by Alan Jeffries, Developmental Editor – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Young Adult Adventure
I am a developmental editor specializing in genre fiction, and have been for most of my life in publishing (which began as a journalist and small press editor/publisher back in the early Eighties). Aside from a work’s core concept (this key bit of originality having little to do with prose style or technical skill), the main areas I focus on in a submission are story logic, world continuity, and narrative consistency, then general narrative style.
If those “logic elements” aren’t working, then even the most original “hook” will only get you so far down the road. Though it’s a “genre adage” that a good hook will serve you better good prose, why not have both? It doesn’t cost more and you’ll feel that much better?
Now, I have a great love for just about all genres (okay, nurse novels, not so much) because generally the entertainment value is higher (IMHO). There’s a reason that normal people still read Dickens and Austin (social drama and satire), Poe (mystery, horror) and Twain (YA adventure, travel humor), while the “literary” contemporaries of these writers only find traction in the dusty halls of academia. Why? Because “genre” is no barrier to authenticity or truth, and that’s what readers want for their investment of time: an authentic experience, a true feeling. (Indeed, it’s often more effective to deploy “truth” under the cover of genre.)
I’m of the mind that if a work doesn’t adhere to a basic logic, even when not explicitly stated in the text, then that work is basically cheating the reader (which is pretty sucky, if you ask me). A recent example of this is a series of zombie stories I commissioned for a “franchise fiction” project—33 stories, over 500,000 words of original content, all by different writers, and all needing to take place in the same world (and thus “build” that world into a functional reality).
The “logic problem” was a total absence of any underlying continuity in this bizarre world, which was based on a limited comic book series that was mainly an excuse for the artist to draw bloody zombie-on-human action. With creator approval, a workable solution was eventually found and the stories were able to coexist. But this hard-won operational template, the “logic” of this world, was never overtly referenced in the stories—it was all background. Yet without this unifying structure, the world’s underlying “logic,” its “invisible hand,” as it were, then the project would never have come together as larger vision.
It’s my belief that the lack of logical “rules” is another way of saying that there’s a lack of “truth.” And genre has unique ability to tell the truth within its many different forms, which makes it just as valuable that “literature,” since that is purpose of true art.
So there you have it. The creative process is, at its essence, a search for truth—and my job is to help the writer find it and the reader to experience it.
Alan Jeffries is an advocate for the reader and a seasoned guide for writers. He believes true writing is actually rewriting; deciding what to keep, add, toss, or do over.