Monday 5 November 2012

Creative Writing Tips: What Makes Your Genre?

Applies to all fictional writing

Looking at:
Different genres and their expectations
Number of characters for length (single to series)
Do your research

   I know I've been talking mostly about fantasy, but that's all I can write. Regardless of what kind of book you want to write, this is relevant to you: think about your genre. What does it generally entail?
   When I think of fantasy, I think immediately of magic and dragons. I don't intend for every piece of my work to be the same, but you can almost guarantee magic will be there somewhere. Perhaps not dragons, there's only so much I can think to do with them, but magic almost definitely.
   Think of your genre. Grab a pen or open notepad and just start writing things down.
   This is what I've got:

Fantasy - dragons, magic, different races, peril, more outlandish plots, set anywhere you want.

Science Fiction - aliens, lights, super natural things - not as light or imaginary as fantasy, but still unusual or unlikely and with some scientific interest (there's no study of magic, but there is for extra-terrestrial things, both real (bacteria) and theory-based ideas). Can be set on this planet or another.

Romance/Romantic comedy - little unusual events, mostly obsessing about appearance and love interest (I clearly have only read Bridget Jones' Diary), set in our world.

General Fiction - Perhaps unusual events, generally in our world, I can't think of a single book that is "general fiction" - I'm not that open minded when it comes to books, I suppose!

   Know your genre - be daring, try new things, but if you're going for a particular genre, like romance, you'll want to leave out giant fire breathing reptiles. Sometimes being brave and adventureous with your work can pay off - Tolkein practically invented fantasy, after all - but also be aware that if you're trying to create something completely new, it probably won't be very well received. People know what they want, and I am one of those people.
   Also consider how your genre is presented. Fantasy is often presented as a big book, or it comes in threes. Not always, but it's rare you'll find a 250 page fantasy book with no follow-on. It's also rare you'll find a romance or general fiction novel that is part of a trilogy - not impossible, I haven't read the book but I think The Devil Wears Prada was part of a series of books.

   I'll revert back to fantasy here for a moment, because it's relevant to the presentation of the stories: if you're writing a trilogy or a series of books, add more villains. The longer the book or story, the more your readers will be itching for some kind of justice to be served - preferrably bloody and irreversable justice. Sauroman was a sub-villain, merely one of Sauron's tools, but certainly powerful enough to be worthy of someone looking up and saying "I really hate him." With him killed in the third film (though only at the beginning of the extended edition, and I don't think he actually died in the books until the end of the last one, where he led a battle into the most unexpected place), it did give some kind of show of progress. One influential figure of Sauron's had been eliminated, and he certainly won't be getting back up from that wheel...ouch...

   Bottom line here is do your research. Of course, I can't help thinking, if you need to research then it might not be the right genre for you. Usually you'd want to write what you read the most. I read the occasional Dean Koontz, but I know my fantasy best, since it easily dominates my bookshelf.
   The best way to research your genre, though, is by reading it. Go to the book store, go to amazon, find the shelves of your genre and pick one. Personally I never read blurbs - I pick up a book if the first few pages look good. After reading books by suggestion a few times and really enjoying them, I once looked at the blurb of one of them, and I realised there and then that if I had judged this book by the blurb, I'd never have read it. So blurbs are important, since they're the part of a cover that readers are expected to judge the book by.
   Go and get some books, sit down and read them. Then think back to what they had in common, what character types and models, what kind of plot (if plot is even the right word for romance novels and the like) and how they got from A to B. Perhaps contact some authors and ask for tips - if you're lucky, they might respond. There's also a fraction of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook where big authors write a page or two about their genre and what they expect from it, and the processes some of them go through - in fact, if anyone is interested in what the page of their chosen genre might be, drop me a line and I'll either photocopy it or type it out for you, if you think it could help.

   Once you know what makes your genre, you can continue onwards. Not all of these posts I'm writing will be helpful, because I only know how to write fantasy, but you may benefit from some posts.


  1. Sometimes, though, no matter how well you know your genre you still need to do research. Jodi Picoult, for instance, still researches medical conditions, court jargon, police procedures, etc. She writes about all of those topics in nearly every book she's ever published but she's not a doctor or lawyer or police officer so she does the research so that her writing is authentic. Sometimes there's just no way around it.

    1. That's a fair point, but that's not researching her genre, that's researching elements. I have never read anything by her at all, but going by what you've said it's all serious stuff. I can understand that that would need research, but researching a genre is more like what is expected of it, and what it usually entails, rather than what the story is about.


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