Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Musings About Genres-Part 1

I have been studying my craft by reading within what I think is my genre, HISTORICAL WESTERN ROMANCE. The novel I'm working on is HISTORICAL. It is set in the WEST (okay, what was the West in the 1870s--Abilene, Kansas, plus part of it is in Indiana). And, it is a ROMANCE. But, I am not sure it fits in the HISTORICAL WESTERN ROMANCE genre.

It is important for an author to categorize his or her work correctly. People have certain expectations about their genres of choice. I recently learned of an author who was slammed on a bunch of reader reviews because her novel was billed as "inspirational." Several readers, I believe, interpreted that to mean it was a "Christian" novel. They indicated in some of the negative reviews that they gave the book low marks because they did not feel the book fit in the Christian genre. I don't think it fit in that genre either. However, it was a good novel with some interesting plot and character development. The lesson I learned from seeing that happen was this:

Be careful how I bill my novel because book reviewers can be vicious with their feedback if they think I have listed my book in the wrong genre.

I know that there are really only about 24 different basic plots. I think I have a list of them somewhere. No matter in what genre we writers write--contemporary romance, action-adventure, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, etc.--our stories will fit in one of those plot selections. What makes each story different and worth reading are the details. Oh, yes, the skill of the author plays a big role, too.

My novel is definitely not a mail order bride romance. I've read several of those lately. They are starting to run together in my head. The names and places are changed, but, with only a few exceptions, the plots are getting a tad too cookie cutter for me. Time for me to read something different.

Other examples of that genre I've read lately have pretty simple plots and are like pulling petals off of a daisy: Does he love me? Does he not? Does he love me? You get the point. I don't like it when that seems to be the beginning and end of the plot "conflict." 

Some of these novels read like they've been dashed off on the computer pretty quickly. I know about the "write your novel in 30 days" principle, but that is not me. Besides all the editing I do as I go, it takes me days, sometimes weeks, to do my research, set up my timelines or calendars and write up my character descriptions before I really get into writing my story. Thank goodness, I don't have much of a problem with writer's block.

Yes, my little contemporary Christmas feel-good novel I recently finished is only about 51,000 words. But, I get nervous when I consider reading a genre novel with stats that show well under 200 pages or 55,000 words. Some of the historical Western romance genre books I have been reading are not very long. That tells me the plot must be pretty simple if the story can be told in that few words. On the other hand, I'm worried my novel is going to be well over 85,000 words and maybe pushing 100,000 words. So, does my novel "fit" in this genre?

I've read some comments by historical writers to the effect that they don't like the history to get in the way of their story. I think on the other end of the scale. The main reason I like to read historical novels is to get a feel for the history, attitudes and the conditions in which the people of that place, time and society lived. To my way of thinking, if an author is not going to do the research and try to as accurately as possible bring in the history and social customs and conditions of a time and place, why not write that same story in a contemporary setting?

Maybe part of my problem is that I like to be educated as well as entertained when I read historical novels. I think a historical novel, especially, needs a little more setting development to give it substance for readers who may not be history experts. Maybe I'm over thinking things for this genre.

Okay, most blog readers, including myself, tend to have short attention spans and/or time restrictions. I will continue my musings in a future post.


  1. LOL...I had to laugh a bit when I read your comments about daisy petals. I'm working on the third book of my "Sunset" series, and the title is -- wait for it -- "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not"... but there's more to the story than the uncertainties of love. I'm not a fan of "short novels". Whenever I hear someone talk about their "book" and it turns out its 30-40 pages in length, I do a double-take. Forty pages does not a novel make, at least, not in my estimation. As a reader, I need time to get to know the characters, time to experience all the emotions involved in falling in -- and out -- of love. (Had to throw that one in). FWIW, my historical romances generally run between 90,000 and 100,000 words, and that includes the western-flavored ones in the current series.

  2. Aaargh! Typo alert and I don't see any way to edit it. That should say ...it turns out it's 30-40 pages... sigh.

  3. Interesting post, Robin. I also like novels with a little more thought than some of the current ones you can find out there. But some people write long and some short-- the less wordy authors can tell a story in fewer pages because of their style. While I might look at a Western Historical novel because I like the setting, and I love to read about history, I can also be flexible about my expectations, especially if it's a well-crafted story. That's more important than the "rules" for a particular genre.