Genre Studies

Another querying piece: how does a writer ‘decide’ upon a genre to follow?

In my (admittedly, fairly limited) experience, I can’t pick a genre before starting to write. Sometimes the genre is obvious: if there are dragons or unicorns you can be sure that the story falls under fantasy, should a spaceship ever pop up, well, then sci-fi it will be (hasn’t happened yet though, my mind tends to revolt at the thought of all the reasonably accurate science needed for time travel and space adventures).

Most often though, suspense blends with romance,  crime joins with ideas of an omniscient creator, and love stories merge seamlessly with history or horror or humour, crossing boundaries between genres, blending two, three or even four of them all in one tale – the story leads and all the author can do is follow, hoping to keep up with and contain the muse enough to direct the narrative into coherent cohesion.

The only real influence I have in a story is usually the initial inspiration. This can be an idea that occurs to me, something that happens to me or that I witness or a phrase or word that appeals to me. These spurs trigger a story and I generally begin with whatever inspiration I have: from there, the story can grow backwards, forwards and outwards. Often, that initial spark remains in the heart of the tale, but occasionally it becomes a throw-away side point and once or twice, that initiating kernel has been edited out of the finished story all together, no longer needed once the story has built itself into a strong, standalone edifice!

How do YOU get started with your writing? Is it strictly controlled process with a carefully detailed plan or like a wild garden: you fling the seeds out there and wait to see what blossoms? Let me know in the comments section below!

Reading to Write

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s brilliant ‘On Writing’, his memoir/ writing manual and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves King’s writing and to anyone who wants to write – it is a wonderful piece of text, one of those books that makes you want to grab your laptop or your pen and get some words on the page.

One piece of advice he offers is to write everyday. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me writing  is how I communicate best: I stumble over my words when I talk, go off topic or forget my best points (or they occur to me three hours after the conversation is over, when I have already ‘lost’…) Writing allows me to slow down my thoughts enough to express them clearly, it allows me to stick to my point (mostly! Those fascinating sidebars can be soooo tempting!), and it allows me to say everything that I want to say without interruption in a way that a spoken conversation seldom does.

Other people have told me that they prefer spoken interactions because they find trying to write down all their thoughts too irksome, they struggle to find the right word when it is needed, whereas in a spoken conversation they can rely on body language, inflection and intonation and a host of other physical and verbal cues to get their point across clearly.

When writing I find that I can almost always find the right word. That may sound arrogant but I will freely admit that my maths is crap, my history spotty and my geography decidedly unsafe (don’t get lost with me, I won’t be any help!) – what I can do is words! I am also a fairly fast typist, I can write pretty much at the speed at which I think – this is thanks to four or five years of churning out blog posts and Internet articles for clients through various writing sites: cheap and cheerful pieces at the very bottom end of the writing market. These pieces needed to be paced at about 500 words for 15 minutes in order to make a reasonable hourly rate – you soon learn to type fast and accurately when minutes are money! (With clients able to demand full – time consuming – revisions without the writer being able to object, you quickly learn to write as well as possible, and within their guidelines.)

The reason that I have a wide vocabulary is simple: I read. I read all the time. I learned to read early (at about the age of three, although my parents weren’t actually sure – they saw me sitting poring over books from the time I could hold them, but they only realised that I was reading the words, rather than studying the pictures, some time later!) and have read prolifically, mainly for pleasure, ever since. I am never without a book on the go, especially last thing at night: I don’t believe I could actually fall asleep without first reading a few pages.

I believe it is my reading habit (addiction?!) that has given me a great basis for my writing by providing me with the vocabulary and an understanding of what I like in a book: all I have to do now is build upon that base and learn to write half as well as my favourite authors!

To finish with, here’s a little drabble that I wrote earlier, I do hope you enjoy it: let me know in the comments?


‘I hate being late, you know.

I’m an old lady now, and everything is harder than it used to be: I can’t lift things so well, I don’t hear too good and my eyes aren’t what they should be.

People don’t notice me, either… Now I’m old I seem to fade into the wallpaper. Not like when I was young and vibrant, when I had a life.

Is it time yet? No? Alright then… But I won’t be late, I hate being late, you know.

I died yesterday. Memorial service later today…

Like I said, I really hate being late.’

What About ‘Me’?

This is just a very quick post, and it is more questioning than anything else. First person narratives are a bit like Marmite, people love them or they hate them (rather like footnotes, but that’s a subject for another blog!)

The advantages of a first person narrative are that they bring the reader up close and personal with the character, an intimate glimpse into the psyche and mind of the central pivot of the story. First person tells the reader exactly what the character’s motivations are and allows the character to accompany the narrator on the journey along the story arc. This makes for an exciting engagement with the tale.

The main disadvantage of a first person narrative is that it pulls the story away from the omniscient narrator: there is no way to let the reader know anything that the narrator does not know – without cheating anyway! This can lead to confusion and a lack of cohesion in the plot, unless very careful writing tactics are used. Another disadvantage is that first person accounts can be unreliable. How does the reader know that the character is telling the truth? (Short answer, they don’t, because they can’t!) The narrator could dissemble, lie and even deliberately deceive the reader, with the truth only being revealed after the reader has drawn their own (erroneous) conclusions!

How do you handle the first person narrative as a writer or a reader? Is is a good thing, in your book, or an irritation? Let me know in the comments below!