes. Compare with fantasy and science fiction.
    • Dracula, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Frankenstein
  • Journalism: Conveys news without opinion. News conveyed with opinion is “editoral journalism” or “op-ed.”
    • The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages: 1851-2008, The Best Newspaper Writing series
  • Literary fiction (lit fic): Character-driven—this story could only happen to the characters in it—often appealing to a narrower readership than mainstream fiction but is not aimed at any specific audience.
    • The Great Gatsby, Beloved, The Corrections
  • Literary realism: Everyday activity and experience are central to the story.
    • Middlemarch, Sister Carrie, The Jungle
  • Mainstream fiction: Closely identified with literary realism, mainstream fiction appeals to a general audience and is plot-driven—the action of the story could happen to any character—as opposed to character-driven (literary fiction). Mainstream fiction may coexist in a single work along with another genre.
    • The DaVinci Code, The Lovely Bones, The Poisonwood Bible
  • Memoir: Differs from autobiography in that autobiography is an overview of the subject’s life whereas memoir is focused on certain aspects of the subjects personality or experience.
    • On Writing, The Glass Castle, Wild Swans, Running With Scissors, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper
  • Romance: Main theme is the growth of romantic love between two main characters, with an upbeat ending. Sexual activity is less graphically described and intrinsic to the plot than in erotica. “Category romances” or “series romances” are shorter and rotate out of print at a faster rate than “single-title romances.” Specific guidelines about word count, shelf life, etc. vary by publisher; generally category romance runs 60,000 words or less.
    • The Flame and the Flower, Daddy, Sweet Starfire, A Knight In Shining Armor
  • Science fiction: Uses imaginary yet possible elements as aspects of the plot or setting, such as space or time travel, alternate timelines or dimensions, psionics or technology. Compare to fantasy and horror.
    • The Handmaid’s Tale, The Time Machine, The Man in the High Castle, Starship Troopers, The Road
  • Speculative fiction (spec fic): Explores new/imagined worlds that are unlike the real world, generally an umbrella genre for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. Slipstream: combines spec fic and mainstream/lit fic. For examples, see entries for cited genres.

Subgenre: more specific distinction within the genre. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

Action subgenre examples:

  • Western: set in the American frontier (usually west of the Mississippi River), often with an antihero as a main character.
    • Lonesome Dove, The Leatherstocking Tales, Riders of the Purple Sage, No Country For Old Men
  • “Space Westerns” are spec fic pieces that use “western” themes and characters but are set in space or in alternate worlds.
    • Time Enough For Love, the TV shows Star Trek and Firefly
  • Thriller: Uses action and fast pacing to thrill the audience. The hero’s journey climaxes with his defeat of the villain (compare to mystery).
    • The Bourne Identity, Lazarus Strain

Comic book subgenre examples:

  • Graphic novels: a type of comic book using narrative and dialogue more like traditional novels.
    • Watchmen, The Sandman series, Maus, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  • Manga: Japanese comics, which may be any genre and are often published as serials. Manga outside Japan may be written in any language but the art maintains a strong Japanese aesthetic; manga translates to “whimsical pictures.”
    • Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, Ronin, The Dirty Pair, Oh My Goddess

Erotica or fan fiction subgenre example:

  • Slash: fan fiction that depicts romantic/sexual homosexual relationships. Slash is almost always between two male characters; the terms “femslash” and “saffic” have come into use to distinguish slash fiction about female characters.

Crime subgenre example:

  • Mystery: Plot is a puzzle to be solved by reader and protagonist; climaxes with the solution of the crime (compare to thriller).
    • A is for Alibi, Murder On the Orient Express, the Nancy Drew series, The Maltese Falcon

Horror subgenre examples:

  • Gothic: Combines elements of horror (the supernatural, the grotesque, etc.) and romance to create suspense.
    • Wuthering Heights, The Shining, Rebecca
  • Southern gothic: Uses the same devices to explore social issues rather than to create suspense. The setting is usually (but not always) the American south.
    • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Wise Blood, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Green Mile
  • Paranormal: uses ghosts, hauntings and other supernatural elements.
    • Carrie, Interview With The Vampire, The Shining, The Amityville Horror

Journalism subgenre examples:

  • New journalism: movement in the 1960s for journalism using literary techniques. Compare to “creative nonfiction” today.
    • In Cold Blood, The Right Stuff
  • Gonzo journalism: subjective journalistic reporting using a first person narrator and blends fact and fiction, favoring style over accuracy.
    • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Paper Lion

Sci-fi subgenre examples:

  • Hard SF: emphasizes scientific detail; hard science (chemistry, physics, etc.) is intrinsic to the story.
    • 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Ringworld series
  • Soft SF: emphasizes character, emotion and story; sciences intrinsic to the story are generally social sciences (sociology, economics, etc.).
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Dystopian/utopian: Setting is an alternate society, either ideal (utopia) or nightmarish (dystopia), that serves to reflect elements of contemporary society.
    • Gulliver’s Travels, Brave New World, The Time Machine, V For Vendetta
  • Steampunk: Set in a time when steam power is still used, often in Victorian England; may additionally use alternate history.
    • The Difference Engine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Cyberpunk: Combines cybernetics and technology with societal breakdown, often in a “near-future” time period.
    • Necromancer, Blade Runner, Trouble And Her Friends
  • Alternate history: plot concerns a deviation in actual history that creates an alternate society.
    • Men Like Gods, The Man In The High Castle, Night Watch
  • Apocalyptic/post-Apocalyptic: explores “end of the world” scenarios and society.
    • The Last Man, The Road, The Stand, Oryx and Crake

Fantasy subgenre examples:

  • Dark fantasy: combines fantasy and horror.
    • Coraline, Imaro, The Vampire Chronicles
  • High Fantasy: an entire imagined world at stake. Compare to S&S and Epic.
    • His Dark Materials, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Low Fantasy: uses the real world as a setting but adds supernatural elements.
    • The Borrowers, The Indian in the Cupboard, Pippi Longstocking
  • Note: The Harry Potter novels and The Chronicles of Narnia combine low and high fantasy. The “world within a world” of these series is high fantasy, with an entire world at stake, but the frame of the stories is low fantasy; the high fantasy world is entered through a portal in the real world.
  • Sword/sorcery (S&S): combines adventure and personal stakes. Compare to high fantasy.
    • Sword and Sorceress, Conan the Barbarian
  • Urban fantasy: set in real world contemporary urban society; cities may be real or imagined.
    • War For the Oaks, Dreams Underfoot, The Heir Trilogy

Romance subgenre examples: Note: romance has many subgenres, most of which are hybrids with other genres (ex: paranormal romance, mystery romance); these are fairly self-explanatory.

  • Contemporary: set after 1945.
    • A Love Of My Own, Perfect Match, The Trouble With Valentines Day
  • Historical: set before 1945 and includes many subgenres (ex: Regency romance)
    • Dedication, The Ruby Ghost, November of the Heart, Company of Rogues series

Some subgenres can be found under any genre. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Comedy: uses humor to amuse the reader and has an upbeat ending. Dark/black comedy utilizes taboo subjects for humor (ex: death, rape, war, disease). Blue comedy utilizes crude or sexual topics or risqué language.
    • A Confederacy of Dunces, Summer Lightning, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slaughterhouse Five, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Discworld novels
  • Coming of age (found most often in YA, mainstream and literary fiction): concerns the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
    • The Catcher In The Rye, The Secret Life of Bees, Treasure Island
  • Historical fiction: Attention is paid to historical detail and accuracy and may utilize historical figures or situations.
    • Ivanhoe, A Tale of Two Cities, The Remains of the Day, The Outlander series
  • Pomo: “post-modern”—after 1945—often parodies the “modernist” movement, which employs literary realism. Pomo is likely to use metafiction and magical realism.
    • Howl, Naked Lunch, Catch-22, Fight Club
  • Metafiction: the conscious address of fiction devices within the work.
    • Misery, Wicked, From Hell, Atonement, Slaughterhouse Five
  • Magical realism: illogical action or settings juxtaposed with real world action or settings; originated in Latin American and Spanish literature.
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude, The House of the Spirits
  • Satire: “Artistic form in which human or individual vices, folly, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to bring about improvement.”[2] Satire often employs humor.
    • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, The Discworld series.
  • Tragedy: dramatizes human suffering—which could be avoided by different choices by the characters rather than external influence—with a downbeat ending, often the death of the protagonist and other principal characters.
    • King Lear, Hamlet, Phaedra, Antigone, The Crucible
  • Transgressional: Features characters who live outside the mainstream of normal society and often deals with taboo subjects.
    • American Psycho, Naked Lunch, Trainspotting

Supergenre: based on intended demographic rather than the work itself. This is a relatively new term and not yet widely used. Works in a supergenre may be part of a genre as well, such as horror, biography or sci-fi. Examples include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Children’s literature (kid lit): Targeted at readers age 12 or younger, Often divided into the following categories:
    • Picture books (ages 0–5)
      • The Big Red Barn, Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
    • Early Reader Books (age 5–7)
      • The Dick and Jane series, Where The Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat
    • Short chapter books (ages 7–9)
      • The Winnie the Pooh series, The Little Bear series, the Fancy Nancy series
    • Longer chapter books (middle grade novels) (ages 9–12)
      • Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Heidi, Coraline, the Little House series, the Goosebumps series, the Heir Chronicles, the Harry Potter series
  • Young adult literature (YA): Targeted at teenaged readers.
    • The House On Mango Street, The Outsiders, Forever, the Twilight series, the Uglies series
  • Chick lit: Targeted at women (increasingly including teens), usually light in tone and often humorous.
    • Good In Bed, The Shopaholic series, Trust Me, Bridget Jones’s Diary
  • Christian lit: Targeted at Christian readers, religious faith is intrinsic to the plot, themes and characters.
    • The Left Behind series, The Purpose Driven Life

Societal, political and personal constructs and experience are explored in several genres. In addition to major genres, this fiction may also be subcategorized according to the sex, race, ethnic identity or country of origin of the author. These works are not targeted at any specific audience and are not compromised by the primary genre under which they are categorized. Within the examples cited above, you will find feminist, African-American, Chicano, LGBT and similar subcategorizations.


[1] Aldous Huxley, Collected Essays, “Preface”
[2] Encyclopedia Britannica: Satire

Final Poll Results

Rethinking Genre

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Cut and paste this list into a Word document:

    Adventure | Biography | Comic books | Creative non-fiction | Crime | Diary | Epic | Erotica | Essay | Fan Fic | Fantasy | Horror | Journalism | Literary fiction | Literary realism | Mainstream fiction | Memoir | Romance | Science fiction | Western | Thriller | Graphic novels | Manga | Slash | Mystery | Gothic | Southern gothic | Paranormal | New journalism | Gonzo journalism | Hard SF | Soft SF | Dystopian/utopian | Steampunk | Cyberpunk | Alternate history | Apocalyptic/post-Apocalyptic | Dark fantasy | High Fantasy | Low Fantasy | Sword/sorcery (S&S) | Urban fantasy | Contemporary romance | Historical romance | Comedy | Coming of age | Historical fiction | Pomo | Satire | Transgressional

    Enlarge the font so that the list fills a page (Arial 26 pt works). Close your eyes and circle your mouse over the document. Click on two or more random genres, combine them and write the first 500 words (or more) of a story.

    Alternately you can print the document, cut out the words and pick them out of a bowl.

    Bonus: Post your exercise for feedback and see if people can guess your random genres.

  2. Have a stalled story in your idea file? Rewrite what you have using a different genre. For example, make your narrator an antihero and put him in a frontier setting (American west, space, etc.) and voila, you have a western. Sketch out the action and turn it into a comic or graphic novel, focusing on dialogue. Change the time period on your urban fantasy and turn your piece into steampunk. Tone down your erotica and let it evolve into a romance. Have your narrator live in an apartment above a haunted restaurant and create a paranormal romance.

    Simple changes are not enough to redefine your story’s genre completely but they can get you thinking about your style and writing goals in new ways and breathe new life into old work.

  3. If there’s a genre or subgenre you’ve never heard of, tackle it by combining one of our archived or current writing prompts with that genre.
  4. If you’re intrigued by a genre, search for journals (or contests) that specialize in that genre. Write something specifically for that publication (or contest) and submit it.