5 Ways To Write In A Genre And Still Be Original

If you don’t want to write to genre, and if you don’t believe in it, please feel free to stop reading now.

There are definite benefits to writing in a specific genre. Readers and publishers like knowing what to expect from a book. But one of the most common complaints about genre is that the book is too similar to this or too similar to that. 

This makes it hard for us as writers, especially in the beginning. We want to be original, but we must still fulfil the promise of genre and write something that suits. It’s a fine line and not always easy.

I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It is a fascinating book that examines the habits of individuals, companies and societies. I seriously recommend you read it. The book discusses behaviour and how to change or manipulate our habits. 

One of the examples he uses, comes from music and tells us about how radio stations and music companies try to predict hit songs. 

But what does that have to do with genre?
If you look at hit songs, they must comply with the requirements of that genre. Consider the biggest bands in any genre, look at how their songs emulate what is expected of the genre and then look at where they broke the rules.

But to come back to the book, Charles Duhigg uses the example of a company called Polyphonic. This company developed a program called 'Hit Song Science'. It analysed statistics and used algorithms to predict whether a song would be a hit. 

The song Hey-Ya by Outkast was expected to be a huge hit, according to this program. It ticked all the required boxes, but when the song was first played it did not do as well as expected. In fact, almost half the listeners changed the station when the song came on. 

It was considered too different, not genre specific-enough. So now what? The program had never let them down before. They decided to ‘sandwich’ the song. Each time it aired they played a really popular song before and after it. Listeners did not change the station and they got used to the song. Eventually Hey-Ya reached the top of charts and achieved the predicted success. Interesting, right?

So now back to writing. We need to give readers enough of the familiar to tick the boxes of genre, but then we need to add new developments and dimensions to our stories.

Here are five tips to help you:
  1. Read as much in your genre as you can.
  2. Write down the five most common traits of your genre.
  3. Write a list of things your story has in common with the genre. 
  4. Write a list of the ways your book crosses-over into other genres. 
  5. Make it your own. Your style is what will set you apart. Be unique, be you, and sandwich it with the familiar.
Don’t try to change every single thing. Remain true to the genre, but true to yourself and your writing.  

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 37: Rules Of The Game

Welcome to week 37 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your novel.
Breaking it down

Rude teddy bears and white-collar boxing
‘The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. The second rule about fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club.”

In Chuck Palahniuk’s hypnotic thriller, Fight Club, the secret underground world of white-collar boxing is the invention of the disturbed Tyler Durden. There are other rules: only two men per fight, only one fight at a time, and so forth.

When your story or your plot operates outside of the conventional or the ‘real world’, you have to establish the ‘rules of the game’ and you have to let the reader or audience know what these are.

In the movie Ted, for example, Jon Bennett’s childhood teddy bear magically comes alive on Christmas morning – and turns into a minor celebrity and, eventually, a foul-mouthed slacker.

Here the rules of a ‘living’ teddy are given to the viewer early on. Ted can do pretty much everything we can do – talk, drive a car, Tweet, smoke drugs, have sex with his girlfriend. Every character in the story can interact with Ted.  He is a reliable character in the story. There’s no way we ever believe he is the product of Jon’s imagination. Without setting out the rules of the game, the audience may have been suspicious of this character.

In the 1950s film, Harvey, for example, the main character’s best friend is a mischievous six-foot tall rabbit called Harvey – and Harvey is invisible.

Since Elwood, an eccentric and alcoholic, is the only one who can see Harvey, his friends and family wonder if the rabbit is a product of too much drinking or even mental illness.  This creates a completely different dynamic in the film. 

If you’re writing in the genres of fantasy or a paranormal, sometimes even speculative/futuristic and horror, you need to explain or show the rules of the game. For example, your vampire can come out in daylight and sparkle – Twilight.  Or ‘don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight’ – for the comedy horror Gremlins.  Can you think of other examples?

The rules for three
Recently, I’ve been spending a few lunch hours writing with a colleague, who is also a writer. She was struggling to understand how the threesome in my novel came about. What was the motivation behind Jenna and Matt’s encounter? ‘If they were bored in their relationship, why didn’t they just go hiking?’

After we had a chuckle about this, I realised that the dynamic of a threesome or ménage à trois was something crying out for ‘the rules of the game’. 

I was faced with some tricky questions this week. Does my couple have an open relationship? Do they hook up with people separately or do they, as the saying goes, only play together? How is the instigator in this behaviour? Is it something they both want?

There has to be a code when it comes to this kind of behaviour. This is exciting for me as a writer, as it delves into sexual politics and behaviour. Thinking of Fight Club, they could have firm rules: no past hook-ups, no friends, no repeats, no drug addicts, and so forth. 

There could even be subtle code words or gestures that Jenna and Matt could use to communicate during the encounter.  While it’s important for me, as a writer, to understand the underlying psychology of their relationship, I also need the ‘device’ the rules of the games to give the story some structure and clarity.
internal logic
While facilitating Writers Write 2  – which is all about plotting – I was discussing the importance of stories having their own ‘internal logic’ and this dovetails with the idea of the rules of the game.

When creating a fictional universe, it’s important to set the ground rules of for the worlds in which your story plays out. It doesn’t matter how bizarre of far-fetched, your story will be reliable if it follows its own internal logic and is self-consistent. This logic – if the reader trusts it and believes it – will allow for suspension of disbelief. You make things up, but they have to be believable.  

In that, you must recognise the reality in the fantasy. There must be a truth we can respond to in even the most incredible story. In my story, the idea is not to show how people get their rocks off – otherwise it would be the plot of a porno or bad French movie – but to show how jealousy in a relationship is sublimated and expressed. Jealousy is a truth we can all recognise.
Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Spend a half hour or hour a day writing your scenes or chapters.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. What rules didn’t you like when you were at school? Imagine one of your characters rebelling against those rules.
  2. Take a board game like Monopoly or Risk. Look at how the rules govern the game. How could you add a plot and characters to a game like that?
  3. What would happen if there were no traffic/road rules? Write a scene where your character is caught up in the chaos.
  4. List all the organisations that have rules – the office, the church – and list the rules. Could you use any in your novel?
  5. Write about a character who lives according to his or her own rules or moral code. How do these cause conflict with society?
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘I’m influenced by the internal logic of the story, the page leaps and dream leaps I can make while writing.’ — Lincoln Michel

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 36: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Plot
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 35: 3 Must-Have Scenes That Reveal Character
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 34: Spring Cleaning

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

World-Building For Every Genre: The Ultimate Setting Checklist

Last week I discussed the importance of setting and what we can learn from sci-fi and fantasy writers about world-building. By following their guidelines, we can strengthen our setting and make our worlds more complete. 

Here is a checklist to get you started. Below the checklist are questions you might consider for each category. I tried to use examples that are not considered fantasy or sci-fi.

  1. Genealogy: How important is lineage in your story? If your heroine is a princess, her family tree will be well-mapped. If she is a street urchin no will know where she comes from? How does this affect her?  
  2. Work life: What do they do for a living? Are they assigned jobs in a socialist state, do they work in tall buildings for hours on end or do they sell flowers on the steps of the train station? Are they a cubicle-ninja or plough pusher on a farm? Everyone has to earn their keep. 
  3. Clothing: We know we’re not supposed to judge, but we do. What is your character wearing? Are they dressing the part or dressing above their means? Do they wear a uniform, like a soldier or a nun or do they twirl about a pole butt naked? Clothing, or the lack thereof, will tell us a lot about who your character is.  
  4. Food: If you set your story in space freeze dried, powdery nibbles will be the norm. If you set your story in Italy or France a juicy, sun-ripened tomato will feature somewhere. If your story is set during a drought or a food shortage, how does it affect the characters? And where do they shop? Grocery store, an organic food shop or do they harvest the carrots in their veggie patch? 
  5. Hygiene: How important is cleanliness in your story? Is it a super sterile environment or are you writing about a London with no sewage system and an abundance of rats. How do the surgeons operate? Do they have luxurious bathrooms or open plan showers in the school locker room? 
  6. Rituals and holidays: How we celebrate holidays and rituals shows a lot about a society and a person. Do they hate their birthday? Do they adore weddings, but shy away from baby showers? Think about how they feel about certain events. Mothers want their children close for holidays, but children don’t always want to hang out with drunken Uncle Arnold. 
  7. Technology: This is tricky, technology changes quickly. Facebook is almost second nature to us today, but five or 10 years ago it wasn’t. The same goes for cell phones. In the Eighties we memorised telephone numbers, if you take our phones away today we are lost, because can’t remember any numbers. 
  8. History: When you create a world you have to consider what happened before. The same goes for your story. What happened in the country before your story takes place? Is it set in post-World War Two Germany or during the great depression or just after these devastating events? 
  9. Religion: Are your characters religious or not? Is your story set in Orthodox Jewish environment or at a meditation retreat? A religious person would have different moral conflicts to someone who is not religious. 
  10. Language: Is your story set in your protagonist’s home country? Then language wouldn’t be a problem. They’d be a native, but if it’s set in a different country would multiple languages be a challenge? What kind of conflict would be caused by translation errors? 
  11. Gender roles: Does your story take place in a traditional gender setting or not? A female had only marriage prospects to consider a few years ago. Today they have many more options. This differs from country to country and culture to culture. 
  12. Family life and structure: Is your protagonist single, married or divorced? Do three generations live under one roof or have they not spoken to their parents in five years. 
  13. Procreation: How do they procreate? Out of love or duty? Back in the day they had sheets with holes in strategic places. Do they get to choose their own partners? 
  14. Politics: What is the political situation in the country you have set your story in? Is the political climate unstable and violent? 
  15. Education: How highly is education valued in your setting? Is literacy a right or a privilege reserved for the chosen few? Are books and reading an everyday thing? Is it in the Dark Ages where knowledge was controlled by the Church? 
  16. Geography: How does the terrain influence the story? Is it set on a tiny island or in a desert or in Antarctica? The rainfall, the amount of sunshine and duration of the seasons will influence transport and clothing. 
  17. Water and resources: A lack of resources can be enough to drive your whole plot. Is there enough water or too much? Is the food running out? What happens when a country runs out of space? What laws exist to ration food and supplies? 
I have left a few blank squares for you to add your own ideas. This will vary from story to story, but I hope it will help you shape your story to create a complete world.

Happy Writing! 

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

 by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. What Fantasy Writers Can Teach Us About Setting
  2. How To Convey Setting In Dialogue - Without Sounding Like A B&B Brochure
  3. 7 Simple Things To Remember About Setting


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    Past Or Present Tense? Which One Will You Use?

    Different tenses suit different stories, certain genres, and various authors’ styles. The tense you choose should also suit the personality of your main viewpoint character. 

    The Past And The Present
    1. The past tells us what happened: I ached. She loved. You needed.
    2. The present shows us what is happening: I ache. She loves. You need.
    The past gives us some distance:
    The boy looked up. The girl with the butterfly tattoo on her wrist twisted on the lawn and smiled at him. Her hair spread out like spilt milk on the grass. He knew he loved her  and he did not care if she knew. He wanted to carve her name into the clear sky that framed the edges of the park.
    If you have a protagonist who thinks about what will happen next, who makes plans and considers risks, who is calculating, and driven by reason, the past tense would a good fit. Writing a story in past tense allows you to manipulate time, to reveal and to conceal events. 

    Past-tense fiction creates a more subtle kind of suspense where we may know the outcome of the story but we want to know how and why we ended up there. This is good for more cerebral, reflective characters. This example can be used as a memory, layered with knowledge of how the story ends.

    Great past-tense fiction allows readers who are more comfortable with the format to experience the story in a nuanced, thoughtful way.

    The present is immediate:
    The boy looks up. The girl with the butterfly tattoo on her wrist twists on the sun splattered lawn and smiles at him. Her hair spreads out like spilt milk on the grass. He’s lost and he knows she knows, but he doesn’t care. He wants to carve her name into the clear sky that frames the edges of the park.
    If you have a protagonist who lives in the moment, who is impulsive, foolhardy/brave, and driven by emotions, the present tense could be the perfect vehicle. The present lets the reader see the character's world in all its immediacy and allows him or her to experience the character's growth and dilemmas as they happen. 

    Present-tense fiction creates a kind of suspense where no one knows the outcome. The second example could be written as a memoir or a coming-of-age story. There is a sense of anticipation and excitement that is not there when we use the past tense.

    Great present-tense fiction allows writers to use texture - by truly engaging the senses - and explore possibilities, hopes, and fears in a uniquely present manner.

    Common Present Tense Genres

    Memoirs, Young Adult, Literary Fiction, and many of the traditional genres are also being written in present tense. 

    The present tense is edgier. The reader has to agree to live the journey moment by moment with the characters. There is no guarantee that the story will even have an ending. It is easier to use unreliable narrators in the present tense. Many readers are uncomfortable with present tense stories.
    1. Young Adult. It is accepted by younger readers and it is even the norm with many young adult readers. Examples: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner. This may have something to do with being brought up on a diet of television and film where everything is experienced with the characters.
    2. Memoirs. It is also effective with memoirs. Readers feel as if they are experiencing the writer's story in real time. The immediacy and rawness allows the writer to create intense emotional reactions in the reader.
    3. Literary Fiction. In literary fiction, writers like Hilary Mantel, Emma Donohue, and John Updike have used present tense to great effect. Examples: 
    • Wolf Hall won the Booker prize in 2009. Mantel says that she put the camera behind Cromwell’s eyes, and wrote it as she saw it. Many literary authors have done the same thing (David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Kevin Barry's Beatlebone) - writing about the historical past in present tense seems surreal and novel and seems to garner literary acclaim. 
    • Five-year-old Jack from Emma Donoghue's Room lives, as most young children do, in the present. It would have been difficult to tell the story from his viewpoint in any other way. 
    • In Rabbit, Run, John Updike said, 'I liked writing in the present tense. You can move between minds, between thoughts and objects and events with a curious ease not available to the past tense. I don't know if it is clear to the reader as it is to the person writing, but there are kinds of poetry, kinds of music you can strike off in the present tense.'
    Common Past Tense Genres

    You can use the past tense in any genre. It is the easiest way to tell a story, because it places it in a time frame. It has already happened and it gives the reader a sense of comfort that somebody has lived to tell the tale. Most of us, including many older readers, are happiest with this format.
    1. Typical Genre Fiction. Past tense works well for crime/thriller/suspense novels. Writers can use more than one viewpoint and manipulate time more easily. These novels appeal to a large audience and the majority of readers prefer reading in past tense.
    2. Children's Fiction. Children younger than 12 are more comfortable when they know that a story has already happened. Younger children find present tense stressful as they cannot separate fiction and reality.
    Viewpoint and Tense

    Sometimes your choice of viewpoint dictates your choice of tense. Stories can be written in first, second, or third person. Read my post, 10 Ways To Tell A Story - All About Viewpoint, to find out more.

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     by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

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    Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 3: Getting To Grips With Genre And Tone

    Welcome to week 3 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

    Goal setting
    1. Decide on genre
    2. Rewrite your working synopsis
    3. Exploring the mood of your novel
    Breaking it down

    Through the lens of genre
    You may have wondered when I was going to bring up the topic of genre. I deliberately left it until now, because I think if you focus too much on genre right at the beginning of the novel writing process, it can stifle the natural flow of your story.

    Yes, it’s great to have an idea of what type of story you’re telling from the start — but by working on your synopsis and character thumbnails, you’ll probably come up with some great unfettered ideas. Some may even suggest a different genre to what you had in mind.

    At the start of my story, I knew I was going to write a suspense novel but I need to sharpen my focus on genre. For me, the psychological element of a suspense is always more exciting that the physical element of it.  I love Eyes Wide Shut, the movie based on the story ‘Traumnovelle’, which explores sexual jealousy and fantasies. So I knew I wanted my story to have an erotic edge. However, I wanted it to play out like a thriller — with an element of pursuit.

    What genre most suits your story? How can you align your plot more closely to that genre? My story, at the end of the day, is an erotic thriller — so I felt it was lacking in menace. It needed more tension and suspense. That was something I needed to focus on.  This meant I had to relook at both the storyline and the characters, especially the antagonist.
    Bringing the antagonist from the edge … closer to your main character
    With this is mind, this week the task is to have another look at your working synopsis. Is there enough in it to satisfy the requirements of your genre?

    At this point, try to find three or four key scenes that if someone read just these scenes, they would immediately guess the genre. In the film Fatal Attraction, for example, Alex, the stalker, escalates her obsessive pursuit of a married man after he tries to rebuff her following their one-night stand. She fakes a pregnancy to get his attention, shows up under the guise as a potential buyer of his apartment to meet his wife, and even ‘kidnaps’ his daughter. (Oh, let’s not forget the bunny boiling!).

    These three scenes, on their own, show how she’s encroached on his life and is posing a threat to his wife and child — the two people he doesn’t want to lose. There’s a lot at stake for this main character.

    Of course, if we use this movie as an example, Alex as an antagonist is superb. Her successful career and casual attitude to sex hide her obsessive and unbalanced nature. She is not a stereotypical ‘vamp’: at times, we even feel empathy for her.

    This week look at your antagonist and try to flesh out elements of this character so that they will function better in your chosen genre. Then look at the characters around them — your lead, your love interest, and so forth — and see how you could make them more vulnerable to the antics of the antagonist, and also what strengths (hidden or otherwise) you could give them to stand up to the antagonist.
    The ‘feel’ of your story
    Every story has its own mood. How an author creates a scene, builds a character, the pace he or she uses to create tension or relief in the reader, their descriptions of setting — all these influence the tone of a novel.

    I’ll give you an example from the film world. The film Basic Instinct, a thriller, has a cool Hitchcockian style, with an icy soundtrack and a detached voyeuristic feel. However, if you read Joe Eszterhaz’s original script, he intended it to have a much rougher touch — with a Rolling Stones rock ’n’ roll edge. Not a single word of the dialogue or the plot changed from script to screen, but the director gave the film his own unique treatment.

    While plot is about story, genre is more about tone, I believe. This week you may want to write out a ‘treatment’ of your novel, much the way filmmakers do with a movie. What kind of tone do you want to create? What’s the mood or feeling you want to stir in the reader?

    Stephenie Meyer, I recall, used to create playlists of music while writing her Twilight series (I think Muse featured heavily). A good idea is to think of what invisible soundtrack you want the reader to ‘hear’ while reading the book — this will influence the tone of your novel.
    Timelock — 2-3 hours
    • 1 hour to rewrite your synopsis
    • 1 hour to rewrite your character thumbnails
    • 1 hour to write out the treatment (Optional)
    5 Quick Hacks
    1. Read a novel or two and try to isolate the three plot points, or three scenes, that are key to its genre.
    2. Make a list of your favourite baddies or antagonists — next to each name write down one or two characters traits that you remember about them.
    3. Imagine your main character and antagonist in two different locations at exactly the same time — describe how your antagonist would travel to get to your main character and why.
    4. Watch one of your favourite movies — pay attention to the mood or tone of the story. How was this achieved?
    5. Create a playlist of music that you think would suit your story. Listen to it while you write.
    Pin it, quote it, believe it:

    ‘Genre is a powerful but dangerous lens. It both clarifies and limits. The writer must be careful not to see life in the stereotyped form — but to look at life with all the possibilities of genre in mind.’ — Donald Murray

    Watch out for the fourth instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year next week.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


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    The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction - And Why They Matter

    What Is Genre?

    Genre is a style or category of art, music, or literature. As an author, genre controls what you write and how you write it. It describes the style and focus of the novel you write. It is the blueprint for different types of stories. 

    There are general rules to follow, for example, manuscript length, character types, settings, themes, and plots. For instance, certain settings suit specific genres. These vary in type, details, intensity, and length of description. 

    There are often sub-genres within genres, for example, a fantasy story with sinister, frightening elements would belong to the dark fantasy sub-genre.

    Why Does It Matter?

    Genres are great because they fulfil reader expectations. We buy certain books because we have enjoyed similar stories in the past. Reading these novels gives us a sense of belonging, of sitting down with an old friend and knowing we're on familiar ground. There is also a camaraderie between readers who follow the same genres.

    Writers can use this to their advantage because their boundaries are models on which to base stories. Genres reflect trends in society and they evolve when writers push the boundaries. Readers ultimately decide if the experiment has worked by buying these books. 

    The most important part of genre fiction, though, is that it fulfils our human need for good old-fashioned storytelling. We sometimes need stories we can rely on to blunt the harsh realities of life.

    17 Popular Fictional Genres 
    1. Romance. These stories are about a romantic relationship between two people. They are characterised by sensual tension, desire, and idealism. The author keeps the two apart for most of the novel, but they do eventually end up together.  There are many sub-genres, including paranormal, historical, contemporary, category, fantasy, and gothic. 
    2. Action Adventure. Any story that puts the protagonist in physical danger, characterised by thrilling near misses, and courageous and daring feats, belongs to this genre. It is fast paced, the tension mounting as the clock ticks. There is always a climax that offers the reader some relief. 
    3. Science Fiction. This genre incorporates any story set in the future, the past, or other dimensions. The story features scientific ideas and advanced technological concepts. Writers must be prepared to spend time building new worlds. The setting should define the plot. There are many science fiction sub-genres.
    4. Fantasy. These stories deal with kingdoms as opposed to sci-fi, which deals with universes. Writers must spend plenty of time on world building. Myths, otherworldly magic-based concepts, and ideas characterise these books. They frequently take cues from historical settings like The Dark Ages. There are also plenty of sub-genres here.
    5. Speculative Fiction. These stories are created in worlds unlike our real world in certain important ways. This genre usually overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.
    6. Suspense/Thriller. A character in jeopardy dominates these stories. This genre involves pursuit and escape. There are one or more ‘dark’ characters that the protagonist must escape from, fight against, or best in the story. The threats to the protagonist can be physical or psychological, or both. The setting is integral to the plot. A Techno Thriller is a sub-genre. 
    7. Young Adult. Young Adult (YA) books are written, published, and marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of 12 and 18, but adults also read these books. These are generally coming-of-age stories, and often cross into the fantasy and science fiction genres. YA novels feature diverse protagonists facing changes and challenges. This genre has become more popular with the success of novels like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and The Fault in our Stars
    8. New Adult. New Adult (NA) books feature college, rather than school-aged, characters and plotlines. It is the next age-category up from YA. It explores the challenges and uncertainties of leaving home and living independently for the first time. Many NA books focus on sex, blurring the boundary between romance and erotica. 
    9. Horror/Paranormal/Ghost. These are high-pitched scary stories involving pursuit and escape. The protagonist must overcome supernatural or demonic beings. Occult is a sub-genre that always uses satanic-type antagonists. 
    10. Mystery/Crime. These are also known as ‘whodunits’. The central issue is a question that must be answered, an identity revealed, a crime solved. This novel is characterised by clues leading to rising tension as the answer to the mystery is approached. There are many sub-genres in this category.
    11. Police Procedurals are mysteries that involve a police officer or detective solving the crime. The emphasis rests heavily on technological or forensic aspects of police work, sorting and collecting evidence, as well as the legal aspects of criminology. 
    12. Historical. These fictional stories take place against factual historical backdrops. Important historical figures are portrayed as fictional characters. Historical Romance is a sub-genre that involves a conflicted love relationship in a factual historical setting. 
    13. Westerns. These books are specifically set in the old American West. Plotlines include survival, romance, and adventures with characters of the time, for example, cowboys, frontiersmen, Indians, mountain men, and miners. 
    14. Family Saga. This genre is about on-going stories of two or more generations of a family. Plots revolve around things like businesses, acquisition, properties, adventures, and family curses. By their nature, these are primarily historical, often bringing the resolution in contemporary settings. 
    15. Women’s Fiction.  These plot lines are characterised by female central characters who face challenges, difficulties, and crises that have a direct relationship to gender.  This is inclusive of woman’s conflict with man, though not limited to that. It can include conflict with things such as the economy, family, society, art, politics, and religion. 
    16. Magic Realism. Magical events are part of ordinary life in this genre. The characters do not see them as abnormal or unusual. They are a natural part of the story. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a classic in this genre.
    17. Literary Fiction. This genre focuses on the human condition and it is more concerned with the inner lives of characters and themes than plot. Literary fiction is difficult to sell and continues to decline in popularity.

    Genre Changes

    With the advent of self-publishing and ebooks, these genre guidelines have become less strict. This is because a publisher does not have to produce thousands of physical copies of the book. However, if you want to publish traditionally, you should still consider genre requirements. 

    How To Become Generic 

    Isolate your target market, research it, and adapt your story if necessary. Look in bookshops – they are generic, sorting books into categories to make it easier for their busy readers to choose and buy whatever will guarantee them a good read. 

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

    Writing prompts are an excellent way to exercise the writing muscle. If you want to receive a free daily prompt from us, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the word DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to our mailing list. 

    Source for image

     by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

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    Don’t Follow the Crowd – 3 Ways To Build Your Own Genre

    A few weeks ago, a friend who is a social media editor, posted on Facebook that vampire stories are no longer popular — ghost stories are the new vogue. Great, you think. I’ll write a ghost story that’ll sell a million copies. By the time your ghost story hits the shelves, the fad will have exhausted itself and you’ll have missed the boat.

    Today’s fiction market is crowded and competitive. To stand out, you need to have a fresh, bold, or radical voice — and that doesn’t come from following the crowd. It comes from being a pioneer and being willing to risk failure.

    So how can you look at genre through a new lens?
    1. Dust off your reading history. List all the genres you loved in the past. Did you love family sagas? Or college romance novels? Maybe sci-fi? Why did you stop reading them? How can you make them relevant for today’s reader? Perhaps those college romances could deal with sex more honestly or radically. Maybe that family saga can be told from a teenager’s viewpoint as a Young Adult novel.
    2. Look behind the headlines. Topical news stories can give you great ideas for genre. What's going on in the world around you? What would a spy novel look like today — would it be less James Bond and more Julian Assange? Could a fantasy classic like Lord of the Rings be about a group of characters trapped inside a dangerous virtual reality game?
    3. Draw ‘em from a hat. Why not set yourself a challenge? Write the names of the last 12 novels you've read on slips of paper and drop them in a hat or box. Draw three at random and write a short 50-word synopsis for a novel that combines all three. Then draw three more … So maybe you'll end up with Raymond Chandler’s PI Marlowe taking on the role of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby with Daisy as the murder victim — only she’s the blond teenage boy in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and oh, just for fun, set the book in Berlin during WW2. Would that reinvent the lurid PI novel with a strong literary thread? Who knows? You won’t know until you try.
    The other route

    There’s a saying: If you can’t be first, be better. I guess that’s another way of looking at it. Let’s go back to that ghost story. Say you decide to write it and make it better than any of the other titles out there — well, a good story will always get you a readership. Cream, as another well-worn saying goes, always rises to the top.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

     by Anthony Ehlers

    If you enjoyed this post, read:


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    14 Points To Consider Before You Write The Ending

    The end is near

    Ending your story is often harder than starting it. You’ve made plenty of promises you have to keep. Let’s be honest. The most annoying / irritating / brilliant / devastating / terrifying / awesome thing about fiction is that anything, yes ANYTHING, can happen. I am a great advocate of ‘know your ending’, but keeping in mind that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. Here are some points to consider when you are planning the end:
    1. Don’t screw it up. Ha-ha. Yes, it is an actual rule. There is nothing worse than spending 300 pages with an author only to feel robbed.  We tend to spend hours, days, even months constructing the first part of our novel, but we tend to rush the ending. We want to ‘get it done’ or our deadline catches up with us then some of the careful planning gets lost.
    2. Do not introduce a convenient clue at the last minute. Set it up properly by going back to the beginning. If you can’t introduce the saving element sooner, can it. You need to find something that is already in the story to make it work.  
    3. Your hero needs to be the hero. This is actually an important rule for writing kids' books. Do not let an adult save the kid. The kid must save himself. The same goes for adult stories. Do not introduce some magic new character ¾ in to your story to save your hero. Once again, go back to the beginning. Your protagonist must get him/herself out of trouble.
    4. Theme and symbology. Repeat and conquer. Tie up your themes and use the elements/images that have come up in the writing. Repeat, but show the change. In White Oleander , Janet Fitch uses the image of a hand held up ‘to let the desert dryness lick through’. She ends it with a hand held against a frosted pane on the other side of the world. The same, but changed.
    5. The hero doesn’t have to win, but… It can’t always be cataclysmic, but it MUST still be good. Some books are gentler than others are. Some heroes don’t succeed, but they must still have gained or learned something that justifies the reader’s time. 
    6. A bit of mystery is good, but be careful of confusion. I love books that leave you wondering, but the 'WTF?' feeling is not good. There is a thin line between wonder and confusion. That said, your reader is not stupid. Don’t explain everything. You should have done that already, without explaining it of course.
    7. Genre makes a promise. Keep that promise. If you are writing in a specific genre, make sure your ending suits the genre. When you watch a comedy, you expect to laugh. When you watch a horror movie, you expect to be scared. That is genre and that is your promise. Do not fail. 
    8. Not too short, but not too long. Abrupt endings are fashionable, but give me something to work with. You know that feeling when you turn the page expecting, well, the rest of the book and there it is: The author’s note. And you think where did the rest of the book go? That said: Do not torture me with pages of conclusions and detailed descriptions of how happy or unhappy everyone is.
    9. There is no next book. I hate books that don’t end. Even if it is part of a trilogy, end the current story. If the villain lives on, I will be able to figure it out. See previous comment regarding reader stupidity. Even if the series continues, finish the current story. The hero and baddie will both be crippled and then they gather their strength to fight again.
    10. Don’t end on a sequel. Don’t start with the weather and don’t end with the weather. Especially sunrises and sunsets. I know I said symbology is good and Janet Fitch starts in the desert dryness and ends in cold, but spend some time thinking about this. Start with action. End with action. And stay away from clichés.
    11. Pace of the ending should suit the book. Some books meander like rivers, other crash like tsunamis. Try to keep the pacing of your ending in line with that.
    12. No loose ends. Make sure all the sub-plots and red herrings are tied up. It is not good when we get to the end only to remember that the love interest is still tied up in the jungle somewhere.
    13. Hope, give them hope. Sad endings are good, but try to give your reader hope. Even if the protagonist has an “I am not okay right now, but I am going to be,” epiphany, that will help.
    14. Write the ending first. I do not write in order. I have a plan so I can jump around without getting lost. Sometimes the ending is clear or I have a line of dialogue that would be prefect. I write the end so that I know where I am going.
    It can all change or it can stay the same. Write five different endings and see which one you like best. Happy writing.

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. If you want a full brochure with venue details, times, and costs, please email news@writerswrite.co.za

     by Mia Botha

    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

    1. Seven Ways Blogging Improves Your Writing
    2. Six Reasons To Use A Sub-Plot
    3. The Three Surprises You Need In A Story


      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

      Dare To Compare – 5 Ways To Check If Your Ending Suits Your Genre

      How will your story end? 

      Will someone die?  Will your heroine walk away from a bad relationship? More importantly, is your ending consistent with the genre you’ve chosen?

      I discovered a quick way to test your plot and put in forces that will make it stronger.  It shows you what has successfully worked for other stories and what could work for yours.

      It’s a catastrophe

      Say you’re writing a disaster or catastrophe story. Have a look at what happens in your favourite catastrophe films — and isolate what happens at the end. (Warning: spoiler alert)
      1. Titanic. After the doomed ship sinks, poor artist Jack dies in the icy water to allow upper class Kate to stay alive on a floating door. His self-sacrifice allows her heart to go on.
      2. Twister. Jo and Bill survive the final deadly tornado and prove that their research device is successful – they also manage to repair their estranged marriage.
      3. The Poseidon Adventure. A minister, Scott — who believes God helps those who help themselves — sacrifices his own life by keeping a valve door open to allow the remaining six survivors to escape the capsized ocean liner.
      4. Outbreak. Sam manages to stop a disease-infected town from being bombed by an obsessed army Major – he averts a mass-scale tragedy. He also reconciles with his ex-wife.
      5. Armageddon. Astronaut Harry stays behind on a space mission to detonate a bomb to destroy an asteroid on a collision course with earth. Before he dies, he gives another young astronaut his blessing to marry his daughter.
      What pattern emerges?

      Immediately, you’ll spot some similarities between these movies that you can use to help your own story.
      • Firstly, it seems that the theme of self-sacrifice seems to be used a lot in catastrophe stories. Is it possible to have one of your main characters give his own life to save others?
      • Secondly, it seems that a love story is a popular subplot in this genre. Is your love interest playing a big enough role in the story? Have you created a relationship storyline that will balance out the action of the main storyline?
      Avoiding the cliché

      Of course, you don’t want to create a weak copy of a famous storyline or fall into a clichéd denouement, but keep in mind — these endings are used because they work. This is where the hard yards start. Now you have to find a way to make your final story points stronger, fresher, and more surprising. This is where you brainstorm, throw ideas around, sweat and pray into the early hours of the morning — until you have what works for your story!

      Tip: You can do this exercise with other elements of the movies you choose — like the beginning or middle of a movie, or even the themes and types of characters.

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. If you want a full brochure with venue details, times, and costs, please email news@writerswrite.co.za

           by Anthony Ehlers

          If you enjoyed this post, read:


          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

          Why Revenge is Such a Brilliant Plot for Beginner Writers

          Source for Image

          If you’re looking for a plot for a first novel, I recommend revenge. 


          1. It works in every genre.
          2. It helps beginner writers focus on a story goal.
          3. It requires an antagonist - something most beginners ignore.

          If a character wants revenge it usually means that he or she is motivated to act. This is good. Reactionary characters are not interesting to readers, and they usually can’t drive a plot. It also means that something interesting has happened and that more interesting things are likely to happen. Revenge also builds a framework for a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

          Six Examples of Stories of Revenge:

          1. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Crime)
          2. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Fantasy)
          3. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Play)
          4. Carrie by Stephen King (Horror)
          5. The Iliad by Homer (Literary Fiction)
          6. The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith (Chick-Lit)

          Consider this...

          Because the hero’s quest for revenge often goes outside the limits of the law, you have to manipulate the feelings of the reader by letting the hero avenge an injustice. If you want your reader to empathise with a protagonist who seeks revenge, remember these three points:

          1. Your protagonist should be morally justified to seek revenge. He should have tried traditional, lawful channels before he resorts to vigilante tactics. 
          2. Show how the antagonist has destroyed the protagonist’s life in emotional and physical ways.
          3. Your protagonist should remember that the punishment must fit the crime. Don’t let him go overboard and become an evil creature whose behaviour is worse than the antagonist’s.

          Whether the protagonist succeeds or fails, the reader should feel better that he has at least tried to do something about the situation. This is cathartic for readers who often feel powerless in similar situations.

          If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

          Read more on plotting here: The Top 10 Tips for Plotting your storyPlotting a Series and Plot Builder

           by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on PinterestFacebook,  Google+,  Tumblr  and Twitter. 

          © Amanda Patterson


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