Today I’m going to answer questions about following “writing rules” as well as questions about genre. In the comments section, feel free to ask your own questions if determining genre is something you are struggling with.
I think you would all enjoy reading this blog post: Writing Rules Do Not Exist. It gives a clearer explanation of what writing rules are and why they may (or may not!) be important for your novel.
Is there a certain number of paragraphs or pages that can contain information or facts? I read your piece about information dumping. I have a lot of technical facts that I need to inform the reader early in the book so I am trying to mix 3 pages of action with about a page of facts.
I can’t tell you whether you’re doing too much info dumping without reading the pages in question. There is no hard and fast rule about how much information you can give the reader. How well telling (rather than showing) works in a novel depends on a lot of factors, such as the strength and style of the voice and whether the information is inherently intriguing.
If you have the sense that there is too much telling (which I’m guessing you do since you’re asking about it), then there is most likely too much telling.
Hi Ellen, could you please list the filter words that should never be used (in third person limited POV), and which ones are maybe ok to use sometimes, if necessary. And I read somewhere that some of the filter words are: touch, feel (feel like), realize, can, be able to, decide, know, experience, wonder. But then how do I rephrase “he touched smth” or “he believed in smth” or “he wondered about” or “he knew this would happen” or “he couldn’t do smth” or “he felt like” or “he decided to”? Some quick examples would help. Also, are “want” and “wish” filer words?
I think you’re worrying about this too much. The reason to avoid filtering words is because it creates unnecessary distance. But you have to keep in mind the context. If it hurts clarity to cut out a filtering word, then leave it in.
There is nothing wrong with describing the action of touching, smelling, etc. He felt the dog’s thick fur. He leaned over and smelled the cake.
What you want to avoid is relying too heavily on the character’s senses when describing situations because it makes the reader feel farther away from the action. An example of too much filtering would be something like: He smelled the musty old air and felt the soft wooden board beneath his feet. He felt a shiver run through his body.
This could be rewritten without filtering words: The air was musty and the boards beneath his feet were soft. A shiver ran through his body.
The rewrite pulls the reader closer to the action.
The advice I’ve had is “get in late and out early”, i.e cover a short period of time. My novel covers well over a century. I’ve tried to trim that down, but I can’t do so with my theme/vision, so I’d have to drop the whole project and try to come up with something completely new. I’m loath to do that because I’ve got all my other ducks in line with best advice. But I guess the pain of the amputation will just get worse if it has to be chopped off sooner or later.
The advice to “get in late and out early” does not refer to the length of time a book covers. That bit of advice is intended to get you to start as close to the meat of the story as possible. In other words, it’s an attempt to get the writer to start when things are getting good rather than writing a slow and meandering beginning.
So long as your story genuinely needs to cover a long period of time, it doesn’t matter if it covers a century or the entire history of the world. Keep in mind though that it takes a very strong writer to keep a reader interested when characters come and go.
Genre seems to be a struggle for a lot of writers so feel free to ask additional questions about genre in the comments section.
How do you know that you are writing for your intended genre?
I assume you’re asking how a writer can know if their book is marketable in the genre they intend. If you read novels in the genre, you should have a pretty good sense of the expectations. So long as you’re hitting the major requirements of the genre (horror must be scary; mystery must have a mystery) you’re probably doing fine.
You’re more likely to be rejected because your novel is too similar to other books already published rather than that it’s too dissimilar. If your novel is getting rejected and it is unique, the execution is probably lacking.
Is it possible to write a good novel utilizing several genres?
Of course! There’s nothing wrong with blending genres, but I think a lot of writers believe they are blending genres when they aren’t. All books have elements of other genres. For example, a mystery novel might have a romance and a few action scenes, but the novel is still a mystery (not a romance mystery action novel).
For querying purposes, focus on the genre that is most prominent in your novel. For example, Stephen King’s It has heavy fantasy elements but would just be queried as a horror novel. Another way to look at this is to ask yourself: Which genre’s readers are most likely to pick up my book?
If an editor does not like the genre you write in, can he or she still give good feedback and critique your work?
Other editors might disagree on this, but I would say yes. The majority of my clients are struggling with characterization and plotting issues. Enjoying the genre is irrelevant to fixing these problems.
When it comes to smaller writing issues and marketing, an editor unfamiliar with the genre won’t necessarily be able to help you stand out in the market.
What differentiates an “adult” from “young adult” novel? Is it the characters, the writing style (easy to read), the subject matter or a combination of these?
A young adult novel will always have a teenage protagonist facing issues that are relevant to teenagers. Note that the “issues” aren’t the superficial conflicts but are the underlying emotional conflicts: Who am I? What do I want? Where do I fit in?
Since most adult novels don’t have a teenage protagonist, it’s fairly clear why most would not be considered YA. I assume you’re asking why some books with teenage protagonists are considered adult novels. Usually this is because the subject matter is not relevant to the average teenager. For example, a novel about a teenage serial killer isn’t going to key in on any of the big questions teenagers grapple with.
How important is it to get the genre of your story right when querying ?
You should be able to narrow down which shelf the book would sit on at a book store. If you can’t do this, the primary problem is that you won’t be able to target the right agents. If your book is horror and you’re calling it fantasy, when you send it to fantasy agents they are likely to reject it as being “too scary.” The same novel might have been accepted by an agent who takes horror.
The other problem with not knowing your genre is that it looks unprofessional. If you list your genre as “Dark SciFi Fantasy Romance Mystery” you look like you don’t know what you’re doing and the agent may assume that your novel will reflect that lack of understanding.
Do you need help deciding your genre? Feel free to post a brief synopsis below to get feedback.