Thursday, June 4, 2009

Master Your Genre

GENRE: A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content. (American Heritage Dictionary, link)

Pretend for a moment you're not a writer; you are just a reader. You're a fan of romance novels. Think about the hero and heroine in those novels. Think about how the hero and heroine meet in those novels. Think about the major events that happen in those novels. Think about the settings of those novels. Find any similarities? You should. The romance genre has a distinct style, form, and content. Heroes are usually strong, willful, and determined. Heroines are strong, too, but usually have that feminine softness that makes it so easy to swoon at the mere touch of the hero. The two always meet in an exciting way. Despite the obstacles that threaten their relationship, they get together. These distinctive genre conventions are not only obvious in romance, but also they are in crime novels, thrillers, romantic comedy, horror, etc.

As a reader you know this. If you are a fan of a specific genre, these conventions are a big reason why you keep coming back to the genre.

Come back to reality. You are a writer, and it's important for you to know that readers know all the conventions. They know all the parts of a genre, like the cute-meet in a romantic comedy, so as a writer, it's your goal to become a master of your genre.

What does this mean?

1-- KNOW the conventions because those are the things that draw a reader, that invoke a comfortable familiarity. How do we learn the conventions? We read books that are like ours, both good and bad. We study the works, looking at the style, form, and content of these works in order to understand the similarities that underline these works within the genre.

2-- AVOID hack writing and cliches...keep it FRESH. The cute-meet is a tried and true convention of romantic comedies and in many romances, too. As readers of these books, we expect to see this moment; we demand it. The good writer, having studied these conventions through examining others' works, already knows what's been done and will look for a fresh, new way of having the main characters meet.

Every day, more and more people wake up, ready to try their hand at writing, so competition for recognition is fierce. Move your writing to the top of the crop by studying your genre for its conventions and finding fresh ways to illustrate those conventions.
Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services and online programs at CLG Entertainment.

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  1. Great post! We definitely have to be aware of the "rules" of our genre.

    If you write romance (or have romantic elements), you might be interested in a writing contest I'm hosting on my blog.

    Lynnette Labelle

  2. As writers we do have to walk a tightrope. We need to pay attention to what readers expect from the genre we're writing in, but also keep it all fresh as if it's never been done before. Not always easy.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Good post. You do have to follow the "rules" of the genre, but, like Morgan said, it has to be unique, as well. This is true of every genre.

  4. And that seems to be the consensus: keep it fresh. Readers are smart, and readers have favorite genres, and they know what those genres entail. As writers, we have to provide them those elements and show them why we're "different."

  5. I write contemporary romances (unpublished) and read a lot of books in the genre I am targeting. It's Important to know what my potential readers expect.

    But I believe reading romances in other categories helps me incorporate fresh elements into my stories. I read historical, paranormal, YA, sweet, chick lit, hen lit, classic fiction, and erotic fiction for pleasure and understanding of different writing styles.

    I recently finished a wonderful historical romance, very spicy, and it refreshed the way I approached my spicy contemporary novel I'm currently revising (for the zillionth time). How? The depth of the emotion between the two characters, and their passionate encounters were vividly portrayed. And those elements are timeless-constant in all romance-and readers respond to them.

    It's the relationship that's important and how two people manage to overcome the barriers standing in their way on the path to their HEA ending.

  6. You're right, Christine. I think it's just as important to see what's going on in other genres so that you can see how to be different within the genre(s) you write.

  7. great advice for a newbie to writing. Thanks! Glad I found this blog.

  8. My current novel has a modern-day protagonist, but she is driven to auto-write about an earlier era. There is some serious romance in both timelines.

    Is this historical romantic fantasy?

    I'm having a devil of a job deciding what to call it.

  9. Fran, it's perfectly OK to have more than one genre in your writing - I think most writings, to some extent, do.

    I think the thing to ask yourself is which genre has the main thrust of the story; that's typically your main genre and the others help to develop that story further.

    Have you heard of Laurie Viera Rigler? ( She wrote Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and blends these genres in her work, too. Check her out and see what genres she tends to fall into.


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