Does Genre Help or Hinder Those Involved?

Does the division of literature into genres, help or harm readers, writers and publishers?

As an aspiring writer I have attempted to write in different genres to find my niche in the industry. When I was a child my writing first developed by writing stories from my perspective and those of friends. I would write cute little stories such as Sophie and Friends Go to The Shops… imaginative I know! The characters would have the personalities of each of my friends. Surprisingly, the story did not have depth or consequence, but since attending university I have learnt the conventions and plots that make each genre worthy of publication. Has learning these codes within genres really helped me as a writer? Or has it dampened my creative flair? After starting to write this post, I have been questioning, do readers and publishers want books written within a strict genre code or are they ready for something different in the market?

So, what is genre? defines genre to be ‘a class or category of artistic endeavour having a particular form, content, or technique’. There are many genres that are easily distinguished from the next and it is clear which books belong in each category. When writing in a genre, authors need to be mindful of the rules of each genre and be aware of what readers and publishers want to see in the piece of writing.

Though some writers succeed in experimenting, many theorists argue that every text can be classified to a genre. Readers may not always know exactly what this entails or know what genre the book they are reading fits into, but publishers abide by the rules of these different themes; they find it essential for the purpose of marketing and advertising.

The idea of genre can be traced back as far as writing itself. Although novels in the same genre share some key traits, like a family, they all have their own individual style and just happen to be put into the same group.

However, do these same genres still exist in the same way in today’s society? I believe the foundation of writing was set by the genres and gave us the vital building blocks that we need. As the world has changed, genre has adapted to suit; we as writers of novels and short stories should also change our set ways to reflect this.

As well as being a writer, I am also a reader. I love going to bookshops, having a good browse, looking at what is on sale and what will be coming out soon. I must admit, I do tend to stick to the same two sections when it comes to buying books, because I know that within this genre I can find something that I will enjoy. From my own experience and being friends with a lot of people who are also avid readers, I find that we don’t want to spend hours in the bookshop looking around sections that we are not familiar with, wasting our time and money on a book that is out of our comfort zone. Dividing books into sections is convenient, allowing us to go straight to the area we want.

Writers construct their work with careful precision and already have an audience in mind when writing a book. Is writing to sell necessarily a bad thing? Authors need to make money and it is a hard industry to enter. I personally want to know what I’m buying before purchasing, writers do need keep reader satisfaction in mind. I’m not a publisher, however, I am interested to discover how a publisher will help me sell my book. Publishers know the market and what is trending with readers. When reading manuscripts they will be looking for key elements that they can easily sell in the current climate.

Publishers expect a mass of newly written manuscripts to come their way, so those pre-categorised into genre allows them to feel more in control when sorting through everything. After discovering more about what a publisher does, I do feel like I may be more considerate when it comes to my own writing. I know exactly what features to include in my novels when writing in a particular genre, as I want publishers and readers to take an interest in my work. I think that aspiring writers can use genre conventions to guide them through their early stages of writing. By having a mental checklist of how a story in their genre should be crafted, they are able to write more coherently and appeal to specific readers.

In David Maass’ Writing 21st Century Fiction he claims that some genre authors make so much money, to the extent that they are no longer authors, but ‘brands.’ These successful writers have been able to master the basics enough to now be able to put their own style into the genres that they originally used. They are now their own unique genre. J.K Rowling who is a big inspiration of mine is a prime example of this when she developed the Harry Potter series. These books now stand on their own in a bookshop, having a whole section dedicated to her and her writing, instead of just slotting into a genre shelf.

The challenges are established when writers decide to write a novel or a series of short stories that fit under more than one genre. In these cases, writers have to be careful where they want this book to fit in and think about publishers and other published work. Writers need to think about whether it’s a good idea to write something which fits into a genre or if it’s problematic when selling their books. 

Many readers and critics are very comfortable within boundaries of genre, yet, does this mean that writers are not allowed to explore their own creativity? If creative writing teachers all teach their students to stick within the rigid genre rules, does this mean that people are not able to explore their creativity and find something new? New literature can lack originality when the characters, style and story is progressing in a stereotypical fashion. This is repetitive and the reader is able to predict what is coming. With writers making the decision to play it safe, they comfort the audience which can be a good thing, but at the same time they are unable to make their own mark in the industry. This can make their stories robotic.

I do sometimes struggle to stimulate my creative flair within my stories, as I always have expectations of the genre and audience. Categorising every novel and short story into different genres, though not on purpose, can narrow down a reader’s mindset. Readers are acclimated to reading a book within a certain genre and know how the story will end. It can make the reader lazy, using genre as a security blanket. 

As times have modernised, new authors have begun to challenge and test the limits of genre, creating unique work. This has inspired me as a writer to continue to take small risks in my craft and hopefully, in the future, I will have the courage to be more experimental. I have realised that sticking too closely to genre conventions stunts my growth as a writer and dwindles the passion I have for the industry. 

Research and Inspiration

I have always found it difficult to strike a balance with being able to put enough research into my writing as opposed to just free writing creatively. There is a constant fear that I may end up comparing my writing to other work. Research, in this case, can be the death of creativity. Developing a healthier relationship with research and using it to boost my creativity is something I would like to work on.

Fantasy has always been an easier genre for me to write in because little research is needed. Of course, there are some principles which must be employed for a text to be considered fantasy, but in contrast to other genres such as crime, there is not a lot of realism. For Imogen’s Dark Secret, I knew more research was needed to create a more immersive experience for the reader.

Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express gave me the foundations needed for my crime novel. Classical crime novels have a strong sense of character building and suspense which I wanted to simulate through Imogen’s Dark Secret, although in a different setting and context. Other novels such as Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov influenced the obsessive qualities of Alessandro and showed me how explicit these types of work can be. Although I didn’t want to use the controversial detail and characters of Lolita, it was a great source of inspiration into the minds of perverted individuals.

To achieve the tone I wanted for my novel, I decided to experiment using a mixture of film and books. I watched several episodes of The Bill to understand the abuse I wanted to feature in my own writing. In particular, I found Series 24 episodes 82 and 83 ‘Forgotten Child’ helpful in gaining knowledge about how the police deal with abusive crimes. Other dramas like Waterloo Road allowed me to gauge the depth of abusive relationships. Season three and eight touched on particular types of abuse such as domestic violence, rape and forced sex work. 

To expand the context of abuse in my novel I used the NSPCC website to understand the different types and how it should be handled. As my protagonist is underage at the time she is abused, I would need to be cautious in providing a realistic image of physical and mental abuse.

In hindsight, I would like to improve my work by researching further into the psychological consequences that abuse has on someone and how trauma can take many forms. At the time of writing, however, I was unsure of the direction I wanted the story to go in. I would also reconsider the final scene of Imogen confronting Alessandro and whether it is realistic for a victim to return to her abuser. Alessandro does have a certain magnetism to him which allows him to control Imogen, but I’m not sure Imogen wants revenge or justice for herself and the other victims.

Crime: Linear and Non-linear Narrative

While writing extracts of Horror, Crime, Sci-fi and Fantasy, I thought about whether I had found a new genre I could use in a new novel. Besides fantasy, I felt crime might be my next strongest style after fantasy writing, so I started dabbling and free writing. 

I felt myself go into police crime writing and soon remembered that I had begun planning, and free writing, a crime-thriller novel telling a young girl’s story of neglect, love and betrayal as she finds herself entrapped in a sex-trafficking ring. The novel moves between two simultaneous stories where we see the protagonist’s past and present life and how this traumatic experience shaped both times in her life. 

The full synopsis is below:      

Imogen’s Dark Secret Synopsis: 

Knowing that to make these simultaneous plot-lines the most impactful, for the novel to be a success, I started to play with a non-linear narrative. I fretted about how effective my non-linear writing would be, having always written linearly. But I knew Imogen’s Dark Secret was different to anything I had written before. Nonlinear would give me a challenge and allow me to effectively interpret the characters, moving back and forth, seeing what memories are brought to her present day experiences, while also demonstrating the contrasts in the mindset of my main protagonist. Telling the story in a non-linear narrative would really allow me to tap into my protagonist’s subconscious and allow her to tell me her story.    

Using the non-linear narrative, while writing, I found a number of components that needed to be considered while telling my character’s story. To help visualise the linear vs non-linear narrative of her story, I created a large storyboard with post-it-notes tacked on it, together with a scene prompt. I referred to this often while I wrote, to prompt me, but to also feed my protagonist and in turn she would tell me what happened to her, then I would change my storyboard around like a giant jigsaw, which proved to be very helpful.

In pursuing the novel further, I hope to show both of my protagonist’s character growth in her past and present, leading to the arc of the protagonist’s life and journey. I am enthusiastic about the non-linear narrative approach and I’m excited to see what becomes of it.

Refining My Writing Craft

One of the major reasons I chose the MA in Professional Creative Writing at Coventry University is because of the scope it provides me with, not just in this module but in the other modules I will come to study. I enjoyed the prospect of doing this to refine my craft as a writer, to find out what type of a writer I want to be before I go out into the industry and contact editors, agents and publishers. I hope by having a clearer idea of which direction I want to go in not only as a writer but also on a personal level, I can strengthen my skill set as well as gain more confidence in my own writing, so when I contact editors, agents and publishers I can go in more efficiently and really make the novel I want to make.     

Within my lectures during my first semester on the MA, I studied a ‘Genre Fiction’ module with focus on Horror, Crime Sci-fi and Fantasy. One of the highlights of the course so far was how the first module was structured. During my undergraduate study, there were times where there was too much crammed into one lecture and it made some of the information hard to retain for me to take into my writing craft. On my postgraduate degree, there was a certain focus on one genre per week before we delved deeper, learning the individual conventions and how we as writers can apply it to our own writing. It really helped me to grasp the matrices of the different genres and opened my mind to freely writing using all four of them. It also opened up new opportunities for myself to entwine them into one, stronger piece of writing. 

 The Coronavirus pandemic did worry me as to how the lectures would pan out and be as effective, but the online classes via zoom were both open, lively and interactive between other writers so we could help refine our own craft by brainstorming ideas and complete writers activities set to us by the lecturer. The lecturers themselves were also live on the zoom call so we all could further brainstorm our work as well as each others’. The classes felt very personal and I feel more confident in my own writing and being able to pitch effectively to others which I purposefully avoided for a fear of negativity and ridicule.

I have become a stronger writer and I am definitely on my way to refining my craft.     

Writing Genre – Sci-fi and Fantasy Extracts

Here are my Sci-fi and Fantasy Extracts… 

Sci-fi Extract – The Terrible Twins

He stood in a wide laboratory with bare walls and various types of equipment around the room. A faint beeping came from a machine at the far end of the room. The door opened. A man, dressed in a crisp white lab coat, blackened in places, and white hair made static by the ongoing electric ruminating in the air. 

He checked the papers on his clipboard against the whirling equipment and other machinery around the room. Two wide tubes, held into place by a large machine, connected by various wires and clear nozzles, creaked and let out a big puff of smoke. The scientist looked around just as the smoke cleared to reveal two teenage girls, roughly the same height. One of the girls was slight while the other had a bigger stature.

Fists pounded against the tubes they were trapped in as the individuals panicked for their lives. Ignoring this, the scientist moved to a control panel and started to press on the different sized buttons. He slammed his hand down on a large red one and the machine behind him let out a very unhealthy noise before whirring continuously. He turned back to the machine, ignored the frantic pounding fists and watched as the nozzles filled with a clear, greyish liquid that connected the two tubes. Back and forth. Faster and faster. 

There was a large bang and a billow of smoke as the machine choked. The smoke cleared, this time to reveal two teenage girls, both identical. Two identical girls, both slim in stature, identical to the last strand of hair and freckle on her nose, stared out of their containers at the scientist. The scientist was elated and had lost his still composure. 

“It works. It works!”

Fantasy Extract – Creeping in the Shadows

Kirsty held the bundle of blankets close to her chest, her eyes frantically flickering from side to side. Her feet echoed against the wooden floor as she ran. With every step, the door at the other end of the room moved further and further away. Lights flickered rapidly overhead. The sound of her heartbeat increased and the bundle of blankets stirred. A baby girl’s eyes peeked out from them. She babbled but Kirsty kept on running. A movement in the corner of her eye, a figure kept to the shadows. If she could get to the door, they would be safe. The lights flickered again and there was a crackle of electricity. A swish of a cloak brushed across the wooden floor, blocking her exit. She froze and clutched the baby closer to her chest as the baby wriggled frantically, desperate for freedom. The baby made incoherent noises that seemed to be magnified in the deadly silence. Kirsty pressed the bundle of blankets against her heart. She hoped the sound of her heartbeat would calm the baby. The baby met Kirsty’s eyes and stopped babbling. She read the alarm in her saviour’s face and hid back beneath her blankets. Taking a measured step forward, Kirsty found her path blocked by a cloaked figure. A ball of fire hovered in his upturned palm, illuminating his masked face. With his free hand, he motioned with one finger, his eyes on the child.      

Writing Genre – Horror and Crime Extracts

Here are my Horror & Crime extracts of writing…  

Horror Extract – Something Bad is Coming 

My knees were hard against my chest as I huddled on my bed. The night slowly darkened outside my window, but I didn’t, or couldn’t, move. For years, I had been kept in the dark about what I was or what I could do. They said it was to protect me, to keep me out of the public’s eye. But now, now I knew the truth, they confined me to my bedroom as the sun set and the night crept in. I turned my hands over; they were covered in thin, pink scars. My whole body trembled with suppressed energy. I tried to use the coping techniques they had taught me, but they didn’t work, they never worked.

I had lost control three times, all with fatal consequences. All with devastating repercussions. 

Crime Extract – A Stab in the Back

The door had been forced; it was hanging loosely off its hinges. She pushed it hesitantly and it creaked. Nothing had been disturbed. The heating was on, the machine was whirring with the latest wash. The buzz from the TV filled the silent house. Her bags were by the front door, packed for her work conference, everything was where, and how it should be. But where was she?

A creak from the upstairs landing and I moved upstairs and cautiously trod around. One door slightly ajar and I peered through. There she sat, at her desk, as if writing minutes for work. She was sprawled out over the desk, her head on her arm, eyes closed. A giant knife protruding from her spine.       

Who would do this? 

I remembered the sound of raised voices coming from here over the last few days. Return of the ex-husband, the custody agreement. A co-worker who was riled up at her promotion. The wife of her three-year boyfriend, out for revenge. Motivations to kill.    

My best friend lay there, murdered in cold blood. My hand shook, I dialled 999 and put the phone to my ear. 

“Police, please.”  

Writing in Genre

As an aspiring writer, I have always enjoyed writing in different genres. I begin by writing the foundations of a prose or a short story before embellishing it. 

Whichever genre you decide to write in, they all have their basic conventions to follow, in order to appeal to a particular readership. The more you write, the more you can get these conventions nailed down. You can begin playing with them, testing the boundaries and limits to break and push beyond how they’re meant to be. Some writers decide to strictly adhere to these conventions, conscious of the importance of the reader and not feeling confident enough to do otherwise. 

Years ago, I was one of these writers. Too nervous to break rules, frightened to ruin the concept of the piece. I found myself writing the most basic of stories, not crafting it into a particular theme. As I learnt and experienced more, I found myself writing fantasy-fiction. I quickly picked up the conventions of fantasy-fiction and writing within the boundaries, enjoying the worlds I was able to create. However, I soon found myself slipping into a rut and refused to write nothing but fantasy-fiction. 

More recently, I wanted to break free of writing fantasy and dabble in writing other genres. I realised that if I wanted to pursue a career as a novelist and have a better chance in moving into the world of publishing, I must show agents and editors that I am not a one trick pony. I can write more and I also wanted to prove this to myself. 

To confront this fear, I started to practise writing small extracts in four genres. At first I was apprehensive to be writing in some of these new styles, worried that inspiration would not come and I would fail. I did struggle at the beginning, watching the flashing cursor for ages before I began typing. I came to the realisation that I was very good at free writing in different genres and enjoyed writing in new ones just as much, if not more, than fantasy. 

The four genres I have practised writing in were Horror, Crime, Sci-fi and Fantasy.

Getting Too Comfortable

Although I like experimenting with different forms, styles, narratives and genres of writing, I sometimes find them intimidating. Fantasy is a genre that I have always enjoyed the most and find myself comfortable writing in. Perhaps fantasy is most aligned with my sense of imagination. Fantasy also gives me a lot of freedom, without needing to uphold realistic standards. The writer can govern the laws placed in the fantasy world. 

Choosing to study Professional Creative Writing at University has made me think about my own writing style and what type of writer I want to become. Though I love writing fantasy, I don’t want to be so narrow-minded and unable to adapt to various kinds of writing. It is almost like having tunnel vision; not being able to see the other paths and adventures I can walk down. As well as expanding my writing abilities, I want to still feel excited about writing fantasy. I fear that if I continue walking in my fantasy shoes, I will end up being bored or blistering my feet from these endless whimsical journeys. 

Over the years I have had a number of projects on the back-burner; never having the courage to pursue them. With the course I’m on, I’ve decided to dust off one of those projects and delve into unknown territory. The genre I’ve chosen to write in for my first piece of coursework is crime. The new pair of crime shoes will undoubtedly hurt my feet at first. I will need time to adapt and mould the shoes to my writing anatomy. 

Crime will be a lot more tense and unfamiliar with the amount of research and rules involved. Yet, I feel that it is a time to learn and grow. I readily enjoy crime television programmes and reading crime fiction. I’m intrigued by the motivation of the perpetrators, the unfolding narrative and the solving of the crime. The psychological aspect is something that fascinates me in particular. I have wanted to tap into the minds of the perpetrator, detectives and victims, to test the bounds of human thought and action. 

Nevertheless, realism is restrictive to a large extent. It is daunting as some may critique my work for not being of this world or logical. My lectures have helped me overcome this fear as I have understood genres can be seamless. Crime narratives can have characteristics of other genres, so I will keep this thought in mind when venturing further into my crime endeavours.

This is Me!

I am first and foremost a writer. It’s as easy as breathing. I like planning out stories and fitting them together like jigsaw puzzles, either minuscule or with a bigger picture; figuring out which parts go where and whether it can be mixed up. 

Without the risk of it sounding like a cliche, I’ve always found refuge in my ability to write in a broad range of formats, whether it’s a letter, my blog or a number of creative pieces. Being able to write has given me a form of escapism and has allowed me to be myself,  rather than what others expect me to be. 

Mark Twain is often associated with the phrase “write what you know”.

A few years ago, I was asked why I portrayed my protagonists and all of my other characters as able-bodied people, as opposed to a wheelchair user. I guess people assume that being a wheelchair user my whole life, I would write about the life it has given me. I couldn’t give an answer because I’d never even realised or thought about it, I’ve just written what has come naturally. 

Being a wheelchair user and experiencing some difficulties in life, I have written fiction with themes of bullying and other events that have shaped my life. Writing about these events and incidents has lifted a great weight off my shoulders.

In my spare time, I enjoy role-playing with different groups of people, via social media. Through acting as characters from different films, such as Harry Potter and Twilight, and creating original storylines, I have been able to be in an environment where I can relax, but also be creative. I have been able to tap into characters minds and create new worlds which I have sometimes been able to transmit into fiction. 

Being an aspiring writer has taught me that there are many creative outlets and I always ensure that I carry a notebook and pen everywhere I go, for whenever and wherever inspiration strikes.