Again, because of thanksgiving, I'm reposting an older blog. This one from 2011. But when I read it, I thought, sheesh, this is really relevant...esp in these days of self-publishing. So wish me a happy day off and enjoy....
Genres, Sub-genres and Hybrids (oh my)
Sort of like lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
At the beginning of my Story, Theme and Idea workshop, I have each attendee condense his or her next book idea to one paragraph. Then I ask them the following five questions:
1. Is your paragraph clear. If it isn't, try again. Cut out all extraneous explanations and get right to the point. What's really going on in your story? Is it a bodyguard story, an older man/younger woman story, a mystery, a thriller? If it is, just say that!
2. From this paragraph, can I (or could an editor) tell your story is interesting, consistent, credible and compelling?
3. Is something -- strong conflict, compelling goals, gripping motivations -- "missing" from your story?
4. Could you add something to your summary that might shoot your story idea over the moon?
5. Should you rewrite your paragraph to incorporate the shoot-over-the-moon idea? And if you did, could you see yourself changing your book to match the new story summary? (Just in your head! Never start rewriting until you've tested things out first in a storyboard, story summary or with a could, might, must and should list!)
Okay...If you read all of those with your current story in mind, you were probably fine until #4...THE SHOOT THE STORY OVER THE MOON IDEA.
There's a lot, lot, lot we could talk about in terms of finding an idea to shoot your story over the moon, but for the purposes of today's blog GENRES, SUBGENRES AND HYBRIDS (oh my), I'm not going to tell you how to get these ideas. But rather, I'd like to talk about when a shoot-a-story-over-the-moon idea is good and when it's bad.
Bad? A great idea can be bad?
Yes. All because of two little things called genre conventions and reader expectations.
Oh, and did I mention that these shoot-the-story-over-the-moon ideas might be either why you get published or why you don't?
Lots to talk about.
Okay, so let's start with genres, subgenres and hybrids. In Susan Meier world, genres are obvious: Mystery, Suspense, Romance, Thriller, Sci Fi, Western (etc.)
In Romance we have tons of subgenres. Romantic Suspense, Romantic Mystery, Sci-Fi Romance, Romantic Thrillers, Traditional Romance, Sweet Romance, Medical Romance, Small Town Romance, Paranormals, Regencies...you get the picture. (Mysteries, Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Westerns [etc] also have lots of subgenres or types.)
These subgenres actually came about because somebody was bold enough to write a HYBRID.
Simply put, a hybrid is a combination of two things that create a third. Romance with Suspense = Romantic Suspense. If that third thing catches on with readers, it becomes a subgenre. Publishers even push this. (Taking advantage of the excitement over a new thing, they publish lots of that thing until it becomes a subgenre or sadly fizzles from oversaturation.) [By the way, I'm not talking fancy here. Just down to earth so you "get" what I'm saying.]
So it almost seems that we're saying if you want to become wildly successful write a hybrid.
Yes and no.
Hybrids are fun. They are fun to write. They are fun to watch when they come out to see if readers love them ... or to see if they create a new subgenre. But hybrids are hard to shelf. And before the days of over-the-top self-publishing, lots of publishers didn't want to touch them. Why? Just because they are hard to shelf? Yeah. Basically. Except there's another bugaboo in there. YOU may like the combo you've chosen, sweet paranormal romance...but will anybody else?
Sexual tension, sexual curiosity, great sex and general weirdness [read: great imagination on the part of the writer] typically sell paranormals. Readers of "sweet" romances generally don't like weird or unusual things. They want the writer's imagination spent on unique twists of their own particular subgenre, not weird things.
I can't see a true "sweet" romance reader liking a true paranormal. And if you water down the paranormal aspect of your story enough that it's a "sweet" romance, then I can't see paranormal readers liking it. And if you don't water down the paranormal elements, then you don't have a sweet romance.
Get the picture?
So, writing hybrids is fun, but you can't say for sure your particular hybrid would hit a mark or find an audience...At least not one big enough for traditional/legacy publishing. Which means you might make some money self publishing but I think that's another blog! LOL
So when does a hybrid catch on?
When you mix the right two genres (obviously) but also when you target an audience and reach them.
What do I mean? Years ago, I wrote a book called IN FOR LIFE. It was a romantic suspense written for Intrigue. Intrigue is a category romance line. So my first responsibility (yes, it is a responsibility) to readers was to give them a category romance. I had to hit all the conventions of a category romance to satisfy readers and I used the suspense of the story to further the romance. Why? Because it was a category romance. I was writing for category romance readers so I was pleasing them. Plus, it was a nice [easy, fun] way to up the sexual tension as well as the general tension of the story.
The suspense and the romance drove the story equally. The suspense and the romance braided together. Each impacted the other.
I did my job by knowing my audience and giving category romance readers what they wanted, even though the suspense played as great a part in the story. Now, the book might not have pleased straight suspense readers as much as it pleased category romance readers. But I was writing for category romance readers. It was my job to please them.
And that's another risk of a hybrid. You won't necessarily please all the readers of the original subgenre. But the interesting thing about romantic suspense is that, if written well, most romance readers will love you.
So the trick to writing a hybrid is to pick an audience and speak to them.
But that's also the trick to writing a category romance, building an audience and becoming successful. It's also the trick to writing a great single title romance, building an audience and becoming successful. It's also the trick to writing a great ANYTHING and becoming successful.
And it's also why you can write a truly WONDERFUL story that doesn't get bought.
And here we come to the point of today's blog.
Lots of people can and do write fantastic stories that are never bought or don't find an audience because whatever they chose to shoot the story over the moon shot it right out of their genre's, subgenre's or line's conventions.
Remember our sweet paranormal? Hard to please those two groups of readers in one story. But it's also difficult to please readers if you have graphic murder scenes in a sweet romance. Or not enough romance in a romance because your external story was so good you focused on that instead of the hero and heroine. Or too much romance in a straight suspense or mystery.
So when you're coming up with your idea, you have to be aware of your genre's conventions. Will what you're considering to shoot your idea over the moon actually shoot it out of contention?
Hum...something to think about!
If your publicity material says, my book will appeal to EVERYBODY, I cringe. My mother does not like romance novels. [Sad for me, huh?] She will tolerate a romance [like in a romantic suspense] but it had better take second place in your story and not be too sappy. If you appeal to her by watering down the romance or not having a romance, then you're not going to appeal to me because I only seem to like books that have romance in them. And I want the romance in front. Most important. With a nice helping of sap, thank you very much.
Do you see your quandary?
You cannot appeal to EVERYONE. But you can appeal to a large audience. My mom and I don't fit into the same subset. But there are plenty of other people who like romance and sci-fi being 50/50 in a book. [I'm one of them.] There are lots of people who like romance and thriller being 50/50 in a book. There are lots of people who like romance and military [new subgenre in my opinion] being 50/50 in a book. There are lots [and lots and lots] of people who like romance and paranormal being 50/50 in a book.
My mom just isn't one of them! So you're not speaking to her. Don't let that trouble you. There are plenty of romance readers out there. She'll find her own books. LOL
So the trick to a good hybrid is to pick a good, stable, solid audience and speak to them, spicing up your story with something else that you can easily give 50% of your story to without taking away from the romance that will draw the audience. In fact, a hybrid works best when the romance enhances the "other" story and the "other" story enhances the romance.
And that takes us back to when a shoot-the-moon story idea is bad. And why having too good of an idea might get you rejected.
Lots of writers tell me they use the question: What's the worst thing that can happen right now? And that's what they create as the next scene in their book. And that's how they "up" the tension in their story.
I remind them that full-scale nuclear war is the worst thing that could happen. Aside from planet-destroying asteroid strike. But that doesn't fit every book.
Actually, the whole planet-destroying asteroid strike would immediately end your book. :)
Anyway, the question 'what's the worst thing that can happen right now' needs to be tempered by your genre's conventions. Just as a sweet paranormal doesn't make sense [though right now I can see eight of you deciding to prove me wrong! :)] if your shoot-over-the-moon idea doesn't fit your subgenre, story type or line, it won't make your book better.
Especially, if something about your shoot-the-moon idea alienates readers. Or doesn't fit the conventions of the line, subgenre or story type.
So when shooting your idea over the moon, really think about your story. Think about your AUDIENCE. Think about reader expectations for your line, subgenre or story type. Don't put an asteroid in the middle of a category romance, unless it's a small one that's needed for the external conflict and you can somehow use it to up sexual tension and strengthen the internal conflict!
Think about whether your shoot-over-the-moon idea enhances the story or takes over the story ... or makes the story feel irrelevant.
If you have a mysterious brother come home about 2/3rds of the way through your historical and even the heroine thinks he's hot, and he's the one who reveals the hero's secrets and maybe even the one who saves the day...you've just blown what might have been a good story. Sure, having the brother come home might have been exciting. But if he upstages your hero, he failed. He didn't enhance the story. He ruined it.
Think through your shoot-over-the-moon idea the same way. Make sure you don't come up with something that's outside the realm of what readers want, and make sure the idea enhances the story...doesn't overshadow your story or make it irrelevant.
And that's about all the time I have today. I do have to write this week. (Though my poor body is trying to catch a cold and would like nothing better than to lay about in bed watching reruns of Gilmore Girls.)
So, try to give your story something wonderful, something with umph (like a shoot-over-the-moon idea), but respect your readers and what they want to read, and, also, don't ruin your original story with it.
Make it something that flows naturally from the story/conflicts you already have going.
That's the real trick to a shoot-over-the-moon idea, and readers will love you for it. [So will editors.]
And don't forget you're always welcome to post questions or comments on this blog.