The Rules of Genre
Blogger: Rachel Kent
Location: Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers’ Conference; Philadelphia, PA
Genres establish certain rules for how books should be written. For example, a romance novel should start with the female perspective, and the male and female protagonists should meet in the first chapter. Romances are also told with the protagonists’ viewpoints alternating.
Now, some of these genre rules can be broken, but stepping out from the established formula can have its consequences. The reader of a particular genre has been trained to expect the formula. Surprising the reader can be a good thing, but most of the time it’s off-putting. We’ll be talking about the pros and cons of breaking out of the formula tomorrow.
There’s no way I can cover all of the genre rules, but I’d like to point out some others that I’ve spotted in my reading:
Teen fiction: Teen books focus on feelings more than plot. These books are primarily character-driven.
Teen nonfiction: Again, the focus is on feelings. These books mostly will cover topics involving inner struggles and relationships.
Historical novels: The era and setting must be established on the first page.
Fantasy: Strong character development is necessary in the first chapter, especially if the story is set in a new world. The interesting character or characters give the reader motivation to continue to learn the new environment.
Horror/Thriller: Starts out with a mundane day in a character’s life (allowing the reader to connect with the character), but by the end of the first chapter, something foreshadows the horrors to come. Interestingly, horror movies tend to follow the same pattern. One that comes to mind is “Dark Water.” The mother and young girl spend the first part of the movie apartment hunting, but when they move into the new place, an ominous spot of water is revealed on the bedroom ceiling. I don’t read a lot of horror, but I do know that Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker usually follow this formula.
I know many different categories of nonfiction exist as well (memoir, self-help, parenting, etc.), but to be perfectly honest, I’m not familiar with genre-specific rules. Do you know of any? Also, can you think of any other genre rules (fiction and nonfiction)? Please feel free to give book examples.