Writing 101--Genres

I don't know if Writing 101 will be a regularly scheduled blog, but some things I've mentioned in the past bear repeating. I could have directed you to old posts, BUT these publishing times are a changin' very quickly. Something I firmly believed two years ago might not be appropriate now.

For many years when someone would comment that they wanted to write a book. My answer would be, "So write it." My answer is still, "Write it." because the only way your story will be written is if you do the hard work and actually write it. But now I have tempered that answer with some food-for-thought.

When I first started writing romances (notice that I don't write them anymore??), Marilyn Pappano asked me what type of book I was writing. "Romance," I said.  Duh!

Three years later, I realized what she was really asking. Yeah, I'm slow on the uptake.

TRUE STORY: If you are giving me the silent treatment because I pissed you off--it won't work. I'll just figure that you aren't feeling very well. It took another worker to tell me that another one of my co-workers was ticked off about something.
Yes, I'm that obtuse. But isn't this better than being one of those people who take offense over every suspected slight?? 

Anyhoo, what Marilyn was really trying to get me to think about was whether this story was a category romance or single title. Each of these romance sub-genres has a different set of expectations from the reader.

Here are a few things to think about:

--Where do you see your book shelved?
--Who do you see them next to?
--What type of reader do you want to attract?

So many newbie writers look down their noses at romance, claiming that it's cookie-cutter. It's a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl, leading to Happy Ever After. 

And so it is.

But other genre books are also formulaic--Cozy Mysteries, Horror, Thrillers or Suspenses, Fantasy and Science Fiction (two very distinct genres), Westerns, etc.

Each genre has its own sense of 'rules'. Many people call it formula writing or cookie-cutter. I prefer to call it reader expectations.

If you pick up a book in the Thriller section of the book store, you want a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. You expect to be in for a fast-paced action ride. Think of the Jason Bourne books. The stories are complex and action-packed.

When you pick up a romance, you want the love story between two characters who can't possible live happily ever after. But they somehow manage it. It's the journey that readers enjoy reading about.

Here is my take on some genres (I'm sure I'll miss a few since I don't read all of them, so please keep that in mind).

CHILDREN'S--runs the gamut of picture books to young adult. If you want to write in this genre you need to be aware of what reading level your target audience is. And let me just mention that just because a group of kids is in the fourth grade, it doesn't mean they all read at the same level, which is why these books have age ranges.
Picture books are far more rigid than most people realize. The word count is limited, and the pictures are there to tell 50% of the story. Most of the time, a parent is reading this to the child, but eventually the child will start reading it on their own.  Dr. Seuss to Froggy
Early readers have pictures, but there is more story involved. Words must be easy for the reader to sound out. Henry and Mudge.
Chapter books are for a little older child who still needs some pictures to help break up the text along with chapter breaks. Many times this is a fun adventure that can be used to educate as well. Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Treehouse books.
Middle Grade books usually don't have pictures except possibly at the beginning of the chapter. The child character must be the one to solve the problem presented in the story. The books are longer with a slightly more difficult vocabulary. Rick Riordan's books, Harry Potter. M. A. Golla (hey, a gal has to get a little freebie promo in somehow!).
Young Adult stories tend to be a little more hard-hitting books that address issues many teens face on a daily basis: sex, drugs, abuse, etc. They can range from the lighter end of the spectrum (Gallagher Girls spy school) to heavy. I don't read the hard hitting stuff, so I don't have any examples. If I had to guess, The Hunger Games would be in here.

ROMANCE must have a Happily Ever After or a Happy For Now scenario at the end of the book. The 'romances' where someone dies or leaves or whatever aren't romances, they're love stories. Do NOT call them romances. Romances can have a heat rating from sweet (a stolen kiss or two) to erotica (graphic sex). The word count can vary depending on the romance, category (50,000 words) or single title (90,000 words). Many of romances include additional elements or sub-genres, but the core of the story MUST be the story of the relationship between the Hero and Heroine.
Here are a few sub-genres: faith-related, contemporary, paranormal, historical, and suspense.
If you want to write in a romance sub-genre, the sub-genre MUST BE INTEGRAL TO THE STORY. If you take out the fact that a character is a vampire and the story still works, then the story doesn't dig deep enough in the paranormal aspect. Dig deeper.

FANTASY and SCIENCE FICTION is growing. Many of these books tend to be 100,000-words or more, partly due to the world-building/description aspect of the story--and 90-95% of the world-building the author does shouldn't be written in the book. Personally, I feel that the author shouldn't have to describe their world to the reader, but draw the reader into the story through the characters. I read this genre, but only a few select authors. Fantasy can be anything from Urban Fantasy (Jim Butcher) to High Fantasy (David Eddings) to Science Fiction (Orsen Scott Card). I tend to read Urban Fantasy, but if you want to write fantasy you might consider reading numerous authors within this genre to figure out the reader expectations of the particular sub-genre you intend to write.

THRILLERS/SUSPENSE/MYSTERY Each one of these has different expectations. I don't read many of these, so the key is to read different authors and then dissect their stories to figure out their pacing and reader expectation for that genre.
In many mysteries, the crime or murder takes place off screen. The story is the character solving the unsolvable. Agatha Christie.
Suspense can be the character seeing something he isn't supposed to see, but he are running for their lives as they try to solve the mystery. Allison Brennan.
Thrillers are similar to Suspense, but I think they are more intense and action-packed.  Jason Bourne books.

FICTION books are all the novels that don't fit in genre fiction. These might include the Classics, literary fiction, women's fiction, etc. Can't help you here. I don't read these books. I'm just not that interested in them. I want to read to escape, not face the harsh realities of life.

NON-FICTION is the rest of the bookstore. If you want a cookbook, a 'dummies' book, research books--the Captain Jack Sparrow Pirate Handbook is here--yes, I have this one, history books, Dragonology books--got it, too, how to write books, etc.

So here's your homework assignment--think about the story you want to write and then before you sit down to write--READ. Yes, read the genre, but especially read the more recent books that have come out. In middle grade books, The Outsider's is a classic, and so are the Harry Potter books, but if you want to get the current point-of-view of young readers, then read Rick Riodan's Kane Chronicles--I'm still waiting for book 3!

Later, Peeps!

Think about these things while you are thinking about the Great American Novel that you want to write.


Marilyn said...

LOL, Margaret. Remember, that was still early in my critiquing career. I was still learning a lot and probably didn't know exactly what I was asking. :)

Good rundown of genres. I've been moving more into fantasy series, so I'll have to check out the ones you mentioned.

magolla said...

I tend to read more of the Urban Fantasy stuff than any other type of fantasy.

If you need a few more authors to look for, Marilyn--give me a shout and I'll come up with a few more names for you.

Jody Werner said...

My problem (well, one of them) is that what I write doesn't appear to fit in to any genre. ALthough by your definition, my expanded "Unicorn" story could qualify as romance, as it's going to have a happy boy-gets-girl ending. It makes me gag to think of it in that genre, though.

I write shorter collections, mostly. But, I have found that those are more common than I originally thought.

I've just about finished reading a YA novel that I am ONLY reading because it is written about the horse show circuit and was being handed out as a prize at a recent horse show here. It's called "the A Circuit", and I am still waiting for a plot to emerge. It meanders about following the lives of several teens in a top show barn. It drops product names so shamelessly and often that it jars me out of the story. It would be interesting to know what you think of it, as both a writer and horse person.

I'll say one thing, the writer sure has captured the annoying "voice" of the current teenager. It, like, you know, makes me wanna scream or whatever.

Jody Werner said...

Here's another problem I have in my thought process (well, not a problem for ME, but for the industry): i can't wrap my brain around researching what readers expect or how I should tell my story. "My" story is its own entity. It tells itself. I'm not going to alter it to adhere to standards (other than observing general standards of good writing) or someone else's expectations. It is what it is, and it fits (or doesn't fit) wherever it belongs.

I guess it's because when I write, I write for myself, not for others. I write what is IN me, not what will sell. But then, everything changes. What sells now will not sell at some other point in time. For that reason I just stay true to myself, and the reader will either relate or not relate.

magolla said...

Jody--if your stories don't fit genre fiction, then they are simply 'fiction'. Even the fiction sections of the bookstore has a place for humor, satire, memoirs, etc.

Though I haven't read Unicorn, I would seriously hesitate before you called it a romance. 1) you don't read them and wouldn't know about reader's expectation, 2) your reaction to the term romance. Romances involve a large amount of internal conflict that drives the characters apart even as they are attracted to each other. Many, many books contain a romantic subplot that would never place them in the romance category.

I'd be interested to find out if the YA was self-published or not. My guess would be that it is. If it is, then that was a dirty dog move to offer it at a 'prize'.

Not all books that are written should be published. Just because you write something, it doesn't mean the next step is automatically trying to publish it. As you pointed out, you write for yourself, not others. Whereas I write for others, though I insert a bunch of myself into my stories. :-)

The reason I self-published the Goblin's Apprentice series is because I felt youngster should have the opportunity to enjoy the story--even if I only break even.

Jody Werner said...

Unfortunately, your definition of "Romance" does describe the expanded (you only read the short story version) story. But I think I'd still hesitate to call it that based on what you've said. But what it's called really doesn't matter overall.

No, "The A Circuit" -- hard to answer about the publishing. It was co-authored and published by the daughter of NYC Mayor Bloomberg, by their own publishing company. So I don't know what you'd call it. I think the intended audience will probably like it a lot, but I'm not caring for it so far.

magolla said...

When the author and the publisher are the same, then it is self-published. I know some friends of mine who are 'inventing' publishing companies for their work so it doesn't look self-published.

Jody Werner said...

Thanks, you've just given me a great idea :)

magolla said...

Uh-oh, Jody + idea = scary things.

Jody Werner said...

I honestly don't care who publishes something if it's good, but why not trick people into buying it anyway :)