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Some mistakes writers make

I have been coaching writers for some years now and I wanted to address some of the most common reasons queries or questions that I get. Naturally most of these crop up during the Write a Book in 100 Days course. But they are universal questions and ones that any writer may encounter. Let’s tackle some of them in a Q&A format. Apologies if you recognise any of these questions as ones you sent me. They are just good illustrations of common problems or questions.


 

Problem 1: You are not clear on your genre



 Q. I am not sure if my genre is correct, it seems that all the love stories are about a man and a woman. Well mine is different - it is about the unconditional love that a father has for his son, and all the things he had to go though to prove it. Will this be still under a love story or will it be something else?


 

A. OK so firstly there is no such genre as 'love story'. There is a genre called 'romance' (but this is not father-son material).


What you are talking about is your theme - and this is very different to GENRE. Your theme is love (between a father and a son) and the theme is more a feeling / lesson from the book. It is the emotion driving your characters actions but it is NOT YOUR GENRE.


 

Now you need to choose a genre.


Yes, it’s about a story about father and son but what is going to happen to them? How will their love test them? What is testing their love (remember a plot is always about conflict).


 This will determine your genre. Think The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Sure that is about a father-son relationship (the theme) but it plays out as a life-and-death survival on the road, set in the future. So what’s the genre? It’s a science fiction novel. If you want to get even clearer it is classed as a ‘post apocalyptic sci-fi novel’.


Those of you who have done any of our courses will know that this is a drum I will bang and bang. It is the fundamental mistake most writers make when they start out. Get this right. Honestly if you get this right your book will start to take shape.


 Problem 2: You don’t have a clear cut protagonist



 Q. My book is a story about a family rocked by a double murder. It follows their lives and how they unravel in the aftermath.


A. I love your concept and you are on the right track in every way. But you are going to hit a snag. There is not such lead character as ‘a family’.


 What do I mean by this? Books have to have one essential, non-negotiable element – a lead character (or a protagonist). The book is their story. It tells their struggles, conflict and their journey. Now you are suggesting you are going to tell the story of a family.


No.  You will have too many lead characters - and you need to choose ONE of them to tell your story through. WHOSE STORY IS IT?


You don’t have to drop the other characters, but they will become subplots, or simply other characters in your tale. You can also have some scenes in their eyes (through their viewpoint). But they will get less ‘screen time’. Stick to one lead and then fill their life with people who they share the journey with.


 

Problem 3:  You are crossing genres



 Q. I did check on Google, it just seems that I can't put my book in any of the genres as you suggest I do.  My book can be read by older kids as well as grown ups.


A. This will not work. Young Adult (YA) is a very large and fast-growing genre. There is a very distinct difference between a YA novel and a novel written for adults. On the most basic level a YA novel has GOT TO HAVE a teenage lead. Ideally this lead is the age of the reader – so if you are writing a novel for the 15-17 market, make sure the lead is 17.  Yes, there are books that cross over like Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, but these were written for the YA market and happen to have gathered an additional adult audience. I have included a link below to some tips on writing for the YA market.


 

Problem 4: You are doomed from the start



 Q.  Aletha is my main character. She dies and we learn this at the start of the book then we jump back in her life ….


A. Tell me this - why exactly is a reader going to follow a character for an entire story if they already know he dies? It’s a bit of a buzz kill to put that in upfront to put it mildly. In fact, it is generally not a good idea to EVER have your lead character die in a book / film / story. The only example where this works could be that Jodi Picoult novel with the dead girl. But be logical ...... who wants to read about someone who you follow for an entire story and then they go and die on you. You are going to lose your readers on the first page. No, your character Aletha is the VICTIM (if you want to play this out as a crime novel). Now find a lead character and write about them. 


 Problem 5: You want to write literary fiction


This is a conversation I have a lot. You have an idea of this novel, and it involves beautiful language, complex issues and bigger societal issues. Many writers are driven to literary fiction and want to write a novel that is rich, complex and clever. That's what you love to read right? And this is all fantastic. But in this publishing day and age you ALSO have to make sure you segment it in a publishable genre. 


Don't confused a writing style with a genre. Genre drives your PLOT. You character needs to have one.


The way you write, the intelligence, poetry, metaphor and layering  ... that is what will make your novel literary or commercial.



And here's a hint... which one do you think is easier to get a publishing deal for? 


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