NaNoWriMo Quickstart Guide – Part One: Pick A Genre

The following multi-part series will offer a step-by-step quick-start guide to putting together a story. Even if you have little to no experience with writing, this guide will give you the basic structure and core ideas you need to tell the story you want. Of course, you will still need to be able to write proper sentences and use grammar on your own to make this work, but if you can, then you can tell a story. It will only take practice, time, and not giving up.

In the words of Robert Heinlein- “You must write, and you must finish what you write.”

If you do these two things, you will be a writer.

So let’s get you ready to write!

Once upon a time, there were no genres. There were just stories and ideas, but over time storytellers figured out worked and what didn’t work. Audiences too, decided what they liked and didn’t like in their stories. When these two things met, the concept of “genres” was born.

Genres are basically pre-set collections of ideas about a story with a particular goal- make the audience feel something. In a comedy, the audience wants to laugh, in a horror movie they want to be scared, in an adventure movie they want to feel a sense of wonder. Of course, they are more than that too, because over time standard ways of telling these stories that the audiences liked appeared. These ways of telling stories became so specific they became sub-genres (under genres) which not only follow the rules of the main genre, but also have another set of rules that go with them.

You might unhappily think, “Great! So I’ve got to go learn all these rules now?” But actually, it’s not a bad thing at all! This is really is great for you as a writer because it means once you pick your genre and sub-genre, a lot of your work is already done for you! You know what emotion you want the audience to feel, and you know what the audience is going to expect from you in the story. Your job is really only customizing this story so it’s your original take on what’s already laid out. It’s a little bit like buying a car from the lot, and then customizing it to make it your own. It saves you building the whole car, and you can just focus on the bits that you feel like changing.

In any case, Step 1 of putting together your story is to pick your genre and (if you choose) subgenre. You can find a list of all the different genres and subgenres here and here. There are quite a few of them, so here are a few rules to help you decide which one to pick for your story:

  • Always pick from the ones you are most familiar with, especially if you’re a beginning writer. It saves you a lot of time doing research (ie reading and watching) because you already know most of the main ideas and even the genres and sub-genres. Trying new genres is a sure way to get yourself into trouble, because you won’t know what cliches to stick with and which ones to avoid. There is an old writer’s saying: “Write what you know.” And that applies double here!
  • Pick from the ones that excite you the most. If you’re passionate about your topic, it will show, and it will get you thinking of new ideas faster than anything.
  • Make sure you understand what your audience wants from that genre and sub-genre.Pick a genre where you understand what your audience enjoys about that genre, and what they want to get from it. If you give them strawberry flavor when they ordered chocolate, they won’t be happy customers.
  • Don’t mix genres unless you know both of them well. It can be tempting to try to create new genre mashups, but unless you know the “rules” of both genres well, it can also turn into a mess.
  • Sub-genres are your friend. The main genres are pretty broad, so narrowing things down to a particular sub-genre and using the rules of that sub-genre can make your life a lot easier. If you want to explore a sub-genre, it also narrows your research materials down to just those particular stories.

When you’ve picked your genre and sub-genre, add them to your worksheet and move on to the next step: Brainstorming Ideas!

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