by Susan May Warren, @SusanMayWarren
I’ve written more than 50 books. Many of them have been on the best-seller list. A number have won awards. And at least half are….romance.
When I get to that last sentence, whatever literary cred I’ve earned with the first three statements seems to vanish. “You write Romance?” someone will ask, (as if they haven’t heard me) and sometimes add an accompanying look of…disdain? Disappointment? As if writing romance is somehow less highbrow than general fiction. I hate the assumption that general fiction is better written. Hogwash.
Words are words, and the truth is, writing fabulous genre fiction is harder than general fiction. You have to stand out in a category with your words while delivering a plot that follows the genre constructs. General fiction can be wonderful…or it can be a “the emperor has no clothes” moment – everything thinking the same thing, but afraid to say it.
Here are some truths:
~ Genre fiction gives a writer framework that allows them to hone their wordsmithing. Because genre fiction comes with expectations about plot, the author must adhere to them – and then work diligently on emotional layering and wordsmithing to stand out.
~ Genre fiction gives an agent or editor a niche in which to sell the novel. It helps them find the right market or line, connects them to the right editors.
~ Genre fiction makes it easier for an author to find a following. If they can construct a story within the structure of genre, but with a winning, distinct voice, fans of the genre will champion them and their following will build….even over to other genres. Look at JD Robb, aka Nora Roberts.
Here’s how to make Genre fiction work for you.
1. Find a genre and stay in it long enough to master it. Work on one element of storycrafting or wordsmithing at a time. I would use each book as an opportunity to hone dialogue, or storyworld, or emotional layering, or the romantic elements…whatever. Eventually I felt confident in every area, and my books got better with each story.
2. Study the best-sellers in the genre and ask: what do they right? Keep a highlighter with you and mark up your stories with passages or techniques that stand out. How can you apply the principles you’ve learned from these best-sellers into your stories?
3. Look at the plot constructs and ask: what works, what doesn’t? If you are going to have a rogue agent that kidnaps his former handler in a romantic suspense, how does the author make that agent likeable? Or is he? Find the nuances that make a story powerful. Look at the rhythm of when these constructs occur. How do they add to the character’s emotional journey and make the story more satisfying?
4. Ask: How can you make your voice stand out? What unique element do you bring to the genre? I wrote six novels for Steeple Hill/Love Inspired…all of them with an international theme. But I lived overseas and could easily write stories set in an international – especially Russian (where I lived) setting. This became part of my voice.
5. Focus on character. Because you are writing inside genre, you’re plot will be a “repeat” to some extent. (let’s be honest – there are only 7 major plots in the world anyway!). So, it has to be your characters who make your stories powerful. Dive deep and create characters who live and breathe. (we have a few techniques here at MBT.)
Quick Skills Exercise: Read a genre novel (in your genre!) this week. Write down the genre constructs in the novel, and when they occur. How does the author make their voice or character stand out? Are there any techniques you can apply to your own writing?
Genre is an author’s friend. Make it work for you as you build your career and you’ll become a better writer.
Champion backcountry snowboarder Gage Watson has left the limelight behind after the death of one of his fans. After being sued for negligence and stripped of his sponsorships, he’s remade his life as a ski patrol in Montana’s rugged mountains, as well as serving on the PEAK Rescue team. But he can’t seem to find his footing–or forget the woman he loved, who betrayed him.Senator and former attorney Ella Blair spends much of her time in the limelight as the second-youngest senator in the country. But she has a secret–one that cost Gage his career. More than anything, she wants to atone for her betrayal of him in the courtroom and find a way to help him put his career back on track.
When Ella’s brother goes missing on one of Glacier National Park’s most dangerous peaks, Gage and his team are called in for the rescue. But Gage isn’t so sure he wants to help the woman who destroyed his life. More, when she insists on joining the search, he’ll have to keep her safe while finding her reckless brother, a recipe for disaster when a snowstorm hits the mountain.
But old sparks relight as they search for the missing snowboarder–and suddenly, they are faced with emotions neither can deny. But when Ella’s secret is revealed, can they learn to trust each other–even when disaster happens again?