For many writers, attending graduate school or a writing conference to work on their craft is simply not possible. The point of Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction is that one can get much of that knowledge from this book. Editors Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller assembled over sixty expert contributors, many of them connected to Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction for this over 350 page textbook. A book full of wisdom that you can work through at your own pace.
Published in 2011 by Headline Books, Inc., the book is broken into roughly three sections titled “Craft “and “Genre,” and “The Writer’s Life.” Each section has several sub-sections related to the main topic of the section. This design allows readers to move back and forth through each section or the book as a whole to find the information they need at the time they need it.
The “Craft” section opens the book with a sub-section on “Style Ad Process.” Information on opening lines, how to handle point of view and how not to information dump is here among other items of interest. Each article is of several pages and features a brief author bio at the end. This same format is used throughout the book.
“Character And Dialogue” is the next sub-section starting on page 64. This section is all about making your characters realistic, making them suffer, and in the end, making them as well as your writing and the story stronger.
“Plot And Structure” follows next with interesting pieces such as “Demystifying What Editor’s Want” by Venessa Giunta. Now that you have strong characters and know what the editors want in them, it is time to put your characters into a good story. A good story is made up of a lot of elements such as pacing, characters that can save themselves, find romance when warranted, as well as the setting they are placed into for the story.
In the novels by James Lee Burke, the setting is as important as the characters. The sub-section on “Setting” comes next starting on page 111. While Susan Crandall does not reference Burke in her piece “Setting as a Character: It’s More than a Backdrop” she uses plenty of other references to make the same point while also explaining how to do it. She isn’t the only author to discuss setting as there is a lot more information here on this key part of your tale.
Starting on page 129 with “Genre” it is on to specifies. After a general sub section on “Genre and Originality” which makes the point there are certain expectations for each genre, their limitations, and how to deal with those while pursuing originality, it is on to the various genres with each section getting their own detailed sub section.
“Romance And Women’s Fiction” begins on page 150. While some are arguing for a clear distinction between the two, in this book they are grouped together. In a poignant and inspirational essay by Crystal B. Bright titled “Write from the Heart” she explains how she pursued her dream and the novel she wanted to write despite the “no’s.” Her inspirational story does not apply just to romance novelists, but to all writers in all genres. That fact ties into a key point noted in the introduction of the book and constantly reinforced though many examples throughout Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction. Regardless of the genre you write in, you can learn from those in other genres because there are universal principals that link all types of writing together.
Following the essays on many types of romance is the subsection titled “Science Fiction And Fantasy.” Pieces on world building, cyberpunk, using myths, realism and more are here and provide a lot of interesting reading.
Then it is on to those of us who want to kill people for fun and profit, have no underworld connections, and don‘t want to be arrested. “Horror, Mystery and Suspense Thrillers” begin on page 196 with essays on plotting, getting the dialogue correct, surprising readers and lots of other good information. Along with an excellent piece on plotting by Victoria Thompson there is an excellent advice piece by David Morrell about thrillers.
“Children’s And Young Adult Fiction” are their own deal and have a section starting on page 227. Getting those readers into your work and how not to lose them is the point of this section. It is not just about those teen readers either. How to properly do picture book illustrations based on the text and other information is present here.
While the book is primarily about novels it also explores other approaches in the sub-section “Alternative Approaches.” Prolific author Michael Bracken leads off this section with his essay, “I Write Short Stories” that begins on page 264. He makes the point that short stories can be more lucrative than novels while also making you a stronger writer. He also helpfully explains how to find those short story markets, how to write for them, and how to be productive. As he points out on page 249 – “Writing short fiction requires the same skills as writing novels: the ability to create coherent plots, to develop believable characters, to write realistic dialogue, and to mesmerize readers into suspending disbelief for the length of a story.”
Also included in this section are essays on topics such as magical realism, how magna is gaining in popularity and how to write for that market, and movie tie in books.
Having moved through the genres and then some it is back to advice that will definitely help all with “The Writer’s Life.” Starting on page 269 this nearly 90 page section is devoted to sub sections on. “Learning” and “Working” and Promoting.
“Learning” as a writer never ends and can come in many forms. This can be from graduate school, brutal critique, workshops, or just about anything. Even TV shows that are hated in the beginning as Catherine Mulvany explains in “Lessons from the Vampire Slayer.”
“Working” starting on page 289 is all about productivity. Writing more, pleasing readers in multiple genres, and time management among other topics are covered here. As Lee McClain points out in her essay “Time Management: Creative Paths to Productivity.” . . . unlike literary fiction, genre fiction requires you to be prolific. Stephanie Meyer wouldn’t have had the same success if she’d waited two years before bringing the second Twilight novel to completion.” (Page 297) As a genre writer, you simply have to be productive and get a lot of work out because readers expect and demand it. Her informative essay is about how to be productive in terms of novels, but this piece also ties in nicely to Michael Bracken’s essay referenced above about why he chose to pursue short stories over novels and editing anthologies.
Also in this section are excellent essays by Shelly Bates titled “The Seven Habits That Got Me Published” and “How to Get an Agent” by Ginger Clark among other very informative pieces. Professionalism in how you act and your work is a key part of both pieces and the others. That includes adjusting to the rise of e-books as well as being dumped by your publishing house. A very informative section and one that will help you no matter where you are as a writer.
Marketing your own work is a job many of us dread and hate. After all, the book should sell itself, right? These days, if it ever did, things don’t work that way which is why a section titled “Promoting” is necessary. With essays on the basics of author bios, contact information, press releases, book reviews and more, this section gives you the framework to tell the world about your book. Getting information on your book out there so readers/buyers know about it is key here with lots of basic yet very good information.
The book closes with a detailed “Resources And References” section that covers where to go for more information imprint and online.
An extensive and inspirational book filled with lots of practical advice for any writer at any stage in his or her career, Many Genres, One Craft: Lesson in Writing Popular Fiction is one of those books that writers just have to have on their shelves. Unlike many of the courses and books bandied about online, this book features practical and realistic advice and tips from writers who have managed to build prolific and solid careers stretching back decades. No matter your particular writing interest, the information in this book will not only be specific to that interest, but to the craft of writing as a whole. Simply put --this is an excellent book that you must have and use.
Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction
Editors Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller
Headline Books, Inc.
Hardback (also available as e-book)
Material supplied by the publisher quite some time ago in exchange for my objective review.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2012