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!
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?
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.
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“