The Skills and Thrills of Voice: Writing for Multiple Genres

By Harlequin Intrigue Author R. Barri Flowers

As a longtime author with many books crossing multiple genres, I have often been asked how I have managed to successfully navigate these in terms of voice, and the unique challenges in writing for different audiences while staying true to each category. Admittedly, it has presented me with an interesting set of dynamics that I had to get the measure of in order to make the voice work by hitting the right notes at the right time and place.

I began with writing academic and criminology textbooks shortly after graduating from Michigan State University with a Master’s of Science degree in Criminal Justice. As the audience for these books is primarily college professors and students, it meant that there was little room for variation in voice or presentation. My objective was to write in a voice that was focused on teaching the subject matter, with educational data, facts, and figures, and conclusions based on these. This straightforward approach (which could be somewhat tedious as a writer) achieved its objective, and I wrote and published many such books in this genre.

Next up for me was true crime writing, where I have also excelled, with a number of true crime books and shorts published. Though it represented another form of factual writing, an entirely different voice was needed. True crime is one of the most popular forms of entertainment today, with television networks such as Investigation Discovery and others offering round the clock true crime documentaries. True crime readers are no less voracious in their appetite for new stories. The true crime genre requires a dramatic, narrative nonfiction approach, blending the facts of the case with an almost fictional style that gives it an informative voice, but in an entertaining and gripping way that separates it from, say, a newspaper or journal article.

Moving into crime fiction, including mystery, suspense, and thriller novels, was a natural progression in my career. I had to move away from factual writing into a more creative writing voice that allowed for much more latitude in presenting material and was focused on entertaining the audience with suspenseful fictional stories. It was a challenge I embraced as a longtime fan of police procedurals, domestic, psychological, and spy thrillers, and historical mysteries. Because of my background in narrative nonfiction and criminology, I have been able to create a unique voice that blends imagination and clever storytelling with verisimilitude to give the novels credibility within gripping, character driven storylines.

My writing talents made their way into the romance and romantic suspense genres as a reflection of my longtime love for classic romance movies and romance fiction. In addition to appreciating the contribution of the amazing female authors in the romance field, I was also interested in male romance authors such as Harold Lowry, Thomas Huff, Nicholas Sparks, Eric Jerome Dickey, Richard Paul Evans, and others. With such talents for inspiration and a desire to branch out even further in a remarkable career, I found my voice as a romance author, with more than a dozen romances to my credit.

Unlike writing crime fiction, romance fiction required tapping into my heart strings and delving into the elements that make for great romances, such as chemistry and romantic conflict between the protagonists, descriptions of the hero and heroine and where they live, their family and friends, and of course, a happy ending. I have felt comfortable with the voice in this genre, adjusting it as the plot called for, while working hard to maintain credibility.

With respect to the different points of view between the hero and heroine in romance, I have found it to be not so different than in my mystery and thriller fiction, where I also have male and female points of view and romantic elements. I always strive to make the voices of the protagonists uniquely their own and believable regarding who they are and how they relate to others. I rely on my insight into the psyche of men and women in modern times and the common themes that drive emotional and romantic relationships in creating my characters and giving them authentic voices that readers can relate to.

As the first Harlequin Intrigue male author in modern times and only current one, in my latest Harlequin Intrigue romantic suspense title, Chasing the Violet Killer, and upcoming Intrigue titles, The Big Island Killer and Captured on Kauai, I have been able to happily apply the same formula for success in establishing voices that are apropos in bringing the three-dimensional characters and plots to life.

R. Barri Flowers is the author of romance, mystery, and thriller fiction with a dozen Harlequin titles published. He enjoys traveling around the country and abroad to scope out potential settings for future books. An avid reader, he especially loves historical fiction and narrative nonfiction books. His new Harlequin Intrigue title, Chasing the Violet Killer, is available now.