{DISCUSSION} Writing: Picking a Genre

How do you pick your novel genre?

This month we’ve been talking a lot about the decisions writers need to make before they even put those first few words on the page. And here’s another one: how do writers decide what genre they’re going to write in? It’s a big question, after all because it can control the elements of the story, the amount of research required for the story, the accuracy to reality of the story, and even the marketability of the story. So, let’s discuss!

Active Choice or Unconscious Demand?

To be honest, I’m not sure if any writers actively pick their writing genre. After all, people do not start out as writers. They start out as readers. They find stories that entertain them and keep them interested, and there are often certain pieces of that story that appeal to them. It might be different for each person, but often times that element is a staple of the genre the person ends up reading more often than others.

And how many people read in every genre? I don’t know of anyone. So, if they don’t read in every genre, then what if writers choose their writing genre simply because they read in that genre and enjoy it?

Are there any writers who choose genres outside of their normal reading genre? I know there are some writers who write in multiple genres, but they don’t write in every genre. And if they do write outside their normal genre, why do they choose to do that? What elements go into actively choosing a genre? Let’s look!

The World

Personally, the first question I ask myself when deciding my genre is: ‘what elements do I want my world to have?’ If you haven’t noticed from my blog already, I enjoy science fiction and fantasy. I love the option to develop my world with the fantastical, to bend physics to my will, and to test the bounds of the human mind with technology and magic. This offers me creative freedom. It offers me extra plot elements. But not everyone cares about those particular aspects.

Some writers prefer historical fiction. This does sometimes have magic, but more often than not, it’s a retelling of someone’s story from the past. The people who write historical fiction might also look into the world because the world is such a huge element of historical fiction. After all, you can’t have electricity when writing a story about the medieval times. That would break the world building and thus ruin the story. So, the world is very important for multiple different types of stories and can offer both guidelines and freedom depending on what you’re looking for.

But what if you don’t care about the world building?

The Characters

I, personally, know some writers who focus on the world last, but create their characters first. They have a character that speaks to them. The character has a personality, a history, dreams, and fears. Their character drives the story and becomes the focal point and the world and the story end up developing around this character. And while fantasy worlds can come from these starting points, I believe these are the writers who prefer contemporary genres.

Their worlds tend to be more closely aligned with reality, having no magic, no advanced tech, and focusing on the world around us and how the character fits into that world. These stories focus on the character’s journey. They focus on the character’s interactions with the people around them. They get far more into the emotional status of a single character or small group and block out the larger world around them.

This isn’t to say that fantasy and scifi can’t be character focused. However, when a world is created to be fantastical and have all these amazing, new elements in it, it’s hard to give so much focus on the character because the world influences the character. The character interacts so much with the fantasy/scifi world that it’s impossible (and often a let down for readers) for the story to focus too much on the character and ignore the world.

Other Details

Now, don’t think stories are made up of only characters and worlds. There are so many other details that go into stories that I just don’t have time to discuss in a single post: timeline, plot twists, mood, etc, etc. There are dozens of decisions a writer could choose to start a story with. Sometimes they even start as spin-offs of other stories, which is common in fairytale retellings.

The important thing for writers is to know which genre they want to write in. Some may actively decide (if you do, please let me know!) and some may just have a calling (darn you unconscious mind and your sway over my conscious thoughts!), and both people can write amazing stories.

How do you decide?

What elements (world, characters, etc) spark your interest in writing a genre? Do you write multiple genres? Did you actively choose to write in a different genre, and how closely related is it to the other genre(s) you write? I want to know how your creative process works and if I’m even remotely close or if I’m way off!


And check out last week’s writerly discussion:
Writing: Points of View

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12 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Writing: Picking a Genre

  1. I got to my genre because it’s what interests me, in fact it’s what I feel passionate about. I get stories come into my head from all kinds of places and I’m not just SciFi either I also have historical fantasy stories lined up too – does that make me weird? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post for NaNoWriMo, Melanie! 🙂 I feel like people don’t always think these things through, no matter how obvious they sound, and it usually reflects on their work. Experienced writers and amateurs alike.

    I generally write based on my mood and on what I’m currently reading. If I’m reading fantasy, my creative mind might be so inclined. But overall, I don’t seek out to write this or that genre. It’s mostly an unconscious choice. Sure, it’s harder to write fantasy than, say, contemporary. At least, good fantasy. But you have to start somewhere and some people like the challenge.

    I think most writers will write what they’re most comfortable at, or what they’re best at. Unless they are coerced to choose other genres by their publisher, etc. But they might also want to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. Just to see what they’re capable of.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Sophie! I’m glad you enjoyed this topic and I thought it would be appropriate for November. ^.^

      And I agree with you in that writers write what they know. If they grow up reading fantasy and scifi, they tend to write that. If they grow up reading fluffy, contemporaries, they will write that. It’s often an unconscious decision that picks the genre for the writer and not the writer picking the genre.

      However, I would disagree with you that contemporary is easier to write than fantasy. Why? Because contemporary doesn’t have a fantastical world or magic to hide behind. The characters are the full focus of the story. They’re laid out in full. The author has to be amazing at character interaction and character development to write a good contemporary. I don’t think the same needs to be said for fantasy where people can easily get lost in the world instead of the characters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get what you’re trying to say but I still disagree… Despite needing an amazing grasp on the characters, contemporary writers don’t need to worry about world building much. Like you said, the characters are the focal point.

        Fantasy writers have to do both. At least, good ones. I can’t be convinced good fantasy novels don’t take into account the character’s journey, both physical and mental, as well as their personal story. Not to mention the relationships, etc. It takes amazing skill to get them right and to make them flow well together.

        Good fantasy has both. Okay fantasy might behave in the way you describe, though.

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        1. I definitely think we’re gonna have to agree to disagree. 🙂 Because I’ve seen a lot of bad fantasy and very little good fantasy. In my experience, fantasy writers get too caught up in their world and don’t focus enough on the characters. Or they focus only on the main character and not the interactions of their characters, which is vital. But perhaps that has to do with most fantasy being a ‘hero’s journey’.

          There is only one character to focus on and their path is often separated from others because they are the ‘savior’, which automatically cuts out any deep, meaningful interaction between the main character and other characters. They’re on a pedestal. They’re more important and their interactions become second to their mission. A shame. I’d love to see a fantasy novel where the main character wasn’t worrying about some journey, but rather just worrying about survival in their own world. (Kind of like An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.)

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