Genre Fine Tuning

Someone recently asked me, “What are the variations of genres?”  We were talking fiction.  Still, I had to stop to think.  I could list the basics:  romance, mystery, fantasy, horror, and sci/fi.  Book stores separate those out for you.  I had to think harder to come up with children’s, erotica, historical fiction, literary fiction, young adult, women’s fiction, and westerns.  But these terms are so broad, there are lots of smaller, specialty niches within each.  I don’t pretend to know what all of these niches are.  I usually wander up and down shelves to find them, but book covers give you a clue.    Cozy novels have cozy covers.  Noir tends to go dark.  But there are finer intricacies to look for.  You’d have to study particular markets to get those right.  But it’s worth making the effort to know what the subgenres are in your favorite.

Certain expectations go along with each genre.  Readers expect particular ingredients to be in each mix.  If you write a romance, you have to deliver a boy meets girl, things get bumpy, boy almost loses girl, and then boy wins girl type of plot.  Harlequin does a great job at this, and it’s no easy thing.    I went to a workshop with Shirley Jump, and she creates character wheels for her heroes and heroines so that their needs and wants bump against each other in the storyline, increasing tension, before attraction finally pulls them together.  But Harlequins are only one type of romance.  There are plenty more.

If you promise a paranormal romance, you’d be wise to have something paranormal in your story, along with one heck of a romance plot.  I read Katie MacAlister’s Zen and the Art of Vampires, and she mixed a regular, mortal heroine (a little on the overweight side) with a hot, sexy vampire, and tossed in a dash of humor.   Readers get exactly what they’re looking for–a taste of the unordinary in our ordinary world, mixed with a steamy love/hate relationship that veers toward disaster before romance conquers all.

A friend of mine is working on a historical, Christian romance, so I read A Hope Undaunted, by Julie Lessman–one of her favorite authors–to see what the ingredients are for that type of novel.  Set at the end of the 1920’s, the book captures the flavor and feel of the era.  The heroine wants to be liberated and to have an important career, but then the Depression wipes out her hopes for an expensive education, and she meets a lawyer who cares little for money, but is determined to rescue as many street orphans as he can.  Faith plays a big part in each of the character’s lives.   The time period influences culture and attitudes.  Both elements are necessary for this type of novel.

I could  go on, but suffice it to say that there are many different types of romance–contemporary, Western, Gothic, Regency, historical, the old “bodice rippers,” etc.   The thing is, there are plenty of subgenres for every genre, and for readers to find what they like in a book, that’s a good thing.

I love Georgette Heyer.   I love Touch Not the Cat, by Mary Stewart.   But their moods and tones aren’t the same.  When I want to read a Regency, I want dukes and ladies, not Gothic atmosphere.  That’s where knowing what type of novel you like and where to find it helps.  That’s the purpose of genres and subgenres.  I might grump about them sometimes and long for more crossover books, but the truth is, genres serve a purpose.  And when I pick up a book and think it’s one thing…but it’s not…I’m not happy.  Along with good writing, I want books to deliver the elements I’m in the mood for.

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