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Thread: Aunt Cathy's Lecture Series - 5: Lords and Overlords

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    Ooo! Shiny new cover! Absolute Sage Cathy C's Avatar
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    Aunt Cathy's Lecture Series - 5: Lords and Overlords

    LECTURE #5


    Finding balance within a subgenre

    By Cathy Clamp

    In Lecture #4, we discussed the concept of “master” and “servant.” The determination of the master genre is very important for marketing your book to the best publisher in order to sell your manuscript. But how about within a subgenre? What if you have elements of so many different subgenres that they are all battling?

    For example, what happens if (as someone in the original workshop defined her book,) you have an “erotic urban paranormal fantasy romance. EEK! Who in the heck will buy that? Can’t it be called by a shorter name? Sure. I recommended “erotic fantasy romance.” But that begs the question: Why remove the “urban” and “paranormal?” Was it by whim that I picked those two to remove? No. Each of the remaining subgenres are master subgenres, but they're also “overlord subgenres.” This means that certain elements are stronger, by their very nature, than the other elements.

    The subgenres of paranormal, fantasy, futuristic and science fiction are the worst offenders of this confusion. So, let’s say that you have fairies, werewolves, Wiccan witches, and regular humans who interact in a story. Hmm. Magic is generally considered fantasy, but then there are the shapeshifters, which are paranormal. How to decide? This is where your world and tone are important.

    Here are some of the elements that you have to consider when selecting within a subgenre:

    World-building. This is one of the prime elements of a fantasy world. Many paranormal romances lack sufficient attention to the rules of the world which the characters (let's say shapeshifters in this case) occupy. If they are tied to the moon, for example, how can they work regular jobs where they might work night shifts? McDonald’s generally doesn’t rearrange its schedule based on the lunar calendar. So, for the reader to believe in the world, rules must exist that are unbreakable within that world. How about the fairies? Can they fold up their wings? If the wings are actually big enough to hold them aloft, they won’t be driving — heck, they probably can’t take the bus! These sorts of rules are going to have a profound impact on your characters' motivations and personality. It will change the way they function in the world. So, if a writer has included rules such as these, even if they don’t come into play much in the book, then the author has created a new reality. They have built a world. Once a writer has achieved world-building, it’s a “fantasy.” Fantasy has become the Overlord of the subgenre. So, while there are also elements of the paranormal, the elements of world-building thread throughout the manuscript and cannot be removed without risking either the plot or the characters.

    How about science-fiction vs. fantasy vs. futuristic? The same rule applies — what is stronger? If it’s set on another planet that was colonized by humans, it’s probably science fiction. We don’t colonize presently. The futuristic tag generally requires a setting on Earth, in the future. By the same reasoning, if it’s set on another planet, but using alien cultures without any mention of the human race, then it’s a fantasy.

    Remember this rule: That which cannot be removed is the Overlord.

    1. Humans can be PART of a fantasy, but the world MUST have its own rules
    2. Fantasy MUST including magic in one form or another.
    3. Humans can be PART of a paranormal, but Creatures of legend MUST be included, AND the rules are the same as our world.
    4. Humans MUST be in a science fiction.
    5. Humans AND Earth MUST be in a futuristic.

    Tone. The tone of the book is extremely critical to proper placement, because it ALWAYS takes precedence. Tone is the Grand Overlord. Something is either light or dark and that “feel” will place the book. Is a fight in a contemporary romance serious and intended to kill? If the tone is dark and thrilling, it will be difficult to place this book as a chick-lit or romantic comedy. Likewise, if the battles are a Jackie Chan-style comedy of errors, the manuscript will struggle to find a home on the regular suspense shelves.

    As Grand Overlord of Paranormal and Fantasy, tone will decide the proper placement. Are your fairies actually fey who lure humans into doing bad things? That’s a dark tone. It will be either dark fantasy or dark paranormal. Are the fairies the warm and fuzzy sort who flit around and only do good for people? That’s a light fantasy or light paranormal. Are they fantasy or paranormal once you've established tone? Once again, does it have world-building? That drops you into your Master position.

    Here are some of the elements that generally establish tone (not in every case naturally):


    World building
    Creatures exist which are not completely human or not human
    Magic that can alter things and people is real

    Light Paranormal:

    Fairies (light ones)
    Mundane magic (everybody does it, but nobody is evil)
    Shapeshifters who have no inherent bloodlust
    Spirit guardians/protectors

    Dark Paranormal:

    Vampires who suck blood
    Shapeshifters who must eat meat
    Fey who use humans for their own desires
    Ghosts who haunt
    Incubus/Succubus who possess for sexual satisfaction

    Science Fiction:

    Space craft which travel between planets and/or stars
    Time travel MACHINES
    Alien invasion of Earth and battle with superior machinery
    Use of science to defeat foe intending to take over the world


    Set in Earth’s future
    Using Humans as the characters
    Generally no alien interaction
    Weaponry and society models loosely based on our own

    Time Travel:

    The person traveling MUST be able to return to his/her own time if they choose at some point during the course of the book.


    Danger to hero and/or heroine
    Threat of death to hero and/or heroine
    Reader not being certain of the HEA outcome

    Hope this series has helped a few of you.

    Go to Lecture #1 - Genres
    Go to Lecture #2 - Romance Subgenres
    Go to Lecture #3 - What's Love Got To Do With It?
    Go to Lecture #4 - Master & Servant
    Go to Lecture #5 - Lord & Overlords
    Last edited by Cathy C; 08-10-2006 at 01:57 AM.
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    Cathy Clamp
    USA Today bestselling author
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    "An entertaining (and occasionally very dark) mystery." -- Locus

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    "Cathy Clamp is a visionary author, creating new worlds that are both strong and vividly drawn. Adventure and excitement at its best." -- Yasmine Galenorn, New York Times Bestselling Author

    "A struggling community under attack, compelling action, characters struggling with dark secrets ... FORBIDDEN hit all my favorite notes, and I love the rich world of the Sazi!" - Rachel Caine, New York Times Bestselling Author

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