On Writing Crossover Fiction: CWC Session VIII


Author Highlight: Rebecca Johns

Readers are always looking for something with an edge—and crossover fiction could be the answer. If you are in the process of writing crossover, are interested in writing it, or have no idea what it is, then this post should be useful for you. Plus, there’s a list full of awesome crossover books to read!

“Crossover Fiction” can be any of the following:


To write good crossover fiction, you need to:

  • Start with a great premise. You’ll build the crossover aspects of your work around this, so make sure it’s totally stellar.
  • Include high external stakes (though it does not have to be world-ending). The book itself is an experiment, and experiments, by definition, can fail. Impart this sense of worry into the text.
  • Have a main character with high internal conflict and strong desires. This mirrors the conflict of the two styles you are trying to bring together, and will strengthen the book’s overall feel as a crossover.
  • Impose a time limit on the character or story. This is good for any kind of fiction—but it turns out to be a strange commonality shared by good crossover.
  • Have a surprising ending. The story is already a surprise for its style-clashing. Don’t go out without a bang!

Some good examples of crossover fiction:

  • The Historian. A three-storyline supernatural, historical thriller concerning the modern-day existence of Vlad the Impaler.
  • The Night Circus. About a circus that magically appears overnight, and two people who become enmeshed in its intrigue.
  • Kindred. A time-traveling story about a modern black woman time-traveling to an era where she is a slave.

In my next post in this CWC Recap Series, I’ll go over Random Tips and Tricks From CWC 2015 Presenters (gained across all presentations), and after that, I’ll do a Final Thoughts & Conference Advice post – and then I can stop chugging out stuff about this conference and move on to some new projects!

The Roles of Dialogue, Character, and Research in Fiction: CWC Session V


Author Highlight: Michael Raleigh

How do you really create a character?

  1. Make Your Character Want Something. Sailing afloat in a lack of want… that only worked (arguably) for The Catcher in the Rye. Make your character want something – even if they don’t know what it is.
  2. Make Them Sympathetic. Use every detail in your arsenal to make us like your character. If you’re good, you’ll even make us like bad guys. And when we like them, even a little, we care about what happens to them. Try these tactics:
    • Backstory. Have they overcome suffering? Or will they?
    • Personality & Appearance. Use description to break us into the character.
    • Name. Daisy Faye sounds wimpy and feminine. Dirk Pitt? Not so.
    • Dialogue. How do they talk?
    • Actions. What are their habits/quirks?
  3.  Then Attack Them. Yep. Once the reader likes them… “let the monsters loose.” Sorry, but good stories come from hard times. Don’t make it easy on them.

Dialogue. This gets its own section, because it can so easily get screwed up.


  • Too Many “Said” Synonyms. Every human reader has seen the word “said” about a billion times. We basically don’t notice it exists. But replacements like “asserted” and “exclaimed,” we notice. Watch yourself.
  • Speeches. People almost never talk in speeches.
  • Long, Formal Sentences. Not a thing.
  • Repetitive Hellos. “Nice to meet you.” “Nice to meet you.” “Hello.” “Hello.” Yeah. People do this, but it doesn’t read well.
  • Writing Completely Realistic Dialogue. You are writing, not speaking. It won’t match real-life dialogue exactly. It should just read right.
  • Affecting a Dialect. Don’t mess with words’ spelling or add unneeded punctuation unless you really think it’s necessary. Think of Hagrid. He was done right.
  • Contemporary Slang. If you start using contemporary slang, you will alienate both current and future readers. If you have to do slang, make it accessible and understandable – like in A Clockwork Orange.

Some other notes from the session…

Research – Do Enough to Make You Comfortable. If you get caught up in research, you might stop writing. Great writers like Karen Abbott researched just enough to piece the story together – then went back later to flesh things out. If you can define what’s different about a place or thing, then the research has carried you far enough to use placeholders.

Don’t Write What You Know. Learn things. Then write those. Even in writing fantasy, you’ll need to learn – about the different types of bird feathers (for phoenix descriptions), or about how best to smelt your own weapon (for grumpy elf weaponsmith scenes). Research adds authenticity – but frankly, it doesn’t make stories. Curiosity – and corrected ignorance – make stories.

In my next post in this CWC Recap Series, I’ll go over the Meet the Agents session from CWC 2015 (granted, I missed the first few minutes).

Session I Missed: To see this session, I had to miss the De-Mystifying the PR Process session. If you went to that session, consider doing a simultaneous or guest blog to correspond with my CWC Recap!

Writing Place in Fiction: CWC Session II

Author Highlight: Christine Sneed


Creating an authentic feeling of place in a story is not as easy as it sounds. In this session, author Christine Sneed took us through some of her favorite descriptions of setting by some seriously pro authors, like Mavis Gallant and Andre Debus III. Here are my personal takeaways:

DETAILS DETAILS DETAILS. The truest sense of setting comes from the combination of small observations. Take this, for example:

A black balcony stood over the entrance to the mansion.

Does that feel like any other entrance you’ve ever seen or imagined? Hardly. So think about the details. What sort of black is it – is it shiny like a Chinese box, or dull and gritty like igneous rock? Is the balcony spindly or does it have bars as thick as a prison cell’s? Does it jut, leer, or loom? Is it sloped with age or newly built? I could go on and on.

Now, for a few ways to get the most out of your details:

  1. Be Precise. Do not waste anything – every verb, adjective, and chosen noun image should add to the setting’s emotional or physical feel. Pare your sentences down to only necessary and evocative words.
  2. Evoke Emotion or Aura. Settings aren’t just images – they’re indications of feeling. A home housing two about-to-be-divorced people isn’t going to have green walls – it’s going to have walls “green as the one plant he managed to keep alive all these years, using a steady supply of poured-out beer.” Or, if they are newly married and happy, the green could be described as verdant or lush.
  3. Add a Sense of Movement. As you lay out a description, consider the transitions you are using between your images. Try going according to size (e.g. desk > room > house > town); try nesting images within one another (e.g. the color of late-to-bud roses, like those left behind the neighbors’ old house when they left for the winter); and when you are making a list, consider how one item leads to the next (e.g. a list of color associations moving from light colors to dark). Your description of setting should have a sense of progression or conversation; it shouldn’t feel like an awkward dinner party where everyone sits together but no one is talking.
  4. Actions Performed. To further that feeling of action and movement, consider what your setting does. Verbs can keep a setting from going stale. A balcony oversees; a wall forbids; a hearth welcomes. These are just general; see how creative you can get!
  5. Paragraph Size. When your paragraphs become heavily laden with description, consider using paragraph breaks to speed up the feel of the text. This can prevent the reader from getting bored, and give a stronger sense that the setting is causing action.

The next two posts will go over my favorite session – Branding Yourself – The Role of the Author in the Marketplace by Laurie Scheer.

Session I Missed: To see that session, I had to miss the Meet the Publishers session. If you went to that session, consider doing a simultaneous or guest blog to correspond with my CWC Recap!

Why Fantasy Writers Should Not Get Creative Writing Master’s Degrees

Since I went to college for English but not teaching, everyone assumed I was going in for a Master’s, since you can’t really get a decent-paying job – read: more than $25,000 a year – with an English degree out of the gate (unless you had the time and monetary backing to be involved in, like, everything).

Yet, as a fantasy writer, I decided against a creative writing Master’s. Here’s why:

  1. They don’t teach you to write novels. When I was working as an intern for Speilburg Literary, I remember one query letter in particular. It had been submitted by someone with a Master’s degree in creative writing, and the chapters were fewer than three paragraphs long. These itsy-bitsy chapters didn’t even end on cliffhangers – they ended like any old paragraph might. Even James Patterson can’t get away with that! The agent, Alice, told me this was common, because in Master’s programs they primarily teach the short story form, so that is how graduates primarily write.
  2. They don’t teach you to write fantasy. I find a great deal of literary fiction to be pretentious and dissatisfying, mostly because I prefer fantasy. However, in fiction Master’s programs, they teach realistic fiction almost exclusively. For me it was always like writing in a box with nothing but some air holes poked in the side. Yes, learning to write plain fiction can improve your ability to write fantasy fiction, but as with learning only the short story form, the improvement will not be as focused. For example, in my 400-level Advanced Fiction class at MSU, I learned absolutely nothing that helped me improve my fantasy writing – a genre my professor forbade, dismissing it out of hand. Wow.
  3. There’s nothing college can teach you about writing that you can’t learn for less. My time in the above-mentioned class could have been much better spent meeting with a writer’s group, taking online webinars, going to conferences, or writing. Most of these things are free, but even when they aren’t, they’re cheaper and less time-consuming than a $2,000 3-credit class.

With all of that said, going for a degree does give a person more drive. It’s a bit harder to find time to care about classes and groups when they aren’t moving you toward a tangible paper degree. All the same, I’ll only consider an MFA when they start taking genre seriously. Until then, I’m better served by editing my novels and paying off my loans – or by going in for a Master’s in mechanical engineering. God knows that would pay more.

An Irregular Arrangement of Bones: The Value of the Writing Prompt

Last Saturday I attended my very first writer’s conference at the Ann Arbor Book Festival in Michigan. For the first time in ages, I was exposed to writing prompts, which have always seemed silly to me, since most aren’t intended for fantasy. As a fantasy author, they therefore always seemed like a useless diversion that had no real potential to propel me.

But now I realize that a good prompt can make you think outside the box, force you into a new mindset, and rejuvenate your writerly faith in yourself.  If you have ten or so minutes to create something, so much the better. Give it your best, most free-flowing shot; and your creativity will come to a boil.

You want to succeed at the prompt, at the challenge, to prove that yes, you are a writer. You aren’t faking it – are you?

Take this prompt, for example:

A situation occurs between two people where both have just been denied something they dearly want, yet the two people are not in opposition to one another.

Well, that sounds hard, right? But dammit, you’re a writer, you can do this. Fifteen minutes, go!… and this is what I surprised myself – and the conference’s keynote speaker – with:

Martin looked at the ear again, the irregular arrangement of the bones, and all he could think about was the money.

The keynote speaker, Rachel DeWoskin, told me she was impressed by this line, and that it needed to become a published story. Besides that, I recognized for myself the value of finally, finally, having written a first line that worked… a battle I have been fighting and losing with my current book. This outside-my-purview prompt, however, made me believe again that I could do it – that I could draw upon my own personal spark of brilliance, and make my current book work. 

In addition, the story I worked up was pretty decent; it’s always a boost to know you can write convincingly about a contemporary doctor and patient, not just about fantasy beings you make up. I look forward to future prompts, and to the unique perspectives that each one can bring to my desk.