Genre Specific Elements
Finally, we've got in the fundamentals the genre-specific elements. And we've talked a little bit about this that you wanna know the genre you're writing in. And a genre is simply a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter. So we've actually been circling around this idea quite a bit when we talk about the boundaries or the rules or the expectations of a reader. That's what we were talking about with memoir, there's a certain expectation that the reader brings to a genre. There's certain genres that have tropes or known things that tend to happen and readers of romance, for example, love the tropes, they want the tropes. And in fact, romances sliced and diced into subcategories based on the tropes. And something like sci-fi or fantasy has certain expectations that the readers have as well. So you wanna know what genre you're writing before you start to write. And you wanna be very specific about this, b...
ecause agents, editors, bookstore owners, librarians, the book buyer at Target, anybody that is buying a book is thinking in genre. Walk into any bookstore or library there's categories. That's what genre is about. That is the way the book business is set up and you need to think in terms of genre. Now you can absolutely do a mashup, you can absolutely break rules. Beautiful things have happened when people have chosen to do that, but they tend to know exactly why they're doing it. They tend to be very intentional about it. It's not okay to break the genre conventions and be clueless. It's perfectly fine to break them if you know you're breaking them or to do some sort of mashup. So before I was talking about, we were talking about memoir that was also quite academic. The thing that I would do if that was a book I wanted to pursue is I would probably go out and find some other examples of books that have done something similarish, get a sense of what's worked in the marketplace, get a sense of how could I mash those things together. If I'm being very intentional about that I could pull that off. So in the class materials there are cheatsheets for the eight major genres and they're just one pagers, but they give a definition of the genre, they give a word count range. Many genres have a convention of how many words the manuscript is sort of expected to be. I also give on there some resources for learning more about the genre. There's fantastic information on the web about every genre and uber fans where you can learn so many things about the genre. So it's just a place to start, to read through. And you'll see that some of the cheatsheets, there's crossover. So in other words, we've got a cheatsheet for middle grade and for YA, but if you're writing fantasy you're gonna be wanting to look at middle grade and the fantasy. Or if you're writing YA sci-fi you would be looking at both of those. So sometimes there's two of them come together, you need to look at two of them. So you can look through those genre cheatsheets and you really wanna just know the rules of your genre, that's a thing. You really wanna know what is the reader expecting. So this goes back to your ideal reader. They have read this type of book before. They've probably read a lot of this type of book before. So you really wanna know what your rules are. So the way that we do this work for understanding genre is exactly like we did before. We go on a deep dive in the internet. So here I'm going on Goodreads and Goodreads has this incredible list of genres. They list everything by genre. So you can go in there and you can select a particular genre. In this case I looked at fantasy books and popular fantasy books. Not a surprise what's on here. We got Harry Potter, got Tolkien, we've got George R. R. Martin, so you get a sense of what's in the genre. But what's interesting, if you do this with a couple of genres you start to see the covers look the same, the colors look the same, the titles kind of feel the same. That's what genre's about. There's a language, there's a feel to what a genre is. And if you wanna be in it you gotta wanna know that. So now I drilled down into the fantasy and what's amazing about Goodreads is they give these great explanations of the genre right here, so you can really get a sense of what they are. And then you can slice and dice. So for fantasy there's epic fantasy, there's heroic fantasy, there's high fantasy, low fantasy, supernatural, there's a million subgenres. And again, you really wanna know what you're doing. I, for the longest time, didn't understand the difference between high fantasy and low fantasy and some of the slicing and dicing that goes within there. And I'm just laughing, because it was my daughter who set me straight. And I learned that high fantasy is a whole world is created, there is just a whole universe and we're in it. Whereas a low fantasy or other type of genre would be, like Harry Potter there's an overlay, the worlds connect, sometimes interact. Who knew. That was something I learned about two years ago after 30 years in the publishing industry. So you really wanna know your subgenres. And then you keep drilling down. So here I drilled down into a fantasy subgenre and you can see the lists of various kinds of, I mean, look at how specific this is, books with heroes, heroines who are assassins. I mean, that's pretty darn specific. Best time travel fiction. So you wanna just place your book in those categories and it's so easy to do on here. You drill down into a particular novel, this is, we mentioned this book before, Circe, this is a hugely popular book right now. Remember before we looked at the ratings? This one has almost 6,000 rating. This is hugely, widely popular at the moment when we are teaching this class. Now here, that's amazing, you can go read the first chapter of all the books. You could spend days doing this. It's so great. You can get a sense of how long it is, the word count range. Sometimes you're gonna see a book that breaks the convention, but that's interesting to note. This is quite a long book at 394 pages. If you geek out on the publishing thing like I do, you'd start to look at who's publishing it, what's the imprint, where is it from, all of that sort of thing. But this is just an incredible resource for learning about your genre. And again, all of this is before we've written a word, just trying to place our book in a context. And the best part of genre research is going in and seeing what people are saying about it. It's just so fantastic. In this particular case a lot of people talk about they cried, you see the word feminism brought up a lot, introspection, I circled this one, because it felt to me like what an ideal reader might say. She says, I adored this book, the way the narrator speaks transports you to the land of Greek gods. The author does a fantastic job making the gods relatable, human, and flawed, I highly recommend it. So you can see exactly what that reader loved about it. She was transported away, she learned something about the Greek gods, she related to them. And if you just, you could read 25, 50 of these comments, you're gonna get a really good idea of what that ideal reader wants. And it's just information out there available, it's fantastic. That's why I was saying, it's hard to disparage these tools that are so great for writers. There's not a day that goes by that I'm not in here looking at all this. I was looking over some of the workbooks from some of the students in the studio and I went out on Amazon and looked at your comp titles and if I didn't know what the book is I poked around and tried to see what was going on there. And that's what your coach will do is have you place this in the right universe. So the rules of the genre extend to world-building. Now this is a huge topic that we could teach an entire class on and I'm only gonna touch on it here, but the world-building is the world that you build, the fictional world that you build. And Chuck Wendig has this fantastic quote, you build a world to serve the story or stories you wanna tell. You do not tell a story that is slave to the world-building. Story comes first, world-building supports the story. So which genres need world-building? Turns out pretty much all of them. So sci-fi is all about world-building, it's all about asking what if this major change happened to our world. Fantasy of all kinds needs world-building. I can't tell you the number of writers that I work with all the time who are writing fantasy and have not taken the time to work out the rules of their fantasy, the logic of their fantasy, and their book falls apart almost instantly. You start poking holes in it almost instantly, 'cause they didn't take a little time to figure out who has this magic? How did they get it? How does it work? What are the consequences of using it? Is it passed down through reproduction? Is it a royal line? How does this magic happen? And oftentimes it's in their head, but they haven't taken the time to put it on the page. Anything dystopian type of fantasy or sci-fi. Historical. You absolutely have to understand the world. Whether you're writing about 1973 or the 90s you have to remember what was actually happening then. What was going on in the culture? What was the world like? Even if you lived in that world you want to make sure you really understand the parameters of it and just be clear in your mind. Of course, magic realism. But the piece that I always point to is any story with a world you don't live in. So I was working with a writer once writing a story about twins and one went to heaven and the other was on earth. And she needed to really work out how does heaven work? Can the person in heaven communicate with the person on earth? Can they see the person on earth? Can they get back to earth? Like how do all those conceptions of heaven work? And it was, in her mind just a contemporary story about a girl who died and her sister who died, but she needed to stop and do all that world-building, because there would be logic problems otherwise. So the way that we do this is there's a world-building template in the downloads and it asks a series of questions and they're very, there's a lot of them. Everything from the philosophy of this place to the physics of this place to the government of this place to transportation to food, all the things. And the danger here is you could spend your whole life building this world and we don't necessarily want you to do this. I'm often asked, anything that involves research, how much should you have set before you write? And it's such a fine line, it's such a balance, because you need to know the major tenents of the world before you can write forward for sure. But do you need to know every last little tiny thing? No. That's where that iterative process comes in. I'm working with a writer right now who has a high fantasy, which I now know is a whole world that is its own thing, and extremely complex world with systems of magic and systems of evil and there's a royal hierarchy and there's dragons. I mean, it's just very, very complex. And she has spent many, many weeks going around about the major tenents of the world and how the evil and magic work, so she can get that straight. But she simultaneously has been writing forward and when she hit something she can't write, 'cause she doesn't know, she stops and she goes back and she iterates on the world-building. And it's a little halting, it's a little like ah, ah, ah, ah, ah going forward, but it's a really good process. Because the danger, like I said, is if you think well, I can't write a thing until I know every single thing about this world you could actually spend years. So I urge kind of a middle ground. Know what you need to know before you write forward. And in the coaching package that you can purchase with this class, the world-building template is a thing you can turn into your coach and it's unbelievably helpful to get feedback on this, because another person who's trained to ask all the why questions about your narrative are gonna just poke, poke, poke, poke, poke, poke. And it's great, 'cause then you can just keep answering those questions and getting a really solid framework for the world. So I suggest taking about 60 minutes to just sketch out the major tenents of the world and see where your holes are and just identify, oh, that's something I have to figure out, or that's a whole thing I really have to think through. And then you try to make it better as you go. Are there any questions about world-building?
Yes, I do have a question. What about self-help books? Do you need to also build a world?
That's a different question for a different class and a different day, but the answer is sort of. You need to do more work on your philosophy and your belief system and what your reader brings to it. But we should teach another class on that another day.