Top 5 Tips for Writing Genre Fiction

Top 5 Tips for Writing Genre Fiction

library of congress woman reading

Everywhere you go online these days there seems to be a hit list of the “top 10″ favourite cup-cake flavours and nail polish colours and the like.

It can be tough to distil years of work and reading and research into a few bullet points but after 25 books with a lot more scheduled for 2015 I thought that I would give it a go.

*Puts on my writing hat*nina at the wedding

So here are my top 5 tips for writing a popular romance.

Read. If you are like me, you have been an obsessive reader and storyteller since you were able to hold a book in your hot little fist. You are filled your life and heart and soul with the written word and narrative. All your stories are already deep inside you bursting to be told.

Learn Story Craft. You can have the most compelling story in the world but without story craft you won’t be able to shape it into a form that you can share with other readers. There is a huge online free resource now that never existed before.So no excuses. You have to understand genre and sub-genre and the expectations of each from the reader point of view.

Be a student of human behaviour.  Romance fiction, and other forms of genre fiction, is all about people and how they act and react in stressful situations. You don’t need to be a psychologist – or a stalker on public transport – but you need to understand the human emotional range to make your writing real and compelling.  Have a life outside writing. Stories feed on experience and interests and the energy that comes from things and people and situations that interest you.

Think of yourself as a small business owner. Becoming an author is starting your own sole trader self-employed business. All arty-craft literature students should avert their eyes now.

You are making a product – your writing, irrespective of genre and form. You then have to sell that product to customers.

These generally fall into three categories:

*literary agents
*editors at publishing houses/magazines etc. who are still prepared to accept direct submissions, and
*readers if you self-publish your work.

It may be that you have to knock many times on the first two doors AND fling open the third to find a way to get your work before readers. But if you want to earn a living you will have to do it. And sometimes all three on the same day for the same book.


Being a professional author is not for the faint of heart.

You have to be prepared for very hard work, long delays of sometimes months while those agents and editors assess your writing, frustrating and illogical discussions with editors and publishers and no guarantees that your work will be accepted at the end.

So you have to work harder and smarter to find a home for your story, and you will. Eventually.

Learn to love to write

If you don’t yearn to be writing instead of doing anything else then you don’t want it enough. It should be the one thing that gets you out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step.

Now. Back to my Revisions. Oh. Did I mention those??


Why the First Chapter has to work Superhard

Why the First Chapter has to work Superhard

I picked up my new science fiction door-stop of a book from a well-known author on Saturday and sat down last evening to languish in the sense of wonder.

Half an hour later the book was in the hall to go to the charity shop. Rejected.

I felt disappointed and let down. The author had totally failed to deliver on the promise that he had made to me when I picked that book up.

what is your story

As a writer, I mulled over the reasons it had failed to capture my interest while doing the washing up. As you do. :-)

Someone else loved this book.

I know how hard it is to create a stonking huge multi-layered book like this, so I am very loathe to criticise any author, and the book had some good reviews and quotes on the cover, so this has to be a VERY personal assessment so that I can learn and go forward with a better understanding of my own expectations.

By the end of the first chapter:

* I did not have one scrap of empathy or sympathy for the main character – I simply did not care about him or his world.

* I had no idea what he needed or wanted in his life, or what mattered to him. I had no clue what he feared most in life or what would happen if that event should occur.

* There was no energy in the writing. It was full of info dump and exposition and felt flat, even though several characters were involved in a dialogue for most of the chapter.

* There was no Inciting Incident/Trigger/Call to Action which would shock or encourage me into reading on. As a result, there was no Central Dramatic Question for the story to answer.

I had just been looking again at one of the best Young Adult Science Fiction books at the moment  – ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins. It was quite possible that I was comparing the opening of the two books without realising that I was doing so.

By the end of the first chapter of The Hunger Games:

* I had deep sense of empathy and sympathy for the main character Katniss –  I cared about this young girl who had to fight to look after her family in her hard cruel world – often by breaking the rules so that they could survive.

I had engaged with Katniss and her world.

* I understood what she needed and wanted in her life, and what mattered to her. I knew what she feared most in life and the motivation behind that.

* The writing was first person single. Action based. Constantly moving but still inside the head of the main character.

* The Inciting Incident/Trigger/Call to Action shocked me into reading on. It was the very thing that Katniss feared would happen.

And this event  forces her to make an irreversible decision in a moment of high pressure. Revealing her character.

The Central Story Question was simple and easy to understand. The rest of this book was going to be the story of whether Katniss is able to survive this ordeal or perish in the fight.

The stakes were completely clear – her life and the life and survival of her family were dependent on the decisions she would take and what she would do in the coming days.

Now all I have to do is use these learning points and create the same dramatic tension in my own work. :-)

GULP. High Standards indeed.