Why I follow my characters into a genre rather than starting with a genre and fitting characters into it.
This months IWSG question I decided to tackle rather than create a more diverse post. The main reason being, I’ve spent two and a half months writing a manuscript called “Black Marsh,” which is a sequel to “The Bequest.” The latter being about five chapters short of an ending, which is probably not the best way to pick up book two. It was, however, stuck and the prologue to the second one gave me an ending which I can now use to take the first to completion.
The question poised on The Insecure Writer’s Support Group page is this;
What do you love about the genre you write in most often?
For me this is a tricky question because I enjoy writing, and many of my manuscripts cross genres. Come to that many of them cross-link in the minutia between stories too, which is as far as I will let thing slip here #spoilers.
My personal favourite reading genres are horror, psychological thriller and epic fantasy such as Lord of the Rings, The Dark Tower or Game of Thrones, with my penchants well and truly stacked at LOTR and Roland Deschain… and yes I did like the movie, but fear it could have been so much more. I might explore that in another post because I’ve read so many bad reviews that I feel some were written by folk that maybe didn’t really know the books. In particular the towers exit at the very end.
I don’t actually start with a genre. My blogging community probably knows my work best fits horror, supernatural and psychological thriller. Actual manuscripts, which very few have seen thus far, might see another side. The point being, I start writing and get to know the characters, in particular the one(s) that will become the protagonists. once I am inside their heads I can find the best fit for their psychological profile. It allows me to see what might work best for them. and decide on an antagonist that might mess with them. This is my “get stuck in” approach and see what happens. Often I will put short story testers in posts and gauge the comment reactions. Although, in truth recent times have not seen a great many additions because I’m working up material that is queued.
Once the concept is spawned then the story arc forms and social media goes silent while I immerse into the fiction world and reality swerves to one side. I’m sure in most lines of work that would involve men in white coats and asylums. Authors get away with insanity. People nod and brush it off as some creative personality quirk, while we decide which book to kill them off in.
I suspect most of my tales use psychology as the backbone to collect reader identification with them. At least I try and achieve that objective. If I can get them to invest time into the character then they will care out the cliff they are about to walk off later on.
I feel my answer, to the now forgotten question resting above is, therefore, more about the character profiles and who they are, rather than the genre they are moving into. I enjoy the interplay of emotions, banter, problem solving and changes as the books progress. Often the outcomes are not happy for all, but that’s part of life. I feel if you craft characters well then following them is where my writing engagement flows from. That supersedes the genre they are put into. Moreover, they provide me with the genre best fitting them as individuals
I feel that same effort must go into both protagonists and antagonists, if they happen to be different individuals. If you can’t understand why the antagonist thinks they are, in their view of the world, the protagonist then it weakens their effectiveness. Both are foils to work against each other and I have as much fun creating the antagonist’s backstory as I do the protagonists.
If I had to pick a favourite then it would be psychological horror. Not gore and in your face, but gritty and drawing on the mental disturbance it effects in the protagonists. The scope is huge and with each new character comes a new psyche to get readers attached to before things go astray.
I’m a fan of ordinary people placed into extraordinary situations. An example is a betrothed blacksmith in a time gone by that finds trouble as he is about to ask for a hand in marriage.
This one I did run as a series (complete chapter) on my blog under the title;
This one I want to pick up and turn into a novel.
Another uses a research virologist that finds life as we know it on the verge of an apocalypse. Again this was a short story exploration into the impact of a new form of transmission fit for the modern age and technology.
Unfortunately this one stuck in a game over scenario after part two. During Black Marsh and inside some psychological turmoil I found a solution to this problem and may now pick it up again. This again shows how I work inside the characters to create the situations and how cross-linking can impact story progression in other tales.
I know every writer finds their own method. Exploring different ideas and systems can help find that narrative voice too. This is the beauty of ISWG, we are all in the same boat and throw out posts once a month for other writers to look at and, hopefully, see something they can be inspired by or think differently about.
That and get listed on the blog list associated with the group. To wit, there are some amazing writers blogs to visit and it would be churlish to pass up an opportunity to join in. The link is at the top of this post.
Its fairly tricky, isn’t it? You mentioned using psychology to collect reader identity. Sometimes that’s the best way to go. To the desensitized youths of our time, there is little to scare a reader that has sat through all Saw movies without cringing. Most writers aren’t psycologists, but we know how to use words to describe fear itself, and describing what is like to fear.
I fear mine will never see the shiny face of a press machine. There is no one or two genres to speak of, and that’s difficult to market. Publishers want to make money off you, off me, and it becomes difficult where to send that information for the most monetary return. After all, we don’t bring wine to a beer bust.
Very good comment and I’m with you all the way. It’s too easy to go full on gore, but for me that just doesn’t cut it. As you say, desensitising violence with in your face graphics doesn’t really leave much work for the imagination. I prefer inferred discord, trying to get readers to identify with characters that are pretty normal and then place them into an extraordinary situation. King does the same thing and talks about it in his book On Writing. I read that after doing a more traditional course that didn’t really match up with how I write. Reading that from a best seller validated my own version of what he was saying. Psychology here is more about people watching too. What do they say and do in day to day life, watching news and seeing how easy that manipulates peoples free thinking. A lot of that can be used to dig into fear. Moving into depression areas requires some deeper research. If you’ve been touched by it then it’s a write what you know thing. It adds value to psyches because you know what it feels like to face esteems gone wrong.
Don’t fear the publishing machines either. That world is changing rapidly now. Ingram Spark gives a huge market draw for almost no cost if you have cover art and .pdf files ready. Large publishers now run digital imprints too. Some use that to see if an ebook sells and then there is the possibility of being taken on by the publishing house for printed books. Kindle, CreateSpace and Smashwords offer POD. Obviously trad routes invest if they feel there is market appeal. Breaking in there is really hard nowadays…and takes time and perseverance. Just finding an agent is an endurance test. And that’s where Vanity publishers have spotted a market. Us. I caveat out some though, bigger players are now trying that alongside the imprints. Trick there is to consider on costs in editing, proofing, cover design, formatting. If you know those costs then you have some idea of a maximum spend with hybrid contracts.
I ramble here because I’ve run round in research circles, got very dizzy and fallen over in a heap of confusion 🤔
Maybe that is why I like your writing ‘style’…because (besides the horror-in-your-face) I read many genres and I like that you cross more genres than one in a story.
Another favorite writer, Richard M. Ankers once stated he hates genres, or at least being put in a specific genre-box. If I remember correct, because it somehow limits/bounds a writer.
Favorite authors Preston&Child, B.C. Schiller, Alexander Hartung, Tanya Cliff…to be honest, no idea what genre they write.
So, I think as a writer it is wise to not restrict yourself and being to hung upon a genre to much. On the other hand, maybe for selling reasons he/she should?
Thank you Patty. In truth I was expecting a lot of comments saying why writers should stick to a genre in a book. The one thing that makes approaching agents and publishers hard is their insistence on categorising the novel. Give it a genre so we know how to handle it or process it to the right person. Standardised courses also say genre this it that and yet I write about ordinary people placed into extraordinary situations. Do I walk down a street and start people watching slotting them into genres? No! I empower the characters to walk in their worlds the way that is natural to them (hopefully) and that is why they cross boundaries. Force fitting simply doesn’t work for me.
Re selling and marketing…again you hit it. Bag and tag is easier. I think publishers are seeing that newer writers want to cross boundaries though. I think that’s more positive and progressive. It, hopefully, gives more realism or character identification and let’s them think more. Of course that could be me merely describing what I like to read!
This is why Richard hates ‘genres’ too, I know remember 🙂
Or wishful thinking? hihi
But seriously, you (and Richard) have valid points…so keep doing what your doing and we blogging readers, well at least I will, will keep promoting you 😉
Wise or not, I don’t think my narrative voice will suffer changing into stiff criteria. Write what you know is what they also say, so verily I shall continue!
Thank you Patty and I’ve just saved a draft press of your post to schedule later in the week. Will let you know when it’s ready 😊
Character first is good, I think, even if the inspiration for the piece comes from a situation. Readers might be attracted to the book for the plot, but they stay because of the characters.
Thanks April, I start from a readers perspective. What do I like in a book and why do I like particular authors. Keeping that in mind as a writer helps to try and remember why I read. Character development is the bit that people tend to grab onto, invest time on and start caring what happens to them. Get that wrong and a brilliant plot never gets read. Although…that’s clearly my view on what I read 🙃
I didn’t know about the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I’m doing a post on Writing Groups so I appreciate the information. Off to stumble!
Hi Janice, the link updates the question once a month. That’s just an idea, those involved are free to contribute anything positive that helps writers. The only criteria is using their hashtag on the first Wednesday of every month. Commiting to that allows entry onto their #ISWG blog list so we can all link up. That can also be accessed via the link too.
Thriller, suspense, horror all seem to be rolled up into your stories that you post.
Thanks Jennifer, it’s something I don’t really think about too much when writing. I tend to just flow with where the characters lead. If I try and force direction then it’s really obvious and flawed. Really appreciate your supportive words!
“I feel my answer, to the now forgotten question resting above is, therefore, more about the character profiles and who they are, rather than the genre they are moving into.”
This reader, and I’m sure others, are appreciative of authors and writers who do this. 🙂
Thanks you for validating my ramblings Kelsey. Well, my reading too because one thing that makes me turn off are characters forced into boxes they don’t want to be in. Which is why I write what I’d like to read 🙂
Just out of interest Gary, have you read much of Robin Hobb, whom I would classify as epic fantasy. I read her Liveships Trilogy recently and thought they were up there with Tolkien, to be honest. Just interested …
Talk about coincidence Denzil, I ordered book one of The Farseer Trilogy yesterday. The reviews say pretty much as you too so I wait with baited breath and will let you know what I think 🙂
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this trilogy Gary. I am reticent to read this trilogy just in case it doesn’t match up to what I considered the excellence of Liveships. Maybe I’ll wait and see what you think of it first!
I hear you Denzil. Often hard to read something you find good and then chase other books that don’t live up to expectation. I just started with the first book listed in the bibliography. Have to finish I Am Pilgrim first. That’s definitely out of my normal genre, but something I need to do to widen my genre ideas.
While I also write cross genre, I don’t write horror. But, I enjoy a good psychological thriller.
Wishing you all the best in your writing.
Pat G @ EverythingMustChange
Thanks Pat, really appreciate the postive thoughts and peace be with you too!
You’ll probably like dark fantasy too 🙂
Good point and quite correct too. Must add some into my TBR pile as part of my GoodReads challenge 😊