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Author Topic: Should a writer worry about genre?  (Read 10990 times)

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James

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Should a writer worry about genre?
« on: March 26, 2007, 04:24:24 AM »

I'm new to the forum, and I don't want to stand on anyone's toes. So please tell me if I'm out of line here in what I am about to say. Though I am a full time writer of non fiction, and earn my daily bread through writing, I am a wanabe when it comes to crime, and most of you know more than I do.

What I want to ask is: should writers worry about what genre they are writing in? When I write, all I am interested in is telling a good story, not whether it fits into the cosy bracket, or whether it's a PI yarn or a whodunit. If I had that in the back of my mind as I wrote, I would freeze up.

I can understand publishers being interested in genre, as it affects their marketing plans, and I can understand readers being interested as well, but it has never been something that has interested me as a writer. Maybe this is because I enjoy ALL kinds of crime yarns, from cosies set in one of those idyllic English villages that don't exist in real life, right through to sex-filled, violent, bloody tales full of cuss-words set in the steamy alleyways of New York.

Anyone agree with me that writers shouldn't worry too much about genre? Or have I got it wrong?
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dhparker

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2007, 07:49:24 AM »

I think you're right, James.  Most of us must write the story we have to tell.   My stories seem to be "born" in one of two categories (cozy mystery or mystery with fantasy elements), and I don't think I could change them to something else, no matter how hard I tried.

But in my (limited!) experience, when you're trying to pitch it to publishers or agents, they demand to know exactly what kind of story you have.  Then you have to label it. 

By the way, welcome to the board!
Donna

Kathy Wendorff

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2007, 08:09:57 AM »

James, I think you have to write the stories that speak to you, or your heart won't be in it, and that will show.  If you write in a particular genre, so be it. If it's not clear where your story fits, let the agents and publishers figure that out. Miss Snark says writers often are wrong when they label their manuscripts.

That said, if your story doesn't fit neatly into a genre slot, or doesn't conform to current genre expectations, it may be a hard sell.  I wrote a cozy romantic suspense which might have done well in 1980, then discovered it's woefully out of synch with the current market, and I'm not a good enough writer to single-handedly turn the market around. >sigh< Or, if you have a cozy that depends on a cat-killing for a crucial plot point -- good luck.

Personally, I haven't entirely figured out how to balance market realities and what I want to write. I'm trying a straight cozy mystery this time, and keeping genre expectations in the back of my mind as I write and edit. But I still wrote a dead cat into the first draft -- go figure. (Luckily, the plot won't collapse if I edit it out.)

Does that help? The solution is probably different for every writer. And every story.

Kathy W.



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Ingrid

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2007, 09:41:33 AM »

This is not an issue that worried me much.  I set out to write mysteries because I loved them as a reader, and I chose to write historical mysteries because I also love history.  I think the point here is that I was very familiar with what had been published in my genre and what had apparently appealed to readers.

I now write non-genre historical fiction (having a backlog of mysteries), but again, I would not write this either if I hadn't done a very large amount of reading first.

Since I also read current-time mysteries, it isn't totally out of the question that I might give that a whirl also.

Ingrid
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Peg H

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2007, 12:28:23 PM »

As Donna said, when it comes down to pitching your finished book to an agent or editor it is best you know what pigeon hole it belongs in. This is particularly important if you are pitching it at a conference where you have only a few minutes to grab their attention. They want to know and do not want to have to guess or figure out where it belongs.  Until then I wouldn't worry about it.  Just write the story.   ;D

Peg H
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Charles King

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2007, 04:32:15 PM »

Well, outside of the idea it helping you actually write what you're writing and sell your book probably not. I mean you have two good things going for you: you read the genre, and you already have the discipline to sit down and write for a living, but the reading is key. Write the 1st draft and see what you have to work with. Good luck.

Charles  8)
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Lynette

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2007, 05:04:00 PM »

When writing, I don't really think I pick the genre. It picks me. Most of my writing is character driven and I write what I like to read -- and my reading varies as does my writing. I have written a cozy mystery series (2nd in the series will be out this summer), a romantic suspense which came out last year and I have a police procedural underconsideration. I don't think I put either novel in a category until it was almost completely written. Just write and and hold off on the worry. Good luck.

Lynette

Leon

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2007, 08:04:33 PM »

James,

Genre I use.
Adventure. Comedy. Crime. Fantasy. Horror. Mystery. Romance. Terror. Any one of the genre may contain a bit of each of the other genre.

A narrative hook needs three most important elements:
1. A Main Character.
2. A Main Adversary.
3. A very strong conflict between the Main Character and the Main Adversary.

Here are two examples of a narrtive hook.

Example 1.
"Jeff. It's time to stop corporate officers who behave like pimps and, appointed and elected public officials who behave like their whores and, the justice systmem that behaves like their enforcers."

To decide what genre you write consider:

Example 2.
Ed believed Vera the perfect wife until he discovered arsenic in his food.
This hook has a Main Character and a Main Adversary and a strong conflict.
Question that must be asnwered are --- Who, what, where, when how and why did someone put arsenic in Ed's food? (the WHAT is known in the narrative hook)

Writing via the Impromptu method.
From the first word to the last word , write without stopping. If you must stop --- when you return --- Do not reread --- Do not rewrite --- continue where you left off --- to the end. With this in mind you may have all the elements needed to flesh out a novel.

Leon

If anyone has time I would appreciate comments about the above piece. Leon.



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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2007, 10:09:04 PM »

James,

Broadly, I would say yes.  Writing a mystery is different than writing, say, a science fiction novel.  Moreover, you should be aware of what kind of a story your work is turning into based on genre conventions.

If, as you write, you discover you have a lot of people traveling though outer space in vessels capable of interstellar, or even intergalactic, travel, then you're probably writing a science fiction novel.  If it happens, as you progress, that you discover that your story happens to be set on the American Frontier sometime after the end of the US Civil War and before the beginning of the 20th Century, you're probably writing a western.  This is a good thing for you to know.

Your countryman, Ian Rankin, professed to be surprised that his first novel was considered a mystery.  I've always found this a bit hard to believe.  I mean, didn't the fact that Knots & Crosses turned out to be a story about a detective trying to solve some murders give him a clue?  What did he think it was if not a crime novel?

In a more specific sense, the answer is maybe. 

You might be writing a mystery that doesn't really fit into specific, easily defined parameters, and that's fine, and you should feel free to follow your muse.

In any case, when you're writing that first draft, the main thing is to get it down, and worry about what you've got later.

But if, once you've finished that first draft, it does seem to fit into specific parameters, does seem to fall within the boundaries of a particular sub-genre, then you really should, in a second draft, make an effort to deliver on readers' expectations of that particular sub-genre.

If it's a traditional whodunit, than make sure that you're playing fair with the reader in the matter of putting the clues needed to solve the puzzle out there for your audience to see.  And keep the on-stage sex and on-stage violence minimal.

If it's a spy novel, make sure your hero has some kind of international threat to deal with.  James Bond really shouldn't be solving a murder at the vicarage (though, come to think of it, John Le Carre's George Smiley actually did something along those lines in his second book) any more than Miss Marple should be trying to find the nuclear weapons hijacked by SPECTRE.

If it's a police procedural, make sure you do the necessary research to present the profession of law enforcement with realism and authenticity.

In other words, genre expectations are important, but, unless you're sure ahead of time what sub-genre you want to write in, if any, get it down on paper first, and then worry about what you've got.

By the way, welcome to the neighborhood.

« Last Edit: August 02, 2007, 03:35:53 PM by JIM DOHERTY »
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James

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2007, 05:27:07 PM »

Thanks to everyone who replied. I am very grateful.

I am writing the kind of novel that appeals to me. It's to do with a chief inspector who is put on a murder case here in sunny, warm Scotland (well, today it was sunny and warm today). In that respect it's a police procedural (and I'm trying to be as true to police procedure in Scotland as I can without letting it get in the way). But in investigating the murder, the inspector has to find out who did the foul deed, so in that respect it's a whodunit.

I have also included the police inspector's home life, and his strained relationship with his wife and daughter, so I don't know what that makes my yarn. The inspector can't live with his wife, and he can't live without her, so I suppose in that respect it's a kind of twisted love story as well. His home life has a bearing on the case, and indeed one of the clues (if I can call it a clue) comes straight out of the way he lives his life away from the police.

Though the story takes place in a village in the countryside of Southwest Scotland(so it's a cosy?), part of the action also takes place in the mean streets of Glasgow, with pimps, drug dealers, dodgy second-hand car salesmen selling porn DVDs and crime barons laundering money. So that places it in the hard boiled genre.

But it's a story I have to tell. I know the beginning, I know the middle, and I know the end. I have a ring binder full of notes and a couple of chapters written. The reason I asked whether writers should be worried about genre was because it's a story I have to tell, and yet it seems to fall into so many catergories. What will people make of it if it is published?

I guess I'm just worried that publishers and agents will say that I should stick to one genre, and not spread myself over several. But at the same time I'm sure that crime writing didn't get into the healthy state it is today by writers writing safe fiction and not spreading their wings and taking risks.
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Peg H

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2007, 05:59:11 PM »

Quote
I have also included the police inspector's home life, and his strained relationship with his wife and daughter

I don't feel this would change the genre.  I think it would make the MC a more lively character and not a flat cardboard cut out.   :)

Peg H
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Ingrid

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Re: Should a writer worry about genre?
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2007, 07:47:11 PM »

You are writing a police procedural, which is one form of the mystery or crime novel genre.

Ingrid
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