Saturday, 3 December 2011

Still too much tradition

Even though it might not have shown recently in my main blog, I am an avid read and enjoy novels of various genres regularly. And, as I also write stories belonging to most genres I enjoy reading, I am also quite aware of the rules, guidelines and traditions of those genres. Here my thoughts on some concerning women in the lead.

Strangely enough, especially the Science Fiction genre still seems to be very traditional. Female leads usually only feature in stories focused on future society. Space explorers and adventurers on strange planets are male, women only come in once a planet gets colonized. Then they might be important or tell what the author has to say about society. The ‘fun’ part, however, is for men only.

Fantasy is very similar, especially the classic high fantasy and the ‘sword and sorcery’ novels. Male leads are active, warrior, thief, wizard or a bit of all. Female leads most of the time are more subdued – or there are no female leads at all. Being evil, however, provides a woman with a more active role, but ensures she will not live to see the end of the story. Choices are ‘weak, but surviving’ or ‘strong, but dying’.

Horror novels traditionally have a weak female lead, but there have been changes over the years. Women take a slightly more active role there by now, female vampire hunters, for instance.

At the same time, horror and fantasy have been undermined by romance novels of lately. By keeping up pretence of being a real horror or fantasy story, the romance has taken over, turning traditional monsters into ‘good’ (or at least ‘not as evil’) versions of themselves, so the heroine can fall in love with the vampire, werewolf, dragon (in human form), demon or whatever, without having to pay the ultimate price. Or, of course, we have the ‘weak’ heroine allowed to fall for the valiant knight.

A different story with mystery and thriller novels. There has always been a place for the female detective in the cosy mysteries. Ever since Agatha Christie, female characters have taken over investigation while the quite often male investigator prove too incompetent or too prejudiced to solve the crime. In thrillers, the female lead does not have such strong a tradition, as the more action-oriented story of the thriller seems to ‘demand’ a male lead. However the team Rizoli/Isles in Tess Gerritsen’s novels proves easily women can do the job, too. The same goes for a host of other novels. The reason? Most likely the fact that more female writers have taken up the genre now.

There are still some traditional structures to break up in some genres, while others have left quite some traditions behind by now. Maybe one day I can help to break up the traditions in other genres.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Confusion about Romance

I am not an avid reader of romance novels at all. It’s just not my genre, but I respect people who read them for fun. Yet, a discussion has sprung up at the Diving Bell Pub about forbidden love (which is one of your basic romance topics, after all) and I feel compelled to write more about it. As it is a topic of writing and reading, I decided to do so here at my literary blog.

The main discussion isn’t so much the topic of forbidden love – which is sweet and larger-than-life in many ways – but the question of what kind of novel counts as a romance novel.

For me, a lot of those ‘women novels’ which have sprung up in the fantasy and horror genre are romance stories as well. Every story which mostly revolves around the relationship of the male and female lead is a romance novel for me, no matter whether the backdrop is today’s quiet suburb or medieval Paris or a fantasy world yet to be named. It also doesn’t matter much to me whether the happiness of the couple is threatened by another suitor (with more influence and wealth, perhaps), the war between two kingdoms, the denial of the family (or an arranged marriage) or a vampire lurking in the background (which normally will be another suitor in a different way).

If horror, thriller, fantasy or whatever become a mere background for the love of two people, it’s a romance novel for me.

I’m not completely alone with that view in aforementioned discussion in the forum, but still it is hard for me to make people understand I don’t really care for that stuff – maybe because I, too, find it hard to understand the reason.

I never developed a taste for romance stories in my youth. I always liked reading crime and mystery. When I slipped into my teens, first horror, then science-fiction and finally fantasy were added to my tastes. I read the novels, I watched the movies and I enjoyed myself a lot. I rediscovered the thrill I had experienced with fantasy books and fairy tales for kids when I realized they were my entrance door to fantasy and horror. Science-fiction came with my interest in Star Trek and, of course, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It also came with two anthologies that put Sherlock Holmes into various settings in time and space.

I tried my hands at romance stories during that time, but somehow I could never make it work. Romance stories, melodramatic stories and other ‘normal world’ stuff never really interested me.

A little while ago, I ‘accidentally’ bought one of those ‘women novels’ set in a fantasy environment … and never finished it. I just couldn’t really get my mind around it, the romance was so much in the foreground for me, it simply erased the fantasy part. I’m just not wired the right way to enjoy such novels. Romance as a sub-thread in a crime or mystery story is okay, not a problem with that (both the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Chloe Coyle and the Booktown Mysteries by Lorna Barrett come with romantic entanglements for the female detectives). Romance as a sub-thread in a fantasy, horror or science-fiction novel is okay for me as well. It’s the other way around that troubles me – when the genres I enjoy reading become a mere backdrop for a romance.

Yet I have lately worked on a romance story in a fantasy environment – strange things are happening. Stay tuned for a post about this story, currently dubbed ‘Magical Marriage’ on my computer. I have but a few scenes to do and will take it to Feedbooks once I am finished.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The 20 Rules

As a reader and writer of mystery stories for most of my life, I have long ago learned about the basic rules of the genre. Every now and then, however, I stumble over a piece of information I find highly useful. Like “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories” by. S.S. van Dine.

I stumbled upon this essay by S.S. van Dine while browsing one of my favourite sites for free e-books, Feedbooks (click here to find the e-book). I downloaded it and read it, realizing that part of the rules still are correct while others have changed over time. Let’s have a look at the twenty rules and see how they are today, shall we?

1. The reader must have equal opportunity to solve the crime. That one still is absolutely right. All clues must be visible and all information the detective gets must also be available for the reader.

2. No tricks or deceptions might be played on the reader safe for those also played on the detective by the criminal. That’s very much the same as ‘equal opportunity’ in my books, but it’s right, of course.

3. There must be no love interest in the story. Boy, that one flew right out of the window later, didn’t it? Van Dine argues that a mystery story is a venture for the mind and not for emotions, but I have to admit that a little bit of relationship stuff in a mystery story can surely spice things up.

4. The detective himself or one of the official investigators should never turn out to be the culprit. That one is a ‘yes, but’ case for me. Yes, the detective who is the main character of the story should never turn out to be the culprit. I have, however, read some mystery stories in which one of the official investigators turned out to be the culprit and they worked quite nicely.

5. The culprit must be found by logical deduction, not by accident, coincidence or an unmotivated confession. That one is definitely true. A good mystery story should never rely on accident or coincidence for the solution, it all has to be ‘there’ to be seen.

6. The detective novel must have a detective in it (read: a person who detects and searches for clues and logically interprets them). That basically goes without saying, as it were.

7. There must be a corpse in the story, the deader the better. Another of those ‘yes, but’ cases in my opinion. You can start a crime story with something less than a murder, but sooner or later the murder should come. It’s the most interesting crime to most readers and they expect at least one in a crime or mystery story.

8. The crime must be solved by naturalistic (read: scientific) means. This one is definitely right, but a patina of supernatural sometimes goes well with the story. Old-fashioned deduction can go a long way, even with all the help of a modern CSI unit.

9. There must be but one detective. I’ve seen stories with various detectives (adding up to ‘one’ detective) done very well, but there should be, in essence, one detective entity pitted against the reader.

10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent role in the story. This one is absolutely right. There’s nothing worse than a story in which the culprit jumps out of the shadows at the end and has never been seen before. It falls under the rule of ‘equal opportunity’, by the way – for the reader has to meet all important characters and the culprit definitely is important.

11. Servants should never turn out to be the culprit. Another rule the change of times has done away with. Servants are rare today, outside the houses of the very rich (and usually very famous). As they’re not that common today, there’s no real reason to exclude them from the list of possible culprits.

12. There must be only one culprit. I don’t completely agree with this rule. It should be obvious, though, in some way after a while that there have to be two criminals around. I have read stories that work very well with two or more criminals.

13. Secret societies or criminal syndicates have no place in a detective story. I partly agree here. The culprit should not have a syndicate behind him and secret societies are fit better for a thriller or adventure story. There’s no reason, though, why one should not play a very minor role.

14. The method of murder must be scientific and logical (so it can be detected). Van Dine meant by this that there should be no ominous poison never seen or heard of before. He’s right about it, because otherwise there’s no way the reader can solve the crime.

15. The truth must be visible at all times, provided the reader is clever enough to see it. Clues must point at the right person, if you really think about them. The means of committing the murder must be there, visible to the detective and the reader. That’s absolutely right, of course.

16. A detective story should not contain long descriptive passages. I don’t really agree with van Dine here. I like to slip into the setting, so descriptions of the surroundings and the people are of essence to me. But that one might be off today mostly because we’ve grown more used to psychological solving of crimes than at van Dine’s time. Today, we need worked out characters, so we can see who has the motif on top of the means and also has the right characteristics to kill.

17. The culprit should never be a professional criminal. Yes, that would be too easy. A professional criminal is one of the usual suspects and will be in the focus of the police far too soon. Mystery novels are not about how the police got Mr. X again, they’re about an unusual suspect committing a crime.

18. A crime must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. That one, I think, goes without saying as well. Mystery stories are about solving crimes, not reconstructing accidents or analysing suicides. That does not mean, however, that a crime is not allowed to pose as an accident or a suicide.

19. The motif for a crime has to be personal. That’s still true today. If a motif is not personal, the story is more fit for a thriller (be it about a serial killer or some political murder). The ‘Why’ is the link between the victim and the culprit.

20. consists of a list of devices never to be used in a detective story, such as the evil twin, a false séance or planted evidence. Only the first in the list, finding the criminal by comparing traces from the crime scene to something the culprit has at his or her disposal (van Dine manages cigarette ash) has to be taken off the list. That’s how modern forensics work. Modern mystery stories have to accept this fact as a fact, but the detective doesn’t have to analyze this clue himself (or herself). He or she can be told.

Twenty rules for writing a mystery story. Some might not really be important today, but they’re still worth considering.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Surprising Success

When I published two stories on Feedbooks (see the links on the side), I hoped for a few readers, but I am very surprised at the number of downloads they have reached now – especially Twin Sisters.

This is actually quite motivating for me. I have started writing more lately – and more regularly as well. If any of you who read this blog have also downloaded the stories, I hereby thank you very much.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


… of some kind. If you take a closer look at the left side of the blog, you might realize I have added another link to the ‘posted at Feedbooks’ category.

With “Twin Sisters” I’ve now published my second story, others will follow – both in English and in German. “Twin Sisters” is a story about murder and revenge, quite bloody, but shorter than “Phoenix Song”.

My next project now is to overhaul my very first long story, a German one. Within a week or a week and a half at the outmost it should be ready for publication, too. After this one (a fantasy story), I might edit the large number of slash stories I wrote, both in English and in German, and publish them in two collections.

Keep an eye out for the list, if you’re interested in my stories.