Saturday, July 2, 2011

Reading: Many Genres, One Craft (Part 1)

Before I went to my first writing residency at Seton Hill University (per the Writing Popular Fiction program), I bought Michael A. Arnzen's and Hedi Ruby Miller’s book entitled, Many Genres, One Craft. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this new release, know that it is basically a writer’s workshop in print that was compiled from past/present students, mentors, professors, etc. from SHU’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction.  Now when I was an undergraduate at the university, I heard a great deal about this new writer’s guide that aimed to help all genre writer's with different areas of their craft from dealing with perfectionism, building tension, to the basic repetitive words that annoy the hell out of editors. 

So now that I have officially enrolled into the program and have been working my way through the book,  I want to share with my followers my process in writing and how the book has been helping me, as a writer. I know that in the past I have shared updates about how books such as On Writing Horror and Writers Workshop of Horror have helped me, but so far this book has been very unlike anything that I have experienced—in a good way.

Right now, I’m about 60 pages into the guide and I’ve already caught myself in several major BAD habits that I’m consciously working to avoid, but beyond that, I’ve found that I’ve discovered an inner peace within myself knowing that other people struggle with the same things that I do. Sometimes knowing that you’re not alone is the biggest relief of them all. Trust me.

So here’s what I’ve learned so far:

From Michael A. Arnzen’s article “Putting our Heads Together: An Introduction to Many Genres, One Craft”: Cross genre learning will drastically improve your writing.

Now most of you know by now that I write horror, live horror, breathe horror, wish I was a vampire etc., and so it might surprise some of you to know that I’m studying ROMANCE this term. Naturally, I’ve taken all of the horror classes already, but one piece of advice that I’ve recently taken to heart really humbled me: you can always learn how to improve your genre by reading outside of it as well as within it.  And I mean, honestly folks, who doesn’t love a juicy romance scene between the sexy vampire and his mortal infatuation that’s he’s really trying hard not to drain, or seeing the Wolfman not rip out Gwen’s throat because his human side is still in love with her? Well guess what?! Those are all romance elements, and seeing that I’ve only been studying and writing the throat ripping parts, I’m not quite sure how to make that into a semi-romantic scene—hence my new focus this term.

From Gary A. Braunbeck’s article “You Have to Start with SOMETHING, So it Might as well be Something like this” : Opening lines are crucial

I love that assaulting first line in a book that just rips open my eyes and forces me to keep reading. For instance, if a story opens up with a murder, an amputation, someone having a conversation with the devil… I’m so not putting it down. Now if it opens with “It was a bright and sunny day and I reached for my glass of lemonade thinking about how perfect my life was…” unless there is a bloody eye floating around near the ice cubes, I’m probably going to chuck it out the window.

From Timons Esaias’s article “Don’t be a Bobble-Head and Other Bits of Guidance: I’m annoying as fuck when I write!!

Now I love Tim’s approach to writing and editing because he’s never been one to sugar coat what I’m doing wrong and always tells me like it is…which I love! So I thought that it was pretty funny when I sat down to read his article and I still felt like I was watching him roll his eyes at my sentences and slap me on the wrist when I was doing something annoying. And as always…I’ve become a better writer because of it (silent prayer of thanks for Tim Esaias!). First off, I learned that I say some and all its evil cognates WAY too much!! I went back and counted them up in my first three pages that I wrote of my manuscript and about had a heart attack when I saw the number (which will be kept a secret for your own sake).  I also learned that I need to break myself of some really bad TV writing habits…which now that they’ve been brought to my attention, I feel like I can fix (turning, nods, the twitches, and my worst habit describing my character’s face when they can’t see it). I’m also a really bad sigh-er when it comes to writing so I’m limiting myself to only a few sighs throughout my entire manuscript.


Maria V. Snyder’s article “Dumping the Info Dump” : I tend to molest my readers with stuff that they don’t really care about.

“I believe in the Rule of Three when writing descriptions or including information.  No more than three relevant descriptors or facts are allowed at one time.  If a new character is introduced, I’ll give the reader up to three physical traits and then get back to the story action.”

3.  That’s it. Don’t be a rapist with description folks.

Then for some subtle things I’ve picked up:
1.       Drop those ugly LY words, and for the love of GOD… do I need to stop using bloated phrases such as ‘due to the fact that’ or ‘despite the fact that.’ If this is starting to drive me crazy, I can only imagine the horrible things that Scott Johnson is going to do to me when he reads them… mwhahahaha.
2.       It’s ok to write a really shitty first draft as long as the story gets down.
3.       Get rid of your inner editor by closing your eyes or turning down the computer screen so you can’t catch all of your mistakes.
4.       And most importantly… I’m not the only one with perfectionist syndrome when I write --- Anne Harris, you’re a Goddess for letting me know I’m not alone and that the problem can be fixed with practice.

Oh and something else that I've learned from reading this book -- if you're a writer.. go buy it. You won't be sorry.


  1. Thanks for posting this review! I actually just ordered the book a few days ago and it's awesome to see some tips you found useful. And that I can expect the frank talk I am used to from our SHU professors!

  2. What an incredible play by play review! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts about individual articles.

    (May we post a blurb from here on the MGOC Reviews pages?)

    I can't wait to hear what you think of the rest of the book.


  3. Awesome post, Steph. Love the way you share your reading responses and share how it relates to your writing process.

    And thanks again for that painting you gave me. I'm going to post a snapshot of it over on this morning...

  4. Thanks for the responses everyone! I'm going to keep up with it as I continue reading and working on my manuscript. Feel free to use anything you want Heidi, and thanks for the compliment :)