Genre Makes You A Better Writer

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.

Susie May

A Matter of Trust (Montana Rescue Book #3)

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?

 Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill, Summerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-timeChristy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: Contact her at:

Keeping Promises to Your Readers by DiAnn Mills

Keeping Promises to Your Readers

DiAnn Mills

We writers get carried away in our stories. We’re so focused on building memorable characters and scenes with goals, problems, conflicts, and high stakes that we sometimes forget to keep our promises to readers.

Pro writers keep their promises!

At the end of the book, the reader is left scratching her head. What happened to Susie’s ill grandfather? Did Johnnie ever find the missing puppy? Did Mark and Joanna make up after their huge argument?

I’ve slipped and left my story hanging, just like you have done. Fortunately it was an editor who caught the problem and not a reader who was disappointed when her magic carpet tipped.

This is a no-no!

Writers make promises, and our readers expect them to be addressed no matter how small. They look like this:

I will find out who robbed the bank and make an arrest. Nothing’s made mention of the robbery again.

The 5K will happen in three months. I want to compete in it, so I’ll have to train. No mention of the character ever training.

Someday we’d like to have a child. No mention of this desire again. Is the character’s problem infertility?

When our car is paid for, we might look for a home to purchase. The key word is “might.” How does it pertain to the story? Does it need to be tied up before the last page?

5. Matt had a performance review in one week to get a raise. We never learn if Matt received
a raise.

I devised a method to ensure my story promises were fulfilled. It’s easy and it works. All it takes is a little time.

Pinky promise to the reader

Prepare a spreadsheet with columns that are labeled:

Scene Number
Page Number
POV Character
Promise Made
Scene and Page Number of Promise Kept.

As the writer completes each scene either in the draft stage or editing, she fills in the information. The result is no loose ends. Your story is ready to send readers on a magic carpet ride that doesn’t tip.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Hit and Run Emotions by DiAnn Mills

by DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

While driving back from the grocery store, I was hit by a truck and the driver took off. The emotions I experienced were shock, anger, and a twinge of fear. The latter one was probably because I write suspense, and my mind always goes into story mode. But the truth is, fear often results from the unpredictable and suspicions from those who harm us.

Are you guilty of hit and run emotions?

The same applies to the characters in our stories. What happens when a writer has a character encounter a traumatic incident and there’s no reaction? Or what happens when a character responds to a minor incident with drama-queen emotion?

Both scenarios can destroy a reader’s reality check and toss the reader out of the story. Future purchases from that writer are nil. Sad, but true. Not much opportunity for a second chance when there are so many writers competing for our attention.

To avoid hit and run emotion in our stories, we can take steps to ensure our characters’ reactions to events are met with responses that are in character, realistic, and slide into genre.

In Character
For credible emotion, we writers must thoroughly understand our POV characters. This means taking time to develop their personality, unique traits, and backstory. A character who handles anger by stuffing it may logically end up with an ulcer. A character who deals with anger by breaking noses may need anger management classes. The first key to overcoming inappropriate reactions lies in characterization.


Many writers keep a journal of the happenings in their lives and how they reacted. It’s been said that if a writer is unwilling to seek resolution to life’s explosions, then the writer will never be able to write about those same emotions effectively.

Dramatic reactions to small incidents initiates skepticism in the reader, unless the writer is gifted in humor. Even those stories must be crafted with care. When a hero or heroine appears callused to tragedy, displays an absence of wit or logic, or is over-the-top in dialogue, readers no longer care about the character or the story.

Don’t hit the reader with a drama queen!

The many genres provide us an opportunity to show our stories through a variety of techniques. The criterion dictates the story world’s dialogue, culture, goals, setting, and symbolism. The seven universal emotions stated in Tonya Reiman’s,The Power of Body Language are surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, happiness, and contempt. Every POV character experiences these emotions according to genre guidelines. Here are a few examples:

Contemporary: Today’s world is filled with instant information from various communication devices. Problems arise from dealing in a world where change is the norm. A character is continuously assaulted with situations that involve coping devices according to traits and backstory. Contemporary characters filter a whirl of happenings through their personal data bank of their past.

Historical: The past is known for its slower pace of living. Communication from local,
national, and worldwide events shape the future many times before the character learns about them. Culture and gender often dictate how a character receives and processes emotion.

Romance: Romance is an emotional adventure. This aspect of novel writing can be woven into any genre. A thread of romance invites a reader into a dreamlike world of fresh and breathless love.

Create emotions for your fantasy world.

Speculative:This genre has a broad range of categories from fantasy to sci-fi. Here the setting and culture blends with character to show how emotion is received and processed. Because the story world is unusual, how a character views emotion is according to the writer’s discretion.

Suspense: Suspense can be written into any genre, much like romance, but the character’s reaction to a state of anxiousness or uncertainty with a blanket of fear leads the character down a path of uneasiness and often apprehension. Heroes and heroines walking through suspense are survivors who have learned to manage and compartmentalize their emotions in a way that is healthy and believable.

Hit and run emotions. We writers don’t have to be labeled with this criticism because we understand the power of character, reality, and genre.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure.
She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; the 2015 president of the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope, & Love chapter; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and International Thriller Writers. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at

Genre is dead. Long live genre.

If you’ve read Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor–and I highly recommend it–you may recall Keillor’s telling of the early church in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. The founding church began as a single congregation, then split, then split again, until finally every church consisted of one member meeting with himself in his living room. As Christians, we can relate.

As writers, I think we can relate as well. Back when I was a young whipper snapper, I snapped up books and whipped through them faster than a prairie dog in a hailstorm (it works, visualize with me). My primary source for books was the navy housing bookmobile. The bookmobile was divided up by genre. The genres were called “Books on the bottom shelves” and “Books on the top shelves.”
I’d select my books based on the title and cover. My favorite book of all time, Watership Down, was selected because I thought it was about naval battles. The cover was missing. It’s a good thing I didn’t see the fluffy bunnies on a cover, otherwise I may never have read my favorite book.

Now, a short thirty-some-odd years later, the two genres I grew up with have been split, and split again, and split again, until we now have genres that are comprised of a single title meeting in his living room. Wait…never mind. You get the point.

If you’re an Amazon shopper like most of us, you know that we really don’t have genres anymore. We have key words. You type in “Amish Vampires and Pontiac Trans Ams” and a list of titles pop up. There is no genre called “Trans Am driving Amish Vampires.” There should be, but I don’t make the rules.

If you follow Donald Maass and have read his Writing 21st Century Fiction, you know he alludes to this muddling of genre as well. But he, like me, is not concerned. In fact, he, like me, sees it as a huge benefit to writers and readers alike.

What does genre do?

Genres allow readers to narrow down the vast number of books available to a few that fit their tastes. That’s the good side. Imagine a book store where there was no organization according to genre.

But the dark side of genre is that publishers have established rules, often restricting rules, according their definition of the genre. Now, I’m a plotter and I love having guidelines before I start the first chapter. But they’re my guidelines. While I believe that the publishers set these guidelines based on decades of customer research and experience, it still doesn’t discount the fact that most readers will never get a chance to try an alternative to the formula.

What indie authors have done is provide easily accessible alternatives to the formulas. What a large corporation was not willing to do because they can only take acceptable risks, the individual writer is free to do. What have we got to lose? A few months of our time and maybe a little investment on editing and a cover. If that’s still too much, you can write about Amish Vampires in Trans Ams, have your friends edit it for free, design your own cover, and upload your novel at zero cost.

Obviously, we’ve seen some crazy stuff get self-pubbed during the recent indie gold rush. But we’ve seen some gems come out of it as well. Our odds of success are still about the same, whether we self-pub or submit to traditional publishers. The difference is that, with indie publishing, you’re not counting on a single assistant to the assistant editor to give your manuscript a pass after she’s already read six dozen that morning and just got a Dear Jane text from her boyfriend.
You can put it out there and let the readers decide. At least a few will read the entire thing. If you get a swarm of one-star reviews, you know it’s back to square uno.

Okay, Ron, what does that have to do with the death of genre?

Everything. If you’ll scroll up before my rant, you’ll note that I give credit to this genre demise to the indies. The indies took the risks and tried different things. My Amish Vampire sold his Trans Am and went into space, but it was close enough (did you picture Burt Reynolds with fangs?). In any industry, the big players are not the risk-takers. It’s the nerd in his garage building the first home computers with his stoner buddies while IBM executives were saying that no individual would ever need his own computer. It’s a kid from Memphis beating out a blue-sy tune on his old guitar while swaying his hips. It’ll never sell. It’s a couple of brothers with a bike shop who wanted to fly.

They’re all indies. Indies blaze new paths. Once the path is wide enough, the big boys follow and make it mainstream. Then the indie gets tired of staring at cubicle walls and finds a new path to blaze.

Is that who you are? Some of you reading this are quite comfortable with your publishers and agents. That’s fine. I still want that for myself. But another part of me, one that says you’re 48 years old Ron don’t just write, write something that defies the trends. Something that would have your book seller staring at a dozen different genre shelves with no clue what to do with it. But something that a reader will pick up on Amazon or Kobo and say, “Wow…I didn’t even know such books existed.”

No, I don’t need to sell books to make a living. In fact, I could probably retire early if I’d stop spending money on conferences and how-to-write-books books. So I have nothing to lose. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that most of us fit that category.

So why not? That should be your phrase of the week. Why not?

Put your Amish Vampires in the driver’s seat. Give your gun slinging cowboy a salvation experience and an orphanage to run (and maybe a talking horse). Re-write some fairy tales with a few more explosions. This is our time. There’s trails to blaze, people.

Let’s throw a few genres into the blender and see what pours out. Go make me proud.

What is your most outlandish idea, the one you won’t even tell your critique group about? Go ahead, your secret’s safe with us.