Genre & Dialect

Posted by Derek Chamberlain on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 Under: Writing

‘Write what you know’ is one of the most cited rules of writing. Most people take it to mean that you should only write about those things you have some experience of. That idea has been soundly refuted by a number of good authors. 

What it really means is, if you want to write about something, or, write within a particular genre, you need to find out as much about it as you can before starting the story.

You need to immerse yourself in the topic to such an extent that when you come to write the story, you are writing what you know. This applies no less to the genre’s dialect than to the cultural milieu within which you are setting your Police Procedural, your Heroic Fantasy, or your Supernatural Romance.

Everyone talks about authorial voice — the tone, word choice, and style that is unique to each writer. What isn't mentioned so often, or at all, is the fact that every genre has its own easily distinguishable dialect.

Genre dialects are composed of topic, treatment, tropes, word choice, and pace. These are what give the different genres their unique voices. 

It is by the melding of these different dialects that we get cross-over or mixed-genre novels — sci-fi mystery, supernatural romance, dark fantasy, speculative fiction.

 Blending the dialects by, say, having a romance sup-plot in your character-driven science fiction story, can work quite well. 

The problem arises when people try to use the dialects inappropriately. For instance, by trying to fuse romance elements onto an idea-based science fiction story or having fantasy elements in a detective story where the fantasy elements don’t have any significant impact upon the plot of the story.

These dialects are why we're always told to read broadly within the genre before trying to submit a story to a magazine or publisher of that genre. You don’t expect to be fluent in a new language after just one conversation class so why should you be fluent in a new genre dialect after reading just one story?

There are some elements of fiction that remain important regardless of genre — strong characterization, some sort of conflict, a believable milieu, a discernible plot. But not all of these will be taking centre stage in every story, and each of the genres treats them differently. Reading broadly allows you to discover the ways in which that particular genre deals with each of them, allows you to learn the genre dialect.

In : Writing 

Tags: genre voice writing 
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Meet the scribbler

I'm a writer, editor, indie publisher, and dedicated Magic Spreadsheet user. Originally from Adelaide, Australia, I've been living in Japan since 1995. I've had a life-long interest in writing and in speculative fiction. My first book was published in mid-2014.
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