My present project, Norman in the Painting, needs a specific genre. I called it a suspense with paranormal elements but someone said that category didn’t fit. A suspense novel involves imminent danger, high stakes, and threats. Usually the readers and characters know the perpetrator, but the problem is to avoid the impending doom. Waves of frightening peril increase in intensity and lead to the crushing climax, and then at the end all is resolved.
Multiple threats and murders happen in Norman in the Painting, but the focus is not the arc described above.
Mystery seems like a generic description since mysterious elements are in many books in other genres as well. Specific mystery novels have a puzzle to solve, The protagonist has to find out whodunit in a crime that readers do not see happening. Clues are sprinkled throughout the story and the main character’s clever investigative skills unravel the complicated case.
Norman nor Jill have to track clues to know who did what. They have a problem surrounding their relationship that is not under their control. They have to figure out what to do about it.
A romance novel has a hero and heroine who meet, have conflict at first, develop into a romantic relationship, and then live happily every after. Norman in the Painting ends with a slim possibility of Jill and Norman being happy ever after because of the dangerous situation they agree to embrace. It’s less than a 50/50 chance they will be able to remain together. The required expectation that they will, eliminates my novel from the traditional romance genre.
After exploring all the possibilities, I’m back to my original category: a paranormal romance, which gives the novel a freer ending.
What genre is your novel?
A red herring is a diversionary tactic. In a mystery, a red herring can be a character, an object, a significant time, day, week, year, weather, or place. It appears to be a clue, but it’s a logical implication that leads readers on a false trail. The key is logical. Writers don’t use them only to mislead the reader. The red herring has to have importance in the story but not for the reason the reader suspects.
In my multidimensional novel, Norman in the Painting, I use a tray in an antique store as an object that the protagonist and reader think is the object that draws Norman out of the painting. A few chapters later, a minor character proves the tray is not significant in Norman’s appearances. It was a logical object because it has a Norman Rockwell scene on it and Norman is a typical Rockwell figure.
As I progress to the eleventh chapter, and being a pantser, I have to plan for at least one, maybe two red herring characters. I don’t like to plot, but in a mystery, I have to do some pre-planning. I’ve set up some possibilities. Arctarius, Jack, or a criminal that committed a recent murder are feasible. Each of those characters has importance in the plot. I didn’t put any of them in the story merely to mislead the reader. However, my problem now is to find their possible reasons for committing the past and the future murders. At this point, the protagonist suspects Arctarius or the criminal. To her, Jack is annoying, so he’d be the least one to suspect. He’d be a good red herring. Trouble is, I don’t have a clue what motive to assign to him. Since he wants to be more than a minor character, maybe he’ll come up with one and then I’ll be surprised too.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s book, MAKE A SCENE, offers many writing tips. I particularly liked her paragraphs about Foreground and Background. She says that like paintings, scenes can have backgrounds, but she meant more than setting. Plant “subtle messages and emotional layers in the background through actions” while the reader’s attention is on what’s happening in the foreground.
Rosenfeld gives the example of a couple making love in the foreground scene while in a room down the hall or upstairs, another couple has a loud argument. That background can foreshadow the loving couple’s future, or the fight downstairs could add humor to the love scene, or the fight could escalate into a gun shot, involving the couple in a mystery.
Caution: the background must have a purpose to push the plot forward or to show character reaction to the subtext action.
“Each scene is a multidimensional creation.” Enrich subtext to deepen and add complications to the story.