Contents


Genres

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Genres


Vampire image - Broadway sign

In this chapter we’ll look at:

Why write for a genre?
Mash-ups
Genre fiction reference
Genre groups
Writing for teenagers/young adults
Tips on teen writing

Why write for a genre?

There are a number of genres, the best known being:

Thriller
Horror
Historical
Science Fiction
Fantasy
Romance
Crime
Western

There are also numerous sub-genres. In Science Fiction traditional sub-genres include: Alternate Histories; First Encounters; and Post-apocalyptic.

We also have various new-wave ‘punk’ sub-genres such as: Biopunk; Cyberpunk; Steampunk; and Nanopunk.

One of the advantage of genre writing is that your work slots into a well defined market. If a someone likes Medieval detective stories they’re likely to be interested in your novel about ‘Stumpy Radwold’ the 13th-century mystery-solving leper even if they’ve never heard of him. As long as the front-cover design and the back-cover blurb clearly brand your book as a Medieval mystery the chances are you’ll get a sale. In the same way, a large horror fan-base supports the production of many low budget horror movies and these projects have been a first step of many new screenwriters breaking into the industry.

It’s not advisable to write for a genre unless you’re already a fan or are prepared to spend considerable time immersing yourself in the culture, but fan or not the first step of the would-be writer should be to study the market. What’s popular? Can you spot any trends? If you’re into horror, zombies are quite the rage these days. Exploiting the latest fad can be a successful strategy, but remember that it can take a two years to turn a manuscript into a book and longer to get a movie into production; your red-hot idea might have gone stone cold by the time it reaches the public.

Another tack is to anticipate a new trend. Are there any gaps in the market? Which subjects been done to death? After the success of Interview with a Vampire many people jumped on the vampire bandwagon. Hundreds of novels with a vampire theme have been published since Interview, a tiny proportion of the many thousands of vampire manuscripts that must have landed on publishers’ desks (there have been so many they’ve spawned a new horror/romance genre known as Dark Fiction). Although vampires remain popular (particularly in the teen market) most publishers and producers are likely sick to death of them. What other horror themes have been ignored during the vampire frenzy? If you found a new angle on classics such as ghouls or poltergeists some might consider it a refreshing change.

Mash-ups

Many genre works will happily fall into more than one category. The movie Alien is obviously Science Fiction, but could also be filed under Horror; while Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are Comedy-Fantasy, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series a combination of Western, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. 

Other combinations are more self-conscious, these are the so-called mash-ups that deliberately bolt together unlikely genre pairings to create something new. One example is the novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (it seems we’re not tired of vampires just yet); another is Android Karenina by Ben H. Winters that mashes Russian literature with Steampunk Science Fiction (itself a mash-up of sorts).

It seems to be a growing market; why not come up with a draft for Hamlet with Flying Saucers or Oliver Twist and Werewolves?

Genre fiction reference

Many books have been written to help writers interested in specific genres. If you want to write a crime story you can buy reference works that tell you about police procedures, forensic medicine and the actions of poisons. If you’re writing a historical work there are books that will give you a basic grounding in how people lived in a particular age. However, while these generic references are a good starting place don’t depend on them for all your research; if every writer read the same books things would get a mite dull. Do as much original research as you can, it always pays dividends and might lead you to some interesting storylines. 

For historical works set in the recent past (1750s onwards) newspapers are a good source of background information, not only on events of the day but also on manners and lifestyles (advertisements can be particularly interesting). In the USA the Library of Congress maintains an online newspaper library (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) while in the UK the British Library has an pay-per-view newspaper archive with a free search function (http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/).

Another source of genre advice is the specialist publisher. If you’re interested in romance Mills & Boon (now part of Harlequin Enterprises) has a web-page dedicated to would-be romantic novelists (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/aspiringauthors.asp).

You can find a selection of genre reference books listed on the The Writers’ Guide website (http://www.thewritersguide.co.uk/genre.html).

Genre groups

Some genres have associations and writers groups devoted to them, most offering advice to the budding writer. The following are examples from the UK and USA:

British Science Fiction Association (http://www.bsfa.co.uk/)
Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (http://www.sfwa.org/)
Crime Writers’ Association UK (http://www.thecwa.co.uk/)
Horror Writers’ Association USA (http://www.horror.org/)
The Historical Novel Society UK/USA (http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/)
Military Writers’ Society of America (http://www.mwsadispatches.com/)
Mystery Writers’ of America (http://www.mysterywriters.org/)
The Romance Writers’ of America (http://www.rwa.org/)
The Romantic Novelists’ Association UK (http://www.rna-uk.org/)
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators USA (http://www.scbwi.org/)
Western Writers of America (http://www.westernwriters.org/about_wwa.htm)

Writing for teenagers/young adults

Teenage novels are often less demanding to write than those aimed at an adult audience. Teen novels tend to be shorter (30 — 40,000 words) than those for adults (which start at 70,000) and usually have simpler plots. However, this is by no means a hard and fast rule; the first Harry Potter clocked in at 77,000 words while the Order of the Phoenix reached over a quarter of a million.

Series writing

Some teenage novels appear in series written by more than one author. Many have a strong love interest (for example, the Sweet Valley High books) and are aimed at a female readership; other deal in mystery, adventure and horror (Goosebumps and Point Horror). If there’s an existing series you’d like to contribute to contact the publisher. If they’re prepared to consider unsolicited submissions they’ll send you guidelines telling you what they want.

Tips on teen writing

Don’t be too topical. Fashions change fast. If you make too many references to current trends and celebrities your book will date quickly. If you want to make musical references make up your own band names.

Avoid slang. Slang, like fashion, also changes quickly and it can be more regional that you think. Words and phrases used regularly in your home town might be a mystery to anyone living 50 miles away.

Avoid controversial subjects. These might put off many publishers as they don’t want to be accused of corrupting their readership. This isn’t to say that controversial subjects can’t be dealt with in teen books, but a publisher is more likely to accept controversy from an established writer with a proven track record.

Remember your readership is younger than you think. In the same way that many teenagers read adult books, many books aimed at older teens are actually bought by 11 to 13 year olds. Don’t dumb-down your writing, but keep it simple and straightforward.

Avoid ambiguous endings. Most teenagers (in fact most people) prefer a story with a happy ending. Make a clear distinction between good and bad characters and ensure your villain gets their just deserts or sees the error of their ways.

Don’t limit yourself to fiction. Many factual books are written for the teenage market, The Teenage Worrier series for example. These books are often light-hearted and aim to entertain as much as inform. Is there a factual series you’d enjoy contributing to?


Main image: Kiselev Andrey Valerevich c/o Shutterstock

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