Donna Everhart

What The Heck Is This?

When I finished my last project I realized I was in a bit of a dilemma.  Based on what I’d read, it wasn’t an unusual spot to be in.  My dilemma was, what genre did my book fit in?  I hadn’t written a mystery because a reader would know certain things up front my MC didn’t.  My MC wasn’t trying to solve the crime, she was simply trying to find out what happened to her parents.  It wasn’t a thriller because although I did try to make things suspenseful for her, I didn’t have her hanging by a fingernail out of a plane door, nor did I have her standing on the ledge of some mountain about two thousand feet up with a knife wielding maniac taking swipes at her torso.  I didn’t have my bad guy constantly thwarting every attempt she made to figure things out.

I simply wrote it (ha! simply wrote = eighteen months of hair pulling and angst), tried to make it good, typed THE END and then I admit, I sat back and wondered, what the heck is this? 

Was it so out of line, so off the mark of anything marketable it was doomed from the get go?  I’ve tried not to worry about that.  Then, one day, without me trying to figure it out, I was practically handed my answer on a silver platter because I honestly can’t tell you how I land on the sites that answer my questions.  I traverse the internet the way a monkey traverses treetop canopies.  I cavort here and there without paying attention to what I’m linking to, flip flopping around like a spider on a web.  (no pun intended.  Well, okay, there is, because it’s a pretty good one if you’ve ever seen a spider spinning a web)   Hither thither I go, reading this and that.

I somehow found myself on the Algonquin Redux site and landed on a list that clearly stated the difference between a mystery and a thriller.  Here’s the short of it:

MYSTERY                                                                  THRILLER
A puzzle                                                                       A nightmare
Curiosity motivates                                                   Victim story (at top)
Protagonist has skills                                                Protagonist must learn skills
Thinking is paramount                                             Feeling is paramount
Action is offstage                                                        Action is onstage
Small circle of acquaintances                                  Thrust into larger world
Clues                                                                             Surprises/twists
Red herrings                                                                Cycles of mistrust
Information withheld from audience                     Information given to audience
Audience a step behind                                             Audience a step ahead
Mostly single Point of View                                      Up to four Points of View
Whodunnit?                                                                 What will happen?
Suspects                                                                        Betrayers
Ending intellectually satisfying                               Ending emotionally satisfying
Closure a requirement                                               Can end ambiguously
Series expected                                                            Often stand-alone
Usually 300 pages                                                       Can be longer

Here’s the link if you want to read the article in it’s entirety.  It’s actually pretty short.  This was all fine and good but it still didn’t quite nail the way I handled my story, or maybe I should say the way my characters handled the story.  Therefore, I still didn’t have a clue.  But, lucky me, I subscribe to various blogs and am never at a loss for something to read.  And just over a week ago I found my answer here.  Hallelujah, what I wrote actually fits nicely into this!  Crime fiction!  Whoop!

On what constitutes crime fiction:

“I would say that crime fiction is less about the whodunit than about the protagonist’s dilemma in a criminal milieu. The protagonist may not have all the information—so there is a mystery in that he is trying to find something out—but the story is really about how he solves his problems, which are often as much about his lifestyle as about the particular crime that spurs the plot. For instance, in Ray Bank’s brilliant Saturday’s Child, Cal Innes is forced by a local mob boss to find a former employee and the money he stole, but in many ways the story is about Cal trying to find a place for himself and form an adult life within a socioeconomic stratum that offers very few options.”

—Stacia Decker (Donald Maass Literary Agency)

This was such a relief because “crime fiction” isn’t listed very often.  If you do a search on it you can find some resources, but mostly you get thriller, suspense and mystery and often all of these are lumped together.  When I was trying to buy books so I could read “in the genre” I was writing, suspense was the one I searched under.  And oftentimes I ended up giving up because I just couldn’t seem to pinpoint a similar story.  (Saturday’s Child above would have been good to know about, for example)

Now I know.  A day late and a dollar short maybe, but my book fits somewhere!  Clearly!

Have you ever written a book, only to have no idea what the heck it is?

7 thoughts on “What The Heck Is This?”

  1. Yep. My big one, The Sleep of Reason, fell into that same confusional area. It’s not a mystery, or crime, or thriller, or horror, or what. Possibly why I never landed an agent for ot.

      1. I like that title – a lot.

        There’s this whole genre mash-up now to boot. And I can actually see some elements of thriller in my story, but I couldn’t call it that solely. I was intrigued recently to see that the novel DESCENT was categorized as a “literary thriller.” I definitely agree, his writing was a bit McCarthy’ish, and it also had some really suspenseful moments.

  2. During certain phases of the moon I become wholly enamored with a neo-Greek genre type. If the protagonist dies it is a tragedy. If he/she/it lives it is a comedy. Then I go onto one of those writer’s help forums and begin to think writers invent a new genre every time. That doesn’t help those who are truly floundering. I had to opt for thriller because it has all of the markers of a thriller in the second half of the book. It makes for a mother of a query because it starts as a mystery that unfolds into a connection with another mystery. I have to get the query to wrap around to the thriller part and it is a tough nut.

    A couple of times I proposed not using a genre at all. It didn’t go over well. One already published young lady actually said that agents check the genre before reading the query. That really pissed me off for a minute. Then I realized that most agents don’t think queriers are very bright. You do need to find a close approximation to a genre or look the fool.

    I wish it was easier but it is just one of the line of trials and tribulations on the road to publication. When you get to that point you realize that the writing was the easy part.

    1. Isn’t that the truth? Word to the nth degree on the ease of writing post publication, and of course we know that’s not likely true, but geez.

      Honestly, if anything of mine ever gets pub’ed I feel (and maybe we ALL ought to slap ourselves silly for even thinking like this) like I’ll be able to write ANYTHING. Why? Because it’s that damn validation thing. I will feel that ah! I’ve been validated. I CAN write.

      Interesting about your genre dilemma. Did you just write the story without pigeon holing it according to rules? That’s what I did. I just wrote a story and maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it. IDK. I don’t like following rules anyway, so, there’s that.

  3. Well, I know what my book is, a memoir but…
    I just got back some comments regarding the query. The person to whom I sent my perfect little ditty told me it was VERY clever, SO clever in fact that it might be TOO clever. What the hell does that mean?

    He said he loved the query and still didn’t know what the book was about. ME it’s about ME you nincompoop. But okay, here it goes, who the heck am I, and why would anyone want to read about me?
    I think I better think about this for awhile. Maybe I’m a nobody.
    To use an overused phase which I hesitate to overuse again, “I am every woman”.

    I think I’ll go back to fiction for a while, get famous, and then everybody will want to read my memoir. That should be easy, right ?

    1. That’s an interesting comment – clever. All I can think of with the “still don’t know what the book is about” is there must have been – at least for him – an unclear journey for you, or he wasn’t sure of the overall message contained within the life story you intended to tell. I know nothing about memoirs, but what I do know of memoir, all of which I can fit into a thimble, is that there must be some THING that happens to you that sets you on some path of change. I’m sure you know this, but maybe you haven’t nailed that linear message into the story – or – chalk it up to this is just one guys opinion.

      Hey, you and I will get famous together. Easy peasy. 🙂

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