When I started writing stories in 1996, I immediately said I wanted to write romances. I had never taken any books in hand that would explain anything in writing, but I knew that this was what I wanted. How did I know that? Most of my reading list had so far been mysteries and adventures, yet when asked, I knew I wanted to be just that – a romance novelist. Even years to come I replied when asked that I wanted to write in this genre. I soon learned through internet, how it was important to know what you were writing, if you wanted to get published or even upload your work somewhere. Though I didn’t write with one genre in mind, not comprehending what they were, I would always have to define where the story fit the best.
Taking this as my guide, I started preparing myself to be a genre writer, because it seemed natural thing to do. It was then that I got my first writer’s manual (if one could say this way) – Writing Popular Fiction by Dean R. Koontz. It is slightly out-dated, from 1974, but I still consider it one of the best introductions to what genre writing is and why it is important to follow certain rules in literature. Doesn’t mean you have to go by some list out there, but, for example it explained why people are drawn to it and what they expect when taking up a book from the shelf named Mysteries.
As it is not popular, more and more writers go without boundaries. Here at least. I’ve come across fellow craftsmen, who find it insulting if someone brings up that they would do better if they would add similar ingredients to their pot of plot which would give some familiarities to search them by. It “castrates” their creativity, they say, and write on genre-less books, not realizing that the editors will still try to fit it in some shelf next to genre books. One even compared it with paint-by-number picture.
Indeed, when writing inside genre, you are creating work by certain standards so the reader can get exactly what they wanted from the book. I would be very happy if it was indeed like painting by numbers, but I fear it’s more like Jan van Eyck oil painting, including grinding your own paints.
I think it’s not so much about the genres themselves that bothers most readers, but that they buy the books for emotional reasons and tune themselves already ahead according to the purchase. It gives them certainty in life just like rainbow colors that always come in the same order. Personally I feel slightly insulted as a reader, when I take up a book in library, having in mind a nice evening with a mystery novel with slight love in it and instead receive mambo-jumbo that starts with mystery, goes on as historical and runs empty at some moralizing biography.
In the same pallet I must say I like when people play around between genres. But I don’t like when they are left out altogether as some remnant from the past, which is impossible. I’m one that needs familiarities to get into the story and I don’t think as a writer I should underestimate the power of it and start inventing the wheel. I suggest taking up Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker or 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias. Though they deal with basic plots, I do think you can learn a lot about how and why it can help you as a writer and how it helps you get in better contact with your reader.
I think they are just approaching it wrong – genre is not a prison that would make you paint through tensile, it’s just that unrecognizable milky fluid on your palette you can use to paint better picture. You don’t need to escape the genre writing, you need to understand it. Learn it and it becomes lovely masking fluid in your arsenal or don’t and you blemish the painting. You can do without it and be fine, but with it you can do more work with less time and you have more time for what really matters – the story.
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Today’s post is my response to the prompt What books are your nightstand?, this month’s topic for the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Throughout the month, you can get to know twenty (or so) other writers from various genres and backgrounds and at various places in their careers.
Next stop on the tour is Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus on September 21st, 2011.