Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fiction Genre and Reader Expectations by Nell DuVall

World traveler Nell DuVall has visited all the continents except South America and Antarctica. She participated in marine surveys and archeological expeditions in Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands, and Turkey.  

Train to Yesterday was her first published novel and When Lilacs Bloom, another time travel romance, debuted in April 2012. A science fiction novel was released in May (Beyond the Rim of Light by Alex Stone), and a murder mystery (Selvage by Nell DuVall) is coming in August. She has a book of short stories Teaching Man and Other Tales, a short story Deadly Valentine, and other stories appear in two anthologies. She also regularly reviews speculative fiction for SFRevu, mysteries for Gumshoe Mystery Review, and occasionally the Internet Review of Books under Mel Jacob. Alex Stone is the pen name of Nell DuVall and Steven Riddle in their collaborations of science fiction novels.

Her nonfiction Domestic Technology provided a chronology of household technology. A member of the Internet Writing Workshop, she administers the Lovestory list and co-administers the Nonfiction list. She also founded a small POD, Sprite Press, for illustrated children's books.


Fiction Genre and Reader Expectations by Nell DuVall

Regardless of the length of a fiction piece, it will fall into one or more genre categories. Publishers, websites, and bookstores use these for marketing the material to readers. Authors use them to appeal to websites, agents, editors, publishers, and readers. Cross-genre works, those involving more than one genre, are increasing in number and popularity. New subgenres and definitions for traditional ones change over time. Keeping abreast of the current works in a genre is essential before approaching a website, agent, editor, or publisher.

Writers have many options. Most writers choose the fiction genre they enjoy reading, although a few prefer the type they believe has the best chance of selling. In any case, the genre comes with certain expectations.

For romances, a happy ending is expected. Readers of romances, especially category romances (those published by Harlequin, White Rose Press, and traditional romance publishers) expect and demand a happy ending. Some romances may have an unhappy ending, but they usually are classed in women’s fiction or literary as a genre. Increasingly, romance publishers and sites, expect a strong alpha male and an alpha female to match him. Weak heroines are out. Inspirational romance have attracted a lot of attention of late where religious faith plays a major role.

Erotica is a subclass of romance, but focuses on depicting detailed sex scenes in various forms and with a wide array of partners such as male/female, females, males, and other mixtures. The focus is to titillate. Some have classed Fifty Shades of Grey as erotica.

In mysteries, readers expect a murder or puzzle to be solved and the perpetrator to be caught and punished. Noir (ala Maltese Falcon), detective novels, police procedurals, cozies (non-professional crime solver, e.g. Miss Marple, Cadfael, cats, dogs), and thrillers are some subgenres. Some mysteries include a romance, especially romantic suspense, but for mysteries isn’t the primary focus of the work.

Westerns are defined by setting, usually the western U.S. They may be historical, action oriented, romances, or many of the other genre categories.

Women’s Fiction covers issues of interest to and involving women. They may include a romance or not depending on the theme and intent of the author.

Historical novels take place in the past and demand the author know the history of the place and time they write about. They may also use real people as characters, but not all do. Some are romances. Time travel romances are considered as historical novels, speculative fiction, and romances.

Speculative fiction includes science fiction, fantasies, and horror. Science fiction should be science based, but some are science fiction fantasies with magic, vengeful gods, etc. Romance may or may not be included. Urban fantasies tend to be gritty in setting and in characters with “kick ass heroines.” Vampires, weres, witches, wizards, sorcerers, shape shifters, angels, alien species (to humans, elves, trolls, and monsters are aliens) are generally regarded as fantasies although stories with aliens most often are considered science fiction. Clive Cussler and Stephen King are masters of horror. In most horror novels the protagonist overcomes the forces arrayed against him. They may include monsters, demons, aliens, or any life form or thing focused on killing, destruction, or control.

Thrillers or men’s fiction (an older name for these works) feature a strong protagonist, male or female, who must stop something. It may be the destruction of the world or a country, an assassination, murder, theft, or a conspiracy. The stakes are high and time is a driving force. These may also be romances, mysteries, horror, or science fiction.

Literary is a catchall category for serious fiction. Flow and language are important as are ideas and the author’s philosophy. Some readers avoid literary novels as highfalutin and overly serious. Some literary novels are great reads, others bore many readers. Many of the classics are literary novels. Moby Dick is one example, so are most of James Joyce’s novels. Literary is the most flexible of all genres, but also the hardest to sell.

A few genres are related to specific age groups although any genre may have subgroups oriented to a particular age group such as “geezer” mysteries featuring an elderly person. The two largest are Children’s stories and Young Adults. Children’s fiction encompasses stories that appeal to a young audience and may range from the youngest through early teens. They often involve pictures integrated into the narrative. It’s a difficult market to for writers and artists.

The Young Adults genre has grown lately. Many are “coming of age” stories with a variety of settings such as historicals, mysteries, romances, horror, fantasies, etc. Relationship themes are common. The protagonist is usually a teenager.

Choosing the genre determines the nature and direction of the story, the characters, and even the ending. It also sets the contract with the reader and the likely ending. It is perhaps the most critical of the early decisions facing an author.

Searching the net will provide access to various definitions and descriptions of genres. One example is the post called "What is Genre Fiction?" at Write Anything blog.


Thanks, Mel, for joining us today. This question about genre comes up so often. Most recently I heard attendees at the Colorado Gold Writers Conference ask for definitions of women's fiction, literary novels, and urban fantasy.

To learn more about Mel Jacob/Nell DuVall and her books, visit her website. She can also be found on Facebook as Mel Jacob.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good descriptions of the genres. Although my science fiction isn't heavy on the science part.

Anonymous said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Mel.

Mel - Thanks for your insight on some of the different genres. I think it's interesting to consider too that there are lots of novels that don't fit squarely in one or another genre. Some of those novels can be really interesting!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Alex -- I love good scifi but am just as happy with character and action as I am science.

Good morning, Margot. The trouble with mixing genres when we write is trying to sell the idea to an agent or editor. I have one of those manuscripts (sort of historical/myster/suspense/women's fiction)and finding a home for it is proving to be a challenge.

debi o'neille said...

Lately I've been working on a literary novel revolving around the lives of a few young adults. So far, another writer who critiqued it, pointed out that the novel seems too serious for the young adult audience. Mel, your comment about the serious side of literary fiction makes me feel validated, that my intention is on the right track, but that I ran into a reader who was expecting genre fiction, rather than literary. Guess I'll go back to my opening and see how I can fix that. Thanks.

Susan said...

Thanks Mel, and thanks Pat for hosting this guest piece. I've had a lot of people ask me about this recently, and this is a great resource to steer them to!

PS - Pat, it was great to see you at the RMFW conference!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Debi -- I also think the genre labels are changing almost as fast as the rest of the publishing world...and that opens up new opportunities for all of us.

Susan -- I had a great time at Colorado Gold and loved connecting faces and names now that I've met so many more RMFW members through my blog and Chiseled in Rock. And thanks for sending those with genre confusion our way. We aim to help out wherever we can.

The Golden Eagle said...

Great breakdown. It's interesting how more novels are combinations of 2+ categories these days; there's a lot of room for unique stories by bringing together genres.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I know, Eagle...even the new sub-genres have sub-genres. It does make it interesting when we choose our next good read.

Lynn Proctor said...

thanks, lots of good information!