Genre Originality

I’ve been wondering lately when the requirements of specific genres in writing slide over into the realm of clichés. Which leads to other questions. How do you keep a reader who loves the genre from getting bored? How do you stay within the confines of a genre and yet write an original piece? How do you keep a genre-specific story from becoming predictable?

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I obviously love mysteries. As a mystery reader, I know the basic road map the story will take. I expect a series, a hero’s journey, meaning a protagonist who struggles against self as well as plot, and a climatic ending. What makes me reach for a new author is a setting I haven’t yet visited, a mystery that isn’t based on the discovery of yet another young woman’s body, and an ending that isn’t just the protagonist facing down death. I mean, it’s a series, right? Do we really think the author will kill off the main protagonist? Of course that happens, but it’s rare. So if there’s no chance of killing the golden goose, there’s no tension at the end because you know the character is going to survive. Give me something more to worry about.

The things I look for in mysteries are those things that keep the genre from becoming boring for me. The things I try to avoid are those things that feel like mystery-series clichés.

In apocalyptic genres (think Stephen King’s The Stand) there are always the disparate groups of people who eventually come together. There’s conflict between the characters as well as whatever outside danger is stalking them. You’re always going to find characters like the athlete, the brooding type with a past, the woman from a broken relationship, the overweight nerdy type, etc. You get the idea. The unique twist is usually whatever is out to kill them all. Oh, and who survives. This genre has more freedom to kill characters off.

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As an aside, Stephen King is a master at developing characters. His are the only books I read where I flip to the end to see who survives. I don’t want to get emotionally involved with someone who’s going to be killed off mid-story.

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Readers of specific genres expect those rules to be in place. They know what they are going to get when they open the book. The only surprises the books should offer up are the unique twists the author adds. The underlying plot structure should be predictable, to a point, so the reader gets what he or she loves out of that genre.

Of course there are always the books that overlap genres, combine genres, are genre-less, or even create a whole new genre. But you get what I’m saying here, I’m sure.

The challenge for a writer within a genre is sticking to the rules while breaking them at the same time. But not breaking so many that the reader is left feeling cheated. And not sticking so closely to the rules that the author is bored.

And avoiding becoming a cliché.

What’s with the random photos not connected to the blog subject, you ask? Maybe an apocalyptic genre story in its infancy, set in the mountains.

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