Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What the Heck is a Robinsonade?




Finding Your Genre
by Jonene Ficklin


Many years ago, I wrote my first novel. It was a YA and took place on another world. The minute it was finished, I began the eye-opening journey of submitting. The first touch of reality came when I wrote the query and synopsis. Not fun. Not good. And I couldn’t get past the question of which genre it was.

Since it took place in another world, that made it fantasy, right? Or paranormal? Sci-fi? However this world was earthlike, with no magic and no werewolves. It had elements of romance and could even work as a thriller. I gave up, played it safe, and labeled it an adventure.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve written six more novels and many new queries. I’ve spent countless hours perusing the genre and subgenre lists, trying to find the one to encapsulate each novel in a word.

And then, glory be! I found it. Robinsonade. (Say that ten times fast.) The term has been around since 1731, and it’s a subgenre of survivalist fiction. Think Robinson Crusoe. Now think a little broader. A Robinsonade is a high adventure story where the hero/heroine is marooned, shipwrecked, or otherwise isolated from society and has to survive.

You want examples? The Hunger Games, The Life of Pi, Lord of the Flies, The Cay, Tarzan, and of course, Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, The Mysterious Island, and The Jungle Book.

Some of these books I've read over and over as a child, and they're the stories I’m most drawn to. Therefore, they're the kind I like to write and most of my books are clearly Robinsonades.

How did I find this lovely term?

Recently, I read Chronal Engine, a midgrade story by Greg Leitich Smith. (I’ll be taking a writing class from him starting June 18th at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop. Check out wifyr.com – there’s still room in several classes, so come join us!) At the back of his book, he explained that his story is a Robinsonade, and what that meant.

Now you’re heard my story. It’s funny how excited writers can get over a single word, isn’t it? Maybe I’m the only one who struggled so much while trying to find the perfect genre. I hope it’s easier for you.

Meanwhile, I hope you read an awesome Robinsonade soon. It really makes you appreciate spaghetti and meatballs, hot showers, and penicillin. Oh, and just in case, never leave home without a Leatherman. Just saying . . .

Anyhow, I’d love to hear how you found the perfect genre to represent your story.

And, I have one more question (which I find fascinating): what’s your favorite genre to read?

Happy reading and writing!

25 comments:

  1. I have several genres that I like. I enjoy historical fiction, fairy-tale adaptations, funny school stories (especially if divorce is not an issue), and all sorts of fantasy and science fiction written for children. What's my favorite? Meta-fiction, but only if it's really, really well done.

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    1. It's fun to see what you like, and how those sneak into your stories. What's your favorite Meta-fiction? (I had to look that up.)

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    2. "Galaxy Quest" is my all-time favorite. I also liked "Megamind." But those are movies. As for books, I love Patricia Wreade's "Dealing with Dragons." And Diana Wynne-Jones' "Dark Lord of Dirkholm" (hilarious) and "Homeward Bounders."

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    3. Oh, and how could I forget "The Anybodies" and "The Neverending Story" and "Inkheart?"

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    4. I've read a few of those. I'll have to put the others on my reading list - especially "Dark Lord of Dirkholm". I love getting good recommendations!

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  2. Great post! I also have many genres that I like, but at heart I'm a fantasy girl. Give me a quest and some fireballs, and I'm in heaven. :) A handsome dark elf prince never hurts either. Just saying. ;)

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    1. Who wouldn't like a quest and some fireballs? Throw in a dark elf prince and you might just have enough trouble to sell millions of books. Just saying. ; )

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    2. Fire is good, in any form. That's why I like dragons. When I was a tween reader, I wouldn't pick up a book if it didn't look like it had a dragon in it someplace.

      And Leisha, Amber and I think your WIFYR entry rocks.

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    3. It's been a blast being in the same writer's group with Leisha. I've been reading her amazing story, and I agree. It rocks! Can't wait to see you both at WIFYR!

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    4. Fire is awesome and beautiful and wild. And dragons are just plain cool. I devoured every dragon book in our library and book mobile as a kid. Ah, good times. :)

      And thanks, btw. Amber's entry grabbed me right at the start. What a delicious villain! She is uber creepy. Yum. :)

      I'd love to read yours, Rebecca. Hint, hint.

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    5. Right back at you, Jonene!

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    6. Yeah, Amber's is fun. Melting someone in the first scene is always a good start.

      I'm hoping you'll read the full manuscript after I do my next revision, probably by the end of August. What say ye?

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    7. Can I be included in reading your manuscript, too? I really enjoyed your last one.

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    8. Which class are you in at WIFYR, Jonene? And I'll be happy to add you to my reader list.

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    9. Sure thing! August should be great. I should have a polished, submission ready draft by then, too. :)

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    10. Rebecca, I'm in Greg Leitich Smith's class. Thanks! I can't wait to read it!

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    11. I read the story of the boy who finds the rocket in the silo.

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  3. It was a revelation to me that I wrote science fiction. (Sometimes I can be extraordinarily dense.) :) The funny thing about genre is that depending on who you talk to (agents, readers, Amazon category monkeys) different genres mean different things. Oy! :) You just have to do the best you can.

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    1. That makes it doubly hard! It's an interesting thing to wade through the descriptions and find a huge number of them fit - just only halfway. How did you figure out that you wrote science fiction?

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    2. I consciously wrote a MG SF, but it wasn't until I started to market Open Minds that I realized it was SF (really SF/paranormal, but definitely SF). I would pitch it to readers and say "Oh, it's a young adult paranormal" and they would say "Oh, does it have vampires?" (Answer: no) When I pitched it as science fiction, the question was, "Oh, is it in the future?" (Answer: yes) It was the difference of genre expectations that made me realize it was SF, even though the characters have paranormal powers. *thunkshead*

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    3. Yes, you do have a certain expectations when you see the genre Science Fiction or Paranormal. It's hard when your story barely fits within the definition.

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  4. What else would you write, you evil rocket scientist, you?

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    1. I know, right? But my first novel was a love story, through and through. It took a while, and some maturing of myself as a writer, before I could integrate that "writerly" part of me with the "scientist" part of me. The whole me is much happier now.

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  5. A Robinsonade, huh? There are so many sub-genres it's almost ridiculous! My faves typically run in the contemporary fantasy vein, but I love a good dystopian and even the occasional well-done romance. Which happens once in a blue moon. :)

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  6. Indeed! It's like finding a gold strike when a great book surfaces. What are your recent favorite fantasies and dystopians?

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What be on yer mind?