11. Tropes and Niche: Story Success Clinic with Fantasy Novelist, Katie Willem
Beth Barany talks to Katie Willem where they discuss how sharing the different tropes in your writing can help you gain exposure in your writing.
ABOUT BETH BARANY
Beth Barany is an award-winning novelist, master neurolinguistic programming practitioner, and certified creativity coach for writers, including being a workshop leader & keynote speaker. Beth has published books in several genres including young adult fantasy, paranormal romance, and science fiction mystery.
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Author Branding Statement:
“There are still parts of us that are yearning for adventures at an age that we didn’t have.”
In the latest Story Success Clinic on the podcast, creativity coach and science fiction/fantasy novelist Beth Barany talks to writer Katie Willem where they discuss how sharing the tropes featured in your story on social media can help you gain exposure in your writing and grow your readership.
Content Warning – This episode briefly mentions suicide.
Katie M. Willem, author of The Laskar Series
Born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, Katie often dreamed of escaping and living a fantastical life of adventure and heroism. This is probably what led her elementary school teachers to believe she’d one day be a writer. After traipsing the world, gaining many adventures and quite a few stories to tell, Katie found that one adventure she still craved to share was through the mystical and troubled world of Laskar. Finding — book one of The Laskar Series — is her debut novel. Katie writes for those who – not unlike herself – find themselves searching for a better solution when faced with tough choices.
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The How To Write The Future podcast is for science fiction and fantasy writers who want to write positive futures and successfully bring those stories out into the marketplace. Hosted by Beth Barany, science fiction novelist and creativity coach for writers.
Tips for fiction writers from a fiction writing teacher!
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- How do I create a believable world for my science fiction story?
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TRANSCRIPT for 11. Tropes and Niche: Story Success Clinic with Fantasy Novelist, Katie Willem
Beth Barany 00:00
Hey, science fiction and fantasy authors, would you like to get more exposure for your books, and get some support to uncover story ideas, enhance story cohesion, and get some ideas for marketing?
Then sign up for my 30 minute Story Success Clinic interview on my podcast, How To Write The Future.
Every 30-minute story success clinic is recorded and gets aired as an episode of the How To Write The Future podcast.
So sign up today. The link is in the show notes. And now let’s get on with the show.
Beth Barany 00:44
Hi, everyone. Welcome to How To Write The Future podcast. I’m Beth Barany, your host. This podcast is for science fiction and fantasy writers who want to write positive, optimistic futures because when we vision what is possible, we help make it so.
Today I am conducting 30 minute Story Success Clinic, and I have with me, a fantasy writer. I’ll let her introduce herself, Katie Willem. And Katie, is, is that gonna be your writing name? I should, I should confirm ahead of time.
Katie Willem 01:22
Oh, man. I don’t know. I still haven’t decided, uh, I mean my whole family knows me as Katie and my friends know me as Katie, but I’ve also have like this professional Caitlin going on. So, uh, likely one or one or the other. It might be easy to find me either way.
Beth Barany 01:40
Yeah. Yeah. Well, um, we’ll, we’ll definitely circle back to that. Do you, um, how do you introduce yourself? Uh, when you tell people you’re a writer, what is your short writerly introduction.
Katie Willem 01:53
Oh, man. Uh, I don’t know if it’s short cuz it’s kind of, it’s a more than 13 years now, but it’s just this 13 year story of how I became a writer. Um, So I grew up born and raised in Alabama and, um, kind of grew up always dreaming about escape and living this fantastical life of adventure and heroism. Um, and I have just a super active imagination, um, and was probably, uh, tagged, uh, that way.
Cuz my uh, elementary school teacher was like, oh, you’re gonna be a writer one. And so high compliments as a young kid, but, um, I did the, a adventuring thing. I tra her around the world. I garnered a lot of fun stories to tell, but I really found that one adventure, um, was still waiting on me and it could actually be found in the backyard of one of my childhood friends.
Um, years ago we created this imaginary world together called Las. We were sisters. We pushed into this unknown, magical world, both as ourselves and as our characters. Um, and we became heroes. Uh, she eventually moved from Alabama off to Albuquerque New Mexico. So, um, it was a little hard to play, pretend together at that point, but we still shared the story.
Um, and. You know, different scenes back and forth to one another, but eventually I took it over fully and began writing what is now my first. And I have to note this unpublished novel finding book, one of the last car series.
Beth Barany 03:37
Fabulous. Fabulous. Well, I’m so glad that you’re here so we can work together on your story success, and when I invited you in, you said that you wanted to talk about niche and tropes because it was the biggest stressor for you. And you’re never sure of who would want to read your book or how to tell folks why they should read your book.
And, and I just wanna start by saying that this is a great thing to think about. This is a marketing question, and of course it bleeds into editing as well, but you’re already thinking about your readership. So we’re really talking about marketing today, which is fabulous. And, uh, yeah, I guess I would start off by.
Let’s talk niche. What, what do you mean by niche?
Katie Willem 04:26
I think, you know, in the realm of writing, there’s a place where everybody kind of places, you know, Harry Potter belongs here, Narnia belongs here. Uh, the Hunger Games, like all of those really high like popular, uh, high and popularity books and, you know, they’re pop cultural in a sense. And when I think about, you know, finding the niche that I belong, it’s like, where do people put my book in contrast to these super popular, you know, series and fantasy novels that have, I mean, for years have been huge?
Beth Barany 05:06
Mm-hmm so it’s it’s so let’s just step back and you know, you and I were in the umbrella of speculative fiction. That’s the biggest umbrella, right? That encompasses science fiction. Fantasy weird fiction. anything with the fantastical elements, anything alternative, present, alternative future, anything that isn’t set in the contemporary world.
And isn’t set in a past world where it looks like we think it looked like and that’s historical fiction. So that’s, we’re in the world of speculative fiction. And then because your world has, uh, goes from ordinary world or contemporary world that looks like this world, and then they go through a portal, right?
Some kind of, I think your device is a, is a book. Is that right?
Katie Willem 05:51
Yeah. And then notebook.
Beth Barany 05:52
A notebook. right? And then through that, there’s some kind of magic teleportation into a completely different world, kingdom, Lascar, completely different rules of society, where your protagonists play a key role and get to play in the world of the political affairs of the world and influence that world, very different than the ordinary world, which is they’re high school students.
Katie Willem 06:18
Yeah. Uh, my main character is 17 when the book starts and her sister’s younger than her. So they’re, you know, They, uh, don’t really have a voice. I mean, they can’t even vote at this point and, uh, to give a little bit more color. They get dropped into, you know, not just political machinations, but they are dropped into rulership.
Their parents are effectively like one of the ruling families of this world and have disappeared from what they know. And it’s like, oh, I have this whole kingdom. I have to take care of immediately because Mom and Dad, don’t know where they are. Don’t know if they’re alive or dead. And, uh, it’s a little, it’s interesting thinking about the adult tones that come out.
When I always have thought about my book being young adult, maybe even like closer to like children’s fiction.
I think it grew up with me maybe.
Beth Barany 07:16
Yeah. I mean, it sounds like it, a lot of fiction for teens and even kids is when the adults are not around and. Um, so back to niche. I’ve heard what you are doing and what Narnia is, and even what Harry Potter is. Although that I’m not a, I’m not a hundred percent sure if it’s in that category, called portal fantasy, where there’s a clear demarcation, like in Narnia, there is a clear demarcation in Harry Potter there is actually these two worlds coexist. It’s just that the muggles don’t know about the wizard, the Wizarding World. So that’s not portal fantasy. That’s something else. and now I would draw a bigger boundary and say, you know, Narnia, Harry Potter, your story, they’re fantasy. That’s the bigger realm.
And then I would put your story into the niche of portal fantasy. What we’re talking about here is like sub genres. So, a reader might go into the library or into the bookstore and, and look for portal fantasy. So I would highly recommend to you and anybody listening that, uh, you do some research into portal fantasy, and also look um, other stories like, are there some contemporary stories that are doing portal fantasy and are there some other words that readers are attaching to it?
So go to the book reviews and see are they calling it something else? And this is often how a new sub genre gets born is because people start labeling it. Something the readers do. Um, so that’s, that’s where I would put your book. And as a shorthand. And it’s one of the things that you can use to invite people in.
“Hey, if you like portal, fantasy about young people, um, set in a, you know, contemporary society and then going into a fantastical society.”
Now you could start talking about your fantastical society, and here’s where we get into tropes. And I just wanna let everybody know who’s listening that Katie is one of my clients. So that’s why I know a lot about her story and keep saying things about it. Um, and so we’ve been working together for some time. And so I know a lot of the tropes that are already in your story, and what’s interesting and what I’m noticing as a trend in marketing and, and I’m marketing a lot on Twitter, so I see this on Twitter and you, but you could do it in any of the social media channels where the writer will list out the niche, the tropes, all in this cute list, usually with emojis and you read that list and you’re enticed. You’re like, Ooh, I like this. And I like that. And oh, what an interesting combination of tropes.
So for the reader, let’s define tropes.
Tropes are generally, and maybe you have a definition too. Katie. I see tropes as elements of storytelling that float around. In various kinds of stories, but then there are also kinds of tropes that you’re only gonna find in specific genres. Like there’s certain tropes we’re gonna find in fantasy that make readers just squeal with delight.
And then if you’re in a different genre, you’re gonna find different tropes. So for example, I write in mystery science fiction mystery, probably not gonna have your protagonist stumble on a dead body in your book, right? Like, like in my story, I have an investigator, you know, there’s that scene with a dead body. Somebody stumbled on it. And, um, that’s, that’s a trope inside of mystery.
Inside of fantasy, there’s a whole bunch of tropes that people love, absolutely love. So your job as a writer and everyone listening your job is the writer is to identify the tropes that are already in there. You love fantasy, you wrote fantasy, and I know there’s a trope in your story that I think is very attractive and it has to do with your fantasy world and what you built it upon.
Katie Willem 11:08
Hmm. I know what you’re talking here. yeah. Uh, I, a little bit of a spoiler here. If anybody’s planning on, well, you can’t find it, so maybe it’ll. Unless I just stand out here. But, um, what’s really interesting is I was a total nerd in college and I took this class on Alexander, the great, and I thought, I was like, oh, if you don’t know this, uh, nobody has found his body like historically Alexander, the great was buried, moved body disappeared.
And I went, Hmm. What if. Alexander, the great was transported to this new world, healed by the magic, brought back to life and conquered this new world. And, you know, thousands of years later, his great, great, great grand. Something of a granddaughter, uh, comes into the world to technically save it. Um, that’s the, that’s the storyline there in, uh, in short, but you know, That kind of, uh, historical retelling and, you know, reimagination, um, was one of like my newer, not newer.
I have been out of college for a very long time at this point. Uh, but, uh, it’s just one of those ones where I brought it in and didn’t see it coalescing until I really dug in. I was like, no, it makes sense that, you know, This great conqueror way back when on earth would be able to do the same. Um, he was only 33 when he died.
So it would just, it was just a fun, little, little, tidbit that I brought in.
Beth Barany 12:55
Yeah. And I would like to say that this is a trope. So what if Alexander, the great was transported into a, a new land and conquered that land and started a new, you know, basically had his second chance? Right. A second chance at, at living and maybe he lived a very long life. And so, so that trope to me of like taking historical figure and spinning it and doing a retelling.
Retellings are huge. Right? A lot of people are doing fairytale retellings. And people have also done historical figure retellings. Well, what if actually, like I read a wonderful, it was historical fiction, but it was about the first woman, um, um, Pinkerton agent uh, because I’m fascinated obviously by that And so someone took what the historical documentation about her and wrote a story completely set in the 1850s and sixties and seventies, but imagined what her life could have been like from very scant historical data. Cuz that’s what she does. Uh, so what you’re doing is you’re bringing it into the fantasy realm.
So I would say that one of your main tropes is an Alexander the Great retelling. Like what if he actually uh, continued to live in this new land and had a very successful long reign.
Katie Willem 14:10
I have an uncultured, uh, comparative to your, uh, reference, but, um, I’m pretty sure there’s a movie that, uh, supposes if, uh, Abraham Lincoln were a zombie fighter or a zombies slayer.
Beth Barany 14:23
yes, yes, that’s a great example. Right? And now we’ve taken a true historical figure and we’ve put him into a completely new situation. People love that. It’s actually a pretty high concept and it can really grab our imagination. So the other one that you have, the other trope is hero as undiscovered Royal, right?
There she is living her ordinary life in the ordinary world being a high school. She magically for some unknown reason gets transported into this new world, boom, where she is a descendant of the king, you know, uh, and even though she may not know at the beginning, cause I don’t think she does, the readers will be very attracted to that trope.
It is a very, very common trope in, um, in fiction of all kinds mean. I just think of, um, the Prince and the Pauper. I read a, you know, a version of that when I was a kid by, um, Frances Hodgson. Burnett, I think I’m saying it wrong called The Lost Prince, which was such a lovely story. And, um, so I would say the, the lost prince or the lost princess, right, that trope so, so, so, so powerful in, in fantasy.
So, so far now you have two tropes we’ve talked about, and I know you have some others cuz you have sisters.
Katie Willem 15:44
Yes. Um, Yeah, so that like the family piece, um, like, I mean they’re 17 and 16 respectively and, uh, it’s so funny to think about cuz that’s pretty much the age gap between me and one of my younger sisters. And so, uh, all of the bickering and just, you know, back and forth of like a real sibling relationship, that’s not perfect.
And you know, That is more realistic to how my siblings today. You know, I mean, you can’t have a perfect life. You’re very lucky if you do. Uh, I doubt anybody in the world does, but, uh, . Yeah. Having the sisters and the beginning of my book is really grounded and it grounds my readers in, Hey, like this is normal life for Beth, my main character.
Very funny. Uh, I named her long before I knew Beth, uh, in real life, but.
Beth Barany 16:43
I’m flattered. Anyway.
Katie Willem 16:45
Yes. Yes. It, it was, uh, almost as if I was telling the future. Um,
Beth Barany 16:51
Katie Willem 16:52
Uh, yeah. Uh, but Beth and then Sam is the younger sister, uh, like they’re living live with their parents. They’re going to school. They’re doing family stuff. They’re having arguments, they’re breaking up with their boyfriends and you know, all of the things that you expect.
And the drama of, uh, you know, 17 and 16 year old, a high schooler’s life, uh, is, is there. And then all of a sudden, all of this shifts because their parents disappear on earth while they are, you know, waiting for them to come home. And then after that, It sets off this, you know, movement towards the portal and towards last car, um, which they are clueless about.
Neither of them knew, um, about it until they landed there. So, uh, kind of silly that I, I always think, you know, our kids, you know, that, or will they believe, you know, to go into the forest? And I was like, yeah, it was a magic talking book. It, you know, All the fantasy tropes. You have to have a little bit of, uh, a little bit of, uh, belief in magic, uh, to read some fantasy books.
Beth Barany 18:12
And if you well motivate it, if you motivate it properly, making sure that the reader knows why your character chooses to follow or go into the forest or to, to even pay attention to such a magical object, you’ll be fine.
And that’s another trope, magical book, magical talking book.
Uh, the other trope I wanna, you know, you’re talking so beautifully about is the sisters like real relationship, you know, between sisters sibling rivalry, or you could call it like, um, love, hate relationship. What you wanna do in this list of tropes is give it a nice little characterization that feels unique that feels super cliche. Um, sibling rivalry might feel cliche, but love, um, love, hate, pull your hair out relationship between Like you see what I’m saying? Like, I’m adding a little personality to that. Uh, and so when you’re marketing and you, you can list out these tropes and people will read them and, um, be intrigued and there might be some other, um, tropes in there, like, um, and here’s where I know less about your book as we got deeper into it.
I mean, I’ve seen your summaries and stuff, but like, um, are there issues of, um, learning how to trust yourself, learning how to, uh, step into power? Like that’s something I write about a lot in my books with about women and young women, like learning how to be a leader or learning how to trust, discovering you have magic.
Learning how to wield your, your magic and that that’s akin to learning how to wield your power. So, um, think about the inner, the inner arcs that your characters are going on, and is there one or two or even three in there that are really key to you, that you really care about? Those are the ones we can tell the readers.
Katie Willem 20:02
It’s not particularly a spoiler. Maybe it’s more like a trigger warning. I will be very gentle with the subject here, but, um, Beth lost, uh, a boyfriend in the beginning before the book starts. Uh, it’s about a year out from, um, losing a boyfriend, um, who died by suicide.
And, um, you know, she’s still struggling when the book starts and I mean, you don’t ever. Get over that, um, you never really, you know, lose that pain. It just lessens. And, um, it really, at the beginning of the book, you just see a lot of like brittle anxiety and like pain that she’s just holding onto. And throughout the book, especially this first book, it’s all about kind of self forgiveness and really like being able to lean into, you know, The truth of the matter, which is it’s not my fault.
And I need to be able to trust myself with how I feel and what I think, or I’m not gonna make it in this world. And it’s literally life or death for her in some cases, cuz she’s being chased down, um, by, you know, a, a, a man who’s after her, the big, bad. And I think further into the books so I have kind of this grand plot of everything and further into the books. It’s much more about going from learning to trust yourself, to go with your gut and do what’s right, because I mean, I not to like spoil anything, um, but she gets put into a lot of situations that are gray areas and just places where a normal person is not going to expect to be in.
And somebody who grew up, you know, for, uh, 17 years in the normal world, it’s like, oh, you want me to fight in this war that is using swords? Who like, who, who am I like, I I’m up against these, you know, soldiers. And it’s really about, you know, Leaning into that. And you know, there is magic in this world it’s afforded to those Royal families.
That’s kind of how royalty was defined in the book, um, is like these, the man manifestation of magic powers in the HES to the throne. Um, and so, yeah, I think it’s just her figuring out, you know, self and then moving into. Now I’m going to help, like, use my own like sense of self to make a change and make the right decision and to make a difference in this world that you know is needed.
Beth Barany 22:46
Yeah, that’s great. So like the first book, if you’re just marketing the first book you might market it using terms like, um, loss, overcoming loss, uh self-acceptance self-compassion things like that. Right. then in the future books, it might be more like, um, stepping into doing what’s right or learning how to decide in moral gray areas.
Like these kind of little indicators will show readers that it’s not just an adventure, which is awesome, but it’s also a young woman coming, growing up, growing into maturity. And I think for, for a lot of people who read, uh, the genre are they’re actually in their forties and their fifties and older.
I mean that, I found this out when I was marketing my young adult fantasy. Like my core readership was a 45 year old woman. And, and you may be surprised that you might have older readers who are reading for that younger self who wants to grow up in those ways. Like they’re still a part of us that is yearning for those adventures at that age that we didn’t have.
Katie Willem 23:53
the inner child. I love it.
Beth Barany 23:54
Exactly, there you go. And it is, we’re all maturing at different rates and all the different parts of us right. Are maturing at different rates. So to highlight that I think is attractive, and you can also test this. Like we played with a lot of, we mentioned multiple tropes and niche, and then you can play with these different combinations and watch how people respond and play with it in the social medias.
This is also gonna shape your book cover and the longer book description, your author bio, right? Cuz you can create a nice little echo, um, in, in previous conversations, we’ve talked about the Author Branding Statement, which I will link to in the show notes for everyone. So these themes are probably inherent to who you are and to your work, and we’ll probably show up again and again, at least I’ve noticed now I’m working on my, what 16th novel or something. I’m like, oh, I’m still dealing with the same issues that I dealt with before. have different flavors and variations. Uh, and it’s very typical as authors, we get obsessed, we’re naturally obsessed with certain themes and issues and concerns.
As we start to wrap up, I want to know, are there any questions that you have for me? Did we your concern about niche and tropes?
Katie Willem 25:07
I think it’s really helpful to have just a partner to throw ideas off of and point out. Like, no, that’s a good idea, cuz I land on something and then go, uh, scratch that and just keep, you know, spiraling into, uh, an idea. And then all of a sudden it’s just, uh, thousand words long and, uh, a little ridiculous. yeah, this was super helpful.
Beth Barany 25:32
I’m so glad and because the podcast is about How To Write The Future. really the whole purpose is to support writers around how do we put our positive visions of humanity in, in, into our stories in a way that’s compelling and interesting and readers really love. So it just occurred to me, uh, to ask you, in what way are you advocating for certain positive change in society, through your stories, like through illustrating something in your stories?
Katie Willem 26:04
Oh, man. Uh, this is, oh, a good question. Oh,
Beth Barany 26:09
put you on the spot or anything? This was not a rehearsed question.
Katie Willem 26:12
yeah, no, I, I think about it a lot because I think not to be, you know, Holier the male kind of person, cuz no, that’s not who I am, but I think about every single time I go to make an action or go to do something. I’m like, what’s the impact, you know? Yeah. I have this intention to this, but what’s the impact.
And so I thought about it a lot with my book and it’s, you know, installing and, and not installing instilling hope. I, I. We can go into a situation that is bleak and miserable, and, you know, you don’t see the end of the tunnel, but the end of the tunnel is gonna come at some point. And it’s just about being able to continue on and continuing to have hope for the end of the tunnel.
It’s always like a constant reach in my books, reach for something lighter, reach for something, you know, more hopeful than what is around um, my characters and what is around my, my readers. Even if I’ve made my reader cry because I have, um, done something mean to one of their favorite characters, um. I’m not admitting that at all.
Um, but when. I can show them that it’s not the end and you know, my characters can see it’s not the end, um, and it’s not, it’s not final, and it’s not something that’s going to ruin everything. I really like, I really like that idea of hope.
Beth Barany 27:52
Yeah, that’s wonderful. I really love that. And when we’re writing in the speculative fiction, real science fiction fantasy we’re imagining these very challenging situations, like what you have in your story and, and being able to even grasp hope in those situations, i, I think that’s, that’s so wonderful and I, and it you’re right.
It gives right readers hope. That’s wonderful.
So where can people find out about you, Katie? They wanna keep oh, goodness follow your career and be there when, when your books get publish.
Katie Willem 28:26
Yeah. Well, I do know I have a Twitter page that is dreadfully, um, retweeted for a while. Um, it’s Caitlin M Willem and it’s @TheLaskarSeries on Twitter. I also have my link to where my website is on there. So if anybody’s curious, I have, I think my prologues still up on my, website. If you wanna take a read or you can, I think contact me there. Um, I am looking for beta readers, so, uh, Anybody who wants to know can reach out.
Beth Barany 29:01
That’s great. That’s so wonderful. All of that information is in the show notes. So I really wanna thank you, Katie, for joining me today in the Story Success Clinic. And I can’t wait for your book to be published.
Katie Willem 29:15
Me either. Thank you so much for having me.
Beth Barany 29:17
Thank you, Katie.
Write long and prosper.
Beth Barany 29:22
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ABOUT BETH BARANY
Beth Barany is an award-winning novelist, certified creativity coach for writers, and a workshop facilitator. In addition to her how-to books for writers, Beth has published books in several genres including young adult fantasy, paranormal romance, and science fiction mystery.
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