Have you ever wondered how the elements of story impact your book’s genre? Do some elements of story have greater importance in a book because of the book’s genre?
I can think of several times when I’ve gone to a restaurant and took the time to slowly chew my food, so I can experience how each of my senses is impacted by the food: from taste to smell to sight.
The level of importance the elements of story have on genre isn’t so different. We all have certain tastes—factors that appeal to us in different ways on our taste buds—and it’s the same with our reading preferences. I came to understand this in a profound way when I worked for our local library system, which I’d like to share with you today.
Readers crave certain “flavors” and genre helps them define what they like and discover more of it.
How the five elements of story vary in level of importance because of the genre may impact your perspective—and in a good way, for writers trying to satisfy their target readers!
Looking at Genre From a Different Perspective
In my last article, Book Genre: Why Figuring Out Your Genre Will Help Your Story Succeed, I explored the reasons genre is so important to readers, writers, publishers, and marketers. Also in it, I pointed you to some resources to help you learn more about genre.
One superb way of studying genre is to focus on the obligatory scenes and conventions inherent in each genre.
I remember how excited I was when I discovered Shawn Coyne’s book, The Story Grid. By the time I finished the first chapter, I knew my life as a writer was going to change in wonderful ways. The podcast is fabulous, too.
As much as I highly recommend studying these aspects of genre, in this article I’m going to take a different approach, by looking at genre according to the story’s components.
Five Elements of Story to Include In Your Book (And Consider When Determining Your Genre)
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on five components that go into every story.
By plot, I mean the order of events that create the rise and fall of tension as the story progresses. This is where you’ll see those obligatory scenes make an appearance.
Ask yourself: what is the story arc of my plot, and how does this move the action of my story forward?
Setting must be well-developed through the five senses, the opinions, and the emotions of the POV character. Setting is also one of the elements of story that is important in making your story unique. Consider how the surroundings of your character’s world can impact their actions and decisions.
You might also be interested in how to sketch setting in Scrivener, which we teach in this post.
Ask yourself: how is my story similar to others in its genre, but differs in setting? Why does this setting attract the readers of my genre?
The important characters in the story need to be memorable and engage reader emotions. In addition, the reader should not be in doubt about whose story it is—knowing the difference between what makes a protagonist, antagonist, and supporting characters can also be directly related to the genre.
Character development is crucial to any story, and undoubtably one of the mot important elements of story. This is what makes readers of your genre care about the book.
Ask yourself: how does the story arc challenge my protagonist, and why does my protagonist’s wants and needs directly conflict with the antagonist(s)?
This is how you put words on paper. It has to do with factors like sentence length and structure, thick or thin texture, vocabulary, types of details and imagery, etc.
Style is one of those elements of story that is difficult to teach, but a good trick its focusing on sentence length variation. For instance, Dr. Seuss had an extremely unique style that made his books timeless, which you might be interested in learning more about by reading the linked post.
Ask yourself: how do your sentences vary in length, and how does this support and develop a voice for your genre? For example, thriller suspense books will usually have shorter sentences, since there’s higher action and readers of this genre naturally look for fast-paced reads.
Here, I mean character voice, rather than author voice. Surprised you! Didn’t I?
I believe you can create character voice by various means, whereas author voice comes through best when you’re not trying to control it at all.
Like style, voice is one of the elements of story that is hard to teach.
Ask yourself: how do each of my characters sound different from one another? Why do their unique voices support the tone and depth of my books genre?
When considering your book’s genre, these five elements of story come into play in different ways. Now let’s take a look at some popular genres to see how they add up.
Romance is probably the biggest genre in terms of sales, numbers of books, and the readers who read them. It produces a massive amount of bestsellers and features a myriad of sub-genres which may slightly adjust the balance of these components.
In the romance genre, character comes first—by a long shot.
Readers must fall in love with the characters as the characters fall in love with each other.
The second component is plot. Leave out an important obligatory scene, like the “Meet Cute,” the “First Kiss,” or the “Proof of Love,” and romance readers will bring out the pitchforks.
Readers of your genre want these moments, and it’s your job as the writer of this genre to understand not only the important elements of story, like plot obligatory scenes and conventions, but also how to apply them into the plot and structure.
Setting comes next, followed by style and voice. These last two are roughly interchangeable as to importance. If you’re determined to write romance, be careful not to overemphasize setting, style or voice—doing so will kick your romance into another genre, such as literary (which is strictly defined by it’s more descriptive, melodic prose), or historical fiction (basing setting and plot on something real in history).
Example: The Notebook
P.S. One more thought—romances must include a happy ending. Don’t forget this!
Like in romance, character comes first with Mystery.
It is a critical component as the character and reader work closely together to solve the mystery.
Setting comes next, and includes the crime. You must pull the reader right into the story with sensory detail, opinion, and emotion. All of these are clearly defined by the genre’s target readers, all of whom are expecting a certain edge and suspense while unraveling the why of the mystery and crime.
The plot, in a mystery is also hugely important because that’s where most of the clues are laid out. Voice and style can be almost neutral, kept very low-key, depending on the sub-genre of the mystery.
The ending must provide a solution—or at least a satisfying resolution—to the crime.
Examples: Agatha Christie books, Sherlock Holmes books
Thrillers live and die on style. That’s number one, and encompasses the pacing necessary in a successful thriller.
Next comes plot. Most thrillers incorporate an intricate plot with lots of danger, but ensure that the good guys win, in the end.
Character, voice, and setting hold roughly equal positions of importance and can be tweaked up or down according to preference, as long as they don’t overpower style or plot.
Examples: The Girl on the Train, Gone