Crossing Genres or Age GroupsCrossing Genres or Age Groups

by Marg McAlister


1. Crossing Genres

The main question you have to keep in mind when switching from one genre to another is this: "Do I know what my readers want?"

For example, there are writers who have decided to 'have a go at' romance fiction because they hear that romance writers make a good living. Let's clarify that: SOME romance writers make a good living - just as SOME mystery writers do, and SOME fantasy writers do. Good writers in any genre are not only highly skilled; they know the genre well enough to understand what readers want - and they give it to them.

I've encountered talented writers who, for example, simply cannot make the transition to writing romance fiction. Most often, it's because they really don't enjoy reading romance fiction. Sometimes, they don't even respect the genre.

Something that I have often advised is worth repeating here: 'write what you like to read'. That way you KNOW what readers want.

One well-known writer who has successfully crossed genres is romance writer Nora Roberts. Writing as J.D. Robb, she has written a number of successful hard-core police drama sci-fi novels featuring Lieutenant Eve Dallas. Nora's website tell us how this came about: "J.D. Robb was a product of numbers: by 1995, there was a surplus of Nora Roberts' titles to be released by her publishers and she continued to create more.   Reluctant to publish romantic suspense books similar to what she was already writing under a pseudonym, Nora had been playing with the idea of a strong, idealistic woman on the NY police force in the future.  J.D. Robb was born. The initials were taken from Ms. Roberts' sons, Jason and Dan, while Robb was a shortened form of Roberts."

2. Crossing Age Groups

a. Moving from writing for children to writing for adults

Writing More Words...

The increased word count is usually the main hurdle for writers switching to writing for adults. Writers of longer fiction for young adults may not notice much difference, but if you're used to writing short "chapter" books - which can be anything from a few thousand words long to fifteen thousand words - then a novel for adults can seem like a long haul indeed.

Suggestion: don't think in terms of so many chapters or so many thousand words. Rather, think in scenes. Create your basic plot, and work out the main character's goal; the problems he/she will encounter trying to attain that goal, and what will happen at the end. (So far, the procedure is pretty much the same as writing a book for children, isn't it?) Now decide on the viewpoint you will use (one or several?) and whether you need a subplot. (A subplot or two can be a great way of fleshing out a novel for adults.) Then just start writing it, scene by scene. While pacing is still important, you may find that you don't have to leave out as much as you would when writing a book for children.

Many writers who try to cross over from writing for children eventually discover that the problem is more psychological than anything else. It's not so much the ACTUAL work of writing extra words that is overwhelming (all writers, in the end, just type one word after another until they've finished) as the THOUGHT of writing them.

Taking More Time...

If you write a book for children and you can't get it published, you may not have had to invest too much of your time. (Note I said "MAY NOT", not "HAVE NOT". Picture book writers have been known to take years to rework a book of less than 600 words.) Let's say it has taken you three months to conceive, write and polish a children's book of 25,000 words. You can write four children's books of the same length in a year. If you write a 90,000-word book for adults at the same pace, then it will take you the best part of a year.

You can see the thinking here, can't you? "If I write for kids, I have four books out there for consideration in the time it takes to write one for adults. In two years, I can have eight books out there rather than two..."

Some writers see every unpublished book as a waste of time. Many published writers, however, wouldn't agree. Looking back, they can see that they needed to write those early, unpublished books to hone their skills. They view it as an apprenticeship, even though it was hard to go through at the time. If you are in more of a hurry to churn out books than to make yourself the best writer you can, you may still find yourself unpublished at the end of two years - with eight short manuscripts instead of two long ones.  

Thinking About Word Count, Time and Money...

Perhaps it all comes down to how you regard your writing. If you 'must' make it pay; 'must' earn a living, then you might choose to turn your energies to writing for children because it seems to pay off faster. BUT... are you then sacrificing the pleasure you feel when writing? Will it still be fun to create plots and characters? Will you want to turn up at your 'writing job', day after day, if it's not really what you want to do?

Would you be better off splitting your energies into writing the fiction you really want to write half of the time, and earning an income the rest of the time through writing freelance articles, ghostwriting or working in a part-time job? 

Thinking About Style...

Finally, what are the differences in style between writing for children and writing for adults? There are no hard and fast rules. Style is more dependent on genre. For example, the style in humorous chick-lit is usually different to a fast-paced thriller. You will have to adapt to your readership no matter what you write. If you're moving away from writing for children, you can probably explore the details more, but don't fall into the trap of becoming wordy or indulgent. Good, clear writing is valued regardless of the age group. Which leads us to...

b. Moving from Writing for Adults to Writing for Children.

You're probably aware that a number of popular novelists have made the move to writing for children. Some of them do it because they have children of their own, and decide they'd like to try writing for that age group. Others do it because they see an opportunity to cash in on their success writing for adults, assuming that their loyal fans will (if they have children) also buy their books for younger readers.

But let's assume that you are not a well-known author; that you just feel you'd like a change, and writing for children appeals. What are the potential problems?

Talking down to children...

Occasionally, writers who are making the switch from writing for adults will 'write down' to their new market. This is fatal. Kids can smell this a mile off. (And so can editors.) It is vital that you get into the minds of your young readers, and understand how they feel, talk, think and act.

Don't patronise them, and don't preach to them. Let's say you want to write fiction based on the theme of climate change and caring for the environment. What you need to do is wrap it up in a rattling good yarn. Let the message come out of the actions of the characters, and the consequences of actions - resist the temptation to spell it out to the reader. If you're a good enough writer, they'll get the message.

Making children into mini-adults....

On the other side of the coin, some writers make children sound like middle-aged adults. Be careful that your own pet phrases don't come out of their mouths. Be careful that you don't give them insights that are unlikely for the age group you're targeting. Make your young characters intelligent, but don't give them maturity beyond their years - unless there's a very good reason for it: such as a child being made to take unusual responsibility from a very young age.

Listen to the way children talk and express themselves. Avoid current slang, but try to reproduce typical speech patterns. Don't make their speech too formal. 

Giving too much detail....

It's not a good idea to waffle on with too much description in books for either children OR adults, but be especially careful that you don't do it for children. They'll skip the boring bits, and anyway, you won't have enough room to develop the story if you 'spread' too much. Don't waste words in long explanations of actions: focus on showing, not telling. If you need to reduce the word count, look at cutting whole paragraphs rather than rewriting sentences to save a few words. Pacing is all-important.  

Adding too many characters; making the plot too complex...

The older the age group, the more characters and plot twists you can include. However, it's wise to avoid complex plots and a large cast of characters. If your young readers get confused, they won't stick with the story.

What you read above is just a quick overview of some of the problems you may encounter when crossing genres or age groups. There are, no doubt, others... but you'll find that if you make contact with others who are writing for the same genre or age group, the learning curve will be reduced considerably.

© Marg McAlister


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