Man vs Nature / Natural Selection / writing

Yes You Should Follow Genre Rules (Unless You’re Famous)

I wrote this article for OC Writers, when I launched my latest prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection. OC Writers is an eclectic collection of writers from my local area (Orange County, California). Some of their recent articles:

  • Marketing Mayhem
  • The Writing Workshop
  • The Next 7 Days

If you missed this article over there a year ago, here it is again:

Every author knows about genres, how they stuff creative pieces into little boxes with a list of characteristics writers are encouraged to check off. Historical fiction includes lots of accurate detail about the era. Memoirs rely less on accuracy but must be interesting. Take the example of Erma Bombeck. Memories about raising kids may sound boring, but through Bombeck’s humorous lens, readers can’t get enough:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” –Erma Bombeck

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” –Erma Bombeck

The Romance genre spotlights love above even the plot. Comedy must make readers laugh. Dystopian fiction leaves them depressed. Cozies avoid sex, blood, and death on screen.

Every writer must be familiar with what genre readers expect so when the book ends, they are satisfied and eager to read more. If you aren’t sure of the expectations of your genre, check out my genre category. I define over seventy of them with tips and a short list of the most popular books.

Does that sound too formulaic? Lots of authors agree. They think following these tedious rules buries their unique voice, arguably what makes them stand out from all other writers of that genre. That isn’t true. Genre rules organize the story so the writer’s voice can shine. A good example is clichés. When the first writer penned these clever arrangements of words, they enraptured their audience. Consider “the calm before the storm”. These five words once conveyed a powerful and emotional message that stayed in readers’ memories, but now, a bazillion repeats later, they are boring. That’s where voice comes in. Replace clichés with the author’s own unique words (“We are the storm”).

How do you follow genre rules without letting them bury your personal style?

Know the rules of your genre, then write with the passion and energy of your voice. 

The world’s most memorable fiction comes from creative folks who knew the rules and judiciously broke them. Embrace structure even while you color outside the lines.

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Man vs. Nature saga, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the acclaimed Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Endangered Species, Winter 2024


59 thoughts on “Yes You Should Follow Genre Rules (Unless You’re Famous)

  1. I’ve been “on the fence” (cliche) about this topic. I agree, if I’m reading women’s fiction, I don’t want horror to creep in, or porn. If I’m reading literary fiction, I don’t want a bodice ripping kind of story. BUT . . . I also don’t like that our stories/novels must be “categorized” into a genre. For instance, my book THE RIGHT WRONG MAN is listed by many as women’s fiction, or romantic suspense. But that turned off male readers; the men I could persuade to read my book loved it! So, must there be a genre that says: women’s fiction but men will really like learning about how women think” also?? :–) Think Jane Austen . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So true, Jacquie. You need to know the rules before you can challenge them. If you don’t know the basics, it is difficult to achieve excellence, but there is nothing against being original.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great info Jacqui. Your last paragraph hit the mark – know the rules first before you break them. Oh, and about memoir, you said, “Memoirs rely less on accuracy but must be interesting.” I’d like to add, must be ‘truthful’, so accurate to the truth. There’s no making up stuff in memoir other than changing names and locales. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Spotlight – 26th May 2023 #Laughter Pete Springer, #Poetry Elizabeth Gauffreau, #Texting John W. Howell, #Chess Stevie Turner, #Eurovision Janet Gogerty, #Genres Jacqui Murray, #Florence D.G. Kaye | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  5. Great post Jacqui with awesome tips❣️

    Love this: “The world’s most memorable fiction comes from creative folks who knew the rules and judiciously broke them. Embrace structure even while you color outside the lines”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I made the decision early on to stick with the conventions of literary fiction and not go experimental because those conventions are best equipped to tell the stories I want to tell. In addition, there is plenty of room for variation within those conventions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like your closing quote: “The world’s most memorable fiction comes from creative folks who knew the rules and judiciously broke them. Embrace structure even while you color outside the lines.” I think this philosophy can apply to many aspects of life, not just fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I tell new poets, “you can’t break the rules of poetry until you understand them.” or as I sometimes say, “You have to stay within the lines until you understand why the lines are there. Only then can you intentionally break out.”

    also, writing is a business and you have to be honest. If you’re writing and then going to sell a murder mystery, well someone one needs to get murder and a case solved. If you don’t, well false advertising and don’t expect people to buy your next book.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for highlighting these points about genres, Jacqui!

    Writers who want people to buy their books ask, “What do reader want?” Seems like a simple query. However, digging deep into reader comments on Amazon showcases the complexity.

    A study of genres offers an excellent starting point to understand and apply the key scenes, conventions, and story structure readers expect.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “The world’s most memorable fiction comes from creative folks who knew the rules and judiciously broke them. Embrace structure even while you color outside the lines.” — you captured and displayed a lot of wisdom excellently in these two sentences.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Jacqui – so many genres – with more and more being added – I’ve two for you … Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism … I have a book to write up about the first of these genres … sometime! It’s great you offer us so much information to open our eyes to different ways of thinking – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Yes You Should Follow Genre Rules (Unless You’re Famous) — – uwerolandgross

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