Can You Change a Novel’s Genre After Writing It?
Is it possible to change the genre of a novel you’ve already written? If so, how would you go about it?
Ann posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Re: shifting genre of story from romance to crime – advice needed please!
Your Snowflake Method helped me to plan and write my first book(working title:”A Darker Burgundy”) and I submitted the early chapters for a First Novel competition in a UK women’s magazine and it was listed as a runner-up. The story is a romance where love turns to hate in Nazi-Occupied France. I have edited and re-drafted the work many times and I’m now thinking of switching genre from romance to crime, hoping this way to lend the story more pace and momentum in the hope that this may make it more appealing to readers/agents.
Please can you kindly advise me how to go about this daunting task?
Randy sez: this sounds tricky, at least on the surface. A romance novel is written for one target audience. A suspense novel (I think that’s what you’re really asking about, although I can’t be sure) is written for an entirely different target audience.
A Tale of Two Genres
Let’s talk about these two genres first.
In a romance, the protagonist is the relationship between the two main characters. This relationship is in great danger of being killed. Usually, the reason the relationship might die is that one or both of the characters might pull out of it. Typically every scene (or almost every scene) includes one or both of the main characters. The story usually ends with the relationship blooming into a lifelong commitment.
In a suspense novel, you typically have one character as the protagonist. That character wants to do something or prevent something that would put some person or some group of people at high risk (possibly a nation or even the entire world). A suspense novel can have a large cast of characters and a large stage and you aren’t required to show the protagonist in every scene.
So the problem here is that there’s not a lot of overlap between these two kinds of stories. It’s possible that you’d need to rewrite the entire story to make it conform to the suspense pattern.
But there is some overlap. The romantic suspense subgenre works as both a romance novel and a suspense novel. As in any romance novel, the protagonist is the relationship between the two main characters. And as in any romance novel, the relationship is in danger of being killed. But the reason the relationship is in danger of being killed is because one or both of the two main characters are in danger of being killed. That’s what makes it also a suspense novel.
So How To Make the Transition?
How would you transition your story to a new genre?
The first thing to do is to decide exactly what genre you want to write. Nobody can tell you what genre to write. You get to decide. What do you want the book to be? Romance? Suspense? Romantic suspense? Something else? Pick one. Amazon has hundreds of subcategories. Browse around until you find exactly the one that you can envision for your book.
The second thing to do is to make sure you know the “rules of the genre.” There aren’t any written rules, of course. You learn the rules by reading current books in your genre and learning what’s done and what’s not done. The rules will tell you what kind of story structure you can have and what the tone of each scene should be. And lots of other things.
If you’re very lucky, the manuscript you’ve reworked many times will be pretty close in structure to the new genre you’ve chosen. In that case, just tweak what you’ve got to fit the genre.
If you’re not lucky, you’re going to have to make structural changes to your novel to fit the “rules” of your new genre. Since you’re a Snowflaker, you can just make a copy of your existing Snowflake document and tweak that document. Then use that new Snowflake document to guide you in adding, deleting, and moving scenes around in your manuscript.
Finally, you will probably also have to adjust the tone of your writing. (Or maybe not. It sounds like you’ve already got a suspense-like tone, which is the reason it’s not having success as a romance. So if you’re lucky, the current tone of your novel is already appropriate for your category.) But the point here is that you should work on the tone of each scene after you’ve already fixed the structure of the novel. It would make no sense to change the tone of scenes before fixing the structure, because you’d be reworking scenes that you might eventually end up deleting.
Ouch, That’s a Lot of Work
Of course, this might end up being a lot of work. That’s not fun, but it’s your reality. If you’re stuck in a swamp, the only way out is to press ahead and get out. So grit your teeth and do it.
And the lesson to take away from this for your next book is to define the category of your novel very early in the process of Snowflaking it. That’s a lesson that will pay big dividends for the rest of your writing life.
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