On Genre Expectations

Anonymous asked: “Do you know any scenes that are a must have for YA Contemporary? And any stereotype scenes to avoid?”

YA Contemporary often has a lot in common with the bildungsroman – both are set during youth, whether is be teenage years or somewhere around then and detail experiences that are significant to the main character. I wouldn’t call them synonyms, but there’s overlap.

There are expectations that come along with any genre, but with that said, genre is just a label. Why try to work with reader expectations when you’re trying to tell a story? There are some ways that readers can help you write, but don’t try to cater to them too much – instead, focus on writing a good story. I know that sounds ridiculous. It’s not. 

If you’re going to try to go out of your way to include some scene that you’ve seen in every single novel in your genre, take a second to think, why are you trying to write this into your novel? Especially if it’s not an easy or obvious scene to work into it, just don’t do it. Does it have anything to do with the plot? Every scene should have something to do with the plot in some way – I say this loosely because it’s true, but not stringently true. 

When I’m writing, I don’t think about whether I’ve read scenes like the one I’m writing. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. I think – do I need this scene? And if the answer is yes, I write it. Maybe if it does feel a bit too familiar, I might make something happen to screw it up – to make the scene feel different, to make it more interesting. 

If I’m writing a scene that doesn’t feel interesting, I’ve got to make it somehow be more interesting. It’s true for everyone. And by interesting, I don’t mean that there needs to be something truly action-packed or wild happening. Interesting can be small. It can be reaching for a gun and realizing it’s not there. It can be unpacking a complicated emotional dilemma that the character is struggling with. Sometimes it might feel a little too familiar but then, because this character is dealing with some kind of emotional struggle I find endlessly interesting, that’s ok. I feel like any reader is going to end up thinking it’s interesting too. Or I’d hope they would. 

If you’ve been following my blog awhile, you know I really don’t care to talk about stereotypes or things like that if only because I know if you approach a tired, old scene with new eyes, it can feel new. You could have read a dozen similar scenes like it in the past where the same things happen, but if you’re making it a part of the story and finding ways to make it feel relevant to your story, I don’t see why you can’t make it work. 

Last, just getting back to genre expectations – I don’t think there’s any reason to feel like you have to include a particular scene or a kind of character or certain thematic elements just because of the genre you think you’re writing in. The truth is I don’t think most people know what genre they are writing in until they’re done. Sure, some are easier to guess, but if you’re focused on telling a good story, it doesn’t matter what genre it ends up being. A good story is a good story, whether it fits a genre to a tee or not. 

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