Another great post from Brad. And as usual, he ties it all together in the most entertaining way. Why else call the blog what I call it :)
Writers share something with those traveling circuses and carnivals of yesteryear. Then you paid for a ticket and were promised a memorable experience. Whether it was a Tunnel of Love, the dizzy action of the Octopus ride, or the drama and tension of the high wire act, traveling circuses tried to provide something for everyone. Clowns, magicians, the bizarre, the impossible; all were part of the sawdust-and-popcorn entertainment a century ago.
Writers charge for a book and promise an experience. We simply call the rides and acts, genres. Romance comes in books, not boats. Tension from a thriller’s high-stakes, not high wires; humor from characters, not clowns. Like circus acts, genres must deliver. If you read thrillers, you want to be thrilled. Mysteries should offer a perplexing puzzle. Romances should render that back-and-forth relationship tango. Readers choose the genre for its specifics.
This expectation presents a challenge. Solomon pointed out that there was nothing new under the sun. Every genre has its clichés. It was a dark and stormy night; the butler did it; they all lived happily ever after. How do we offer something new?
Details, my friends. The devil may be in them, but so is our answer. We know in a romance the boy and girl will find each other after various trials. So what if they find each other via letters on a pen-pal site? And what if, while “graphically” attracted to each other, they physically work in the same shop, constantly rubbing each other the wrong way? Voilá, a couple of changed details and you got, “The Shop Around the Corner.”
Or take a murder mystery. A victim is killed and the detective must solve the crime. But what if the victim is forced to become his own detective? A slow poison given to an accountant that can’t be stopped gives him 24 hours to solve his own progressing murder? Change this one detail regarding the detective and presto, the movie “D.O.A.”
With my own genre, fantasy, castles are an oft-used setting. They are known to be winter cold. The kitchens could get hot when the ovens were going. I have a castle. I could use fireplaces in most rooms and the kitchen staff could carry hand fans. But why not have some fun with magic? It’s a fantasy, people want the unusual. I put my palace over caves and fault lines. Why not stick a couple of cranky frost giants in a room under the castle and have them blow their frosty breath up various shafts to cool the castle?
Winter heat is provided by flame sprites who spit their little fireballs up the same shafts. The castle mages make their living producing magic candles. So let’s have one large candle, cut it in half, and when the upper portion is lit, the lower portion’s wick catches fire as well, no matter the halves’ distance. Need heat? Cold? Light your candle and down below the corresponding half ignites near the shaft. telling the occupants to send up fireballs or frost.
Of course, when our castle friends switch over from cooling to heating, there's always difficulty. Cold versus hot, giants versus sprites; more trouble than any HVAC man has ever had to deal with. But to find out about that you will have to read my upcoming book, “Riddley Bundleforth and the Banshee's Bell.”
As authors, we should find details to change, creating more experiences for our readers. Boy meets girl? Why not girl accidentally purchases boy when she mixes an Uber ride for Uber date? The butler did do it, but the butler is an interplanetary alien doing a sociological study on why murder disturbs humans. Instead of a fantastic sword that can defeat all enemies, how about a bewitched sword that takes every shield as a personal insult, attacking it mercilessly, while the hero is dragged by the hilt? As authors, let’s steal a page from P.T. Barnum and fill our pages with “The Greatest Show on Earth.”