From romance to science fiction, every genre has its own set of conventions and tropes and it helps if the writer is familiar with them, as readers have come to expect them. Now, some would say you need to forget these writing conventions, that they make stories far too predictable. Today, I am going to share my thoughts and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Let’s dive in!
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Everyone who picks up a mystery expects a mystery. There are clues and hints at the truth, and there are red herrings that distract from the truth. Yes, there are more unique elements to the story to make it more than just that, from the characters to their interactions, but a reader picks a mystery off a shelf because they have certain expectations of the story.
The same applies to any other genre, even general fiction where pretty much anything goes; a reader will expect that much.
Yet, we are often told that the best stories are the more unique stories, which is why when we write a certain genre, we look for opportunities to go against the grain. In most cases, this means altering the plot to surprise the reader or creating a combination of characters that captures the reader's attention. Other writers take it further, altering the genre they have chosen, creating a combination of ideas that keeps the reader guessing as to what happens next.
I believe the topic stretches beyond the genre to the plot type as well, which is why so many stories have the genre as a backdrop to the story itself, but really it is another genre. Another interesting combination that helps them tell a more unique story.
However, despite the desire to create a unique story, most writers will write something that fits that genre well. Their chosen genre will influence the choices they make when planning and writing their novel, so it is easier to adhere to certain conventions common to that genre.
The only difficulty one might have when working in a certain genre is when one is unsure of the kind of story one wants to tell. Many writers look at the setting to help decide their genre. For example, if the story takes place on a spaceship orbiting a strange planet, it must be a science fiction novel, right?
However, if the plot is a deadly alien picking off the crew one by one and the protagonist needs to stop it or escape, then what you actually have is something akin to a thriller/horror. Yet, if you have planned and written your horror novel following science fiction conventions, then you might have a strange mess of a novel that doesn’t realize its full potential. Look at the story you want to tell first, figure out which genre fits in that respect, then look at the popular conventions or novels associated with that genre to help you better research ideas for your novel.
I believe that it is a good thing to let the genre influence the writer to some extent.
Obviously, I don’t want the writer’s imagination to be completely controlled by cliche ideas popularized by their chosen genre, but I believe that writing a novel that fits their chosen genre well is not a bad thing. The desire to create unique stories often leads to poor planning and bad storytelling, as many writers try to circumnavigate expectations to create something ‘unique’.
Yet, there are so many elements of storytelling that are commonplace for a reason, from story structure to coherent dialogue and logical plot points.
Too many writers believe that the uniqueness of the story is its greatest selling point and that the predictability, or the tropes they use, bring the story down. If that were the case, many of the most popular books in genres today would have failed. The stories they tell are not anything new, and neither are the characters, but when a writer tells a story well, all common story elements are immediately forgiven or even ignored.
The best writers know that every story has been told several times before, but most readers have not read them all and even then, they have not read yours. There is always room for an interesting story, even if there are similar plot points out there.
Besides, a decent understanding of your genre is just as important as a decent understanding of your target market. All this research helps your planning, your writing, and your marketing. To back away from popular conventions for the sake of uniqueness is, in the business sense, a bad move.
The reader’s expectations are often best fulfilled, as what they expect is often exactly what they want. Most readers expect the hero to win because they want the hero to win, which is why so much fiction ends that way. If one is aware of what a reader might expect, one will have a fantastic idea of the kinds of stories a reader would like to read.
Finally, to cap off what I believe to be very logical arguments in favor of genre influence, let me just say that there are many great elements in every genre. I believe that the best novels contain the best elements of their respective genres. If you have enjoyed a novel in your chosen genre, you are certainly free to take inspiration from that novel when choosing elements that you not only enjoy reading but enjoy writing as well.
Like with all my Writing Thoughts posts, these are just my opinions and I encourage discussion. If you disagree with anything I have said, I would love to hear why. Do you believe genres should influence the writer’s choices? Should the reader's expectations be fulfilled or circumnavigated? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Also, if you want to hear my thoughts on any other topic related to fiction and fiction writing, let me know as well. I create a new Writing Thoughts post every week, so you might see your suggestion very soon!
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight, and happy writing!