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July 30, 2010 / Chersti Nieveen

How to write crossover fiction

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In my previous post, I looked at reasons why crossover fiction is appealing to both the YA and adult markets. In this post, I want to take a deeper look at the inner workings of crossover fiction.

The successes of both Harry Potter and Twilight come from the fact that these books are not only selling to teens. To some extent, these type of novels must have an “all ages” narrative and themes, though sometimes exceptions come along. According to agent Laura Rennert, “These novels are now commanding unprecedented advances and receiving attention from both the publishing and film industries.”

While every book has a different story to tell, they do have a few similar elements that I’ve picked out that I think help them appeal to a wider audience. So here’s a quick checklist that takes you beyond the basics of writing a good novel, into making that novel appeal to a wider audience.

In crossover fiction, UNIVERSALS are critical. Universals are those things in the story that the reader identifies with. A good example of this is romance, because that is something a female reader (and some male readers) immediately identify with. However, a story about a girl who spends her summer on the mountains to tend sheep and struggles with her loneliness narrows down the number of people who would identify with that struggle.

Plot

  • Combine your Universals with the idiosyncrasies of your story (this also applies to characters). Harry Potter follows the typical heroes journal (maybe with a few deviations), but it is the amazing world J.K Rowling builds and the humorous, endearing characters that sets the story apart.
  • Look beyond high school: in all of the example novels I provided at the bottom of my last post, the character goes to high school, but that is not the character’s life. Adults don’t care about high school, and don’t want to read a book that is just about the whole high school experience. There are other things that go along this line that also apply that narrow your readership, because it does not apply to them. I was a debater, and much as I would love to write about the debate world, that scales my interested readership down to about zero.

Character

  • Pick your quirks carefully. Again, combine your Universals with the idiosyncrasies of your character. Harry Potter is an every person character — which is why we can all identify with him– however, the thing that sets him apart is his amazing ability to play Quidditch, which is something most readers would LOVE to do. Bella is an average character, with clumsiness being her biggest quirk . . . and feeling clumsy or awkward is a specific quirk that far too many girls can identify with. So both of these examples, the quirks chosen are still more universal, as opposed to someone who is majorly OCD.
  • Your main character should appeal to a larger crowd.  Katniss is a strong female character, but boys can also identify with her because of her voice and characteristics. She isn’t the normal girl who just cares about shopping and what boys think of her — but rather, is worried about larger concerns like feeding her family and protecting her sister.
  • The character must be strong enough that they come alive off the pages. Their character arc is critical, because this is not just a story about plot, but the character’s growth. How do you as the writer want to see you character grow?
  • The character should have deeper philosophical questions to face — these are life-changing decisions that will alter a person forever. Decisions that people face again and again throughout life. (Think along the lines of having faith, showing courage, making honorable choices).
  • The voice should intelligent, and the words reflect that smooth literary tone. In THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, Carrie Ryan has such beautiful prose that it is absolutely delicious to read. And all stories don’t have to have the flowery prose we think of as “literary” — just look at FEED, which nails this on the head.
  • Focus on the relationships. In Castle, the relationships reveal the character. The father / daughter relationship helps add to the plot overall, and gives the characters depth. And you have to admit that watching Castle and his daughter interact touches something inside each of us.

Setting

  • Make the reader want to be there. Look at that picture above. That was the view from my condo in Belize on my last vacation. Doesn’t that make you want to be there?  The same should go with each of your vivid descriptions. You want to make your setting so enticing that the reader wants to be there.
  • Focus on the familiar. Try to lean towards the familiar rather than the obscure. Ex: If you are writing science fiction, and your main character is sitting in a classroom, point out the familiar so the reader feels out home. Focusing on the differences will be great if you want to just stick with a normal science fiction crowd, who pick up those books all the time. This works whenever you are introducing a setting that could be new to the reader. Make it authentic, but also make it feel at home

Okay, this is the part where I say: DO NOT TRY TO WRITE FOR THIS TREND! Please add the big red WARNING label to that note. The reason these books did well is because the characters were organic to the story that was being told, and the whole thing blended so well together. Won’t work if you try to make your story something it’s not. Play to your strengths and tell the story you have to tell.

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7 Comments

  1. Nikki Mantyla / Jul 30 2010 10:02 am

    Great analysis! Especially the stuff about universals and idiosyncracies. I’ve also noticed that for me the key is to get myself excited about each of the aspects you list (plot, characters, setting). The setting my readers love most so far (the Mexican hacienda) is the one that I was most excited to write about. The parts that I haven’t been excited to write (like my main character’s dad) have fallen flat. So when I’m not excited and some part is falling flat, I search deeper for universals and idiosyncracies that will intrigue me and my readers. 🙂

  2. Leisha Maw / Jul 30 2010 11:20 am

    Great post. And it works so well with my revisions today. It’s like you gave me a mini writing class just as I needed a review. Thanks.

  3. anitanolan / Jul 31 2010 11:34 am

    Great posts! (Love the Castle photos too!)

  4. ali / Aug 4 2010 8:21 pm

    GREAT article Chersti. I’m adding it to my list of excellent articles on writing. THANKS for the awesome breakdown.

Trackbacks

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