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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

#3 - What's Your Genre? (HOWNTWAN)

This is the third article in the semi-comedic series, How Not To Write A Novel (HOWNTWAN). The first article in the series can be found here: What's Your Story About? Keep reading during the next couple months for the rest of the series.

3. What’s Your Genre?

Her hands tugged impatiently at his shirt, popping buttons, and exposing his bare chest.
This is probably not the best opening line to a Young Adult Mystery novel.

Choosing a genre in which to write may seem like a bit of a pain, especially up front, before you write your novel. I mean, you want your creativity juices to flow and having boundaries around you isn’t going to make it easy. No, it makes much more sense to just write and see what comes out. It’ll be easy enough to decide what genre the book fits after it’s written.
A lot of wannabe authors go this route. They let the flow of the book dictate where it goes. But consider these words: Bastard. Bra. Kiss. Scantily-clad. Weed. Meth. Vodka.
Are these acceptable words to use in your book? Furthermore, if you do use these words, does that define what genre you’re writing in? Some genres have very strict guidelines (pulp romance), while others do not (fantasy). How will you know what’s right and what’s wrong? If you set no boundaries at all when you write, your target audience will most likely be all over the place and confused when they read your novel. Let’s say, for instance, that on 99 pages of 100 you do not use a single swear word, but on the hundredth page you have your main character call someone else a bastard. I can guarantee the reader is going to be a little surprised (and maybe even put off continuing). As another example, let’s say that 99% of your book contains no references to alcohol, but suddenly you have one of your characters blind drunk; the reader is again going to be surprised. And not surprised in a good way. Readers like to understand the books they’re reading. If they pick up a western, they have expectations about where the book is heading. If there’s suddenly a sequence where the FBI investigate someone who committed murder, the reader is going to feel cheated.
Genres were created for a reason. That reason is so that the reader can have some kind of expectation about the kind of book, out of millions, they’re selecting to read. If you, as the author, don’t stick to a genre, your readership will suffer. Why? Because probably for every good review you get, you’re going to get five bad ones from readers who write something like - “This story was nothing to do with x” - where x is mystery, thriller, romance, etc.
Hey, but not to worry. Writing a book is not about the reader, is it? It’s about writing the best story you can, no matter how it turns out. Genres are artificial things created for dumb readers. Intelligent readers will get exactly where your book is coming from. Besides, in the old days there weren’t such things as genres and everyone managed okay then. And P.S. what is a genre anyway?
No, my advice to you, mister wannabe author, is that if you really want to keep your day job, you shouldn’t worry about genres. After all, it was obvious that the opening sentence of this article fits into a book about Science Fiction. You didn’t get it? Well ask yourself, what woman tugs at a shirt only to see buttons popping off? That’s pure fiction, mixed with a good dose of science.

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