Does the Genre Dictate the Story or the Story the Genre?

I write romance, but for a long time now I’ve been thinking about writing within a new genre. Up to this point, all but one of my eight romance novels has had a strong villain.  This has allowed me to write with some sense of intrigue and suspense. Now I’m feeling a strong urge to dip my pen (or my keyboard) into the world of mystery writing.


I usually write as a Pantser, working off of a scant outline if one at all. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a pretty good idea about my characters, the tone or mood of the piece, or how I want the story to end. Obviously, in romance the ending is always I happily ever after affair. What I’m talking about is having a fairly good sense of how I’m going to get the characters to that point. It’s fun for me to work this way, because I never know what’s going to happen next. And who among us doesn’t like a good surprise?

Writing mystery, however, is another kettle of fish. I haven’t written enough within that genre to feel comfortable merely lollygagging along plot wise. Because there are so many twists and turns, as well as cul-de-sacs and red herrings, along the way from page one to the words The End, I find a detailed plot to be not only necessary but crucial. In other words, I can’t merely depend upon my pants so I must for now change gears and be a Plotter.

The book I’m currently working on involves an amateur sleuth turned professional private investigator. If it wasn’t enough that she has to solve this next missing person case, she’s now working in tandem with her husband, who’s also new to the business. In the past she’s had some success, but she’s also had her share of failure, one of which nearly ended in the death of a young soccer player. Now she must prove herself not only to her boss, but to her husband, and most importantly to herself. As you can see, here’s lots of potential for intrigue and conflict.

Switching genres allows me to approach my writing as if I were a new student to the craft. Every choice I make with regard to character as well as plot is important. So much so, I don’t want to miss a step or crucial element along the way. Most every mystery ends with a case being solved, at least on some level. In that regard, it is not unlike a romance with its guaranteed HEA. Both genres invite the reader to hope for the best outcome for their characters. A mystery can include a good love story, and a romance can certainly have its suspense. It’s just that a good detective story places emphasis on the quest for justice, whereas a memorable romance focuses on the blossoming of an enduring relationship.

So far, I’m enjoying this new process which writing in a new genre affords.  I simply hope my readership will go along for the ride, but I’ll just have to see how that plays out. Ah, yet another mystery!


Born and raised near the Puget Sound in Washington State, Gwen Overland and her family now live in Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Prior to that Gwen lived in Los Angeles and had careers in directing, acting, and singing while performing at the piano. After years in academia, writing one research article followed by another, Gwen turned her talents toward writing fiction and found she happily could not stop. Love’s Harvest and Free My Heart, two novels from her Salmon Run Series, have been published by Soul Mate; she is currently working on the third Salmon Run novel, Waiting for You. Her self-published, romantic comedy/mystery series, The Millicent Winthrop Novels, is available in both English and German.  In addition, Gwen also has two published non-fiction books on the work she does in conjunction with her business, Expressive Voice Dynamics: Soul of Voice and Soul of My Voice.  When she’s not reading, writing, or playing with her two black pugs, Buster Keaton and Emmett Kelly, Gwen works in the theatre, teaches college students how to muster the courage to follow their dreams, or assists psychotherapy clients in discovering more joy and meaning in their lives.

Keep up with Gwen by following her on Twitter @gwenoverland; Gwen Overland Author on Facebook; @GwenOverland on Instagram, or at and



This entry was posted in Author, Gallivanting With Gwen!, Romance, Soul Mate Publishing, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Does the Genre Dictate the Story or the Story the Genre?

  1. Susan berger says:

    I’m at huge mystery stand. Some of my favorites are Rex Stout, phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Leonidas Witherall series, Jill Churchhill, and especially Emily Latham Enjoy the process.

  2. viola62 says:

    I love mysteries, and I, too, don’t want to be held to one genre. I write mysteries, historical fiction/romance, and contemporary romance. Each requires me to change or adapt my voice.

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