What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

26 May 2011

What's My Genre?

It's okay to make up your own genre, right? Because I'm pretty well stuck as to what it is I'm writing.

First of all, I don't want to write sex scenes. I sincerely don't. Call me Prudence McPrude or what you will, but that's not my thing. (FWIW, I also skip sex scenes when I run across them in books.) In today's market, I think that points to Middle Grade books, but I'm not sure that writing for kids is really my thing either.

The other genre it kinda points to is Christian. I usually define myself as a Christian writer anyway, considering that I'm a Christian who happens to write, and that genre is a good way to steer clear of the sex scenes. Mostly. I still see plenty of Christian novels that describe steamy, married, monogamous sex. Are there really that many Christian women who want to read this stuff that the authors keep writing it? It would seem that there are, and yet I still don't want to read OR write it.

Then there's the matter of swearing. (Sarah wrote an excellent post about whether or not to swear in YA, if anyone is interested in joining that discussion.) Stephen King is right when he says in On Writing that more people swear than don't. Between hanging out with college students and riding the local bus, I get enough exposure to how regular people talk to know that I can't expect to publish for any other market except Christian or kidlit without including a heavy dose of "normal" language. (Amusing diversion: I have an uncle who seems to think that one particular swear word is the verbal form of punctuation. He uses this word at the end of nearly every sentence, regardless of whether or not it relates to the subject matter.)

I have to agree that since I'm frequently exposed to language of all sorts, both in life and in the range of genres that I read, I find it jarring to read a book and not find any swearing in it, not even at times when one might expect a mild expletive or two (for instance, a non-Christian character who is on drugs but still uses pristine language). So I see Mr. King's point. And therein lies my dilemma: Do I write in a way that's true to life, or do I keep everything squeaky-clean for the Christian market? Do I use the device that other Christian authors often bring out, and write "a string of expletives came from the man's mouth" or something along those lines?

When in doubt, have a cuppa.
At this rate, I may cause a
world tea shortage.
I have no answers to these questions. Yay me. My gut says to write books I would want to read, and I honestly don't mind some swearing in my literature. So I really don't know what market I'm writing for. Maybe I'll just stick with Chick Lit and let the readers find out for themselves that there are no scenes that require de-fogging the glasses, as it were. And I have read the advice over and over again to not chase the market. So perhaps I should go with my gut and accept, like every other writer, that what I want to write may not find someone who wants to publish.

Writer friends: How do you know what genre you are writing in? Do you not-quite-fit into more that one category?


Anonymous said...

Good grief I don't even know what genre my life fits into let alone what genre I write in. I don't particularly care to read about sex violence or swearing either. There is enough real life out there that I don't need to use it for entertainment.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

My opinion - if you're writing MG, I'd skip the swearing. If it's YA, a little is probably OK if it isn't too offensive. For adults, anything goes. Same rules apply to sex :) (There's an episode of Friends where a guy says he "writes erotic novels for children - they're wildly unpopular" :))

Misha said...

Hmm... even if a story doesn't quite fit into a category, there will always be a genre that your book will MOSTLY fit into. That's the genre of your book.

As for cursing and sex scenes. I've read more than a few books where both have only been hinted at. Fact is: it's your book. Write what you want.


JEFritz said...

The genre I write in is a mix of YA, Sci-fi, dystopian and post-apocalyptic with a dash of fantasy thrown in to taste.

If you don't want to swear in your writing, then don't. Dialogue doesn't have to be accurate to be true to life. I stumble over words or go off on tangents all the time, but I'd never put either of those in a book! So I'm sure you can craft dialogue without swears and still have it ring true. : )

Su said...

@mybabyjohn: An excellent point, as ever. I'd be afraid to find out what genre my life fits into.

@Susanna: Hee hee, I remember that episode! My concern is partly that anything doesn't go, though-- I do want people to actually read my book, after all.

@Misha: Fair enough.

@JE: That's true-- tangents don't go well in books. Which is a bummer, because they're my favourite part of everyday speech. ;)

Kari Marie said...

I'm going to echo the sentiment of others here and say, write what feels comfortable to you.

IMHO, if your Christian character lets one fly, let him. I don't get the sense from you that we are talking about land locked sailor talk here. I also agree with JEFritz, your dialogue can be authentic without the swearing).

While I try not to swear, it happens. I'm not offended when other people do it around me, and it doesn't bother me in a book (unless it becomes excessive).
With that said, I know there are folks out there who would disagree with that statement. And, an argument can be made that a Christian book carries with it a contract of sorts (that they are devoid of such things). Am I helping yet? I didn't think so.

I guess I'm saying do what comes natural (and feels right) to you and worry about the rest later. There's always revision.

Su said...

Hee hee, that's true. And what you're saying about Christian books is kinda what bugs me-- I don't know that I've ever read a swear word in a Christian novel. And it doesn't bother me, and I don't mind writing it, but I think that moves me to another genre just because the market would implode or something.

But, ce la vie. I'm going to stick with what everyone has said and just write the damn thing.

Donna said...

Keep writing what you love. Mine doesn't fit into a perfectly wrapped pristine package either.

Karen Peterson said...

I think you have to write what feels natural for your characters and what feels right for you.

John Grisham has written 20 novels and none of them have explicit sex scenes in them and they use very little swearing. Yet he manages to make his characters (even the really tough ones) sound authentic.