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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Verbeek

To write to genre or not

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

One whole summer holiday when I was about 15, I barely got out of my pyjamas (I remember they were bright yellow and very comfortable!) and just wrote and wrote and wrote. (There were interruptions to my writing – like hanging out the washing when my mother asked me to and going on obligatory family outings).

It was glorious!

I can’t remember which particular story I was writing at that time (I have a filing drawer full of stories I scribbled in my youth). I can remember I was intrigued I could create scenes, people, personalities, conversations, animals, movement and emotions simply by scribing different combinations of symbols (the alphabet and punctuation marks). More intriguing still was that my later memory and emotional reactions to the story were quite prepared to accept the imagined as "real".

For years I thought that was all there was to writing fiction – manipulating symbols to make real the unreal. About 15 years ago, I joined a writing group and, to my amazement, heard people talk about techniques for writing and essential components of stories, tropes and genres. I had had no idea that the authors of the books I’d been reading were (often) imprisoned by the requirements of “craft”.

Curious to learn more about the craft, I discovered that some writers deeply plan their stories and their characters, using words such as “needs” and “wants”, internal and external genres (such writers are known as plotters). I was (am) astonished to learn that it’s possible to obtain spreadsheets into which you can plonk words to “ensure” you have included all the “necessary” elements of a story before you begin to write the first sentence of the book. Some proponents of this technique even say that with a few “flicks” of an initial idea, a computer could write a good book.

Really? (or should that punctuation mark be an !)

morphing into the present

Reality check

Looking back on my reading history, I realise now that I usually stopped reading a particular author's books as soon as I uncovered the "formula" – that is,  the same basic storyline with just a change of character names (or same character different place) and actions  – well that’s no fun at all!


Wrong way for me to think about fiction, apparently. I've subsequently found that many readers actually like the same thing and that’s the whole idea of genre. Every genre has a basic formula and readers of that genre want to dip into that formula time and time again. Readers know their genre by type of cover, typeface, style of writing, the events and the sequence of events in the story, how much and what type of tenderness or violence is permissible, and even whether the story has a happy or unhappy ending.

Readers, it would appear, don’t like to be surprised. Readers like to escape but to safe and predictable places.

Well, it does occur to me that marketers and catalogers must be very relieved that readers are like that. It’s handy to be able to place books into sections marked thrillers, scifi, fantasy, romance, western and so on.

Though, Amazon has now developed so many categories (see above) that a person has an almost meaningless choice (if you really know what you want though – you choose the main type of category you want (e.g. women's fiction) and then navigate to the type of women's fiction you want (e.g. romance) and then further delineation (paranormal, coming of age, billionaire, reverse harem …). Fiction books that absolutely don’t fit into those categories go into "literary".

Even with all of Amazon's choice, I struggle to find a comfortable slot for "Songs of Si'Empra". Probably, readers are also puzzled because a number of reviewers remark: "Not what I expected..."; "This is different..."; "not generally what I read but enjoyed it ...".

In the first book, Skyseeker's Princess, what stands out is the central character “Ellen” and people recognise the world as a fantasy. Neverthelss reviewers are drawn to the characters. Nice too that there are some accolades with words such as interesting, unique, intriguing, amazing, new. This wordcloud changes quite a bit for the second book where the island (Si’Empra) becomes prominent and readers pick up a scattergun of different aspects of the book. Finally, in the third book, Ellen seems to take centre stage again but there is an emphasis that the (fantasy) book is part of a series.

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