A lot of authors have a few things confused when it comes to writing and genre. Some, think genre doesn’t matter until you’re ready to market. And some think it doesn’t matter at all. Neither assumption is correct.
Knowing your genre while writing (or at the very least rewriting) is important because readers of that genre have expectations. If those expectations aren’t met you’ll get bad reviews. If you market the book to one genre and it’s actually something else, you’ll get bad reviews. So in an an effort to prevent you from reading heartbreaking one star reviews on a piece you’ve spent a lot of time working on, here are the things you need to do to A.) figure out your genre and B.) make sure it’s everything your readers want it to be.
Study Genre: You probably have a pretty good idea what genre your story is but to be sure, you’ll need to study the genre. Fo example, a member of writers group I’m in was stunned when she was told her book wasn’t romance. She had the two main character who fell in love and then were ripped apart, why wasn’t this just a romance with a heartbreaking ending? Because romance requires a ‘Happily Ever After’ or at least a ‘Happy For Now’ ending. Her book was a love story. The Story Grid is an excellent resource for studying genre, I can’t recommend it or it’s certified editors enough. (I got to chat with two of them this summer and they are a wealth of knowledge!)
Once You’ve Found Your Genre: Research the genre conventions and obligatory scenes. I know I’ve mentioned this before but this is so important. You know when you’re watching a new movie or show and it just doesn’t quite work? You like the characters just fine but you’re left with this feeling of wanting? When you’re left with that blah feeling, it means the author forgot something important. Usually, it’s progressive complications. Writers, myself included, have a tendency to use the same complication over and over again and think they are progressively complicating things. The Story Grid team likes to call this a bobbing boat. How do you fix it? Sink the sucker. To stick with the love story example, in the Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, the characters start out married, not really happy but married. Kitty (Watts) cheats on her new husband (Norton) and thinks she’s found love with this other man. It turns out the other man has no intention of leaving his wife. But Norton’s character has given Kitty an ultimatum. If Charlie won’t leave his wife and marry her, she has to go to the center of a cholera epidemic or he’ll file for divorce and name her an adultress.
Do you see how things have gone from bad to worse for Kitty? She went from living with her insufferable mother to China with her new husband who doesnt like games or anything she finds fun, to being in love with Charlie, to having to move the center of an infectious disease outbreak. No bobbing boat there. Kitty’s boat is sunk. Or is it? (seriously one of my favorite movies, watch it if you haven’t already or even if you have. I’m about to dig through my DVDs till I find it)
Tell Your Story: I’ve heard a lot of authors claim that if you use a formula or follow these guidelines your story will be predictable and nothing new. In some ways they’re right, but mostly they’re not. There are no new stories. People have been telling stories for thousands of years. What you bring to the table is your unique voice and perspective. However, the better you know and understand your genre’s conventions and obligatory scenes the better you can break the rules and create something truly spectacular. For this example, I give you the Netflix Original When We First Met. The entire movie you think the woman he’s supposed to end up with is one character, and he goes through all the romance motions with her (with a time travel twist) but then it ends up being a different woman who he’s actually meant to be with. I saw this twist coming about half way through the movie but I loved it. It wasn’t disappointing at all because the author knew the traditional romance story line and used it their advantage. Know your shit so you can play around with it later.
How do you feel about genre? What’s your understanding of genre? Is there something you’d add to this post?
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