How would you describe a dog? Four legs, a nose, and a tail, right? Easy enough. But that can also describe a cat, a horse, or even an elephant! Because a dog is such a common animal, we don’t think twice about the difference between a dog and a cat, we just know. We automatically put it in the category of dog.

Animals have the same basic structure but aren’t the same. This goes for storytelling as well. Stories have the same basic structure (The Five Requirements, anyone?) but aren’t the same. Each story is different, just like the difference between a German Shepherd Dog and a fox terrier. We classify differences.

In story, we call them Genre.

There are specific characteristics that are attributed to German shepherds, things all of them have in common: long tails that hang downward, large ears, and long brown and black fur. Fox terriers have small tails that point upward, ears that flop forward, and are white with brown and black marks. Each genre of story has characteristics that make it unique. A serial killer mystery must have a murder scene, but a cozy mystery does not.

Genre is a way to classify the characteristics of the book you’re writing. Each one has its own set of attributes that MUST be included to satisfy the reader. If one of the scenes that makes a mystery is missing, something feels off. Readers may not understand what it is, but it will leave them unsatisfied with the story, even if every other essential scene is hit.

I recently got to have a date day with my husband, and there was little playing in the theatre. Being avid moviegoers (and story lovers!), we were undeterred, and I picked Ma, a horror film starring Octavia Spencer. By the way, I love good horror stories. They have the potential to highlight social and moral issues, showing the absolute worst-case scenario from poorly made choices.

Ma was full of suspense and tension. It wasn’t just another gore-fest; it was a well-crafted story.

That is, until the end.

Careful, spoiler alert! One of the things that place a story into the horror genre is the false ending. This is where the audience is tricked into thinking that the good guys have won, and all is right with the world. Then, oops! They didn’t really win and have another short battle to overcome before the resolution. To my great disappointment, Ma fell short of that promise. There was no false ending, so when the credits rolled, I felt like the movie wasn’t over. It was too easy.

When I see a manuscript that doesn’t satisfy at the end, I start with the basics. The foundation is Genre. I’ll work with the author to make sure all of the requirements are hit, then go back and make sure all the essential scenes are present and accounted for. Brainstorming sessions are always fun and can get the creative juices flowing so that the story stays true to itself and satisfies readers.

So do you need to pick a genre for your story? Yeah, you do. Otherwise, the readers won’t know if they’re looking at a German shepherd or a fox terrier.

Need help determining your Genre? Schedule a free draft assessment HERE and we’ll see what ya got!

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