I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the importance of genres lately. The following is my take on why they are important to you as a writer.
- A genre is a classification. Like a library or a bookstore, books are categorized into a genre, and then further broken down into sub-genres.
- Books are separated into genres for several reasons. Most important is the reader. With the multitude of written works available, without some form of classification, a reader would be overwhelmed trying to find something that suited their taste. From a writer’s perspective, genres make it easy to get your books into the hands of the readers. Publishers and agents also use genres as a way to market your book successfully.
- Which came first…the manuscript or the genre? Many writers hate the idea of a genre because they feel it limits them as an artist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Genres are a guideline, not a rule. However, it should be noted that hundreds of years of trial and error to create the classification system we call the genre, will almost always trump the “artist” that doesn’t think they should be classified. So, get over yourself, you free spirits, and realize that a genre is a tool. Instead of protesting on street corners, marching for a cause, or burning your bra, use the tool to your advantage.
- As a writer, ideas are swimming through your brain long before your first keystroke. It’s not often a one-line writing prompt turns into a 70k word, page-turner. In that sense, you have already picked out your genre. If your idea is about the old west with gunslingers and saloons, you have a western. See how easy that was?
7 popular genres in creative fiction:
- The same way genres can overlap, people have different opinions on which are the most popular genres. These 7 genres cover the basis of most fiction writing.
- Romance: Deep relationships and love connections. Romance is about exploring emotional characters. Not all romance comes in 50 shades. The romance can be plain Jane, or as steamy as your own comfort zone will allow. Romance is more about the big question, “will they make it, or not, as a couple?” Storylines are based on the tension between two people as they struggle to connect. Example: Nora Roberts. Nicholas Sparks. Romeo and Juliette.
- Crime and Mystery: Anything from the hero that rises to the occasion, to an alcoholic detective who can’t catch a break. Crime covers police vs. criminal. Good guy vs. bad guy. What your definition of saint vs. sinner is, that’s open to your own imagination. For instance, the T.V. show Dexter is about a forensic scientist working for the police, who is a serial killer, that murders the guilty. Example: James Patterson Alex Cross novels.
- Thrillers: Thrillers tend to overlap many times with crime and mystery. The main difference is a thriller is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat. The story is a progression of suspenseful scenes designed to keep you turning the page. Example: The Divinci Code. To solve the crime, one must first unravel the clues, each of which leads us closer and closer to the edge of life and death.
- Science fiction: Most science fiction is based around a certain philosophy or technology. It doesn’t have to be about Death Stars and Jedi Knights, (although it’s really cool if they are) but can be based on an idea. Example: The Hunger Games. The idea of controlling populations and an aristocratic way of life through the use of advanced technology, and the primal instinct of survival.
- Fantasy: Do I really need to name drop here? Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings, Fablehaven. People sometimes confuse science fiction with fantasy. The main thing that sets fantasy apart is its break away from science and reality. Not held by the restrictions of technology, fantasy goes beyond the limit of science. The two genres sometimes overlap, but when it crosses over with magic and science, 99% of the time it will be classified as fantasy.
- Horror: Who doesn’t know the stories of Dracula or Frankenstein? Horror delves into the darker realms of the other genres. Horror doesn’t have to be blood and gore, but it is darker in nature, many times dealing with the supernatural. Horror covers the gray area unsuitable to other genres because of its intention…which is to be disturbing to the reader. Example: Stephan Kings The Shining.
- Westerns: Primarily an American genre, but does have ties in Australia and Argentina. Westerns are usually period pieces about man conquering the wild and settling an untamed land. Although not as popular as it once was, the ideas of gunslingers and outlaws still fill the imagination. Characterized by the gun-slinging desperados, and ruthless lawmen who lived, and died by the quick draw of a six-shooter. Example: Lonesome Dove. True Grit. Louis L’amore. Zane Grey
Of course, there is going to be overlap in all genres to a certain degree. Don’t get hung up on the idea that a genre limits you. There can’t be a crime novel without some mystery. Remember when it comes down to it, genres are a tool. A tool designed to get your novel into the hands of your readers.