Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Operation Manuscript Fix - Genre

Well, after my little pity party last week, I’ve pulled myself together and I’m shaping up to perform some intensive surgery on my story. But before I snap on the surgical gloves and sharpen my scalpel, I’m taking a step back. A BIG step back.

See, I’ve been nose-to-the-windowpane with my characters and plot for a very long time, and it’s wrecked my vision. I can’t see the forest for the trees. And I’m not going to begin hacking away at my manuscript until my vision is 20/20.

Over the last few months I’ve had the uneasy feeling that something (many things) is not right with my book. That feeling has now become a fully-fledged certainty.

There are too many subplots, for one. It’s too long, for another. And for someone writing suspense, well, there’s just not enough of it. There are many reasons for this (being too long is definitely killing the suspense.) But I’ve decided my biggest problem is I’ve strayed a little too far from the parameters of the genre I’m trying to write, and this is not a good thing. It has to be fixed.

OK, yeah, I know this seems like I’m trying to write by formula. And it goes against one of the mantras repeated over and over to unpubbed writers - that what matters most is to write the story that is in you, crying to be let loose on the page. Whatever form or shape that story may take.

Now, there’s something in that. There’s no point pushing yourself to write something you don’t have a passion for – or at least a deep interest in – because your lack of enthusiasm and engagement will show through in the form of a flat, uninteresting, forced story, and you’ll be busted as a fake.

But passion is not the be all and end all. It’s only one of the necessary elements in the alchemy of producing a great, saleable, story. Writing damn well is another obvious element; and if you want to give yourself the best chance of snagging an agent and being published, I’d argue you can’t ignore the wisdom of writing pretty close to the parameters of your genre. At least with the first book you shop.

Why? Well, writing to genre makes your book so much easier for an agent to say yes to. They know the exact nature of the product they will then be flogging to a publishing house. No head scratching, no heart palpitations. And having a book that fits within a genre makes it much easier for a publisher to say yes. Publishers know that the vast majority of the book-buying public are creatures of habit. We like to know what we’re in for when we take a book home – romance, thriller, mystery, crime, chick-lit. Something that crosses over many, many genres … well, the “what’s this about” is going to be harder to convey on the blurb or the cover flap or the book review. That won’t make it impossible sell, but it will be harder. Especially if you’re a new, untested, author.

Now, I’m not saying you should avoid mixing genres at all cost. If that were the case, how boring would the book world be? It’s more that you should be aware of what your primary genre is, and try and make sure it gets the attention in your WIP that it deserves to ensure you give yourself the best shot at being published.

So, if you’ve written a multi-genre opus, do you slit your wrists now? No. Have another look at what you’ve got. Sure as eggs there will be one, maybe two, genres, which stand out above the others. See if there are ways to make them the focus, without compromising your story. (In fact, I’d bet the tighter you focus on them, the tighter your story will be …)

Of course, there are always exceptions to this norm. But not often, and especially not for newbie authors.

Anyway … what was my point? Oh yeah. In all my uncertainty about my book, I do know I’m writing suspense. True, I’m also writing historical fiction, but that does take a slight back seat to the suspense. And so, to help me pin point those places where I’ve gone wrong – and more importantly, how to fix them! - I’ve been boning up on the elements of suspense, its parameters and variations, in the hope that I’ll see where I’ve gone too far from the genre’s expectations.

Where I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque, instead of taking a right.

So, what makes a book a "novel of suspense"? How does suspense differ from its close cousins, mysteries and thrillers? Because there are differences, and they are important to know…

But not now. That’s for next week.

(Heh. How’s that for a little suspense?)


  1. I am in the depths of revision as well. Good luck to you. I am a fellow crusader and a new follower. Nice to meet you.

  2. Hi Rachel - looks as if we are in the same Crusading group :D

  3. Heylo fellow crusader.

    I can feel your pain a little. I went through that with my MS. I wanted to call it Urban Fantasy, but large portions took place in a historical setting. Then I was ready to call it Fantasy, until I realized it was more romance. The true vein of the story will always come across in the end.

    Hang in there!

  4. You're so right about stepping back. I like what you said about mixing have to find a spot on the shelf so anything too out there might have trouble finding an agent.

    Stopping by as a fellow crusader...following. =)

  5. Margo - nice to meet you, too. And always good to have company in revision-land. :-)

  6. Hi Trisha - hey, that's cool. I'm afraid I'm running a little behind in checking out the groups that Rach put together ... hope to squeeze that in this weekend.

  7. Tracy, thanks for the support. And yet another crusader blog to check out - yay!

  8. Raquel, nice to meet you! Yeah, unfortunately being "out there" and published, while not impossible, is rare. But from what I've seen, once you *are* published and have success with that, then there may be a bit more room to wriggle in terms of being experimental ... although that then raises the question of whether your agent/publisher will die of a heart attack if they decide your change in direction is equivalent to "fixing something that ain't broke" .. and so it goes on. :-)

  9. That's a great way of looking at it Rachel - I'm trying, a little, as I edit to do the same, but I really don't read much romance. Weird, huh? Since that's what I'm writing. I mean, I love Jo Bourne, of course, but the few others I've picked up here and there have been so disappointing (Julie Garwood, anyone?). Ah well, hope I can't go wrong just trying to follow Jo's example!

  10. Hi Rachel, I recently finished revising a novel which is now making the rounds of agents. However. I have a previous novel that I never could get quite right. As you said, I never could quite manage to see the forest for the trees. Every so often I get this overwhelming desire to go back to it, so I know I will one of these days. Good luck with the rewriting. I'm a fellow crusader from group 11, by the way. Sounds sort of ominous when I put it that way!

  11. @ Deniz - I highly recommend a good, long, marinading of your brain in your chosen genre. I'm doing so myself, and never has time spent reading been so guilt- free: "I'm not reading for enjoyment, I'm reading to learn!" LOL
    Jo's books are, of course, most excellent choices. And I bet there are others out there that tick the box for you. So go forth, and soak your brain!

    @ Charlotte - hey, nice to meet you, and congratulations on having a manuscript out on submission. Good luck with that!

  12. I wanted to comment on the subject of this blog entry, which I neglected to do before! Because I can very much relate to it. I have a contemporary romance...SERIES...but let's ignore that for now, I hear it's hard to get that sort of thing published. :D Anyway, book 1 - I had all this beautifully-crafted backstory, I LOVED IT, because it REALLY SHOWED HOW MY CHARACTER GOT WHERE SHE IS, it really explained WHY, and boy oh boy did you get to know her guts. (not literally) And now all that backstory is gone, because it was boring, because it was backstory.

    So yeah. :P

    I wrote all that stuff for my own benefit, for my own delight, and I sure did delight in it. But I feel like I can breathe a little easier now that I've cut it.

    It's still hanging around, of course. Just in the "discards" folder. ;)

  13. Trisha, that's absolutely my own experience; more words (most of them backstory) in the "cut" pile than in the manuscript itself (and many more to be excised, I tell you!) All necessary, though, in that journey towards writing a damn good book. Or so I hope. ;-)