Ah, Genre. I look at genre as being kind of like cars. Take a BMW M5 and put it next to a Ford Focus. You can sit behind the wheel of either car and drive off. You are going to have different driving experiences but the basics will be the same regardless of which vehicle you are in. The same basic principles are true with Genre. Take a Western and put it next to a Hard Science Fiction. You can read either one, no problem. They are going to have different reading experiences but the basic rules of storytelling will be the same.
It doesn’t’ matter what your preferred genre is. Your job, as a storyteller, is to tell the best story you can. I tend to lean toward the Western genre myself. I don’t know why, but I like it and it mixes well with other genres I enjoy, like fantasy, and sci-fi. So I picked my genre, that’s great, but I still need to tell a good story with decent characters and an engaging plot.
Genre exists for a reason. Simply put, people like to read the kinds of stories that they like to read. Some like Western, some like Science Fiction, some can’t stand either one. It’s because people have genre preferences that mastering the rules of your genre is so important. You can have the best characters and the best plot and still manage to write a lousy story if you fall into, what I call, cliché hell.
The hero riding off into the sunset, saloon brawls, someone saying “draw” and a terror stricken kid standing in the middle of the dusty street facing a stampede are all things that can turn a good story into a real stinker.
In the interest of helping fellow writers steer clear of cliché hell, I’m going to give you the best advice you will ever get. Grab a pen and some paper and write this down:
Now underline it a few times and circle it.
Reading as much as you can in your chosen genre is imperative to your success within that genre. If you think you want to try writing in a new genre, for crying out loud, read some of its successful examples of work. In fact, read as much in that genre as you can. Don’t just dive in thinking “you’ve got this”, because I’m here to tell you, fans of your new chosen genre can spot a wannabe from a mile away. Nothing turns off a potential reader faster than a story written by someone who thinks they know the genre. It’s sort of like visiting a foreign country and putting on their accent. You just come off sounding foolish.
Now that I’m off my soap box, I’ll tell you something else for those of you wanting to truly master your genre. Don’t just read the best sellers, read some of the worst books too. Nothing pulls you from the quagmire of cliché hell faster than reading examples of what does not work. A book with lousy reviews is a great thing to read. Make a list of why you think the book failed and try to pinpoint what you specifically don’t like about it, because chances are, much of what you notice will be genre clichés. Stick your list near your writing space and as you edit your story, check to make sure you aren’t making any of those mistakes. Your readers will thank you for it and maybe you can keep cliché hell from claiming one more soul.
What are some of your favorite genre clichés?