What Is Genre?
It’s a category. In stories, they would be broken down into the type of story. Here are some examples:
1. Mystery – Something is out of place. A crime has been committed. A person is missing. A character or object suspiciously appears. Someone is not who they appear to be! Whatever the source of the mystery, it is a problem requiring detective work. The main character/hero/protagonist will be the detective and look for clues, interview suspects, and search until the answer is discovered.
To keep the sense of mystery, don’t tell the reader what is happening behind the scenes. Let them discover clues along with the main character. To keep your readers wondering and turning pages, use misdirection. Bring in something or someone who seems important but isn’t. Or someone who seems guiltier than they are! Your reader will sometimes guess correctly, sometimes be surprised, but they will be intrigued by the process. These false leads, or misdirection, are called “red herrings.” That term comes from when hunters would train dogs to follow a trail. They dragged herrings (fish) across the fox trail to teach hunting dogs not to be distracted by other interesting scents, but to keep pursuing the fox! Your reader doesn’t know which trail is the right one, so they are kept guessing!
Plot twists are a great tool for mystery writing. You were sure the story was going in a certain direction and suddenly, a new piece of information comes to light. What you suspected is proven to be impossible. Maybe your reader isn’t back to square one, but their curiosity is refueled! In the end, a good explanation of “who done it” finally comes out, and the pieces of the puzzle fall together.
You can go back to your draft and insert little clues that may help the detective, once you have figured out the end. Rewrites are as important as the first writing, and maybe more so! As you write your first draft, you are just thinking it through. Changes and modifications will bring your story together when you have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you.
Don’t make your clues too obvious, or give too much information early on. To keep a mystery a page-turner, let every chapter bring a new question that must be answered. You will want to “map out” your plot in advance of writing the story. There are way too many details in a good mystery to try to keep them all in your head while you write. Because it’s important that all loose ends are neatly tied up by the conclusion, you’ll need to be able to see what threads you’ve left for the reader. Before your final copy goes to the presses, be sure there are no questions left unanswered.
2. The Narrative may relate a personal story or be told as a biography of a real or fictional character. This can be as simple as what happened on a walk home from the park, afternoon tea with Grandma, or an adventure. It can take place in a police station or courtroom, a living room or a hospital emergency room; anywhere. This genre has many subcategories.
a. One is a “Coming-of-Age” story, where the protagonist goes from childhood to maturity through life experiences and lessons. It often involves overcoming a weakness from within that is reflected in a change in their character. Overcoming may take the form of learning to be compassionate to others, bravery in the face of fear, or finding that through hard work they can achieve what seemed impossible. There may be external victories but the key achievements in a coming-of-age book are the ones that happen in the heart of the main character.
b. Fables often have animals playing the part of humans. These are usually quite short and have a point that is obvious. Aesop is famous for these! Rudyard Kipling also used this method in his Just-So-Stories.
c. Parables use an illustration from life, even of inanimate objects, to teach a meaningful lesson. Jesus used these story-illustrations frequently, in the Bible. One example is the Prodigal Son. The young son didn’t want to submit to his father but wished to make his own way in the world. He left home with his inheritance and lived a wild life, wasting all his money. He ended up homeless and starving before coming to his senses. When the prodigal returned to his father to beg forgiveness he was welcomed home with open arms! This parable shows how we often make foolish choices, but that God, our Father is always waiting for our return, willing to forgive us.
d. Allegories are stories that can be interpreted to find a hidden meaning. Examples of allegory are: “A Pilgrim’s Progress,” by John Bunyan which is an allegory of the Christian’s journey to salvation, and “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis.
e. Satire is a type of allegory, but according to the dictionary, uses humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity, vices, or show corruption in government. An example of satire in literature is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Animal Farm by George Orwell.
f. Parody is another subgroup of the narrative genre that could be allegorical or a fable. Parody takes something that was already written and changes the story around for comedic effect. An example of this would be Shakespeare’s supposed version of The Three Little Pigs, as told by comedian, John Branyan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxoUUbMii7Q
3. Historical Fiction. While it could be argued that this is also a kind of narrative, it requires much more research to do. You will need to understand the times you write about. Your characters will need to act in accordance with the culture and speak as they would have in that time and place. Clothing, speech, and custom need to be consistent unless you have time travelers involved. Until you have familiarized yourself with the time, place of your story, and customs of that era, you probably shouldn’t write a piece of historical fiction.
4. Science Fiction and Fantasy can also be a mystery, coming of age story, romance, or action-adventure tale. Because Science Fiction or Fantasy go beyond reality, into different times and worlds, it is all the more important to create an emotional bond and common ideals with the characters. If the personalities of the main characters are too foreign, the story will not be relatable. If the players in your tale have personalities or issues that your reader can identify with, your audience will be able to suspend their disbelief at the peculiar circumstances and surroundings. Just remember to be consistent. As they say in theater, “keep in character.” The difficulty in these genres is creating a believable alternate world. It may involve studying science and technology or other ancient cultures and languages for inspiration. JRR Tolkien, who created entire worlds and new languages, was an expert in ancient language. In order to prepare for such writing, begin by reading books of the same genre to get a feel for what is needed. It is important not to copy someone else’s world too closely, so take notes of new ideas you come up with while reading. You can practice by writing shorter scenes and illustrating them. As you “see” your world unfold you can add more detail in the rewrite and add chapters.
In each of these, stories that create an impact and resonate with the audience contain universal truths. Hidden in the best stories, these gems are not expressed blatantly. The reader comes to realize these things, as if on their own. Allowing the reader to find the truth for themselves without preaching to them, has a greater impact. Universal truths will be evident in the plot and conclusion of the story. Look for themes that many can identify with. Examples are: Pain of rejection, hope, loss, desire to win and tenacity, overcoming, love returned and love unrequited, curiosity and fear – getting yourself in too deep and wondering how you’ll get yourself out again. Write from what you know and have experienced. It’s okay to weep over your writing or get angry at the characters as they play out. Laugh along with them, too! As Hemingway said, “Write one true thing.”