Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Knowing your genre.

Do you ever, out of the clear blue, suddenly have nothing to say?

I rarely look at the cursor slowly blinking, but that’s me this morning. It’s a bit soothing. :-) A little like meditation.

I’ve been hard at work trying to get my Spy Thriller database up. I’m making it for purely selfish reasons: First, I love spy thrillers, but you really have to dig through the shelves to find them since there’s no separate section; Second, I want to know the genre better.

In my current genre (which is trying not to be named on this blog, but I’m sure you guys all know ...), I literally knew everything when I first sat down to write. Like, for five or six years, I read every single story.

That’s unfortunately not possible in the big genres. Can you imagine reading every romance? Every mystery? Every thriller? You’d die before you’re done! This not knowing everything makes me feel uncomfortable.

It’s easy to come up with ideas in my other genre, because I just take something that hasn’t been done before, and combine it. But when I first attempted a spy thriller, I caught myself trying to write it to the genre, trying to fit into the mold.

That never works.

I miss having that foundation under me; it lends a lot of confidence.

Oh, wow. I guess I did have something to say. Goes to show, if you sit down, the words will come. :-)

Will you do me a favor? If you have a favorite spy thriller author (can be assassins, too), will you leave it/them in the comments? If not, how do you feel about knowing your genre?

(Um ... did I write this post before? I’m feeling like I did ... sorry! Hah ... goes to show how well I know my blog! I guess I did have nothing to say, LOL.)

21 bonus scribbles:

avery 10/17/2007 10:50:00 AM  

Sorry, I haven't read many spy novels.

As for my own genre, I've read a lot of urban and contemporary fantasy and quite a few paranormal romances to get a better feel of the gender gap I'm trying to bridge with my novel. When it comes to high fantasy, though, I'm behind. I've read the classics, but there are just so many that are a series of five or more books. It's overwhelming. So, I hop around here and there, trying to get a feel for all aspects of my genre, but keeping most of my focus within my chosen concentration.

Anissa 10/17/2007 01:50:00 PM  

I did a ton of research for my current WIP. Now I'm hoping it's in there somewhere and will shine through in the writing. LOL! Maybe I need to revisit all that stuff now, refresh the ole memory.

I haven't read many spy novels either. If I come up with something, I'll be back. :)

spyscribbler 10/17/2007 03:21:00 PM  

Avery, exactly! It's so overwhelming! Your novel sounds really intriguing. I love urban fantasy. (And I can say that, having read one whole book in the genre. *rolling my eyes at myself*)

Anissa, that's fantastic. Research makes my head hurt. No, actually, I love it, but ... then I forget it. This spy novel has about a thousand hours of research going into it, LOL, but I've forgotten most of it. Like you, I hope it will come out somewhere!

Michelle,  10/17/2007 04:42:00 PM  

Natasha, I don't worry too much about reading a lot in the genre I write. I do obviously read a lot of it, after all I write it because I love it, ergo, I love reading it, too. But it would be an impossible task to read every historical, or every fantasy novel out there, so I don't sweat it in the slightest. And I read lots of other fiction, too. I'm hoping being widely read is better than being completely immersed in one thing.

spyscribbler 10/17/2007 05:33:00 PM  

That's a great point, Michelle. Being widely read will give you lots to draw from. That's important, too.

LOL ... I guess we just need to read, read, read ...

StarvingWriteNow 10/17/2007 06:15:00 PM  

Gosh, the only spy thrillers I can think of are James Bond!! The books are better than the movies, by the way...

spyscribbler 10/17/2007 09:26:00 PM  

WriteNow, I love Ian Fleming! Great books! I do like Sean Connery, though. And Pierce Brosnan. Sexy!

Kate S 10/17/2007 10:46:00 PM  

Do you ever, out of the clear blue, suddenly have nothing to say?

Thanks for the huge chuckle I just had, Natasha. It's only out of the clear blue that ever have anything TO say. I can't relate to that sort of eloquence and intelligence. :)

Cat Marsters & Kate Johnson 10/18/2007 09:13:00 AM  

Yes. Me.

I'm wary of knowing your genre, and your market, too well. Partly because as you said, you try to fit your writing to the genre, which might be smart for marketing purposes but usually flattens your natural style. Secondly, reading too much of a very particular style, or author, can influence your writing even if you don't want it to, and then you come off like you're trying to be someone else.

And as for research...I was once told that you ought to research every possible thing you can for your book...then throw 90% of it away. Too much detail is boring. You don't want to write a text book!

Edie 10/18/2007 10:35:00 AM  

I'm with Cat and Kate. I read WF and paranormal romance, which is what I write, but I'm more likely to pick up a historical or contemporary romance. Lately I've been reading nonfiction. I think it's good to read widely to avoid inadvertantly falling into cliches.

I'm thinking more of romance (like the "sinewy thighs" Erica talked about yesterday, lol). But I'm guessing there are cliches in every genre.

Stewart Sternberg 10/18/2007 03:25:00 PM  

It's funny, I write horror, but I am dying to jump genres and write in this area. To be honest, most of my reading is spy thrillers.

As for authors to add to your list (might be a good reference book when you finish) there are several that come to mind that people tend to forget. How about Donald Hamilton and the American James Bond---Matt Helm. I love this series. Helm is far grittier than Bond, and though I will never leave behind my "00" status, I am a big fan.

Trevanian has written some good spy thrillers, although his output isn't strong. They based a film on one of his books: "The Eiger Sanction". Then, how about Richard Condon and "The Seven Days of the Condor", a story about a low level CIA agent who returns from lunch to find his entire section has been massacred.

Want more less known writers for spy thrillers? Graham Greene, an astonishing writer who gave us "The Power and the Glory" also wrote the rather whimsical story of a British agent stuck in Cuba. It's called "Our Man In Havana".

The Cold War gave us so much good stuff by so many fine authors. Len Deighton, John Le Carre...what about Aliaster MacClean (spelling). He wrote "The Satan Bug" (biological warfare--written in 1962--turned into a film of the same name) or "Ice Station Zebra", again a film of the same name. Or "Puppet on a Chain" or "Bear Island".

How about Adam Hall's "Quiller Memorandum", "Day of the Jackal" by Forsyth. "Eye of the Needle".
There are so many great stories.

I will save one of my favorite, most chilling stories for last. "The Cobra Event" by Preston. I kept forcing this book on friends for months after.

Angie 10/18/2007 04:36:00 PM  

I read a bunch of James Bond books about twenty-five years ago but never really got into the genre as a whole. [ponder] James Hogan (the SF writer) ducked over into techno-thrillers for a while and wrote a couple with spying. The Proteus Operation was a really cool time-travel techno-thriller with spying. :D

About knowing your genre, I agree that it's impossible to read everything in the larger genres, or even keep up with all the new stuff, if you want to have any time to write (much less eat or sleep or say a few words to your SO periodically). On the other hand, I've seen what happens when someone (and I'm thinking of a number of writers who were widely published in their own genre) decide to branch out and either go write in another or add elements of the other to their own, when it's painfully obvious to any fan of the second genre that these people have read almost nothing. Maybe they've watched a few new-genre movies or something, but that's about it. The result is horrible.

And it's really not a question of whether or not the writer is any good at writing. (Although I can think of one well-known individual who apparently forgot a good deal of what they knew about basic fiction writing when they decided to blend in the new genre.) Rather, the problem is in trying to recapitulate the entire history of a genre all by yourself.

Someone who's unfamiliar with a genre will often come up with a Kewl New Idea, which was done to death decades past, or think up some gimmick which has been shown to be based on false information or faulty reasoning or which is just plain unworkable for whatever reason. Everyone who reads that second genre regularly knows these things, but the writer who's branching out comes bouncing in with all his or her "new" ideas and gets angry when the response from the established fans is laughter or worse.

No one needs to be 100% familiar with any genre, but a writer does need to do enough reading to know what the blatant cliches are, which ideas are hoary old chestnuts, and what plot twists were New And Kewl twenty or fifty years ago but definitely aren't any more.


Ello 10/19/2007 12:30:00 AM  

I have lots of moments when I don't have anything to say. It is very frustrating. Do you find blogging helps you?

Ello 10/19/2007 12:30:00 AM  

I have lots of moments when I don't have anything to say. It is very frustrating. Do you find blogging helps you?

avery 10/19/2007 11:53:00 AM  

Wow. For having written this post before, you sure did get a lot of responses. ;)

spyscribbler 10/20/2007 12:16:00 AM  

LOL, Kate. I can think of another word besides "eloquence and intelligence." When you blog, it's always a real gem. :-)

Cat and Kate, so true! If one writes to a market, one should be thinking "current market but this or that twist." I think. :-)

I don't throw 90% away, but I sure forget at least that, LOL ...

spyscribbler 10/20/2007 12:17:00 AM  

Edie, sinewy thighs cracked me up, too! I haven't read those words in awhile, LOL.

I read widely, too. I just finished a fabulous memoir (see my latest blog). Disturbing.

spyscribbler 10/20/2007 12:21:00 AM  

Wow, Stewart. Thank you. I mean, really, thank you so much. I haven't read a lot of those. I especially want to pick up that last one.

There's something about spy thrillers. They explore human nature, motivations, and betrayals. It's really fascinating stuff. And then you add in the sometimes-political aspect, the suspense, the intrigue, and the thriller ... I can't get enough of the stuff.

spyscribbler 10/20/2007 12:23:00 AM  

Angie, I've heard that name recently. I don't remember where, but it was in good terms. I'm definitely going to have to check him out.

I love your last paragraph. You're so right. Amen.

Better said, LOL.

spyscribbler 10/20/2007 12:26:00 AM  

Ello, sometimes. I don't know. Sometimes blogging ideas pound at me when I'm trying to work on the WIP, and it's like an interruption, you know? This week it's felt like all words dried out. Except, finally, for today.

Reading other people's blogs, however, really inspires me. And the blogosphere has this mysterious magic: when I have a problem, the solution is out there, in one of my blog friend's blogs.

spyscribbler 10/20/2007 12:26:00 AM  

Isn't that the truth, Avery? I love the discussion!