Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

School of Hard Knocks: Pick a Genre

Know what you want to write

Today I’m starting a new series of articles on writing. You could call it the Blog of Hard Knocks, if you’d like. And while you may sigh and wonder why there is yet another blog with information about becoming an author (geared toward writing fiction) I can only say that I’ve learned a few things over the years that I haven’t seen talked about much. And these things were helpful to me. Eventually.

Of course, the pearls I’m going to throw out there are really nothing new. They are things other writers told me. But these bits of advice were more like a pebble in my shoe than pearls I immediately picked up and treasured. I listened and was aware of these pebbles of knowledge, but I didn’t really understand until my foot was bleeding copiously.

Maybe other newbie writers (or even established writers) and those curious about the writing process will pay more attention to these pebbles earlier instead of having to sit down and pour the blood out of their shoe because they just “didn’t feel it enough” to act sooner.

So here goes.

First Pearl of Writer Wisdom

Know what the heck you’re going to write.

Sounds simple enough. But it’s more complicated than it sounds. The biggest mistake a lot of folks make when they sit down to stare at a blank screen for the first time is they have only the vaguest idea of what they want to write. We’re talking genre. You might think, “Oh, I’m writing a romance—with bits of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Time Travel, Paranormal, Mystery, and Crime/Thriller thrown in. And it might be young adult. I’m not sure yet.”

Right there, you have a problem—if you actually intend to try to have your book published. Even if you want to self-publish through CreateSpace/Kindle or one of the other burgeoning eBook publishing channels. Because…your book has to be marketable. People have to understand what it is before they will buy it.

Even more important, if you can’t clearly state the essence of your book, clearly and cleanly, you’ll probably write such a confusing mish-mash that even you will have a hard time reading and understanding it.

Think: Clarity.

Pick a genre. Each genre has very specific rules and if you want to be a successful author, you need to be aware of those rules. Study them. For your first manuscript, make it as typical of your chosen genre as possible—it will help you write a quality book.

Here’s an example.

So…let’s say you sat down and you wrote a book about a young guy who has magical powers. And he goes to a school for wizards and makes friends. And discovers he has enemies. Stuff happens. Whatever.

Then everyone dies.

Now, clearly, if you’re writing a fantasy book for young adults, having all your characters die horribly and gruesomely at the end is probably not the way to go. It violates one of the basic rules of the YA Fantasy genre—at least one character must survive until the end. Even better, there’s a happy ending (more than one person lives and he/she is happy about it).

Of course, if you’re writing bad horror, then killing everyone off at the end is an option although I do classify that as bad horror. Even Stephen King allows at least one character to survive—which is what makes his stuff good horror and very saleable. And shows that even the horror genre has rules…but I digress.

But you do see what I mean, right? Every genre has things it will allow and won’t allow, and the more familiar you are with the various genre frameworks, the better armed you will be to write a manuscript that will be saleable. And after publishing—it will be marketable. You’ll be able to define who your audience is, and identify which general fiction category it falls under so readers can find your book, and you can target your promotional efforts to folks who may actually buy your book. It’s no use writing a young adult book about a young girls adventures in her flower garden and then pitching it to a bunch of 18-year old guys, unless you just like to see young guys laughing.

I know this is probably disappointing to some authors who are dying to write a Mystery-Time Travel-Sci Fi-Paranormal-Regency-Romance-Crime Thriller, but the reality is, you’re better off focusing on a more well-defined framework and genre. You’ll thank me later when you actually have to sell the beast you’ve written.

That’s it—now go forth and write that book!

1 comment:

Lynn Chantale said...

Reading this has helped me to realize what genre, or sub-genre I really prefer writing. Good read, now I'm ging to go write that book.