Behind the Genre: An Introduction

New Series!

While creating a story it’s critical to know your audience, and thereby, your genre. Although we writer folk value creative expression over a business outlook, we must know our market to get published. This series will analyze the various book genres and how they pertain to storytelling.

Why Genre Matters

Imagine a book with a romantic plot is promoted as an action thriller. Readers who love thrillers will buy the book, expecting a fast-paced, suspense-filled adventure, but instead find a sappy love story. Even if the book is well-written, it will receive negative reviews from the duped audience. However, if it’s marketed as a romance, readers will buy and enjoy it for what it is. For publishers, books categorized badly can ruin their ratings and sales.

Similarly, the age group matters as well, whether it’s Children, Young Adult, Adult literature, and all of the smaller categories in between. There are vague lines on what content is appropriate for each section. A YA book marketed as Adult may seem juvenile or too simplistic for adult readers, while books with adult content marketed as YA can cause a backlash to the author and publisher for selling explicit content to young readers.

Besides for proper categorization for marketing, the genre is crucial for storytelling as well. There are defining trends expected in different stories, for example, a young protagonist in a middle-grade book or a mystery to solve in a detective novel. Yes, we artists love to defy the status quo, but your book should fit a genre and heed to a certain amount of reader expectations.

Picking a Genre for Your Book

Behind the Genre: An Introduction

Despite all I just said, do not categorize your book before or during the first draft. Allow the writing to flow without any genre restrictions or tropes in mind. Once you start revising decide which category best fits your book and tweak the manuscript accordingly. Remember a story can change drastically during revision, so if necessary choose its genre towards the end of the process.

Sometimes you will know your target audience from the story’s conception. For example, for my work in progress, Lethal Shores, takes place during the Spanish Inquisition. Clearly, its genre is historical fiction. The three narrators are teenagers, so the target age audience is Young Adult.

What about Multiple Genres?

Sometimes a book matches several genres. Although it’s common to use two genres—such as action-adventure, mystery–thriller, YA–fantasy, historical–romance—hardly as any book has more than that.

If your book is about a time traveler in the Victorian era who treks through space to find a magical rock to resurrect his dead wife, you might have trouble deciding its genre. (But if your book sounds similar to this premise, comment below because I would totally read something like this.)

Consider the story’s emphasis. Is the focus on time traveling through space and the protagonist spends little time in Victorian London? It’s probably sci-fi. Does the story focus on the time traveler’s relationship with his wife more than his adventures to find the magical rock? It’s probably a romance.

Here’s something else to consider: this story has elements of sci-fi (the time travel and space) and fantasy (the magical resuscitation rock.) While revising, consider how you can coincide these two genres. It’s best not to have both. At least, I have never read a book that paired sci-fi with magic well. Perhaps the rock can be an electrical machine, as in Frankenstein. Or the time traveling ability can be from magical powers, not scientific means.  You decide, and congratulations! You’ve got a genre.

List of Genres

To decide genres, you should be familiar with them. Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Action and Adventure
  • Anthology
  • Art
  • Autobiographies
  • Biographies
  • Children’s
  • Comics
  • Contemporary
  • Cookbooks
  • Dictionaries
  • Drama
  • Encyclopedias
  • Fantasy
  • Guide
  • Health
  • History
  • Historical Fiction
  • Horror
  • Journals
  • Mystery
  • Poetry
  • Religion, Spirituality & New Age
  • Romance
  • Satire
  • Science
  • Science fiction
  • Self-help
  • Supernatural
  • Thriller
  • Travel
  • Young Adult

Note: this list is not conclusive. For a more exhaustive resource, Daily Writing Tips has a list of 33 genres and their definitions.

In this series, I will be focusing on various fictional genres and their elements in storytelling.

Comment below your favorite genre to read. Please include book recommendations, since those are always welcome.

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