In S2 Episode 22 Kel and Pam chat about the issue of genre in fiction – why it matters and what you need to know from a writing and marketing perspective. The issue came up as part of a discussion on Pam’s writing journey as she transitions from writing rural romance into the wider world of contemporary women’s fiction. You can read more about Pam’s story here.
And here are the top them takeaways from our Episode 22 discussion.
- What is genre anyway? The term genre in the literary world refers to categories of writing other than literary fiction. Lit Fic novels tend to be highly thematic, character driven novels, sometimes abstract, in which the writing itself is often the feature rather than the story. They are sometimes light on plot (but not always) and are the books that are nominated for awards like the Mann-Booker and Miles Franklin. They often take the author many years to write and publishers like to have a stable of literary authors who may be eligible to win some of the more prestigious awards. Genre novels are commercial fiction novels that often sell in high numbers and keep the wheels of the publishing houses turning.
- Popular Genres include crime fiction, thrillers (closely related to crime), romance (and its various sub-genres like rural romance, erotica, sweet, romantic suspense and others), science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction and contemporary women’s fiction (stories about women and relationships but not necessarily romance). Readers of each of these genres are generally highly devoted and read widely within the genre or have particular authors they follow.
- Genre fiction is sometimes seen as the poor relation of literary fiction. Sad but true. In some publishing circles there is a hierarchy which has literary fiction up on a pedestal and everything else below it in whatever order the particular critic/reader/publisher considers fit. This attitude values one type of writing over another and fails to recognise that there are millions of readers out there and not everyone wants to read the same thing. Many readers want to escape when they read, they want to turn the page and get completely absorbed in the story. Some readers will ONLY read books within a certain genre while others are eclectic and appreciate different types of writing at different times. If you are a genre writer don’t let the snobbery get to you. Be loud and proud of the genre you write in and remember to support writers you love by reviewing their books and sharing their social media posts.
- Knowing the conventions of the genre you write in is crucial if you want to create a readership. Readers of romance novels for example will always expect a happily ever after ending. Fantasy has certain conventions as do crime and thriller novels. Read widely in the genre you are writing in so you can learn the conventions and then subvert them if you wish.
- Genre is a useful marketing tool. If you look on bookstore shelves you’ll see certain categories of covers – grey-black with orange print is currently popular for thrillers, a woman on a horse with an akubra identifies rural romance, intricately wrought letting and mysterious images often adorn the covers of fantasy novels. Using these familiar images is the publisher’s way of helping the reader identify your book and place it within its genre. It’s a win win for reader and author.
- Your branding as an author will be connected to your genre. Take a look at the websites of a few of your favourite authors. The genre they write in will often be reflected in the look of their website – the colours and images used and the overall feel of their online marketplace. Your brand as an author is the perception readers have of who you are and what you write so it’s wise to take some time to think about this and make sure it comes across clearly.
- Publishers often look for trending genres. Remember The Girl On The Train and Fifty Shades Of Grey? Titles like these that fly off the bookstore shelves often send publishers into a frenzy, searching for the next big similar thing. If you write in a genre that is currently popular go for it and put yourself out there but remember trends come and go. This time next year a different type of book will be on the best seller list and it might take you that long to write yours and start submitting it, by which time your once trending title will be old news. This is why it’s a good idea to write what you truly want to write and then try to find a home for it, once it’s been well and truly revised.
- Switching genres can be tricky. When a publisher signs you for a book they’re pretty much signing you to write in that genre, the reason being this is the genre your readers will get to know and – hopefully – love when they see your name on a cover. The problem with this is that as writers we often have a whole lot of different ideas and sometimes we like to write in different genres. Some authors get around this issue by using a pseudonym – Nora Roberts also writes as J.D. Robb, J. K. Rowling also writes as Robert Galbraith. For us mere mortals one way around it is to self publish in a different genre, either under the same name or another.
- Writing in a variety of genres is possible. Many authors find their genre and stick to it but for others there is that desire to branch out and while it is tricky (see above) it’s not impossible. Apart from the above examples a number of Australian authors write in numerous genres. Rachael Johns writes straight romance, rural romance and women’s fiction (or lifelit) and has all of these represented on her website. Fiona Palmer writes rural romance, YA and women’s fiction. Fiona Mcintosh has written fantasy and now writes historical women’s fiction. Kate Forsyth writes fantasy and historical fiction for both adults and children. And these are just a few examples.
- The bottom line is write what you love. This has already been said but can’t be said enough. If you write from the heart and write what you love, if you work hard and continue to learn and improve your craft, and if your make time time and effort to learn about the ins and outs of the publishing industry you have a good chance of one day being published. It’s not easy but if it’s your passion you need to pursue it because it’s what you love. Connect with other writers, keep writing and enjoy the journey – on one genre or many.
That’s it for the wrap up. We’d love to hear your thoughts on genre writing either in the comments or on our Facebook page.
In episode 16 of Writes4Women Kel and I chat about characters in fiction and as always we like to support our conversation with a post summarising the main points. So here, in no particular order and are ten tips for creating memorable characters. I’ll refer to the protagonist as she because mine invariably are.
- Character creates plot. Put your character in a difficult situation or give her a problem to deal with and your plot will begin to reveal itself.
- Glean ideas for characters from stories you read in the media, people you meet, friends, family and acquaintances. Try blending a few characteristics from different people to create a whole new character.
- Your characters should be as real to you as your friends and family or they should become that way by the time you’ve finished revising.
- Pinterest and google images are great sources of visual inspiration for characters. Here’s a link to my pinterest page for my latest manuscript, Cross My Heart, where you can see how I’ve collected images for various characters.
- Consider what your character has to learn. How does she learn this during the course of the story? Who are her ‘teachers’ and who are the people who stand in the way of her learning?
- Character arc: your character should develop during the narrative and should be, at least in some way, a different person at the end of the story. This is closely linked to what she has to learn. Some characters are dynamic (your protagonist definitely should be) and others are static (they help the protagonist on her journey).
- Character bio’s can be very useful but you don’t need to have a hugely detailed one before you start to write. Begin with a few basics on the character – age, family relationships, work, initial problem and then start writing. When you get to a point where you need to know more about the character you can stop and nut out some details. Go deeper than ‘what is her favourite colour’. Think about things like ‘what is her greatest fear’, ‘what does she think about just before she goes to sleep’ – the tough stuff.
- One question it’s important to ask from the start is ‘What is the character’s wound?’ The wound is something that happened to them in childhood or adolescence that had a huge impact on who they became and what they believe about themselves and about others. For instance a character whose father walked out when they were a kid may then believe they aren’t lovable. This can then manifest itself in any number of behaviours, ranging from pushing others away to being overly clingy, depending on other personality traits. There’s a heap more detail on this over at onestopforwriters.com and I highly recommend you checking out their range of Thesaurus’s including The Emotion Thesaurus and The Wound Thesaurus.
- As well as the story arc consider the emotional arc for your protagonist (and others). In any given situation we have a range of emotions and your character’s are no different. As you write, and certainly when you revise, think about the primary emotions happening in each scene but also consider the underlying emotions going on and how these influence your character’s behavior.
- As always try and show not tell. Show us your character being angry through her actions, internal dialogue and dialogue. This will create a much deeper emotional connection between your character and your reader.
We’d love to hear your tips on creating characters readers will want to hang out with. You can share them in the comments section here or on our Facebook page.
In our last podcast Kel and I spoke about developing a writing schedule as part of our attempt to ‘get our shit together’. That’s a work in progress and we certainly don’t claim to be the masters (in fact just the opposite!) but we did throw around a few ideas on how we might do this.
- Scheduling daily (or frequent) writing sessions in your diary
- Working to a word count – possibly 300 words a day. Maybe 1000? Maybe 3000 if you’re on a roll
- Join our #300 words a day challenge and let us know how it goes for you
- Writing down your word tally each day so you can track your progress at the end of the week
- Having a writing buddy (thanks Rae) who can keep you accountable with daily messages or phone calls. Something subtle like ARE YOU WRITING?
- Letting go of the need to write something ‘perfect’ which is the easiest path to procrastination
- Having a dedicated writing space (that’s mine in the photo – aren’t I lucky?)
- Using blocker apps to keep you off the internet for a dedicated amount of time. Like Freedom which according to the blurb on its webpage is “the app and website blocker used by over 450,000 people to improve focus and productivity.” This post from the guardian lists a few more.
- For the times you just can’t get any writing done (yes, that’s you Kel) have a notebook handy and jot down any thoughts you have on you project so you stay in the dream of your story
- And, my personal favourite, the pomodoro technique.
The Pomo What?
Glad you asked.
It’s a time management tool developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980’s. Basically it breaks your time up into intervals, usually 25 minutes in length separated by breaks of five minutes.
You set the timer for 25 minutes, write your heart out (which you can do now you’ve blocked those pesky Facebook messages and twitter notifications, oh and turned your phone off or at least silenced it), then stop when the bell rings. Stand up, stretch, make a cup of coffee, then sit down when the bell rings again and start your next 25 minutes session. After 4 sessions you get a longer break (half an hour) and then start again.
Why Does It Work?
It tricks your brain into thinking it’s not doing much. Because you know you’re only going to be there for 25 minutes you write faster and that annoying voice in your head telling you to find something else to do is easier to silence. Taking frequent breaks help keep you fresh, gives your eyes a rest, allows you to stretch those tight muscles and, most importantly gives you a chance to re-caffinate (or consume whatever your poison happens to be).
Once you start building up sessions and seeing your word count rise there’s not only inspiration but a subconscious challenge to keep going and finish your longer session by ticking off all those smaller intervals.
Here’s an example:
I sat down to write today and did all sorts of things to distract myself – checked Facebook, replied to an email, scrolled through twitter, and here’s an irony, spent half an hour downloading a pomodoro app because I couldn’t access my iTunes account! (You may be able to tell that I haven’t yet invested in an internet blocker.) Finally I gave my self a talking to, clicked on the now downloaded app and started writing. In five 25 minute sessions I managed to write 1818 words. Not earth shattering but better than the 895 I wrote in the same amount of time yesterday without the app.
You can do your own thing by using a timer on your phone, a portable times or an egg timer but there are plenty of apps out there, some of them free. Just google pomodoro technique or pomodoro app and you’ll find loads. I chose the Be Focused Pro app because it allows you to chart your progress which I thought I’d find motivating. That’s if I can work out how to do that part.
So those are just a few techniques for getting your butt in the chair and words on the page.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on what gets you writing. Send us an email or connect with us on twitter or facebook
And happy writing.