One of the greatest mistakes a fiction writer can make is not understanding the genre they are writing in. Most writers have a general idea of genre. Some are hands down obsessed with the nooks and crannies of it. However, only a handful of writers really get the tropes, conventions, and expectations built within any genre.
Genre is expectation. It’s the audience’s expectations of the writer. From front to back, the audience wants to know exactly what they’re getting into. That’s genre.
Since the last thing you want to do is ruin their audiences experience, let’s dig into how you can avoid it. Here are some ways to help you understand your genre.
5. Find books on genre and read at least three
Sometimes it’s good to read a solid critique from a popular author that knows the genre more intimately than you do. A great example is Danse Macabre by Stephen King, a compelling look into what he feels works best in horror. Look up the best books you can at the library, your local bookstore, or maybe an online retailer and learn from the pros.
4. Find forums online and read what people are saying
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Everyone has an opinion on it. Because of that, you need to be wary of objective and iron-clad rules. One person’s expectation on horror might be different from the other person. But, guidelines still exist. So, go and see what people are discussing! There are tons of forums online about it. Goodreads is a good first stop. Ask questions. See what people are saying. Get their feedback.
3. Read and analyze books like a crazy person
Let’s face it, if you aren’t reading every day, you aren’t equipped to write. A writer needs to be intimately knowledgeable about writing styles, tropes, conventions, and cliches before they can create a worthy piece of work themselves. Get a pen and scribble, underline, and take extensive notes on what you like and don’t like about the genre you’re reading in. What are the conventions (i.e. A love triangle, a boogeyman type villain, etc…), the plot structures, and the characters like? What works and what doesn’t work? Ask all these questions and more and really get to know it because that’s what your audience wants.
2. Before reading a book, make a list of your expectations
This might sound weird but making a short list of expectations might help give you a better idea of what you expect in your genre. Listing it out helps provide a visual representation that you can keep as a reminder of what you need to include in your own books. Then, when you read the book and maybe an expectation wasn’t met, you can think about whether or not that negatively affected the book.
1. Dig deep into what makes the genre tick by writing an essay
Every genre has something that makes it tick. In other words, what drives it and why do people love reading it? In fantasy, especially swords and sorcery, what makes it tick is this underlying moral play at work of good versus evil. People love reading about the battle waged between a righteous character on a quest to vanquish an evil dark lord. This can be played out in a billion different ways but ultimately that’s what drives it, albeit in a crude sort of way. I’m sure much more can be gleaned from it. So, if you truly want to understand your genre, write an essay on what you feel really drives this genre and what makes it truly special to the audience.