Advice on Being Genre Specific from Bali Rai

I’m exceedingly pleased to welcome author, Bali Rai, to the blog today, who has some interesting and insightful things to say about writing within specific genres.

Genre Blog

Recently I’ve been writing in a new genre, certainly as far as my professional career goes. Fire City, which came out in September, is a dystopian horror fantasy – very different to anything I’ve done before. As a result, many people have asked if I found it difficult to switch from urban, gritty fiction to this new area. The answer is no. I didn’t give the switch much thought at all. I believe that writing to a new genre is relatively easy, but only if you do two things.

The first is obvious. People who don’t read horror tend not to become good horror writers. Ditto romance, sci-fi and any other genre, sub-genre or sub sub-genre you can think of. When I teach creative writing, I make clear that you must read the genre you intend to write. To do anything less would be very dangerous. It would be idiotic.

The second thing is to understand your genre and the people who love it. I always knew that my core audience for novels such as Killing Honour demanded characters and situations, in which they could, realistically, picture themselves or their peers. I’m talking about young adults who might be reluctant readers, or those who feel that books are for other people. The Black and Asian teens, or the working-class white youngsters, who are sorely underrepresented in fiction or become strange, cardboard cut-out support characters that don’t reflect reality. The ones generally ignored by middle-class literary critics and their favourite middle–class writers. So, when I wrote my urban YA novels, I wrote about those people warts and all, and addressed the real issues they faced every day, without censoring my words. I wrote the stories simply, preferring to give my readers a simple but great story rather than prove how clever and literary I was.

For the horror genre, which I have read widely since childhood, the key thing is gore, guts and blood. The success of Darren Shan’s books lies in their ability to match and beat the visceral deluge of Hollywood films such as Saw. There is also a less in-your-face, more considered, horror style, perfected by Stephen King and others. The sort that provides sudden shocks aplenty, genuinely spine chilling suspense and an all-pervading sense of looming evil.

I know all of this because I have read countless horror novels, and each one informed my own writing. I’m self-taught, having never sat a creative writing course. I didn’t study English at A-Level or as an undergraduate. What I know about genre comes from studying the writing of successful writers. I learned very quickly that certain genres were written in particular ways.

So, when I wrote my first romance novel (Rani & Sukh) I was aware that fans of the genre wanted the main protagonists introduced immediately. I knew that the reader had to fall in love with the protagonists (just a little) in order to “get” the story and to care about it. I knew that crime fans wanted a crime at the beginning, taking them straight to the intrigue. That action fans want explosions and chases, not slow-building human drama.

I know some people would disagree with giving the reader what they want, and that’s fine, but I disagree completely. I think that real genre fiction (the stuff that keeps publishing companies profitable) is all about the reader, the fan. Giving them what they want has built crime fiction, romance, thrillers, action/adventure, and every other big-selling genre. The most important person in the book industry is the reader. Not the bookseller, the critic or the publisher, and most definitely NOT the writer. So I wrote Fire City for me, yes, and for my publisher, and I sort of hoped that reviewers would like it. But I also wrote it for fans of horror, dystopia and fantasy, because I’m one of them, and I know what they like. Because I understand both the genres and the people who love them, the transition into a new style became easy.

About the Author

Bali Rai has written several young adult novels. His first, (un)arranged marriage, created a huge amount of interest and won many awards, including the Angus Book Award and the Leicester Book of the Year. It was also shortlisted for the prestigious Branford Boase first novel award. Rani & Sukh and The Whisper were both shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Prize. Bali also writes the hugely popular Soccer Squadseries for younger readers.
Bali was born in Leicester where he still lives, writing full-time and visiting schools to talk about his books. You can visit him at

2 thoughts on “Advice on Being Genre Specific from Bali Rai

  1. Great post! I enjoy this site, it keeps me informed and motivated. THANKS! Bette

  2. Informed and motivated is where it’s at!

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