Monday, March 14, 2016

Be Guided by your Gifts

By: Ann S. Hill 

Choosing a genre that is currently selling may be tempting, but be careful. Your reading public will require more books in the same genre and so will your publisher. Therefore, be aware of your leanings and decide honestly. You’ll want your inspiration and passion for storytelling to last for years. 

But what are your gifts and how should those talents determine your writing style or genre?  For some writers, a genre choice is instinctive; they are simply driven in a certain direction that fits their frame of reference. For others, the decision may require experimental dabbling before determining an area in which to commit.      

When asking fellow writers about their genre choice, I became aware that personal experiences have a huge influence on an author’s focus and creativity.
  • One author explained that a bright orange moon over a cemetery in a quaint village near Moscow inspired her imaginings and led her into writing dark fantasy with romantic elements.
  • Another grew up telling stories to family and friends. She later became a cozy mystery author. Creating page-turning external conflict to rivet readers feeds into a purpose she discovered as a child. As a published author of many mysteries, she has proof that her genre selection was appropriate, and she certainly found her calling.
  • Yet another writer was a people watcher, an armchair psychologist observing behaviors and motivations of people around her. As a reader of similarly oriented authors, she instinctively wrote mainstream women’s fiction before she learned the requirements for each genre. Forming complex characters whose decisions and inner struggles guide the story came naturally to her. Her lifetime impressions finally transformed into characters with a stage on which to play. Her observations became the foundations for her themes.
Once you choose your natural writing style, work to master elements of both plot and characterization in a degree appropriate for that genre. A character-driven story requires adequate external conflict to advance the plot and to drive the character’s emotional strivings and ultimate growth. Creators of plot-driven stories need to design a character arc to complement their action scenes. The growth of their hero must have relevance to the action. In each instance, the requirements of the genre must be respected.

For example, in the first Die Hard movie, we learn about a character’s backstory before the action begins. The ex-wife is on a plane, and we learn of the history between our hero and this woman. When her workplace teams with bad guys and her ex-husband fights them bravely, we wonder how this will affect their broken relationship. Might they reunite? For film-goers who relate to the character element, the backstory minimizes the chance that they will tire of the action-driven story.

Unfortunately, the last film in the Die Hard series lacked that personal element. If there was a backstory, it was poorly developed and easily forgotten. To me, the movie was a long hour and a half of gratuitous action. It was hard to care about the need to conquer. In fact, it was so lacking in meaning that I no longer recall the plot. What was all that shooting and chasing about? On the other hand, I’ll never forget the first storyline because of its significance to that husband and wife.

So thriller writers, if the goal is to create a blockbuster book or film, you’ll need to sell to a greater audience than just hardcore-thriller fans. The story must appeal to a large group; it needs to draw people who require some personalized plot. Incorporate enough elements of characterization to please more readers.

Before spending years to build a reputation as a specialist in a given genre, be certain to select the proper vehicle for your themes. If not, you may paint yourself into a corner one day. It’s better to write in the style and genre of your true passion. If that genre is not the current popular trend, don’t worry, it will be again someday. Like everything else, what goes around comes around. What goes up must come down.

Most of all, be true to yourself. Share what only YOU can bring to the page. Your personal history and individual gifts should determine that choice.

Here’s wishing you many Sweet Successes.

About the writer:  After hearing the call to write in her thirties, Ann set the ambition aside while life happened. Now that she has retired from her career as a dentist and her children are adults, she is seriously attacking that parked ambition. She spends significant time on her true passion and has recently completed her first novel, Wait for Me. She has written several short stories and is currently working on a concept for her second novel. In the meantime, she remains a voracious reader and film aficionado.


  1. Ann, I think this is such a relevant important post. When I was a brand new writer, I remember walking into seminars where the agents or editors were sitting on a panel. Writers would ask, what are you looking for. I sat back amazed. Every writer in the room would be scribbling. I've always loved mystery and romantic suspense. I tried to write a straight romance and a body showed up in Chapter 8. Darn! Good post, thanks.

  2. And you are so good at mystery, Donnell. I love your books. If we aren't coming from an authentic place, it comes through in our writing.

  3. Interesting, this ties in with some thoughts I've been having lately. Not sure exactly which genre I am actually writing in now, but I think my interests will lead me more towards mainstream or commercial fiction down the road.


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