Narrowing down a genre for my novel: Gothic Science Fantasy

Now that my novel is nearing completion, after more than three years of work, a suitable genre is finally becoming clear.  The plot is all in place; I’ve been working on layers of editing and tweaking: sensory details, distinctive language and habits of the main characters, finding irrelevant or redundant passages, looking for things that need more detail or action, never-ending research, etc. etc.

In the process, themes and symbolism are also revealing themselves, even ones which I did not consciously include.  It certainly does not fit into a “pulp fiction” genre category, ie, following formulas and light on meaning or symbolism, while focusing mostly on a quick, plot-driven read.  No, my book reflects the fact that I like to read a lot of literary novels.

There’s a definite romance, two in fact, but it’s certainly no Romance-novel “happily ever after.”  Actually, it’s an obsessive, even destructive romance, in which one of the characters–whether he’s truly a narcissist or not–sure acts like one.  And if you don’t have an “HEA” ending (as the fans term it) in a romance novel, there’s a very good chance your readers will toss it against the wall and never read any of your other books.  (This has actually happened with writers before.)  But if you have an HEA with a hero like mine, it’s likely to get pushback from abuse victims like we saw with Fifty Shades of Grey.

It doesn’t fit into science fiction, either.  I’ve always been more interested in the fantastical science fiction–Doctor Who, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Farscape–and not so much in hard science fiction.  So what if it’s unlikely a humanoid alien ever lived on Mars?  I still want to read about that.  So what if hypnotism doesn’t actually work like in the old movies?  I still like to watch them.

Turns out, “science fantasy” is a term used for that kind of science fiction.  It doesn’t have to follow strict, real-world scientific principles, and can include mysticism or the supernatural, such as the Force or ghosts or fairies.  So my novel–light on the science but heavy on plot, symbols, reflections on human nature, etc.–fits right in.  It also fits because the hypnotism goes beyond what actual hypnotism can do.

(Or does it?  A boyfriend in college hypnotized me and caused a mental link, just like in the novel.  But then, I can never really be sure how much was truly a Link, and how much was him playing with my head.  But the concept is not unheard-of.)

But that’s not all it is.  Not only is there a romance.  Not only is there time travel and a mad scientist.  But there is a focus on the psychology of the characters, so it can be called a Psychological novel.

There are also themes, symbolism, a character-driven story that’s at least as important as the plot, and deeper meaning exploring the depths of human nature, making it fit in the Literary genre.

But then you find those themes which have become prominent over the past few years as I’ve worked and tweaked: Byronic hero, described above.  Svengali, the older man hypnotizing and manipulating the young woman, while another man–the young hero–tries to save her.  The older, aristocratic man obsessed with the young virgin, imprisoning her in a castle.  Dark themes of oppressive religion and questioning, abandonment, betrayal, destruction, death.  Hypnotism.  A character who is also very vampiric, inspiring a dark and erotic fascination not just toward the young woman, but from her as well.

So there you have it: It’s a Gothic.  Because the Gothic elements are not based in the supernatural (other than the hypnotism and the Laws of Time which seem almost like a deity), “Gothic Science Fantasy” seems most fitting.  Also, because Psychology and Literary elements are all very much a part of the Gothic genre, I don’t even have to specify that it’s a “literary” or a “psychological” novel.

So there you have it: I’m working on a Gothic Science Fantasy.   This will help me with the editing and, later, the marketing, because publishers and readers both want to know “where it fits.”  I love genre-bending novels, which this certainly is, but it helps to know where to put it and who to market it to.

(PLEASE NOTE: Comments are turned off here because this is crossposted with my writing blog.  Please post comments there.)

 

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Black Forest Dream

I whipped up the following last week for our yearly Writer’s Club Halloween party.  For a couple of days I’ve thought about posting it here, since it got a good response.  Then I heard that another of our writers posted his story.  So that spurred me to get it done.  Here is the story:

 

I lay underneath a pine tree in the Black Forest, asleep.  I had hiked for so long, alone, that I thought a little nap would quickly refresh me for the walk home.

A bit of fiendish laughter woke me up–or so I thought.  All around was so dark that I couldn’t see who it came from. I sat up; something clanked against my chest.  I patted my chest with my hand until I found an amulet of some sort, shaped like a bat.

“What is this?” I cried.  Somebody giggled again, then scurried away, stirring up pine needles.  I got up to continue on my way home.

Was something watching me?  What could be here?  Those were just fairy tales, stories meant to scare children.  There were no ghosts or goblins or witches or fairies in the Black Forest.  Though an animal was a far more likely possibility, so I pushed my legs faster.

Till I tripped.  My backpack pulled me over and my ankle twisted.  I bent over and held onto it, hoping it was just a sprain that would be over with quickly.

What did I trip over?  That dratted giggling again!

“Show yourself!”

A mist, even darker than the blackness, swirled around the treetops, falling down ever faster toward me.  It leaped off the trunk right over my head, and landed on the ground in front of me.

“Let me help you with that,” it said.  “You are the one chosen by my goblin slave.  Very pretty–good choice!”

The mist dissolved into a black-clad human shape, a man, tall with black hair and slanted, onyx eyes.  He bent down and touched my ankle, which stopped hurting.

“Who are you?” I said.  Goblin king?  Vampire?

“I am–”

I awoke to a moth landing on my nose.  Dang it, right when I was about to find out!  I sighed and dragged myself up off the ground, resigned to finish my hike out of the forest.

Something clanked against my chest.  I looked down and found a bat-shaped amulet.

END

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Detail: To each his own

I am a great admirer of the writing of Diana Gabaldon.  I can lose myself in her descriptions of her characters and of her settings, and of her scenes.  I can “see” everything because of the rich detail–not just of scenes, clothes, appearance, etc., but of body language.

I love the various characters coming in and out; I love it even better as the series progresses and Claire’s family begins to grow while she and Jamie age; I love reading how she deals with various dilemmas.  I love the storylines/plots.

I love the little details, such as Jamie reading a romance novel and laughing, or the family abandoning Samuel Richardson’s Pamela at various points.  (I’ve read the first volume and part of the second, so I know why they abandon it.)  Even her sex scenes are better than most (usually I skip sex scenes, feeling like a voyeur).

In short, she makes me feel terribly inadequate as a writer.

In working on my own novel, I feel there’s no way I can measure up, yet this seems to be what modern writing is like: richly detailed, well-researched.  This is why so many books since I came of age, have been hundreds of pages long.  This seems to be what readers expect.

Last night, I discovered that this is not necessarily the case: Apparently quite a lot of people think that Gabaldon’s writing is amateurish, way too detailed, boring, with little story/plot.

Of course, many people also think Jane Austen’s work is way too boring, with little story/plot.  Yet I’ve read Austen’s books several times over, and find them page-turning, with lots of story/plot.

I tend to read more literary-style books, often the old classics they forced on us in high school (I loved them all), but also modern classics.  I’m used to books that are hundreds of pages long.  I read writing books in the 80s that told us to add body language detail and to make the scene “pop” with all the senses.  I came of age reading the books that were popular in the 80s/90s, 1000-page tomes rich with detail about caveman days, or Cleopatra, or 1740s Scotland.

So I get a bit confused by the modern tendency to want shorter books and less detail.  But on the other hand, it’s actually a bonus for a writer like me: As an NVLDer, I don’t really “see” scenes very well.  Some people see movies in their heads; except for books as detailed as Gabaldon’s, I see shadow figures moving in mist, where the only things that come in clearly are objects that are used at that moment.

Paragraphs full of rich detail are also hard for me to read and picture, because I’m picturing one thing at a time, not all at once.  I can’t “hold” the details in my head for very long, so I keep having to go back and re-read the paragraphs.  So I’ll end up taking several minutes on one such paragraph alone, making my reading speed very slow.

So it’s hard for me to write details into scenes, the body language, the scenery, that sort of thing.  I don’t “see” it myself, after all.  I don’t know the little tics people get while talking, because eye contact is so hard for me.

But I get conflicting criticism when I workshop parts of my book.  Some people want richer detail so they can “see” the scene better, “taste” the soup, etc.  (That person  was new and didn’t know I’d already described the cell and the soup several scenes back.)  But then I find all sorts of information on the Net that readers tend to skip over all those rich details to get to the action.  That it’s not just me getting bogged down in it.

Yet, ironically, Gabaldon’s writing is an exception for me.  Yes, it still takes me a long time to get through the paragraphs of detail, but her scenes are so full of emotion and body language that I have a more vivid picture in my head.  For example, it’s not just a dress somebody found for her wedding, but it’s a dress that smells of the previous owner.  It’s not just a sex scene, but two people who love each other shyly exploring each other for the first time.

Yet, for many people, all that detail is actually a turnoff.

So I’m reassured that I don’t have to feel inadequate anymore, that I don’t have to strive to measure up to writers such as Gabaldon, because lots of people don’t like that style of writing anyway.

So instead I can concentrate on how to make the characters real, and going into their heads to satisfy readers like me, without turning off readers who don’t like so much of that.  And not worry so much about infusing scenes with lots of body language or paragraphs of sensory details.  The occasional details should be enough.

This post was cross-posted here; please comment on my writing blog.

 

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