Let’s Talk Genre

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* A New Short Story
* Why I’m Charging a Fee for the Openings Critiques
* Let’s Talk Genre
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quote of the Day

“[A]ll roads lead back to just keep writing and having fun. That really is the key.” Dean Wesley Smith (see the second item in Of Interest)

A New Short Story

“A View to the Curious” went live yesterday on my Stanbrough Writes Substack. If you’re curious, go check it out. (grin)

Why I’m Charging for the Openings Critiques

Nobody brought this up. I just wanted to add something I should have added yesterday.

I’m charging for the openings critiques not just to add to the coffers, but to give the whole thing an added sense of worth. To give you an opportunity to invest in your own learning experience.

Let’s Talk Genre

First, genre doesn’t matter while you’re writing. It just doesn’t.

Writing is the process of putting new words on the page. Ideally, you’ve pulled back a curtain or stepped through a doorway and are racing through the story with your characters.

Ideally, you are scribbling furiously, describing the setting and what happens and how the characters react in actions and dialogue.

But so much emphasis has been placed on genre that sometimes writers get wrapped around the wheel fretting over it.

My best advice is Don’t.

Genre is a marketing tool, not a writing concern.

The only concern of writing is starting the story and then getting the story down to the best of your current ability. ALL of the story. Take your time.

Start with an idea: a character who has a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story) in a setting. This is only to get you to the keyboard, to get you started.

Write it. A character with a problem in a setting.

Describe the setting through the POV character’s physical and emotional senses.

“How much or how little description?”

This is a BS question, because it is a trick question.

The only appropriate answer is this: If the POV character sees, hears, smells, taste, or feels (physically) anything in the setting, write it down.

If the POV character feels (has an emotional reaction to) anything around him, write it down.

“But what if it itsn’t important to the story?”

That’s another BS (and trick) question.

You can’t possibly know what will or won’t be important to the story either immediately or later in the story. Neither can the character. The story is unfolding as he lives it and as you record it.

Trust yourself and the POV character. The character will do something to get through the current problem, and the story will be underway.

Then simply keep writing the next sentence and the next and the next until the character leads you through to The End. It really is that simple. There. End of class.

“Okay, but what about genre?”

In my own experience, I usually know or have a good idea of the genre before I’ve finished writing the opening. In my experience, most other writers do too.

Of course, if you’re writing the next book or short story in an established series or “world,” you’ll know the genre in advance.

Every novel and story Wes Crowley saga is a western (with heavy doses of romance, magic realism, action adventure, and psychological suspense).

The genre “Western” is established by the setting.

Every book and story Blackwell Ops series is an assassin thriller (with heavy doses of romance, action adventure, and psychological suspense).

The genre “Thriller” is established by the situation in the story and by the characters’ actions in response to that situation.

Every novel in the Journey Home (The Ark) saga is science fantasy (with heavy doses of romance, action adventure, and psychological suspense).

In SF (the F is for “fiction” or “fantasy” depending on whether you cling-to or set-aside the laws of physics as we know them). In SF (as with Western) the setting dictates the genre.

SF is also the only genre that trumps all other genres. (If Wes Crowley encountered aliens or a space ship or a time portal, the book would be SF in the first instance and Western only in the second.)

In a one-off novel I wrote titled Jonah Peach, the opening revealed quickly to me that the novel was in the Horror genre. It was such strong horror story that I never wanted to write a sequel.

That one started with the current POV character (a harried wife) coming out of a grocery store at night, having bought her husband a container of ice cream so he’d stop griping. (He could have just as easily stopped by the grocery on his way home from work.)

That was the character with a problem in a setting. I trusted the story and the characters, and things escalated quickly from there into one of the better, if seriously disturbing, novels I’ve ever written.

Unlike the Western and SF genres, Horror is not defined by the setting.

A dark parking lot outside a grocery store might reveal a horror story. It might also reveal a group of adolescents practicing their skateboarding skills. (From there it could go to Coming of Age genre or almost anywhere else.)

The woman coming out of the store might have been concerned and (depending on her level of control-freakness) might have admonished the skateboarders to go home.

Or it might reveal the woman going back into the store to complain about the dark parking lot, which might cause the manager of the store to contact the Public Works emergency number, which might in turn get workers out of their homes to come correct the problem. And maybe one of them would encounter a flying saucer (so SF) etc.

Or it might reveal any number of other genres. Maybe one of the workers, upon viewing the dark parking lot, will have a flashback to his time in a war zone. Or remember a bad (or good) experience with or without another person in a similar setting.

The possibilities are endless.

The point is, as I said earlier, Horror is not defined by setting. Horror genre is defined by the situation and/or the characters and/or the characters’ response or actions. So are Action-Adventure, Thriller, Romance, and most other genres

See? So don’t worry about genre. It will reveal itself when it’s ready.

When you write into the dark,

you have zero control over the story. And that’s the freedom of WITD. When you give up control, you also give up responsibility. Just write what the characters give you and enjoy the ride

Well, unless you’re writing about Jonah Peach. In that case, just hang on for the ride, see it through to the end, then step down and resume breathing normally.

“But we were talking about genre, right?”

Oh, right. Yeah, when it comes to genre, don’t worry about it. It will come.

There are probably tons of books out there on Genre. And I can’t imagine they would be too tightly tied to the myths, though frankly nothing surprises me anymore.

Just remember to ignore the myths you encounter and otherwise take what you need from the books. Do that, and you should be all right.

In the meantime, for anything you need about actual writing, check out the descriptions on

They’re all myth free and much more important to writing great fiction than they sound.

Oh, and if you’re still having critical voice issues, I recommend Quiet the Critical Voice (and Write Fiction).

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

Expectations A great post.

Fiction Branding… Part 10

Meet My A.I. Friends Story ideas abound. (Thanks, KC. this is the same article by the same writer in The Shift instead of The Morning.)

The Numbers

The Journal………………………………1290

Writing of

Day 1…… XXXX words. To date…… XXXXX

Fiction for May…………………….….… 9734
Fiction for 2024…………………………. 313519
Fiction since October 1………………… 616577
Nonfiction for May……………………… 10940
Nonfiction for 2024…………………… 165280
2024 consumable words……………… 478799

2024 Novels to Date……………………… 8
2024 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2024 Short Stories to Date……………… 1
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)……………… 90
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……… 239
Short story collections…………………… 29

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing are lies, and they will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

To be sure you continue receiving the Journal after May 31, subscribe free, then click the Donate link at the end of this post and make either a recurring donation of $3 per month OR a one-time donation of at least $36. In doing that, you’re effectively paying me 5 cents per hour to provide you with the Journal every day. Donate Here. Thank you!

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Genre”

  1. While I understand the point, and generally agree with you, I have to disagree somewhat with this: “If the POV character sees, hears, smells, taste, or feels (physically) anything in the setting, write it down.”

    We perceive THOUSANDS of things every moment we’re alive (and rarely pay much attention to any of them). If we described all of those things in any detail in a story, the story would grind to a halt – and probably would even if we just listed everything.

    I would rephrase as, “If the POV character sees, hears, smells, taste, or feels (physically) anything in the setting that is new or makes an impression, describe it.”

    Let the disagreement begin! (GRIN)

    Reply
    • Hi Peggy, No disagreement at all. The POV character would “see, hear, smell, taste, or feel” (so “notice”) in the setting only what’s important or significant, or as you put it, what “makes an impression.” As you said, we rarely pay attention to (or notice) most things going on around us.

      This also depends on what’s happening at the moment.

      In a romantic encounter at that critical moment, the only thing one character might notice about another is the unique shade of his/her eyes and/or the scent of her perfume or his cologne.

      In a car violently spinning as the result of an encounter with a patch of black ice, the character might notice things s/he has never noticed before, like that tiny nick in the chrome plastic strip around the air vent or how much softer the surface of the dashboard is than s/he thought it was before s/he grabbed it.

      Your rephrase is fine, but I would recommend changing “that is new” to “that s/he never noticed before”. As far as part of the setting making “an impression,” if it doesn’t the character wouldn’t notice it.

      The other part of the point is that different characters, even in the same situation, would notice different things (possibly along with some of the same things). 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.