Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Category, category and more category

I have talked about this on my website but I guess bringig it up here is just as good. (I think this is what you are looking for Jodi, let me know).

When I first began my work as an agent, I sat down (with the help of a trusty and very abused intern) researching and dissecting the concept of the category romance. In no way was this designed as a way of saying that single title or category was better or worse, it was simply an understanding.

Following a full year of study, we came up with some general charactersitics that seemed to be pretty on the money.

The Single Camera Focus - One of the things we notices was the trend that category romance has of using a single camera. Think movie here. To create a great deal of depth and complexity to a story, a director will increase the number of camera angles they use to create a broader picture. In the case of category, assume the director is using a single camera. The focus moves from one thing to another with everything else taken out of the picture. The goal of this (if done well) is to provide the reader/viewer with a concentrated view of the character and the event.

Use of Sub-Plots - I talked about this yesterday but this is what we're dealing with. The story focuses on a central plot arch. There are secondary characters, but everything continues to be focused on in that central arch. I should say, however, that I am not talking about plot layering here, but sub-plots. We can have multiple layers and complexities to the characters and the story, but we reduce the number of secondary plots that are running through the story. Again, think focus.

Plot Driven Stories (although I'm not happy with this term right now but it may be due to a lack of coffee) - Because the stories tend to be smaller in size, the story has to get going much sooner. To accomplish this, we often find category stories jumping into the action of the story much quicker than with single title books. Again, this is not an issue of one being better than the other, we're talking word economy. It's simply not necessary to give us this beautiful canvas of imagery and history if we are simply focusing on the characters and the events that revolve around them. (I should say, this is VERY difficult to do).

Fast and Tight Reads - Back to word economy here. Creating shorter stories that are focused on single plots means that we start focusing on the grammatical structure of the stories. Reduce the extensive narratives, reduce the complex sentence structres and dialogue tags. Keep it to the point. You hear writers talk all of the time about writing in active vs passive voice and not working with adjectives and adverbs. This is what we mean. Can you say in 10 words what you did in 20.

For example:

Reduce the following sentence eliminating wordiness:

The term that has been given to Smith's "let the market alone" policy by economists is "laissez-faire."

This can be reduced to...

Economists have called Smith's policy "laissez-faire."

I should say, this is in no way a perfect definition, but a direction to think. I want to also stress that this is not an easy genre to write. We want to add stuff to our stories, we want to really go for it in writing. Constraint is really hard!


  1. I've told people you put a lot of thought into this question, and it shows. I'm linking into this post (if I can figure out how to do it, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.)

    I've been studying category for years, but for some reason the actual "structure" eluded me. You've just helped me to figure out the difference in plain english. :)

    Thank you very much.

  2. Forgive me for being ignorant, but how can you be sure that your "sub-plots" aren't actually "plot layering"?

    I read this thinking I had several sub-plots, but then by the middle of of the post, wondered if what I really had was plot layering...

    :) Terri

  3. Plot layering is the added complexity to the characters and the individual situation and plot.

    Sub-plots are parallel plots running through the story that continually interweave with the main plot

  4. a good way to tell if a sub plot is actually a sub plot is to take it out of the story, and if you still have the actual story without loss of forward momentum, it's a sub plot. If it's a plot thread, another name for layering, removing it would create a hole because it's "needed" to push the plot.

    On a side thought. If you can remove it but it creates a teeny tiny hold, then maybe you don't need it. Some people have too many threads.