Writing for story or writing for genre?

genrewritingI’ve always been confused about what category my stories fall into. I used to think they were ‘chick lit’ but, as I’ve written before, they became too dark. Then I thought that I would write ‘crime’. Sometimes it came out as ‘gritty women’s fiction’. Then, somehow, I wrote a speculative fiction novel.

When I started out as a writer, I was precious about my art, telling anyone who would listen about not being bothered about being published. For me, in some way this was true. I’ve realised over the years that the most enjoyable part of writing is the flow. But over the weeks and months the bug of publication bit me and I began to chase it.

Like everyone, I enjoy the buzz of other people reading and liking my stories, but I still get most pleasure out of writing down the story that is clawing its way out. At the beginning of the process, the gestation period, I often wake in the middle of the night with my characters’ words. Getting lost in the first draft of a story is where I belong.

During this beginning period I rarely think about which marketing category my story will fit into. I’ve tried to do this as it would seem a good idea to write for a specific audience, but the more I write, the more apparent it becomes that I am writing for ‘story’.

An example of this is my soon to be published speculative fiction novel, SmartYellowTM, which started life as Thursday Girl. I wrote it and subbed it to agents. Some liked it but told me they didn’t sell speculative fiction. I had no idea that it was speculative fiction; I just wrote a story about a girl in a world of social control.

Several people have commented that it’s not sci-fi, it’s the kind of speculative fiction that’s only slightly removed from the world today. Depending on the direction the comment came from, this was framed in either a positive of negative slant.

This is exactly what I expected. If I had written a chick lit story aimed at a chick lit audience, then I would be pretty upset if someone would have perceived my story as a horror or a sci-fi. But I didn’t write for a specific audience or, translated into sales, genre. I wrote for story. It may or may not fit into pre-defined genre category – I’ll leave the audience to decide as is their prerogative.

That’s not to say that those who write for a particular genre are any less; on the contrary. They are managing their writing along a trajectory that meets with the successful marketing of their work at the same time as living inside their stories.

But I can’t help it. Maybe I’m making it more difficult for myself, but I just can’t resist the story that creeps up on me and tells itself; the excitement of what comes next and the bittersweet ending where I almost know that although I have had the time of my life, my characters may not see the light of day – so on to the next story fix.