advice, writing

Genre-Neutralizing Your Writing

Today I’m going to discuss a concept that can be very useful for those of you working on a novel, book, short story, or any other fictional piece (while this tip may be useful for non fiction writers, it is much easier to apply to fictional writing).  Today’s writing tip is on genre-neutralizing.  While this is not a very well-known or common topic among authors and writers, I feel that it is a very important skill to have when writing fiction.  There are several reasons that genre-neutralizing can be useful, and I would recommend that you keep reading if you:

1. Are struggling to create rising action/excitement in your plot

2. Want to attract a diverse and wide audience of readers to your book

3. Want to avoid traditional genres

4. Are having trouble categorizing your book within a traditional genre

5. Want to encourage readers to connect and relate to your work

6. Want to incorporate more characters into your plot

If any of the above reasons describe your situation, this post is definitely for you.  We will be discussing exactly what genre-neutralizing is, how and when to use it, how and why it will help your book in the long run, and why it’s important for fictional writers.  We will also be incorporating very successful fictional books into our discussion to give real-life examples of genre-neutralizing.

1. So What Exactly is Genre-Neutralizing?

When define most simply, genre-neutralizing is writing a work, novel, book, etc. that does not it into a traditional genre such as fantasy, romance, science fiction etc.  However, genre-neutralizing is actually much more complicated than that, as most authors that use genre-neutralizing to their advantage are still placed into a genre.  For example, let’s take the very popular, best selling Hunger Games series.  According to the labels these books were labeled as Utopian and Dystopian fiction, Adventure fiction, Science Fiction, Drama, and Action fiction.  However, for those that have read the books, we know that there are aspects of fantasy, science fiction, romance, humor, and children and family in them as well.  Therefore, I would say that The Hunger Games has something I like to call layered genres, meaning that although the books are still placed into a few different traditional genres, they also have significant aspects of other genres within them.  While the term layered genres falls under the heading of genre-neutralizing, it is slightly different, and, often, more beneficial in fictional writing.

2. What is the Difference Between Genre-Neutralizing and Layered Genres?

True genre-neutral works are very rarely seen on today’s shelves.  This is mostly because almost all books, whether they are genre neutral or not, are given a genre for convenience and organization.  However, if a true genre-neutral book were to exist, it would be a book in which multiple genres are equally incorporated into the plot, and it therefore cannot be categorized.

Genre layering, however, is far more common and is mostly what we will be talking about today.  The difference between genre-neutralizing and genre layering is that while genre-neutral books incorporate all genres equally, genre-layered books typically have a few main genres and then incorporate sub-genres into the plot.  Going back to our example of The Hunger Games, Utopian and Dystopian fiction, Adventure fiction, Science Fiction, Drama, and Action fiction would be the primary genres, while the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale would serve a sub genre of romance.  This book also has a slight humor genre that is seen through the consistency of the cat’s survival and the character of Haymitch.  These subtle genres mixed in throughout the story, allow for genre-layering and also help to attract more readers to the work.

3. When and How to Use Genre-Neutralizing or Genre-Layering

As a fictional writer, your book will most likely be given a genre the second it appears on shelves (as I mentioned earlier, this is typically for organizational or labeling purposes).  Therefore, I would recommend you genre layer more often that you try to genre-neutralize.

So, when should you genre-layer, and how will it help you?  As we answer this question, let’s refer to the initial list of problems that can be solved by genre-layering:

1. Are struggling to create rising action/excitement in your plot

  •      Genre-layering is great for this because adding random genres into your writing is a great way to add excitement and plot twists.  For example, if you would consider your plot to be driven mostly by violence so far, or if you are writing a war novel, I would recommend adding in an event that propels that plot through love (romance sub-genre) or the promise of eventual piece (utopian society sub-genre). These two sub-genres not only mix well with a war book, but they also would both add a twist into your plot.  You can also use both of these sub-genres as ways to create more plot twists and incorporate more sub-genres.  For example, you could incorporate a sub-genre of poetry through your sub-genre of romance by adding in letters or poems from a girlfriend/boyfriend back home (if you’re still going with a war book).  With the utopian society sub-genre, you can create this vision of a perfect future that incorporates and highlights a current dystopian sub genre.  Adding in sub genres is also an excellent way to give your book multiple, prevalent themes and ones that can be added to through various characters and plot points.

2. Want to attract a diverse and wide audience of readers to your book

  • Adding sub-genres is going to attract a more diverse audience to your book because it will allow readers that enjoy different genres to enjoy your book.  A recent survey done by Statista, lists the top genres in the United States and ranks them based on the genres that are read the most often.  Based on the survey, it is easy to see how incorporating multiple, leading genres into your book can attract a more diverse reading community, and encourage various audiences to check out your writing.  When readers feel that they will enjoy your book, they will be more likely to read.

3. Want to avoid traditional genres

  • Some writers are very adamant about wanting to avoid traditional genres, and I must tell you: even if you genre-neutralize, you are still going to need a genre.  Publishers look for a genre, bookstores look for a genre, marketing companies, advertisements, and promotions all need a genre.  Therefore, your next best bet to not having a genre is to genre-layer.  While your book will still have a traditional genre tied to it, a diverse plot filled with multiple genres will typically allow for several main genres to be attached to your story, and your writing will still attract the diverse audience you are searching for.

4. Are having trouble categorizing your book within a traditional genre

  • So, you are trying to categorize your book.  You want to give it a genre, but you aren’t sure what fits best.  You also feel that giving your book a genre will help you write it because it gives you guidelines.  First, my advice to you is to not let the genre of your book limit you.  Just because you are writing a horror story does not mean that you have to eliminate all aspects of drama, satire, or any other genre from your plot.  Therefore, do not force yourself to categorize your book so that you can write based on that.  While I do agree that finding a genre is important, you should focus more on writing and then picking your genre.  Then, while writing, focus on incorporating multiple genres, knowing that this will only improve your book’s plot and audience.

5. Want to encourage readers to connect and relate to your work

  • I cannot stress enough how important it is for readers to feel connected to your book.  Everyone wants to write something that will convict emotion, make readers recall something, or force someone to keep reading.  Mixing various genres into your writing can help with this, especially if you are fantasy or science fiction writer.  While stories that are entirely fictional are great for stunning the imagination and visuals, adding a little bit of reality into these plot makes them even more interactive.  For example, let’s take a look at an older book: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (there is a remake of the 2003 movie coming out in March, and I’m hoping it does the book justice).  While this book is entirely fantasy, it is also entirely driven by reality.  The plot of the story is propelled by the desire to return to reality from a world of fantasy, and this is partly what intrigues readers and puts them on the right side.  Since readers can connect with the idea of reality, they want the characters to return from the fantasy world, and they therefore feel more pain when this process gets delayed, feel more adrenaline when the characters overcome obstacles to fight for reality, and feel more joy once the characters finally return home.  Adding in sub-genres or themes of reality really helps readers to connect and relate to your story, and this is a vital thing when writing fiction.

6. Want to incorporate more characters into your plot

  • Let’s say you want to add more characters into your book.  Maybe you have one or two, but you want multiple characters to be involved in the plot.  Well, as it turns out, this is actually a very good way to add sub-genres and themes to your writing.  For example, take the Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R. Tolkien.  These books begin with very few characters, and focus on Gandalf and Frodo in the exposition.  However, as the story develops multiple characters enter and exit, each adding a different theme or sub-genre, and each one making an impact on the reader.  For eaxmple the relationship of Samwise Gamgee and Frodo, promotes the idea of friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice throughout the story, as Samwise consistently sticks by Frodo’s side and ultimately ends up risking his life many times in order to protect Frodo.  These two characters add something to the story that was not there before, and connect with the reader so that he or she can almost feel the pain in Samwise’s sacrifices, and can relate to the friendship between the two hobbits.  Another character that incorporates a theme is the Gollum.  His odd likeability and obsession with the ring promotes a sub-genre of his current dystopian state and his once existing utopia when he had the ring in his possession.  Overall, many of the characters and relationships built throughout the trilogy promote many different themes and sub-genres.  Aaragorn promotes the sub-genre of action and adventure and romance, Legolas promotes the idea of friendship, loyalty, and protection, and Saruman promoted the sub-genre and theme of betrayal, evil, and war.  When trying to create more characters, my advice is to first decide on a sub-genre or theme you’d like to add.  Once you have figured out where you want your plot to go, then create a character that will help you get there.

 

***That’s it!  I hope you guys found this post useful to your writing process.  Feel free to share in the comments how you incorporate different themes/genres into your writing or how you go about solving some of the problems we talked about.  Once again, I do not know everything, so I’m going to post a few links below to blogs and sites that I found useful in writing this article.  Thanks so much for reading!***

 

Links:

The Secrets of Writing in Multiple Genres

The All-Important Link Between Theme and Character Progression

Sub-genre Descriptions

 

 

 

 

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