Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writing to Fit the Genre

During a recent interview I was asked how I’m able to write both romances and mysteries. My first thought…writing is writing. Write in one genre and you can easily write in another. However, the next time I sat down to work on my WIP, I realized that’s not 100% true. Each genre has its own set of rules and ‘standards’. Knowing what the standards is essential if you want to sell in a particular genre. So how do you do just that?

This might sound like something you already know or do, but read as many books in your genre of choice before you sit down to write one. Not only will you get a feel for the backbones of the genre but you’ll soon figure out what type of book you’d like to write. I’ll use mysteries and romances as examples.

Mysteries-do you like legal dramas or perhaps you’re hooked on books featuring an amateur sleuth.

Romances-are you a fan of romantic suspense or do you get whisked away to another time with historicals? And if you’re a fan of category romances, think about what line you’d like to write for. Is it Silhouette Romantic Suspense or maybe a sexy Harlequin Blaze?

Take Notes
The first time you read the book, do it just for pure reading pleasure. Then read it again with a notebook handy. Jot down notes about the hero/heroine, conflict, etc. then read a second book, making notes of any similarities to the first one. Do you see any pattern forming? While the stories are obviously very different, each genre has certain things readers and yes, publishers have come to expect.

Mysteries-a crime is committed. There’s a cast of suspects and a sleuth. And, yes, a few red herrings. In the end the guilty person is caught and hopefully punished for their crime.

Romance-there’s a heroine the reader can identify with and live vicariously through. A hero who both the heroine and reader can fall in love with. A conflict that keeps them apart and an issue they have to work out. Sexual tension is a must. How about that first kiss? And depending on the line or publisher, the first time the couple make love. And let’s not forget the happy ending.

Choose Favorites
Who are the genre’s bestsellers?
Pick up some books written by them and learn from the masters.Try and figure out what makes this particular writer so popular with their readers? Is it because each chapter is more suspenseful than the next? Is it because the author takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride?

Some Publishers Make It Easier Than the Rest
Some publishers give us clues about what their ‘standards’ are. If a publisher offers guidelines, read them through until you know them by heart. Do they have a rigid word count? What type of plots are they looking for? What type of plots aren’t they looking for?

Writing to fit a genre can be the key to making your first or next sale.

Susan Palmquist is the author of three published novels and the upcoming paranormal romance, Sleeping with Fairies that will be published by Lyrical Press later this summer. You can check out her interviews with writers, editors and publishers at her monthly blog at Between the Lines And learn more about Susan and her work at


Jen Childers said...

Great post!

I am beginning to like romance more than ever. I see it growing and expanding into new sub genres.
I am an "elements" person. I like a little mystery, suspense, a bit of everything. I note even horror writers are following our footsteps with dark fantasy or dark erotica. What can we say?
We're trendsetters.

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