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Ask A Question Thursday

January 17, 2019
mandyevebarnett


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The initial question was: Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

(Look at the bottom of this post for the continuing query – Are genre formulas a myth?)

Last week’s responses:

I always have a vague idea of what the genre is going to be before I start a piece but if the inspiration takes me somewhere else then I don’t try and steer back because the characters lead the story.

Kristen Lamb 

Genre is essential for those who want to write professionally, for an income and for a living. For those who are having fun simply writing? No, doesn’t matter. For those who are new and learning? Not as huge of a deal but starting to be important. Those who want to be experimental and maybe want to win awards? Meh.

Yet, for anyone who want to be PAID for their books (code for product), genre is our lighthouse to keep us from smashing on the rocks.

The entire point of genre is so the author can locate and cultivate fans who will BUY his/her books…which they (readers) will also be able to locate because they will know where the book is shelved or what genre it’s listed under.

If no one has any idea WTH a book is, where to shelve it, or how to describe it? That’s bad.

If the book gets into a bookstore, then where do they put it? “General Fiction.” Okay. Sucky but okay.

But, since most people discover and buy books online, what keywords would you attach? Genre will matter BIG.

What other product/service/ business would be so indeterminate and hope to have any commercial success?

“You know, I am going to open a restaurant and just cook what I feel like and the ingredients just tell me what to do.” Um, have fun storming the castle. Rock on!

But marketing and advertising will now be a total nightmare. Good luck finding those who will eat a place no one can accurately describe.

Same with books.

Not impossible but adds a TON of unnecessary work when authors already have a ton to do as is.

I think a MAJOR misconception is genre somehow locks us into formulaic writing, which is patently false.

First of all, yes there are formulaic genres. Write a category sweet romance and there is a strict formula because these publishers know their readers and what they want.

And, since romance brings in BILLIONS and makes up over 70% of all books sold? Probably a good idea to listen to the guidelines.

Beyond that, genres can be melded and we (as writers) can get creative much like musicians who create fusions of sound, juxtaposing different types of music for a wholly unique sound (I.e. old gospel hymns influencing heavy metal).

Yet, the musicians KNOW music before playing around and reinventing new sounds.

Similarly, we should know and understand genre expectations. They exist for a reason.

Genres help us identify who is most likely to buy our book (which in the new paradigm we need to know no matter which way we publish).

Secondly, genres have rules and we break the rules at our own peril.

Breaking rules is fine. I do it all the time. But I know the rules BEFORE I break them.

For instance, there used to be a rule that one couldn’t mix POVs. If you began in first you had to stay there. If you began in third, you stayed there.

But WHY did the rule exist? Namely to stave off confusion. YET, Jefferson Parker (genius he is) wanted the audience to gain a closer psychic distance with the antagonist to make them more attached and thus more conflicted about him being apprehended/stopped.

So he wrote the antagonist in close first and the MC protagonist in third to make the reader psychologically struggle at a whole new level. Jeff knew genre, the rules, the constraints, THEN he bent them to do something never done.

Thirdly, genre is primarily for readers. It helps them find what they are looking for. When we don’t want to put a genre on our work because it ‘limits the muse’ or whatever, it is like asking our audience to go grocery shopping and buy canned goods with no labels and just trust it will be yummy.

Genres help readers have SOME idea of what they are getting. If we mislabel, there can be consequences.

Years ago, I had a client who believed she had a romance (but obviously hadn’t studied genre rules/expectations).

She self-published and got SLAYED in reviews, and panicked and sobbing, hired me to help. I took one look and knew the problem.

Yes, her writing was good and so was the story, but in her book…guy and gal didn’t end up together in the end.

In romance, (back then) you needed an HEA (Happily Ever After) which has loosened up to an HFN (Happily For Now) but the couple still has to end up together.

Without that? NOT a romance. She had a Women’s Fiction. She got a new cover, relaunched, slated in the correct genre and BOOM. Sales and great reviews.

In this instance, we had a case of completely different audience with different expectations.

When we slot a book in the wrong genre it’s like serving someone Tofurkey and trying to tell them it’s actually turkey. They are going to HATE it because the basis for comparison is TURKEY not vegan meat substitutes.

It’s like a bad bait-and-switch that ticks off readers.

Then, genre is going to give guideposts to word count. How LONG is the book roughly supposed to be?

Audiences in certain genres have preferences. Epic high fantasy readers give no figs about reading a 180,000 word book. Someone who likes cozy mysteries? No. Like 65K. Sure, feel free to write a 180,000 word cozy mystery but no one who loves that genre is likely to buy.

As far as considering genre ahead of time? I don’t understand how an author can’t do this, at least loosely. Stories are for the audience, not us. Unless we only want to sell a book to ourselves.

And this isn’t me saying “write for the market’ because that sort of “writing for the market” is when you, say, love writing Jane Austen historical romances and decide, instead, to write a techno-thriller because the genre is hot at the moment…and yet you can’t use your printer without tech support and are so bored by military fiction you want to kill yourself…but you write it because it is HOT.

Just no.

But beyond that, looking at genre is a FANTASTIC resource to understand our readers, who they are, what they want and not only give them what they want…but also slip in something they never knew they wanted until they read your book!

***This is why agents need to know genre. They have to have ammo to SELL our manuscript for the most BANK. If they can’t articulate what it IS, who is going to buy it? No one. Bye, Felicia.

Back to process. To me, failing to even roughly determine genre ahead of time is madness. I’ve done it (when I was a n00b) and it sucks and I have the scars to prove how dumb this was (for me).

My time is valuable. Without determining some broad strokes regarding genre, that is a formula for revision HELL. To be retro-fitting the Space Station for a hot tub.

It will make SEO and keywords a BEAST. Ultimately, it’s just a recipe for heavy drinking and ugly crying.

Just because we choose a genre in the beginning doesn’t mean we can’t get creative and blend or even veer at an angle toward a kissing-cousin genre (I.e. suspense can become a thriller).

In the end, writers can do whatever works for them and sells a lot of books. Yet—after fifteen years in this business professionally—I’ve found that, more often than not, writers who eschew genre rarely finish the book.

Or, if they do, revisions are like a trip to the fifth circle of hell which is why it takes FOREVER for them to ‘finish.’ Often, they can’t get traditionally published and so they self-pub and the books don’t sell (and there are reasons for that).

Look at authors making bank, traditionally and nontraditionally published. They KNOW their genre and audience and they WRITE FOR THEM…even the literary folks (*nod to Fredrik Backman*).

Anyway, long response but there ya go. My two cents…okay twenty bucks. Best of luck to everyone.

I’d say knowing at least a basic genre before you start writing is important. Maybe you know you want to write a romance, but figure out as you’re going along it’ll be an erotic romance. Okay, fine. But you can’t just start spewing words without knowing your characters, the plot, what genre, etc. You can’t sit down and just start typing without knowing some form of topic of what you’re writing. It’ll just turn into a mess that way.

over to you

So let’s look at this from a slightly different angle.

If you are writing in a particular genre do you ‘conform’ to the preconceived format of that genre? If romance – fall in love, difficulties arise, opposing feeling, loss of love, surprise event, and falling back into deep everlasting love? OR Sci-fi – the hero has to fight an enemy, the struggle is real and looks overwhelming, battles and fights, a glimpse of hope and the final defeat?

Do you want to conform to formula writing? Would you rather break the mold? Is it a myth that genres have formulas?

With a specific genre there is a better chance your book will be put into the genre bookshelf as opposed to a general fiction slot as Kristen mentioned.

Is this good marketing?

Does it restrict your creativity?

 

ASK A QUESTION THURSDAY

January 10, 2019
mandyevebarnett


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Continuing the discussion for this month’s topic. See 3rd January for main post.

Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

Last week’s responses were:

Konn Lavery 

Genre tends to come second for my process. The genre of choice comes up naturally as the plot, characters and conflict unfold. Sometimes I’m not sure what the genre is, but did get a handy booklet called Genre A Short Reference Guide and Dictionary by R. L. Bennett that has descriptions for each genre.
Once the first draft is done I look up in the booklet, then research about the genre and revise the manuscript.

Karen Probert

I never consider genre at all. I’m not even sure there is a genre name for my style of writing – maybe ‘realism’ would fit as my characters act and speak as normal people and there are no situations in my stories that could not happen to real people or be a part of normal day-to-day living in our society.

Gerri Bowen

Many of my stories tend to be paranormal, but I go where the characters take me.

Lisa de Nikolas

My genre preference is noir suspense thriller murder mystery! But my writing is more literary than genre and that makes it problematic when it comes to sales and marketing because promotion departments and bookstores like to have a simple, clear-cut definition.

I’m often asked for current, similar examples in bookstores of my books, and that’s very hard to do! I’d love to reply: “I set out to write good story, something readers can sink their teeth into, it’s fiction, that’s what it is!” But booksellers want something less complicated. I’ve described my work as Little House on the Prairie meets Pulp Fiction and what genre would that be?.

I didn’t set out to write this way, in fact, I’ve tried really hard to write formulaic genre mystery but it’s just not my style. Sometimes you’ve got to go with what you’ve been given! Thanks Mandy!

Kathie Sutherland

Life writing is my genre. The forms vary: journal writing, personal essays, poems, short stories,and autobiographical narratives. These forms end up in collections. I want the pieces to be realistic. I find fiction difficult to write. I have a novel in first draft and autobiographical fiction pieces and even they are life writing. The writing comes first, and then the genre follows.

Mary Cooney-Glazer 

I write second chance love stories with the primary characters age 45 and over. I chose the main genre because I wanted to portray mid-life women as resilient, attractive, productive people still fully engaged in life and capable of enjoying romantic adventures. Their men treat them well and respect their talents. I do like to include a little goofiness on both sides when it comes to figuring out relationships. Although the main genre is romance, there are elements of women’s fiction and rom-com. So, I guess I do choose the overall genre first, but the blending elements appear as the characters and plot develops.

Mike Deregowski

I generally have some sort of idea of what genre I am writing in, I don’t pick it though, it all depends on what will fit the story that wants to be told. Same goes for style I use. I believe there are no bad writing ideas, just not the right format or style.

Mandy Eve-Barnett

I have always written free flow so never think what the genre might be as I write the narrative. That comes later once the story has completed the first draft and I read it through, making revisions and getting to know the theme of the narrative. Sometimes the characters define the genre and other times it is the story structure and theme.

 

over to you
So is this the general consensus regarding genre? Do you agree or disagree?
If we are writing without a clear genre in mind does this make the process easier or more difficult?
There are certain well known ‘formats’ for certain genre’s, complete with cheat sheets. Are these a great writer’s tool or apt to make one a ‘lazy’ writer?
Let’s see where this topic takes us shall we? Over to you and your thoughts. Please leave your comments in the section below.

ASK A QUESTION THURSDAY

January 3, 2019
mandyevebarnett


Hello,

Here is the first question for my new monthly blog topic for writers and authors. Please join in the discussion.

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Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

We can ask, answer and give our opinions in the comments on this post or subsequent Thursdays in January. Let’s make it as interactive as possible.

What is your genre preference?

How do you decide on the genre?

Would picking the genre first make it more difficult to write the story or not?

Do you merge genres to match your story?

Now-a-days there are many merged genres so it is easy to combined a couple (or more) to make your narrative ‘fit’ but is that okay or not?

More discussion on Thursday 10th, 17th, 24th and 31st January. We may go off topic slightly, reveal writing styles, publishing house experiences, agent advice or …

Let each other know about you!

Experience

My experience:

I have always written free flow so never think what the genre might be as I write the narrative. That comes later once the story has completed the first draft and I read it through, making revisions and getting to know the theme of the narrative. Sometimes the characters define the genre and other times it is the story structure and theme.

I have children’s books, YA novellas and several adult novels, so am a multi-genre author. I am led by the story initially, which can be sparked from an overheard conversation, a life event, a prompt/photo or an experience on a road trip.

What about you?

 

 

Writing Prompt Wednesday

November 28, 2018
mandyevebarnett


Zen Garden

The prompt today is to use this zen garden as your inspiration.

Here is my response:

Shoulders slumped, feet heavy on the glistening pavement, Jocelyn makes her way home in light rain, which gradually soaks through her jacket and trickles down her back. The grey drizzle matches her mood, yet another day stuck inside the call center, reading by rote the same sales pitch over and over again. This hadn’t been her dream, she had believed she could find a career designing and tending gardens but no-one would hire an inexperienced student so she had make do with the first job offered and there she had stayed. Even after paying rent and all her bills she had a surplus, which was reflected in her savings account but she had nowhere to spend it. Holidays alone did not appeal, a fancy car would stayed parked in the under ground garage most of the time as she could walk to work in less than ten minutes and she wasn’t into fashion. She had made her small apartment a Japanese inspired haven with rich colours and objects; this was where she was happy. Opening the door she placed her lunch bag on the kitchen counter and headed straight for the shower, the warm water soothed her, her silk kimono feeling luxurious against her skin. After a light supper, she sat redefining her Zen garden, comforted by the slow motion of the small wooden tools, watching the fine grains of sand move and the careful placing of the miniature stones.

The sudden ring of the phone breaks her peaceful meditation.

“Hello?”

“Is this Jocelyn Woo?”

“This is Jocelyn, who is calling?”

“Hello Jocelyn, my name is Harry Kyoto, I was given your number by George Ita at the Sumay Garden Center. He told me you were very talented at design when you worked with him in your summer holidays from college”.

“That was a while ago Mr. Kyoto but I do continue to design gardens in my spare time”.

“Yes, George has shown me some of your designs and that is why I am calling. I would like to offer you a job. Would you consider it?”

“Mr. Kyoto I would be absolutely delighted to accept. What position are you offering?”

“Well garden designer, of course, what else?”

Jocelyn felt dizzy with excitement, her heart was pounding – a dream come true when she had been at her lowest since moving to the city.

“When do you need me to start Mr. Kyoto? I only need to give two weeks notice”.

“That’s excellent news Jocelyn. So shall we say you will start on the sixteenth?”

“Thank you so much Mr. Kyoto, I’m really overwhelmed at your offer”.

“Well from the designs George showed me I think I am the lucky one, Jocelyn. Take care and I’ll see you soon”.

As she replaced the mouth piece, she couldn’t contain her excitement and let out a yell of pure joy – no more stuffy crowded tower block office with the constant gabble of voices saying the same thing over and over. She would be living her dream in two short weeks.

I would love to read your poem or short story inspired by this prompt – leave it in the comments.

 

Writing Prompt Wednesday

September 19, 2018
mandyevebarnett


Today’s prompt gives you a For Sale sign as the inspiration.

sale

Here is my response – For Sale Signs

 The two houses faced each other dissimilar in architecture and coloured siding but both sporting for sale signs. At first glance, it could be thought a coincidence that both households were moving but the facades held a hidden turmoil. Heartbreak was sealed within.

As with all beginnings, it had started in all innocence and the future repercussions unimagined. An invitation to a barbecue from the new neighbours as a way to introduce themselves to the neighbourhood was quickly accepted. Frank knew Jocelyn would be quick to investigate the new homeowners furniture and decor, she just loved being nosy.  With a bottle in hand and a small bouquet of flowers, they rung the doorbell and waited. A call from the back yard summoned them to walk around the house. Jocelyn let out a sigh. Frank knew she was just dying to see inside.

“Well hello neighbours. My name is Adele and when he emerges from the kitchen you can meet my husband, Jeremy.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Adele, this is my wife Jocelyn, and I’m Frank. We bought wine and these are for you.”

As Adele looked into Frank’s eyes and took the flowers, he felt a tingle in his hand and his heart beat a little faster. She was exquisite. His gaze was broken when a hand landed on his shoulder.

“Hello, I’m Jeremy, glad you could come over.”

“Thank you for inviting us, Jeremy. I know I’ve just arrived but may I use your bathroom?”

Frank glanced at Jocelyn, exasperated at her guile. He watched as they both entered the kitchen door then looked back at Adele. She was watching him intently, a slight flush to her cheeks. And that is how it began. An affair that consumed the two of them for the rest of the summer.

Jeremy’s frequent business trips initially allowed Frank to visit Adele without suspicion. Jocelyn was too self absorbed to notice at first until one night she happened to run across to tell Frank a pipe had burst and found him and Adele in an embrace. Jocelyn’s screaming and ranting continued for days and nights. She threatened, cajoled and pleaded all in a vain attempt to make Frank love her again. Adele remained hidden in her home after Jeremy had accosted Frank in the driveway and punched him so hard it had broken his nose. The police were called and Jeremy left with them. Frank obviously did not press charges under the circumstances. Jeremy arrived a day later and with two suitcases thrown into the trunk squealed his tires as he left.

Frank left at his usual time then backtracked when he saw Jocelyn leave for her dental appointment. Parking in his own driveway, he walked across the road and gently tapped on Adele’s front door. Her beautiful face appeared at the window. The door opened slowly and Frank walked in. They talked for hours, expressing their love and planning their escape.

Now the for sale signs face each other across the road the only symbols of the true meaning of their existence.

Please join in and write your own story or poem inspired by a For Sale sign. Leave it in the comments below.

 

 

 

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