Being aware of your genre can help you contextualize your story but remember—just because you may have been writing towards a certain kind of genre, it may not mean that’s what your story actually is.
Common Genres include:
Thriller –built around the fast-paced pursuit of a life-or-death goal.
Fantasy – typified by fantastic aspects, such as magic.
Sci-fi – Sometimes called ‘speculative’ fiction. Fiction typified by scientific aspects, such as nonexistent technology or alternative realities.
Horror – instilling dread or fear in the reader. Sometimes but not always featuring supernatural aspects.
Mystery – solving of a mysterious set of circumstances.
Crime – typified by a focus on criminal activities.
Historical – set within a defined time period but drawing context from the cultural understanding of that time.
Western – typified by aspects of the American frontier.
Romance –focuses on a romantic relationship as the source of its drama.
Erotica – primarily intended to instill arousal in the reader.
Literary – focuses on realistic, weighty issues, typified by character-focused writing and a lack of other genre features.
Adventure Story A genre of fiction in which action is the key element, overshadowing characters, theme and setting. … The conflict in an adventure story is often man against nature. A secondary plot that reinforces this kind of conflict is sometimes included.
Biographical Novel A life story documented in history and transformed into fiction through the insight and imagination of the writer. This type of novel melds the elements of biographical research and historical truth into the framework of a novel, complete with dialogue, drama and mood. A biographical novel resembles historical fiction, save for one aspect: Characters in a historical novel may be fabricated and then placed into an authentic setting; characters in a biographical novel have actually lived.
Ethnic Fiction Stories and novels whose central characters are black, Native American, Italian American, Jewish, Appalachian or members of some other specific cultural group. Ethnic fiction usually deals with a protagonist caught between two conflicting ways of life: mainstream American culture and his ethnic heritage.
Fictional Biography The biography of a real person that goes beyond the events of a person’s life by being fleshed out with imagined scenes and dialogue. The writer of fictional biographies strives to make it clear that the story is, indeed, fiction and not history.
Gothic This type of category fiction dates back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Contemporary gothic novels are characterized by atmospheric, historical settings and feature young, beautiful women who win the favor of handsome, brooding heroes—simultaneously dealing successfully with some life-threatening menace, either natural or supernatural. Gothics rely on mystery, peril, romantic relationships and a sense of foreboding for their strong, emotional effect on the reader.
Historical Fiction – story set in a recognizable period of history. As well as telling the stories of ordinary people’s lives, historical fiction may involve political or social events of the time.
Horror – includes certain atmospheric breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces.
Juvenile – intended for an audience usually between the ages of two and sixteen. The language must be appropriate for the age of the reader, the subject matter must be of interest to the target age group, the opening of the work must be vivid enough to capture the reader’s attention and the writing throughout must be action-oriented enough to keep it with the use of suspense and the interplay of human relationships. Categories are usually divided in this way: (1) picture and storybooks (ages two to nine)… ; (2) easy-to-read books (ages seven to nine)… ; (3) “middle-age” [also called “middle grade”] children’s books (ages eight to twelve)… ; (4) young adult books (ages twelve to sixteen.
Literary Fiction vs. Commercial Fiction Literary, or serious, fiction, style and technique are often as important as subject matter. Commercial fiction is written with the intent of reaching as wide an audience as possible. It is sometimes called genre fiction because books of this type often fall into categories, such as western, gothic, romance, historical, mystery and horror.
Mainstream Fiction – transcends popular novel categories—mystery, romance or science fiction, [etc.] and is called mainstream fiction. Using conventional methods, this kind of fiction tells stories about people and their conflicts but with greater depth of characterization, background, etc. than the more narrowly focused genre novels.
Nonfiction Novel – real events and people are written [about] in novel form but are not camouflaged and written in a novelistic structure.
Popular Fiction Generally, a synonym for category or genre fiction; i.e., fiction intended to appeal to audiences for certain kinds of novels. … Popular, or category, fiction is defined as such primarily for the convenience of publishers, editors, reviewers and booksellers who must identify novels of different areas of interest for potential readers.
Psychological Novel A narrative that emphasizes the mental and emotional aspects of its characters, focusing on motivations and mental activities rather than on exterior events.
Roman a Clef The French term for “novel with a key.” This type of novel incorporates real people and events into the story under the guise of fiction.
Romance Novel – the romance novel is a type of category fiction in which the love relationship between a man and a woman pervades the plot.
Romantic Suspense Novel – romantic suspense novel is a modern emergence of early gothic writing and differs from traditional suspense novels because it moves more slowly and has more character interplay and psychological conflict than the fast-paced violence of [most] suspense thrillers.
Science Fiction [vs. Fantasy] Science fiction can be defined as literature involving elements of science and technology as a basis for conflict, or as the setting for a story.
Techno-Thriller – utilizes many of the same elements as the thriller, with one major difference. In techno-thrillers, technology becomes a major character.
Thriller – intended to arouse feelings of excitement or suspense focusing on illegal activities, international espionage, sex and violence.
Young Adult – refers to books published for young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
Do real research, describe aesthetic/tone/vibe over content, and be open to adjusting your decision down the line as you grow more accustomed to working with genres.
Genre is different from age group
Genre isn’t the age group you’re writing for. Age group and genre are often said together, so it’s easy to think they’re the same, but they’re not. For example: Young adult is the age group – Spy and thriller are the genres.
The primary age groups are:
– Board books: Newborn to age 3 – Picture books: Ages 3–8 – Colouring and activity books: Ages 3–8 – Novelty books: Ages 3 and up, depending on content – Early, levelled readers: Ages 5–9 – First chapter books: Ages 6–9 or 7–10 – Middle-grade books: Ages 8–12 – Young adult (YA) novels: Ages 12 and up or 14 and up
Choose a primary genre
When you pick your primary genre, you’re identifying the most prominent elements of your book. Ask the following questions.
You may have a handful of these elements in your book but when picking a primary genre focus on the most dominant aspects of your novel.
Is there magic?
If the answer is yes, then your book is most likely a fantasy. Is it set it in a fictional world that you created from scratch (like Lord of the Rings)? Then you probably have a high fantasy. Or is it built into our own world? If so it is most likely an urban fantasy.
Is it a fairy tale or a fairy tale retelling then you might want to classify your book as such.
Are there paranormal creatures (such as vampires, zombies, etc.)?
If there are, then it could be a fantasy, or it could be a supernatural/paranormal. Fantasy and paranormal are closely related and share some overlap, so it comes down to what is the more dominant element. If the magic is the more dominant element, then you have a fantasy. If the creatures are the more dominant element, then it’s supernatural.
When is it set?
If it’s set in the past, it’s probably a historical fiction. If it’s set in the present, you’ve got a contemporary and if it’s set in the future, it’s probably science fiction.
Where is it set?
If it’s set in this world, it might be a historical or contemporary. If it’s set in a world you made up, it might be some kind of fantasy or science fiction.
Is there manipulated science/technology?
If you are using significant manipulation of the science, we know today it’s likely to be science fiction. If you have time travel, then you could consider it science fiction.
Is there an element of mystery/crime to solve?
If the main purpose of your plot is mystery, then this is the genre you will use.
Is it laugh-out-loud funny?
If it is, then you’ve got a comedy
Is it a tear-jerker or a book with a lot of interpersonal conflicts?
Then it’s probably some form of drama.
Is there a romance?
Use the romance genre when the central plot of the book is a romantic relationship.
Is it intended to scare?
Then you’ve got a horror.
Is it “literary”?
If it’s a deep book, rich with symbolism and deeper meaning that’s meant to be dissected an analyzed than you most likely have written a work of literary fiction.
Is it action packed?
If your book is littered with action scenes like fights and car chases, then you have an action or thriller on your hands.
Is it about a terrible version of this world?
Then you’re looking at a dystopian.
Now decide which elements you think are the strongest/most prominent. That’s your primary genre.
Do your research
Make sure you do your research and have a good understanding of genre conventions. Readers of each genre have certain expectations. While you can most definitely take some liberties, you want to make sure you’re giving your readers what they’re looking for.
Note*** I did a series of posts throughout 2018 detailing every genre if you want to scroll through put ‘genres’ in the search box.***
When in the midst of creating a new narrative, inspiration boards, whether physical or digital, can help immerse us in a particular time period, allow us to ‘see’ our characters, and are a great aid to making the story come alive. This board will evolve over time as ideas, images, quotes, magazine and newspaper clippings, photos, found objects, handwritten quotes, font samples, buttons and badges etc. influence our writing.
There are options for an inspiration board:
A full wall
A large poster
A digital folder of images
A Pinterest board
Find an option that works best for you and that can be arranged and rearranged easily. As you delve into the narrative new characters may form or there is a twist in the plot that takes the story somewhere unexpected – change the board accordingly. Physically moving papers, photos, objects, and ephemera triggers different parts of our brains than moving digital information…and that can help us create new connections and come up with even more fresh ideas.
There are options for the type of board you create but all of them should allow change as the story develops.
Book Cover Board – what images appeal?
Character Board – what do they look like?
World Board – where are they?
History Board – what events have taken place?
Problem Board – what is the protagonist’s problem?
Quote Board – which evoke the story?
As I am writing a steampunk novel currently, my boards are filled with physical and digital images. There is a plethora of images available so that has made it easy to some extent but also difficult as too much input can detract from my focus. Here are some examples.
What does your current inspiration board look like?
I certainly had fun with this #interview with ThreeSixtyAlberta talking about my writing life, books, publisher and writing group.
Did I answer a question for you or was there something else you wanted to know?
I’m more than happy to answer questions – so go ahead – ask!
I also have another interview this Wednesday, when I will be talking about my writing group, the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County in depth. It will be hosted by Arts Talk at our local community cafe, Common Ground.
This will be my third interview this year! If nothing else I’m getting a lot of practice!
I managed to edit 65 pages of my current work in progress, The Commodore’s Gift, this past weekend and feel really fired up about the story and it’s characters. There is a strong female protagonist, who meets an Adonis of a man.
I also have a novel workshop group starting this month, where we will edit each other’s work over the next several months. This gives each participant several ‘reader’ views of the story, which is invaluable as well as suggestions or queries on continuity, plot arc etc. This is how a writer ‘polishes’ their work prior to publication.
It seems like an easy question until you try to write it. There is always the cover, the blurb and, of course the competition of a favoured best seller author’s new book compared to yours to overcome. However, it can also be those first few lines glanced at as a reader browses the shelves of their local book store or library. These are the most worked on, pondered and despaired lines by authors. They must capture a reader’s attention so completely that they are compelled to continue reading. Sounds easy doesn’t it? It is far from easy it though.
There are some key elements that draw a reader in:
Make them wonder.
Begin with a pivotal moment.
Create an interesting scene.
Intrigue them with a character.
Begin with an unusual instance.
Use a compelling narrative voice.
Begin with a conflict.
Use a life changing moment.
Here are a couple of my first lines:
Celeste watched her daughter, Maralynn; grow over the years while seeing her power increase. She could see her own mother, the previous Eldenma’s movements and expressions reflected in her daughter. Since her own mother, Juliana and her lover, Guillem’s transition to the other realm, Celeste and her lover, Michael, were her daughter’s only protectors in the earthly realm. They knew in time their ability to protect her would end as Maralynn learned how to control and manipulate her powers.
“Come back, here, Bubble – you’ll get stuck up there.”
Lenni called to her pet in vain. Bubble climbed up the bark of the tree in her usual wobble side-to-side manner, getting higher and higher. As she watched her pet, Lenni could see the two moons begin to converge in the magenta evening sky. Once they were one moon, she would need to be safely at home behind the dome wall. Lenni realized there was only one thing she could do, climb up the frackist tree and carry Bubble down.
These are the first lines from a book I re-read quite often. It was the first book I found that centred around reincarnation, a fascination of mine.
Ferney by James Long.
As he looked for the bones of his long-dead wife, old Ferney came close to death. Caught in the traffic jam that resulted, Gally Martin’s life changed.