While literary fiction is often assumed to be Serious Literature (TM), genre fiction is often assumed to be frivolous—even though countless examples on both ends prove those assumptions false. Within certain genres, that frivolous reputation is so prevalent that most never question whether it’s the truth or not.
Believe me…as an author of romance stories with fantasy elements, I’ve seen the assumptions at double speed. *smile* But what does frivolous mean? And what makes a story not frivolous?
Lately, “gritty” and “dark” stories have been a popular style within many genres. A whole romance subgenre involving motorcycle clubs, MMA fighting, and mob and criminal organizations have turned antiheroes into romantic leads. Many would argue that Game of Thrones is a gritty version of fantasy, and other genres have similar niches of dark stories.
Some think those types of stories feel less frivolous, perhaps because they show the dark underbelly of civilization. But is that our only option if we want to write genre stories that feel deep and meaningful?
We’re not all capable of writing gritty and dark. We might have the wrong voice or worldview to make that style work.
We might enjoy writing humorous or optimistic stories and also want to write stories that resonate or feel deep, meaningful, or something readers can digest in their thoughts long after they close the book. Can a story be light and yet weighty at the same time?
I love thinking through these kinds of questions, and there’s no one better to explore this topic on a psychological level than Kassandra Lamb. She’s here today to share her insights on how we can add meaning to our stories—no matter how light the style. Please welcome Kassandra Lamb!
Writing Light Doesn’t Have to Mean Fluffy
Today’s readers are busy people. They often prefer shorter and “lighter” stories that they can breeze through while riding the subway to work or waiting for their children to finish sports practice.
But how can we provide what this market wants and still come close to producing something we find satisfying as writers?
I have three goals with my writing:
- to do this thing called writing that I very much enjoy,
- to make money, and
- to educate people about psychological topics in a painless and pleasant way (my life’s calling, if you will).
When I discovered that I actually like writing shorter, lighter “cozy” mysteries (60K words) more than the full-length psychological suspense novels I had been producing (80-90K words), I thought, “But that’s so fluffy.” I felt I wasn’t being true to my more altruistic goal of raising consciousness about psychology.
But now that I’ve written and edited two cozies in my new series, I’m discovering that I can address deeper issues even in this “lighter” medium.
You may not share my particular goal of raising consciousness about certain issues, but your story will resonate louder and longer with readers if it has helped them understand themselves and/or the world better and has tapped into their interest in certain topics.
4 Methods to Add Meaning to Our Stories
Here are some hints for accomplishing this “light without fluff” result:
#1: What Are the “Hot Topics” in Society Today?
What are people talking about, what are they interested in? Are there ways to weave these topics into your story, perhaps via setting or minor characters?
Tony Hillerman wrote “lighter” mysteries (can’t call them cozies because the protagonists were police officers) that educated an entire generation of readers about life on the Navajo reservation. Cozy mystery writer, Teresa Trent, author of the Pecan Bayou series, has a secondary character who has Down’s syndrome.
#2: What Does Your Protagonist Do for a Living?
Unless their vocation is central to your plot (or maybe even if it is), you can have them do just about anything, and thus create subplots or just throw in interesting tidbits about one of these hot topics.
My protagonist, Marcia Banks, trains service dogs for combat veterans. The plot of each story is a mystery related to a particular veteran, but along the way I am informing people about the psychological challenges our veterans face and the benefits of service dogs for this population.
One could have one’s protagonist work for a not-for-profit that funds research into autism or make the protag a social worker who works with foster parents and kids.
(Warning: you need to be prepared to do the research into these fields.)
#3: Address Relationship Issues that Most People Can Relate to and Make Them Real
Too often I see romance handled too “lightly” in lighter fiction. I find myself asking:
- Why have these people fallen in love?
- What’s the attraction?
- And are they really in love?
I’m left wondering this because the relationships don’t feel very deep. Often there has been too much telling me they are in love and not enough showing.
A “light” romantic novel or a cozy mystery is made “lighter” via exotic settings, the use of humor, a somewhat less complicated plot, but the relationships don’t have to be superficial or contrived.
In real life, relationships, especially in the early stages, are full of mine fields. Let some of those mines blow up in your characters’ faces.
In my new release, the protagonist and her new love interest are struggling with some significant scar tissue from previous failed marriages. It’s a subplot and I sometimes handle it with humor, but these are very real and all too common issues today.
Also, let your characters have real visceral sensations and conflicted feelings. There are ways to do this without getting too graphic or dwelling too long on the “heavy” stuff. Which brings us to…
#4: Describe the Deeper Issues and Feelings with a Lighter Touch
Hint and imply rather than paint the whole picture. Or touch on the topic briefly, then move on.
At one point, Marcia’s love interest “kisses her soundly” (which I admit is telling). His kiss causes “heat to shoot down her core” and her knees to “go all wobbly.” In one of my longer, “heavier” Kate Huntington novels, this would be followed by “tongues hungrily exploring mouths” and “tiny kisses trailing fire across her skin.”
Phew, is it just me, or is it getting hot in here?
But wobbly knees and heat shooting down her core are enough to get the idea across. She’s turned on by this guy.
I actually touch on some pretty “heavy” topics in this book, such as sexual assault in the military. But I don’t dwell on them; I mention aspects here and there and then move attention back to the plot. By the end of the book, the reader has a pretty clear picture of the impact of such an event on one’s life, without feeling like they’ve attended a psychotherapy marathon.
P.S. Today, I’m also over at the misterio press site (super cool how the Internet allows us to be in two places at once), talking about an awesome conference I went to a couple weeks ago, the Writer’s Police Academy. Please stop over and check it out!
Kassandra Lamb has never been able to decide which she loves more, psychology or writing. In college, she realized that writers need a day job in order to eat, so she studied psychology. After a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she is now retired and can pursue her passion for writing.
She spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters. The portal to this universe, aka her computer, is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional glimpses of her.
Kass loves hearing from readers! Find her on social media, her website, or check out her posts on psychological topics and other random things at the misterio press site.
Arsenic and Young Lacy
A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery, Book 2
Her savings dwindling, service dog trainer Marcia Banks is anxious to deliver Lacy and get paid. But the dog’s soon-to-be new owner, an ex-Army nurse, is being stalked, and both Lacy and Marcia end up caught in the stalker’s orbit. The training fee would make her solvent again, but how can Marcia put sweet Lacy at risk? And will the stalker decide to pay Marcia off in a very different way?
Available for Preorder now at $1.99!
(will be $3.99 after release day—9/5/2016)
*Psst!* The first book in this series is currently $0.99 through 9/3/16…
To Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery
Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. And when the ex-Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, she gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.
Thank you, Kassandra! Although there’s nothing wrong with “frivolous” books (sometimes that’s what we’re in the mood for), it’s great to see how to write with deeper meaning if that’s what we want instead. As a romance author, I love this topic for very self-centered reasons. *grin*
Like Kass, when I started writing, I focused on a genre that felt more “meaty” (except in my case, that series hasn’t been published yet), and when I first came up with the idea for my debut, Treasured Claim, I thought romance would be too fluffy. However—as my ongoing Mythos Legacy romance series attests—I discovered that I loved writing those stories…and more importantly, that the genre didn’t have to be weightless or meaningless at all.
Any story—whether literary or genre, gritty or light—can say important things about the human condition. My romances can mix humor and a happy, fairytale-type ending with serious issues like child abuse, suicide, stalking, single parenthood, foster children, PTSD, etc.
As Kass points out in #3, in-depth explorations of relationships and relationship issues are meaningful. In a romance, I want to believe that a “happily ever after” will last, and handwaving over how a couple would reach compromises in the future because…love simply doesn’t cut it for me.
So I ensure my “light” stories still manage to focus on deeper emotional elements:
- What makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy?
- How can couples negotiate through distrust, vulnerability, and power struggles to form a partnership? (Especially in my genre—where one character is paranormal and the other is human—couples must confront and fix the natural imbalance of power.)
- What place does sacrifice play in relationships? How much should each person give up their dreams to support the other? How much is too much?
Many of my stories continue for a chapter or two after the bad guy is vanquished because the couple still needs to overcome the last of their relationship issues. For example, they might need to decide where they’re going to live in the future and whether either of them needs to give up their job to make it work.
Many of us can probably relate to that conversation, which helps ground the story with meaning. Seeing how a healthy partnership deals with relatable issues might help us in our life as well, which is a win for everyone. And that’s just one example of how light definitely doesn’t need to mean fluffy. *smile*
What makes a story fluffy or frivolous to you? What makes a story deeper or more meaningful? What type of story do you tend to read or write? What type of meaning do you try to add to your stories? Do you disagree with the idea that a story can be light and meaningful?
And from Kassandra: “Romance and mystery are the genres I’m most familiar with. Any thoughts on writing “lighter” in other genres?”Pin It