It was bound to happen eventually. Those three little words that all fiction writers dread to hear: it was generic. Ouch! The last thing any writer wants to hear is that their plot, setting, or characters were generic.
When I read that readers review, a few things came to my mind:
- If my story was so generic, then why on Earth did I have a hard time finding comparative titles for it?
- What exactly was generic about it?
- Why does it bother me to have it called generic?
To answer the first one, I thought about the book again in terms of how it relates to its genre: YA Dystopian. Now, unfortunately, you mention young adult dystopia to people and the first thing people will respond with is:
Oh, so it’s like Hunger Games
It’s as close to Hunger Games as Matilda is to Harry Potter. Sure, they share the same intended reader, and share a general overarching genre, but are they really the same?
Isn’t that something that is required to be generic? Carbon copies of each other with just enough variation to not be considered a rip-off?
Or were they referring to some trope that may or may not have been included in my book?
Does it really matter?
I admit I stressed over this for a few days, but then remembered that even though the reader loved young adult and dystopian, it didn’t mean they were the reader for me.
I love reading young adult horror. I absolutely adore Darren Shan but don’t like R. L. Stine. Shocker! Both are horror writers and both have a young adult series, yet they are miles apart in tone, style, and content.
So, can there really be such a thing as being generic in writing?
When you have too many people and you’re trying to satisfy everybody’s input, you usually end up with something so incredibly generic that it has no point of view. ~ Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie summarized writing as a whole in that short quote. If you try to satisfy all readers, you can’t satisfy any of them. This is perhaps why many well-known authors openly admit they do not read reviews.
Many love to hear from and interact with fans. On Twitter, you can often find authors responding to fans posts and retweeting even when they are not tagged. I nearly died the first time Darren Shan responded to one of my posts saying I loved his works.
They have learned, accepted, and embraced something that I had not until my work was called generic — I cannot write for everyone. I can only write for myself and the story that demands to be told.
Writers are not in competition with each other — and not in a competition over readers. While I could butcher Field of Dreams and say “if you write it, they will read” I am reminded of a much better quote by Greg Universe
If every pork chop was perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs
So to the readers who are searching for the perfect pork chop, I am sure you’ll find it. For everyone else who has been called generic — I’ll host a hot dog eating contest.
This first appeared in The Writing Cooperative publication on Medium. Please let me know in the comments if you guys don’t want to read my Medium posts here. I am trying to keep both separate, but sometimes I really want to share lol.