You’re writing a what?

12 May

In an earlier post I used the word genre. It’s a French word, of course, and means: kind, type, sort. Here’s the official Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary definition:

genre \’zhän-rə, ‘zhän-; ‘zhänr; -‘jän~rə\ n [F, fr. MF, kind, gender –more at GENDER]-(1770) 1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content 2: KIND, SORT 3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usu. Realistically

Strange as this may sound – first you must figure out what kind of book it is that you want to write. I’ve talked to so many people who say they are writing a book (or GOING to write a book) and when I ask them what kind of book, a blank look takes over the person’s face, as though I’d suddenly started speaking a foreign language! It’s very difficult to write a book if you don’t know what you’re writing. There are certain rules to be followed regardless of type, but even more for specific genres. In some cases, the word ‘category’ may be substituted for ‘genre’. They mean the same thing, however, so don’t be confused.

For starters, the two main categories are fiction and non-fiction. Everything falls into one or the other of those categories. If you make it all up – it’s fiction. If your story is based on a real-life event, then chances are it’s non-fiction, unless you really disguise it well, in which case it may be turned into fiction.

Or suppose you’re writing a story about someone who lived a hundred or more years ago. You’re being very careful with the history and the timing, and that’s great. But wait!!! You can’t relate the conversations in which each of the characters indulged, but neither can you have a book without any dialogue. Well, you can, but almost no one will read it! So, what do you do in this case? Adhering to the facts as well as you can, you create believable dialogue. This is a blending of the two categories, known as ‘creative non-fiction.’

It’s allowed, and even encouraged, providing you don’t get too carried away and have your characters using anachronisms or talking about things that haven’t yet been invented. Writing about historical persons or events can be exhilarating if you like being a detective and nosing out all sorts of fascinating facts. It can also trip you up quicker than a banana peel thrown carelessly on the sidewalk!

But what about historical fiction? Historical romance? Historical mysteries? They’re all fiction, but the latter two are usually what’s referred to as genre fiction. Historical fiction that’s heavier on the history with little or no ‘romance’ or ‘mystery’ to it is generally known as literary fiction. Of course, contemporary stories may also be either genre or literary. Probably 90% of the mass-market type paperback is some sort of genre fiction.

There is a writer’s group out there for every genre of book. Investigate and find the one that’s best for you. All of the major genre groups have local chapters here and there, and if there should not be one in your area, you can still have the benefit of the organization itself. It’s very helpful to have a relationship with other writers who have embarked on the same journey that you have, including many who’ve made that trip more than once.

If there is a conference available, try to attend. The yearly national conference, while more pricey, is invaluable for meeting people and finding more specific information about the type of book you want to write. This is a good place to actually meet editors and agents, and maybe get to make a ‘pitch’ to them about your book. (I’ve listed the major groups at the end of this article, but you can also do a web search for your genre to find other possibilities.)

Generally, the main categories of genre fiction are: Action-adventure; Crime; Detective; Fantasy; Horror; Mystery; Romance; Science Fiction; Thriller and Western. Within each of these main categories, however, are several sub-divisions. For instance Romance, the field I know best, contains both sweet and sensual contemporary or historical stories, fantasy (paranormal), inspirational, suspense and western (specifically, the US in the mid-to-late 1800s). In addition, there is mainstream (a novel with strong romantic elements, but romance is not the plot) and young adult, which are usually not as sensual in nature.

Each of the other categories also have sub-divisions, and in the last few years, there are blended or cross-over type stories, which tend to defy conventions, and make it very difficult to sell to a conventional publisher. This is but one reason for the terrific increase in E-book publishers, which are not so rigid in their requirements.

Here are the major genres with representative organizations listed. This list is NOT complete, so you should also investigate on your own. There are also groups devoted solely to published authors of any genre, who are required to have at least two commercially published books in order to be eligible for membership. (crime/detective) (horror) (mystery, including private eye and/or violent content) (cosy mystery – the blood is mostly off-stage) (romance) (science-fiction and fantasy) (thrillers) (western)

If you know of other such organizations, please let me know. I’ll be happy to add to my list, so that everyone can benefit.

Have you started your book yet? What are you waiting for? It won’t write itself!


2 Responses to “You’re writing a what?”

  1. Lucy May 12, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    • bookmechanic May 19, 2010 at 1:36 am #

      Thanks! Everone is welcome – I hope you find something useful in here. Kelly

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