Friday Speak Out!: You Oughtta Write a Book! (Part 1— Discover Your Style of Writing)

Friday, December 26, 2014
by Heather Heyford

If you want to write a book, it’s essential to understand where your natural style falls within the wider realm of literature. “What genre do you write in?” is one of the first questions asked when writers, editors and agents convene.

There’s a practical reason for being familiar with your style, too. You have to know which publishing houses and editors to target. It won’t do you much good to send your mystery manuscript to a romance publisher!

Literary fiction is character driven. It’s been described as distant, serious, often dark. It is slower paced, concerned with beautiful writing, and intellectual. Focused more on broad themes, such as human suffering, than on plot. Literary style encompasses the 3Rs: reflection, remembering, and reaction. Examples of literary fiction and its sweeping themes are:
The Great Gatsby — the quest for wealth, the American dream
Romeo and Juliet — star-crossed love leads to tragedy
Catcher in the Rye — alienation as a form of self-protection, the phoniness of the adult world, it’s painful to grow up.
In contrast, commercial fiction is considered to be plot-driven. It is pro-active, fast-paced, emotional, and personal. Usually broken down into genre (romance, thrillers, etc.). Examples of commercial fiction are:
Gone Girl — the wife in what appears to be the perfect couple disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary
The DaVinci Code — an ingenious code is thought to exist in the works of Leonardo DaVinci
Outlander — a WWII combat nurse falls into a standing stone and lands in 1743 Scotland
Mainstream fiction falls somewhere in the middle of literary and commercial. To go a step further, the type of contemporary, emotional, universally appealing, mainstream fiction that occasionally becomes a blockbuster is often referred to as high concept. High concept novels and films can be explained in a quick elevator pitch. For example, here’s a pitch for the high concept movie, Jurassic Park: What if we could build dinosaurs?

In preparation for bumping into a potential editor at a national writer’s conference, I pared my current 4-book series down to this: “The Napa Wine Heiresses is a series about the lives and loves of the daughters of the most notorious vintner in the Napa Valley.” I feel sure this exercise helped me get multiple offers from publishers.

Sometimes the entire premise of a high concept story is evident in the title:
Snakes on a Plane
Try distilling your idea into 1-3 sentences. Even if you have more of a literary bent, boiling your book down to its essence is a great exercise in clarifying what it is you are trying to say.

Whatever your style, good story transcends genre. To paraphrase literary agent and writing coach Donald Maass, the reason fiction exists is to use a stranger in strange circumstances to surprise us with ourselves. Personally, I aim for both powerful story and beautiful writing.

[In Part 2 of You Oughtta Write a Book, I’ll explain the myriad methods—print, digital, indie, and so on—by which you can consider publishing your book. And be sure to stay tuned for Part 3 — The Importance of Social Media in Helping Your Book Get “Found”.]

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Heather Heyford is the author of Wine Heiresses Series: A Taste of Chardonnay,  A Taste of Merlot, A Taste of Sauvignon, and A Taste of Sake, from Kensington Publishing. She is represented by The Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Visit her at, and

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Renee Roberson said...

Heather--This is very helpful information for those of us who have ever wondered at some point what genre our book falls in. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading parts two and three!

Margo Dill said...

I love your example of snakes on a plane! :) HA! Yes, the title pretty much tells the story. Then find a big star...and you've got it made. I have heard this so much lately about getting your book's plot into a 2-3 sentence hook, even before you start writing. This can help you during the entire process. Thanks and looking forward to your series.

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