Writing Genres

There is a perception among many writers that the rules of writing change from genre to genre and a writer can only truly master one genre.

Unfortunately, that is just one opinion.

In 1972 there was an interesting book by an author who had sold moderately well by the name of Dean Koontz. Since that time, of course, he has done much better for himself.

I got a copy of the book way back then and read it, a couple of different times. What he wrote was so simple, so elegant, so logical, that it made perfect sense.

The rules of writing do not change from genre to genre. The stylized formats may change but the writing itself must follow the same rules as any other well written work: character development, plot, conflict, and so forth.

One does not have to learn an entirely new artform when changing genres. But one should be familiar with the styles currently represented in the field.

Mister Koontz then went on to show how this worked by taking the same basic story line and re-writing it in several different genres. It was ingenius.

Anyone who has mastered the basics of writing well should be able to convert the story into a different genre, if need be. The styles of the new genre woulod have to be studied (of course!) but other than that small adjustment, there should really be no problem.

As always, it helps to read a lot in that genre and write pieces to test with readers of the genre but none of that is a very hurdle.

Of course, you first have to master writing. And character development.

The rules do not change merely because you changed the sets or the costumes. People are – and always will be – people.


The Characters in My Head

When I started the journey to authorship, I read quite a few books on how to write.

The ones I particularly remember was one by a young author named Dean Koontz – and this was before his string of bestsellers began.

But most of the volumes said you had to outline the plot, developing the backstory for the characters, and so forth. I tried the methods they proposed but I could not seem to move forward with the actual writing.

Another thing they all stressed was editing and re-writing, over and over to make it as good as possible.

Ho, boy!! What fun that seemed… (that, of course, was intended as a joke…)

I know one author who had the first volume of a series published in 1980 and, after a year, the publisher wrote and asked if the sequel was ready. The author felt it was not quite ready yet and begged off that year’s publishing schedule. That went on for a few years before the publisher quit asking.

The sequel is still not ready to publish because the author is still not satisfied with it. In fact, he is now thinking or re-writing the first one.

John Steinbeck had an interesting observation on that sort of mental writer’s block: he could go back later in his career and rewrite any line of any of his books and make it better. Could any of it ever be called “perfect”? No, at some point the author has to say “good enough” and let it go, just like raising children: you do what you can with the time you’ve got but you have to let them go at some point.

And then there was Robert A. Heinlein’s take on the subject. He would write a short synopsis, outline, whatever about the story and work on it primarily in his head. When the story was ready, he sat down and wrote it. Once completed, he would go back through it to clean up typos (and there are always typos!) but he did not change the story. In his mind, if it was done enough to put to paper, it was DONE!

Since then I have read Stephen King’s On Writing and found it full of many useful pointers as well.

My technique is probably closer to Heinlein’s than any of the others I have studied. But I don’t know if it will work for anyone else as my brain is hard-wired differently.

Ideas are gathered in a file and reviewed when I feel a story coming together. If it is a tale of another world, I may draw maps, sketch landscapes – yeah, I’m a visual person – and even construct genealogy tables for the characters. (You’d be surprised how many story ideas can crop up from that little exercise!)

But, like Heinlein, when the story is ready, it goes onto paper. The characters created are populating my head and they tell me their story and I write it down as fast and as concisely as I can. Some of these characters get cagey, some get adamant, but they all want to see the light of day – i.e. reside on a printed page.

It’s my system and it works for me. Perhaps your characters do not as much come to life and that’s fine.

The main thing is to find what works for you.