Monday, August 15, 2011

The Rules of Genre

I often have people ask me for writing advice. What should they use to write? (Their fingers. Also their brain. But mostly just their fingers.) How should they write? (Probably in their native language, though an entire novel in pig Latin could be interesting.) How do they finish a manuscript? (Just write as much as you can and then tack THE END after a period. Taa daa! DONE.)

One thing people don't ask me much is what defines genre. So I thought I'd give you a handy guide! These are just guidelines, really, as there is wiggle room within any genre.

Kiersten's Guide to Genre Within YA (with special thanks to Natalie Whipple for key contributions)

Contemporary: Teen characters should have conversations indicative of years of self-examination on a therapist's couch despite their age. Also, sidekick characters must have bizarre nicknames, usually revolving around food or funnily inaccurate physical descriptors.

Dystopian: Must have a main character with the letter X or Z in their name. If you have no characters with Xs or Zs, you are doing it wrong and you have not written a dystopian.

Historical Fantasy: Much like Steampunk, but without airships or goggles. Pants must be referred to as "breeches" and underclothes as "shifts." Very Brave Horses and taverns should also feature prominently. Bad guys must be described as smelling "ripe," but good guys will not smell terrible even after weeks on the road with Very Brave Horses and tavern stops.

Historical Fiction: BIG DRESSES. Nothing else really matters.

Horror: Many side characters who can encounter horribly violent deaths. Wise-cracking best friend capable of making jokes in the midst of a bloodbath. Also, the odd absence of cell-phones and proper lighting.

Issue Contemporary: Same teen characters, but with Very Big Problems that will get you banned in certain communities and give you total street cred among authors.

Paranormal Romance: Must describe the love interest boy as well-muscled at least once per chapter. Also the words "brooding" "mysterious" and "agony" have to feature prominently. Type of creature that the boy is does not matter, so long as he mysteriously broods in well-muscled agony.

Sci-Fi: As we learn from Spongebob, in the future everything is chrome. Also things that really have no reason to fly/hover will fly/hover. Technology is super advanced (probably you should have at least one thing implanted in your main characters [I would like a Dr Pepper fountain machine implanted into my pinky finger, just fyi], whether voluntarily or against their will) except for when your characters are on the run, in which case in spite of incredibly advanced tech the bad guys are inexplicably unable to track them. (Other than the trail of Dr Pepper left suspiciously in their wake.) X and Z names encouraged but not essential.

Steampunk: The inclusion of goggles and airships in any story of any time period automatically qualifies it as Steampunk. Corsets don't hurt, either. Crossdressing is also a common theme, so if you have a corset-wearing boy with goggles driving an airship, YOU HAVE CREATED THE ULTIMATE STEAMPUNK!

Urban Fantasy: Much like paranormal romance, but with more profanity. And still the muscles.

All Genres: An excess of orphans/woefully underinvolved parents. Too many pairs of brilliant green eyes, and an odd number of violet eyes though no one has ever actually known anyone with violet eyes. Teens wittier than anyone you know in real life. References/plot mirrors to books that teens do not want to read, but authors think they should (mostly because authors were forced to read them in school). Girl who isn't anything special but actually IS everything special. Girl who thinks she is average looking but manages to attract not one but two supernaturally good looking guys. Token minority friend. And, finally, sexually charged lab partners. Because nothing is sexier than high school labs. LIGHT MY BUNSEN, BABY!

Ahem.

There you have it! A comprehensive guide to genre. Tomorrow-ish: A Basic Plot Primer for the YA Newbie (Hint: BIG DANCES are involved).

69 comments:

Cait said...

It's all so clear now. Thank you so much

Yiling said...

oh my god. I think I just hurt myself by laughing too hard.

Debbie Barr said...

My husband has now decided that you are funny. He is also going to go around saying "You can light my bunsen any day" now, so thanks.

(Also, why DOES everything happen in taverns in fantasy? And why does everyone eat stew?)

Dayse D. said...

This is helpful, THANK YOU. I'll make sure my query letters will mention that my book includes all of those.

April said...

Lmao, so funny. And so true.

Becka-la said...

Oh, you should SO write a spoof Paranormal romance book. I'd buy it. :)

^For above, apparently stew is an easy one-pot dish so you can make it on the go withought needing too much equipment. Me = Font of useless knowledge!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Thank you, this clears up so much. Will be sure to use each of the buzzwords above for appropriate genre in all future queries.

C.M. Sikora said...

I thought I was going to die there for a minute.
Every time I thought you couldn't get any funnier, you said something ten times better. Topped with "LIGHT MY BUNSEN, BABY!" it was the highlight of my day :)

Jodi Meadows said...

FINALLY. Do you know how long I've been waiting for you to tell me the answer to YA fiction? AGES, KIERSTEN. AGES.

I'm going to write a best seller. BRB.

Kimberly Sabatini said...

This make my night!!!!!

Michelle McLean said...

LOL! I want to print this and hang it over my computer. Hilarious :D

Jenna Blake Morris said...

That was hilarious! And totally spot-on, which only added to the funny factor.

LitzaLou said...

HAHAHA! Oh my word, this is hilarious! Thanks so much for making my day. :)

Michelle said...

Awesome. Simply awesome.

The funny thing is, I noted a lot of those same characteristics in a list of Rules for Heroines of Paranormal Romances I did a few months ago. ( http://belletrinsic.com/blog/?p=561 ) Great minds and all that. *wink*

Amber Skye said...

This is absolutely BRILLIANT. Every word of it is true! I've been sitting at my computer, giggling over this post for half an hour now. Thank you so much for revealing the absurd cliches and overdone plot lines in young adult literature!

Cara said...

I think I'm in love with you. And by you I mean this post. Now I finally understand what I've been missing! THANK YOU.

amy kennedy said...

Thank God I found this blog! Now I know what the heck I'm writing. And now I have to go fix a few things...

Thanks for the laugh. I'll be back

beth said...

Did I mention that Elder's name is Xelder? The X is silent.

WulfLuva said...

LAUGHING HARD! OMG THAT'S FUNNY! Paranormal romance is definitely what you said, but I still can't stop myself from devouring it! I likes the muscled boys.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

You forgot that all the cute boys have crooked smiles.

folksinmt said...

Something to smile about on a Monday!

Laura said...

*pees self*

chel.c.cam said...

Bleeping fantastic! You hit the nail on the head with Paranormal Romance. And really, what more could you need in Historical Romance than BIG DRESSES? Someone needs to do a mash-up of some of these genres. Like a Paranormal Romance with BIG DRESSES, Very Big Issues, airships and goggles. It would be epic.

ComaCalm said...

And now after I've died laughing reading this, I will read it to my OH and laugh some more. :D

Livia said...

May I have a picture of your brain!?????? lol
PERFECT! =D

Kiersten White said...

Livia--Here you go: http://kierstenwrites.blogspot.com/2009/02/blah.html

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Okay, once again I'm expecting something totally educational and serious and once again I hit myself in the head with not one, but two fists, reminding myself whose blog this is. And I might also add that I'm incredible at writing run-on sentences. Just thought I'd throw that in there.

But, in an odd sort of way, this was educational. Now I know what to put in/take out of my WIP.

Thanks!

Alyson Greene said...

Awesome.

Anne R. Allen said...

This is fantastic. (And hilarious.)

Julie G. said...

Ahahaha, you're hilarious! (My parents are staring at me because I'm laughing while muttering to my computer screen. Like this hasn't happened to me before. Psh) I think I might print this out and hang it on my wall for kicks and giggles. If you ever stop writing...well, just don't stop writing, 'kay? I'd wind up curled up in a corner and crying.

The Story Queen said...

CANNOT. STOP. LAUGHING.

Bryan Russell said...

Shit. I put all the big dresses in my sci-fi. And goggles are everywhere in my contemporary.

linda said...

OMG you are BRILLIANT.

Skye said...

So many things I've been doing wrong! Thank you for showing me the error of my writerly ways. Excuse me while I go add some muscles, violet eyes, and a lab scene...

Jen @ A Book and a Latte said...

LMAO! This is so funny, because most of it is true! Love it :). ~ Jen @ A Book and a Latte

Chelsea said...

Kiersten...you are a genius. *hits print key*

Deborah Bowman said...

Hilarious...but Elizabeth Taylor famously had violet eyes.

Valia Lind said...

It all so clear now!!! :-)

Kiersten White said...

Deborah--Disputed. Some people say they were just a very dark blue that looked violet in some lights. True violet eyes usually only occur in conjunction with albinism.

(What? Have I researched this? WHY YES. YES I HAVE.)

Lexie said...

Violet eyes--Elizabeth Taylor. XD

That aside, this was hilarious because it was so painfully true. You tack these descriptions to the majority of YA books in each genre and it will fit to the T.
Thanks for making me laugh. XD

Lexie said...

Ah, I see she was already mentioned. <_< Never mind.
One of my teacher's babies also had violet eyes. They weren't vibrant like Elizabeth Taylor's, but they were distinctly violet. Their color might have changed as she got older, though. I don't know.

Sonette said...

This post is hilarious! Probably because it's so true... And yet we keep on reading! I love the wit and sarcasm which is also ever present in your books, which is why I buy them! Hehe! You should get into philosophy and clarify that for us as well! Hehe!

gothrockrulz said...

Epic post is epic. (Also, I like it how you even parody the subdivision of YA that you yourself write!)

I have to admit that I never get tired of green-eyed characters. I think I never will. (Probably because my eyes, under some light conditions, are green themselves.)

Rick said...

I laughed so, so hard at this:

except for when your characters are on the run, in which case in spite of incredibly advanced tech the bad guys are inexplicably unable to track them.

because I fell victim to this in the SF manuscript I'm working on now.

Also present: orphans, green hair, witty teens. And EXPLOSIONS!

(But that last one... wasn't on your list. Whoops.)

Ellen Brickley said...

Kiersten, will this blog post do me the honour of granting me its hand in marriage?

You can stay with Hot Stuff. I just want the post.

Liz. R said...

O_O. Mine name has a Z in it. DOES THAT MEAN I'M IN A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL?! And all this time I thought I was just a regular girl...

I love you. That is all.

lora96 said...

Oh that was fantastic! Especially the dystopian definition. You rock.

Tina Moss said...

So if I've written about an introspective teen character named Xanza who wears big dresses and goggles, visits taverns while riding a chrome technologically advanced Very Brave Horse, pines after the broodingly mysterious guy in her chem lab and curses unusual profanities, what have I written?

Ellen Brickley said...

@Tina - the best book EVAR. Clearly.

Dara said...

Simply AWESOME.

Debra Driza said...

Wait, things are supposed to FLY/HOVER IN MY BOOK? WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THIS SOONER????

*runs to add suitable item to MILA. Ooh, like maybe a hovering bag of Oreos. In chrome*

*also, Light My Bunsen, Baby. Just becaus*

Anonymous said...

Also - for the TWO supernatural muscular guys the plot must be so that a TEAM can be assigned each to pit readers against each other -such as Team X and Team Z (dystopian reference) and let the voting begin.

Jenn said...

"Type of creature that the boy is does not matter, so long as he mysteriously broods in well-muscled agony." Haha, you are so hilarious. And wise. Thanks for posting!:)

John Wiswell said...

I feel like big dresses are essential to any good writing.

Jessie Clark said...

That did really clear things up for me. You described the books I read so well!
You forgot the heaving bosoms in historical fiction though, anytime there's a corset involved, breathing suffers immensely!

Faith King said...

...And then I died laughing.

Having just finished half a dozen books pulled from various points in this hilarious but apt spectrum, this was wonderful. (And don't get me wrong, I loved more of those books than I didn't, even the ones with muscle agony love triangles, much to my secret shame). LOL

edna said...

Hilarious stuff. I think it would be nifty to have a water spigot attached to MY middle finger ;-)!

Becky said...

LIGHT MY BUNSEN, BABY!

I think I just died laughing. Thank you. I'm going to go print this now for whenever I need a laugh.

kathryn evans said...

Snort! Funniest thing I've read all week :o)

Kevin Ott (www.kevinott.net) said...

Dang, I'm going to have to re-write my entire book now. I'm completely missing the mark here. I think I'm going to go see my therapist to talk about how depressed I am right now after reading your post, and then use some of my session as dialogue for my main character. Perfect.

Haha, loved your post.

:)

Disgruntled Bear (Kate Kaynak) said...

"...mysteriously broods in well-muscled agony" made me snort coffee from my nose.

Lisa Rogers said...

In a word... Awesome!

Trish Campbell said...

Extremely funny, but is it true? Love the references, so spot on.

Kiersten White said...

Trish--No, definitely not true. My goal was to a) gently poke fun at tropes we all use (including me) and to b) point out that there are no cast-in-stone rules to genre.

jongibbs said...

Here by way of April Henry.

I think I just found my 'Pick of the Week'

Thanks for making me LoL, out loud :)

thatcovergirl said...

"Historical Fiction: BIG DRESSES. Nothing else really matters."

Crying tears of laughter! You're hilarious!

Spook said...

My dinner just leapt up and attacked my face, I was laughing that hard.

You. Are. Awesome.

Now please excuse me while I explain to my family that I am laughing, not asphyxiating...

Nick Hight said...

Another great addition to my file of writing resources. Thanks so much :)

Congrats on one more follower!

Rasberryswrlgirl said...

Hilarious post!

I've read three books in the last month and all three heroines had violet eyes. I find it a little weird to have this all of a sudden.