Fusion Fiction and the Romance Genre.

literature, Uncategorized

The meaning of the writing term “Romance” has evolved over the centuries and in different literary locales. We’ll use the word in the current “genre” sense: that of a love story which ends Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN).

While pondering the path of a fictional romantic journey, it occurred to me that the story arc of a romance aptly resembles the shape of what’s called “normal sinus rhythm,” as it’s traced on an electrocardiogram (ECG). (This is not surprising, because I’m a retired Registered Nurse.) Perhaps you’ve had an ECG done, as part of a physical exam, or to prepare for surgery. In brief, this is how it works:

The ECG electrodes detect and the readout depicts the wave of electrical energy that’s generated by the heart, and results in the “lub-dub” of a heartbeat. The letters P, Q, R, S, and T are used to label the events of a heartbeat. Measurements of the size and shape of each part of the waveform, and the time intervals between them, are used to calculate whether or not there is an arrhythmia that may indicate a problem with the anatomy or physiology of the heart.

Because falling in love seems to affect the short-term behavior of a person’s heart, we’ll co-opt an ECG and its alphabetical labels to illustrate and explain the Romance Story Arc:

The Romance Story Arc

P: Provocation. This event interrupts the characters’ prior routines: Something happens to provoke the attention of another person, so that neither of the characters can go back to the way they lived before they met.

Q: Questioning. Not long after Fate throws these people under the Boy-Meets-Girl Bus, they begin to feel the bruises. Because they’re not always getting along well, one or both inwardly question the friendship, but neither one feels like walking away from the relationship.

R: Realization / Rapture. Eventually the blinkers come off, and these individuals figure out that they should be – or, in the case of rapturous consummation, they have become – an “item.” 

S: Separation / Sadness. Something happens to keep the lovebirds apart. This situation is often associated with “The Black Moment,” when all seems lost, and that there is no future for the relationship, after all.

T: Togetherness. At last, there’s a breakthrough, and the characters can form the couple they were meant to be: HEA or HFN.

The Traditional Story Arc.

PlotmountainThe simple “category” romance story arc causes critics to charge the genre with its being a trite, clichéd, formulaic trope. There are thousands of romance novels, including dual-genre romances; plus Literary Fiction, with its many romantic subplots. The expectation that each be as unique as a snowflake seems to have the odds of a snowball in Hades. 

Irish Firebrands : A Fusion Fiction Romance.

Romance: There is no “save the” or “solve the” plot. A developing romantic relationship is the primary focus. 

Boomer-Lit / Aging: Instead of the classic “young love,” the Love Interest and her two Heartthrobs are middle-aged.

Psychological Fiction: Because they are people who have had plenty of time to develop the ingrained habits of their personalities, there are ample opportunities for them to rub each other the wrong way.

Multicultural and Social Controversy Melodrama: They also each have various personal and cultural reasons not to come clean with their real, romantic feelings for one another, until it seems as if it’s too late for them to do anything about it.

Paranormal or Occult / Supernatural: There’s something that’s not quite … right … going on, throughout the story.

The Fusion Fiction Advantage.

ECG-P+QRSkomplex+TFusion Fiction, in which romance is only one of several ways to read a particular book, encourages us to look at the arc as if it were an ECG instead of a bell-shaped curve. It shows that the solution to every critical objection is not to sweat blood over coming up with something new, but just to give the trope a plausible twist. The combination of genres between the covers of a Fusion Fiction novel are what make this flexibility possible.

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The Plot Thickens….

marketing, Uncategorized, writing

Readers who are familiar with the Irish Firebrands blog know that I’m an organic, or pantser writer: I don’t pick a plot and then plan a story around it. My stories come to me spontaneously, and are written that way, too, supplemented by research forays that happen when I discover a knowledge deficit that must be remedied, in order for me to plausibly develop a character or scene. I write in a non-linear way, and I generally know the end of the story before I know how it’s going to get there. The discovery of a plot comes after the fact, meaning that most of the book has been written, and I’m filling in gaps.

The writing process of plotting and outlining may be a consequence of elementary and secondary school composition lessons that were based on the reading and teacher-guided deconstructing of finished works of literature. Nobody knew the author’s writing process, but because the story was read from beginning to end, it was assumed that it had been written that way. Moreover, the requirements to come up with a topic, and then to pre-write an assignment by outlining it, were internalized by students who became convinced that these were unalterable rules for writing behavior that must be followed. 

A great many commercially successful works are produced in this way, and it may be the origin of much good single-genre fiction. But detailed planning and outlining also encourage plot-driven writing, which is inherently limiting, because the pressure to produce may lead to writing according to a formula or template: a predictable product, finished fast. 

Some writing theorists believe that these templates can be identified by a limited number of basic plots. Here is one famous list:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth  

I believe it’s even simpler, and that there are only three basic plots: The Little Tailor, Boy Meets Girl, and Sadder But Wiser (sometimes called Gains the World but Loses Own Soul). Most of the seven suggested plots are just topics that fall under the three fundamental plots:

  • The Little Tailor encompasses numbers 1-4 and 7.
  • Number 5 is just an approach to storytelling, it’s not a story in itself: any tale but a tragedy can be told in a humorous way, and even tragedies will often inject some comic relief.
  • Number 6 is Sadder But Wiser. Some tragedies also incorporate a small degree of number 7 at the very end, but it’s usually a deathbed kind of thing for the tragic character: “too little, too late.”
  • Number 7 also falls under Boy Meets Girl.

A case can also be made for there being only one plot: Transformation. This is because the protagonist of every novel must undergo some degree of change to personality and/or motivation. In this respect, Boy Meets Girl is the most purely transformative tale, which is why love story subplots show up in novels of all genres. Falling in love provides a character with just enough change to keep readers interested. 

The fewer “plot” options there are, the more opportunities there are for change, because the writer is freer to incorporate innovative developments in characterization and action. The story can encompass a broader range of human experience, which is critical to the plausibility that maintains the reader’s suspension of disbelief. This flexibility is the foundation of Fusion Fiction.

Contrast this to the BISAC concept of “genre” classification: a multitude of book categories, each of which, although officially undefined, prescribe single-topic plot concepts that closely circumscribe allowable setting, character and action options, in conformance with artificially imposed limits on the expectations and imaginations of readers. No wonder the authors of Fusion Fiction find it difficult to select a BISAC category that can accurately describe their works. 

If a work of fiction cannot be accurately described by current marketing categories, then its author cannot reasonably expect it to be found by readers. If it does happen to be discovered, its author can hope that readers will be pleasantly surprised by its uniqueness, and because it delivers much more than what the deceptively simple genre code represented; nevertheless, it also risks rejection because it doesn’t “conform.”

If you write Fusion Fiction, act now to begin improving the accurate discoverability of your works: register with this website. Your text, graphics, and trailers will receive free promotion, and you will help build a community of like-minded talent, whose voices can be united to make the marketing of our Art more effective and successful. 

Fusion Fiction as Third Rail Writing.

literature, reading, Uncategorized, writing

Blog posts about banned books have shown that, unlike the other Arts, inappropriate taboos are still inflicted on the Art of Writing. These restrictions define and confine a Third Rail: supercharged concepts barricaded behind signs that say, Don’t write here.

third rail banner

Included among these powerful ideas are dilemmas that can affect love stories, such as something that prevents them from ending Happily Ever After (or at least Happy For Now); or whatever may be perceived as altering the distribution of power that’s assumed to accompany sexual dimorphism, such as a heroine who is more economically successful or sexually experienced than the hero; and even passionate middle-aged or elderly lovers. Such strong stories can end up being shelved as Women’s Fiction, a vague category that’s guaranteed to obscure almost any book that lands there.

Another warning sign above the Third Rail is the dogma that proscribes a writer’s crossing genre lines. Oddly enough, this prohibition conflicts with the doctrine that urges the cultivation of name recognition: to achieve branding as a great storyteller. The ability to spin a good yarn is a personal trait, independent of the type of story being told. To suggest that the teller of a well-told story in one genre will lose readership by switching to another, can only be a fairy tale told by trolls intent on derailing an author’s reputation for effective writing.

Related to this is the persistent lack of an official category for what I call Fusion Fiction: crossing genre lines within one work. Irish Firebrands is one such book, because of its combination of Boomer-Lit, romantic beach-read,  social-political-historical commentary, paranormal, inspirational, and psychological elements.

Crossing genre lines within one work offers a reader the opportunity to focus on the desired aspect of the reading experience. If you’re looking for a love story, wallow in it. If you like to puzzle out paranormal clues, have at it. If you want to get inside the heads of characters in a psychological melodrama, go for it. If you’re into to learning facts or skills, or traveling to a different place or time to experience a culture or history, more power to you. If you seek encouragement from reading a story that’s uplifting, inspirational, metaphysical or visionary, be my guest. If you enjoy thought-provoking controversy or pungent social commentary, prepare to be pungently provoked.

Unfortunately, the effort to avoid crossing genre lines within one story, may be what makes it difficult for some who do write within a single genre to create well-developed characters. I can think of nothing that’s better guaranteed to result in a flat, uninteresting “cardboard” character, than to deny that character the opportunity to think, say, and live the variety of things that real people get to do.

Moreover, social, political, or historical commentary, psychopathology, and metaphysical or inspirational themes are also among the subjects that can electrify the Third Rail. When character-catalyzing controversies are made off-limits, writers may resort to awkward back-story data dumping, relying on excessively detailed physical descriptions, and proposing improbable plots to drive their stories.

Should all stories combine genres? Perhaps not, but the leavening that some amount of mixing can provide, would go far towards eliminating charges of “formulaic” genre fiction.

Fusion Fiction powered by the Third Rail invites readers to an experience as vivid and varied as any may wish life would be. If a story challenges me to join up the dots in a different way, every time I re-read it, you’ll find that novel in my bookcase.

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