Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Does Genre Matter?

In my book, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, I discuss the difference
between premise (the story concept) and the promise you make by the genre you pick.

I explored the theme further in an earlier post: Keeping Your Promise.

Writers unleashed in the independent publishing arena might feel they can fire genre expectations entirely since they no longer have to tick boxes for agents or editors. They may feel they no longer need to write the dreaded synopsis.

Not so. Why? Reader expectation still matters.

Let's say you go to a new restaurant with friends. It isn't your usual chain restaurant. Unless you are a foodie and love to experiment, you hope to find something on the menu that is recognizable. Something you know you will enjoy, perhaps a good burger.

When you order a burger you have certain basic expectations: a bun, some kind of meat patty, and condiments. There are millions of variations of burgers, from tofu and soy meat, to bunless burgers for those cutting carbs. Unless these variations are listed on the menu, you expect them to bring the beef. If you receive your burger and it doesn't remotely resemble what you wanted, you may force yourself to eat it. Maybe you'll enjoy it anyway. Maybe you'll loathe it and go online and complain about the restaurant's poorly written menu and bizarre food options.

One thing is certain: if you didn't enjoy the dining experience, you won't go back.

I am not saying that you can't mix genres, twist genres, or invent your own. What I highly recommend is that you make a promise to your reader through the dreaded "synopsis" which will turn into your story blurb. From one sentence "log lines" to the paragraphs on the cover, it is only fair to warn your reader if you are veering from the norm. Tell them which way the story is weighted. Is the core story a mystery with a little romance thrown in or a romance with a little mystery thrown in? Readers have distinct preferences.

Discussions are ongoing about rating labels for books much like rating labels for television and gaming. Not everyone wants to read explicit sex or gory details. For some, torture takes the thrill out of a Thriller.

You should also consider trigger warnings. There are certain topics that a reader does not want to accidentally stumble across if they have an aversion or sensitivity to it: war, gruesome details of explicit sex, murder, torture, rape, incest, child abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, etc. Some argue that these things happen and people should write about them to bring them into the light. I'm not against that. Those stories need to be told if we ever hope to change things. But the trigger issue is critical to the readers affected by them.

Don't blindside your audience.

It is bad business to make false or misleading promises to your readers. I guarantee that anger and disgust drive more people to post reviews than pleasure. Cause someone pain and they will strike back.

The other key point is that certain genres sell better than others. You may be tempted to skew your back blurb to attract a specific following, say Science Fiction. Beware an angry hard core Science Fiction fan if you serve them a light-hearted erotic romp through space.

They have virtual light sabers and know how to use them.

Diana Hurwitz
 is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Wonderful post, Diana. You make so many good points, I read the post twice to absorb it all. I wish all the new, indie authors who forget about satisfying reader expectations would read this.

    1. I hope so too. As an avid story consumer in all formats, I hate being burned.

  2. I get it, Diana ... now, for some reason, I'm craving a hamburger.


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