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Is It History, Near History, or Alternate History?

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It used to be so simple to figure out “historical fiction”: the date of the setting began with an 18 or less.

But now, in 2016, how do we consider the century-old 1916? Things made then pass through customs now as genuine antiques. How about the approaching century mark for the 1920s, even WW2? And how in the world do we consider a steampunk secret history?

Let’s try to make the easiest cut first, which happens to be the biggest one: real history from alternative history.

It’s only sporting to let your readers know you’re doing alternative history somewhere in the cover blurb, an afterword, or a 50-word intro. Otherwise, there are enough junky writers out there that the reader may think you don’t know that Queen Victoria never remarried or that Napoleon was sent to exile in Elba first. With you sending him to St. Helena’s right away, why, the Hundred Days and Waterloo won’t happen! (And that was your point: France without the great Romantic binge of the Hundred Days.)

Also, there are enough people with poor history retention that they may believe your rendition is fact, and your story, so much more vivid than their high school history class, is going to stay in their head as the real deal. I’m thinking here of a reviewer of the film, The Silent Village, who thought it was a vital documentary, and we should never forget how horrible the Nazis were after they occupied Wales, and why that made our part in WW2 so necessary …
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Revision 05.1.1 — Make a Star to Follow

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I started using this in 2004, and it works for me as part of the revision process. Using this, I actually find I don’t loathe writing synopses, either. Working from the shorter ones up seems to help. So does simply doing more of them.

Step 1 — Write what the book is about in 25 words or less.

Yes, “less” is a joke. Avoid conjunctions, particles, etc., as you can, but it must read like a sentence, not a computer randomization of disconnected words and fragments. This focuses you from now on.

What you describe here would be the most important part of the story, the aspect that made you write it, the reason you’re here. Try writing Read the rest of this entry

Whew!

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Got the genres finished. Single-handed, based on a lifetime of promiscuous reading.

If you have any questions or see any holes, please feel free to use the comments sections. I’d appreciate the help polishing it up.

Back next time with actual revising work. But OMG the templates pages loom on the horizon.

Listening to the Peter Gunn OST album. Sometimes only Cool Jazz will do. I’ve been collecting lists on my 8tracks account. Dark outside the bus windows, rain spattering on them — must have smooth trap set and desperate horns.

Revision 04.1.04 — Fantasy & Science Fiction, pt. 2

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The easiest way to explain the spectrum of fantasy to science fiction is to just paint it on the wall.

•    Fantasy.
•    Science Fantasy, the usual place you find Space Opera and Planet Stories.
•    Soft Science Fiction. Includes “non-magical fantasy,” and “hard fantasy.”
•    Science Fiction.
•    Hard Science Fiction.

Fantasy includes all kinds of things, and they really don’t spectrum — they’re just different settings or things to use as elements or mechanisms. It’s the science fiction folks who get fussy about how much science their stories have going.

So —
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Revision 04.1.04 — Fantasy & Science Fiction, pt. 1

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Fantasy, we all ought to know, is stuff we make up so it isn’t like reality, on purpose. “Fantasy” as a genre, does not require quests, dragons, swords, or strange places. In fact, science fiction is a subset of fantasy: fantasy is the oldest form of fiction (we can track it back into mythic tales, where the tellers may have thought that stuff was real, but it appears at least in Ancient Egypt, in “The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor”), and science fiction is a special form of it that came into existence about 1818, as a fantasy that tried to explain its non-reality in terms of postulated science rather than magic.

That’s the literary approach. In marketing terms, they both come under the 1970s term “speculative fiction,” invented to soothe the ruffled feathers of über-geeks who didn’t want their science fiction called fantasy, like it was icky Tolkien or something. Science fiction at least nods to science and makes up some good-sounding terminology to let them do whatever they need to do: the big word right now is “nanobots,” right? Anything you want to do, someone came up with some free-ranging nanobots that will provide the effect. The other big thing is wormholes, and they don’t even hold them with quantum foam. (Sometimes it’s hard to believe I was raised on Galaxy and Analog, and then again maybe that explains my attitude.) This coming up with good-sounding terms and theories is called hand-waving, smoke and mirrors, or phlebotinum, all meaning “stuff that doesn’t make hard science sense but works in the story.” Read the rest of this entry

Revision 04.1.10 — This, That, and the Other Genres

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Animal Stories

These have non-human protagonists, animals that, nowadays, we don’t want to over-sentimentalize or make into humans in animal suits. Predators hunt, prey has to defend itself in any place not a zoo, and Bambi won’t have any clue as to who his father is.

Of course, children’s fantasies and humor are always another matter. In that case we may be getting into animal fables or anthropomorphized animals, where the squids and foxes are indeed humans in beast suits, acting and thinking like people in similar situations. These range from Aesop’s fables to The Lion King. “Furry fandom” is its own market, where the animals become upright and bipedal with hands and other human anatomy, though usually with fairly animal-like heads. Read the rest of this entry

Revision 04.1.06 — Thrillers & Suspense

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A lot of best-sellers come out of these genres, because if you do it right, the whole idea is to keep people breathlessly turning the pages until long past bedtime. The difference between whether something is marketed as a thriller or as a suspense novel may depend on which is selling better this year: they’re very close, the way fantasy and science fiction shade over at science fantasy.

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