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Reading Outside Your Genre: Blogs

One of the most common pieces of advice that I hear from writers is to read outside of your genre.  In fact, some writers go so far as not reading anything inside their genre while they are writing.  Which I think is taking things a bit far, but…  The point is, it’s very good advice.

Why?  Here’s another piece of advice I hear all the time:  “Even if your story is has almost exactly the same topic/characters/theme/plot as someone else’s, it will still be different.  Put your own spin on it.”  Again, a fantastic piece of advice.  But how do you do it?  One way to get ideas is by following our first piece of advice.  Every genre has its own tropes and conventions, things that are common amongst the majority of stories in that genre.  But some of the best work in any genre involves tropes and conventions that aren’t normally a part of it.  And you won’t know what those are if you only read inside your own genre.

Blogging is a lot like writing.  There are tons of blogs out there, about almost every topic you can think of.  So how do you make your own blog stand out?  Here’s My 5 Step Plan to Writing a Rocking Blog:

1.  Identify the goals of your blog.  Who is your target audience?  What are you trying to tell them?  What methods will you use?  What style will you write in?  What is your blog’s genre?

2.  Look at other blogs in the same genre.  How do they approach their readers?  What tips and tricks do they use?  What formatting do they employ?  What are the most common templates for blog posts?  How-tos?  In-depth analysis?  Anecdotes?  What style do they adopt?

3.  Decide how to satsify your target readers.  How can you use what you’ve learned reading other blogs to create a blog that people will want to read?  What have those other blogs done right?  What have they done wrong?  Which of their techniques can you make work for you?

4.  Now read blogs that aren’t in your genre.  What kinds of things don’t your genre’s blogs talk about?  What else do you find interesting besides the standard fare of your genre?  What blogs grabbed your attention?  What techniques did those other bloggers use that made you want to keep reading?  How could these bloggers maintain your interest in topics you had never been interested in before?

5.  Apply what you’ve learned.  What do you see on blogs in other genres that could be adapted to your own blog?  What things in those other blogs could apply to blogs in general?  What topics did you come across that were relevant to your own genre, but rarely addressed?  What did you find that could make your blog stand out?  What will be your twist?

Of course, digging through hundreds and thousands of off-topic blogs is tough.  There has to be a way to narrow down your search.

And you can find it right here on the Chimney.  As a special service just for my readers, I’m going to point you to some of the out-genre blogs that I use to keep my perspective wide.

Tune in every Saturday, when I will write a post featuring a blog outside of my own genre, and why I read it.  I will explore what makes it such a fantastic blog in its own right, and why it is relevant to those of you who may be reading my blog, even if you don’t share a genre with me.

Keep in mind that I am first a spec fic writer and reader, then a fiction reader.  I will be looking at blogs that mostly apply first and foremost to writers, because that’s what I am, and its also my target audience.

So the chances that I will be high-lighting sports blogs; or that if you run a site on how to buy and use a gas grill the blogs I feature will give added value to your site are slim.

But they could!  The whole point of me writing this post was that you never know what could attract readers.

Hopefully, this feature series will kick off Saturday, July 23.  I’ll be plugging it wherever I reasonably can.  Please feel free to mention it to your friends, fellow bloggers, and also your readers.  If you have a blog you think should be featured, or if you like to submit your own blog, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.  You’ll find my contact details on my Contact Me page, in the menu at the top of the page.

I’m also going to put this out on my Twitter, so feel free to Re-Tweet (and follow me if you aren’t already) if the mood strikes you.  There are tons of awesome blogs out there that you should be reading, and I’m going to do my best to introduce as many of them to you as I can.

Because I’m curious about how well people police their identities on the internet, I’m going to wait until six hours before the each post go online to notify the bloggers in question.

(Pro Tip:  Setting up Google Alerts and other services to keep track of how your name is mentioned on the internet is not egotistical.  It is good social net-working practice and it can not only improve your relationship with others by making you aware of their interest in you, it can help nip problems in the bud.)

Now, she doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve already selected Romantic Comedy author Tawna Fenske at Don’t pet me, I’m writing to be the first featured blog.  It was in fact one of her posts that inspired this series, because she is just that awesome.  Don’t wait for the post, go follow her immediately!  And feel free to tell her who sent you. ;)

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Authors, Blogging, How To

 

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The Good, the Bad, and the Timeskip

One of the most versatile tools in ther writerly arsenal is the time-skip.  In fact, it might be the most versatile tool in the story-teller’s arsenal in general.

Let’s look at some examples from television:

There’s an intense moment, perhaps a friend has just been killed, or fallen off a tall tower, or maybe the heroes have just killed the monster, and… BAM! Timeskip.

Because, really, what is left to show after the hero screams “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” for two minutes.  How are you going to show the come-down from that?  For the most part you can’t.  Which is why I hate shows with a lot of long, anguished screams.  You see this in anime all the time, as well.  You see, the timeskip can be a great tool, but it can also blind the writer to other possibilities.

After the 40th time I’ve seen a scream/timeskip, I’ve gotten really tired of them.  Seriously, writers, find a better way to show this emotion.  The fact that you have to resort to timeskips so often after a major character dies tells me your skills at emotional depiction are rather one-trick pony.  It’s clear you just don’t know any other way to move on from such a scene.  But they exist!  And you should learn to use them.  And the same goes for any other dramatic moment.  Fade-outs aren’t everything.

 

But timeskips can still be good.  Once you’ve finished the scene and sequel, we don’t need to see everything that happens between then and the next major event.  A little “***” can work wonders.

“Quick, shut the door!” she yelled.  I slid the bolt into place just as the first oozing, moaning thing crashed up against the glass.  The sun peaking over the roofs across the street just made the pale, peeling skin more sickening.  I could hear the scritch-scratch of broken nails as they dug into the solid oak grain.  I could see the hunger in life-less bllodshot eyes.  I closed the curtain.  He wasn’t getting fries with this.

***

Eventually the creature wandered off, looking for easier pickings.  I shivered despite the warm sun poking through the thin fabric of the curtain, knowing that if this had been a summer blockbuster instead of the real thing, there’d have been an arm through the door, ready to rip off whatever was at hand.  But without a fully functioning brain, the nerves couldn’t get enough of a charge to do anything to solid wood except claw and moan.

That’s a passage from halfway through a zombie apocalypse book I wrote for god-knows-what reason.  It’s certainly not well-written enough to stand out from the crowd.  But between those two paragraphs was hours of whispers, weeping and shaking.  It would have taken thousands of words and the reader didn’t need to see it.  And that little line of asterisks let me skip all of it, and you never even realized you were missing anything.  You had the build-up and the resolution and none of the junk in between.

 

The same goes for long journeys.  If nothing happens between Parsell and Merrit, your characters can go to sleep in Parsel and be awake and in Merrit by the next paragraph.  There’s no need to drag the reader through the eleventy-hundred bowls of stew and loaves of journey-bread the characters eat on the way.  Which is not to say that you can’t put scenes in between, especially if it’s a long journey.  They just has to be relevant to the story.

 

Which brings up the third use of time skips.  Lots of time actually passing.  If four years happen between one important scene and the next, you’ll never be able to include the in-between, and you shouldn’t need to.

The real secret to doing good timeskips is knowing how to show the time passed.  In our little zombie snippet, it was just a few hours between evening and morning.  Not much happened but the zombie leaving.  But if you’re skipping months or years, things are going to be different.  Characters will have moved around, things will have been accomplished that may not be important for the reader to see, but they will have an effect on the characters and their circumstances.

 

Those are three common uses of time skips: skipping short periods of time between scene and sequels, skipping over time and distance such as ona  journey, and skipping long periods of time, such as in an epic fantasy saga.  There are more, but I can’t address them all in one post.  I wish I had been able to include more specific exmaples showing the difference between a good timeskip and a lack of one, but that would also take up too much space.  If you’ve read any decent amount of books or watched tv shows or movies, you’ll have your own examples to look at.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2011 in How To, Writing

 

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