#4: Break It Down: What Genre Fits Your Writing?

Answer the following questions and keep track of the genres where you answered yes:

Are you writing in the real world?

Is there a love interest, deep passion, and a guaranteed happy ending? Romance (FYI – all the genres listed below are found in the Romance category!)

Or are you creating a new world? Fantasy

Is your real world set in the past (WWII or before)? Historical

Present (1950 to today)? Contemporary

Future? Futuristic

Are you writing an alternate or parallel history? Fantasy

Does your real world have non-human characters or elements? Paranormal

Incorporate elements of religious faith? Inspirational

Does your storyline involve crimes and suspense? Suspense

Or mystery? Mystery

Science-based fiction? Sci-Fi

Do you focus on very explicit sexual encounters? Erotica

Are your plots for young readers, aged 12-19? Young Adult (YA)


Okay. Now that you’re somewhat overwhelmed, let’s clarify the basic parameters of these genres:


  • The real world is just that. It’s where all us three-dimensional beings exist.


  • Fantasy takes place in a world you create from scratch. Think Lord of the Rings. Should you choose this route, know that you must pre-create every aspect of your world. Then you will comfortably pull your readers into your created world without confusing them or lecturing to them with information dumps that don’t flow with the narrative. It’s thrilling and definitely for the detail-oriented. Alternate and parallel histories fall loosely in this category. These stories involve creating non-real “what if” worlds (what if the South won the Civil War?) or parallel worlds (Guy Gavriel Kay’s European-like epics).


  • Historicals take place in the real world and can go back as far as the origins of man. Clan of the Cave Bear, anyone? Be prepared to do the research! Besides the obvious clothing, household items, and war machines, there are words you can’t use if your hero is conversing in 1354. You’ll need resources.


  • Contemporary stories take place in the real world during the last 50 years through today. Readers know the fashions, culture and slang, so you’ll need resources, too. Or a really excellent memory!


  • Futuristic stories take place in the real world, but in the future. The Terminator is a good example; Waterworld is a bad example. The jury’s still out on 2012.


  • Science Fiction takes place in the real world and extrapolates a thread of “what if” science. It can be futuristic, but isn’t always. Jules Verne was a master at creating the fantastic in his own time. Outbreak was technically sci-fi. And War Games. I love that movie.


  • Paranormal stories take place in the real world, but involve non-human elements or characters such as vampires, werewolves, time-travel, ghosts, demons, angels, etc.


  • Mystery, Suspense and Crime stories all revolve around the successful discovery of some secret, and the perils (for the hero/heroine) in that discovery.


  • Inspirational books have faith-based, redemptive plotlines. Limits are placed on language and sex and the descriptions of tough scenes. Satisfactory, faith-based endings are a must.


  • Erotica is not pornography; it does not objectify women or men. These stories have legit plotlines and character arcs, but the scenes focusing on sex are frequent, creative and explicit. And not always hetero.


  • Young Adult books have heroes/heroines in their teens. Subject matter seems to take a back seat in this classification: The Book Thief, set in WWII Germany, was considered YA because of the age of the heroine, even though the story was as rough as you might expect. Anne Frank is YA. So are Twilight and Harry Potter.

And this brings us to the “mutts” –  the mixed genre books! You can blend just about any two or three genres, and many authors do. How about an Erotic Fantasy Mystery? Or a Historical Paranormal Suspense? Contemporary Inspirational Sci-Fi?

Classic Pure Vanilla? Or Rocky-Choco-Berry-Chunk? Go ahead – find a recipe that works for you!

And you don’t have to decide everything before you begin your book. Diana Gabaldon had no intention of writing a time-travel book until her heroine spoke with a 20th-century voice in an 18th-century Scottish Highland scene! Thus, Outlander was born. The rest is (mostly) history.

Now it’s time to cook. Go have fun. 🙂 

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