The Importance of Genre

Graphics by Susan L. Davenport

Graphics by Susan L. Davenport

I started working with a writing coach this week. The first advice she gave me was to decide what genre I am writing and who my intended audience is. I’ve known I needed to figure this out for a while, but it seemed more important to get the story written first. But I was wrong.

Do you know what genre is?

“A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even (as in the case of fiction) length. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined, often with subgroups.” (Literary Genre, 2017)

I’m sure you’ve heard of them before, you just may not have realized what they were. If you like romance novels or mysteries - those are genres. Some of the more common genres in fiction are:

  • Adventure

  • Crime

  • Fantasy

  • Inspirational

  • Mystery

  • Romance

  • Science Fiction

  • Western

  • Horror

Evidently, every genre has its own unique characteristics, and the readers that normally read that genre are disappointed if those characteristics are missing. In addition to that, publishers are not interested in books that don’t fall into a defined genre because they’re harder to sell. Who knew?

The writing business has changed over the years. It’s no longer acceptable for a writer to sit in their secluded cabin by the lake and type out a manuscript and then send it off to the publisher for printing, marketing, and establishing a readership.

Nowadays, the publishers expect the author to have done some of that work in advance. In fact, many publishers are refusing to even consider a new author unless they come with an established readership and a list of comparable books (books that are the same genre and style as the book the author is trying to sell).

This was not what I wanted to hear. I’m still struggling to understand structure and character arcs. Surely, it’s way too early to have to start thinking about marketing. No. My book coach says now is the perfect time, because I need to structure my book to fit the expectations of my audience and their preferred genre.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know how I handle every challenge – research. This was no exception. I had no idea what genre my book was. I decided it was time to study the different genres to see if I could figure it out.

There is some mystery in my story – could that be the genre?

“Usually involves a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. In a closed circle of suspects, each suspect must have a credible motive and a reasonable opportunity for committing the crime. The central character must be a detective who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts fairly presented to the reader.” (Genre Characteristics Chart)

There is a crime in my story that must be solved. It may seem like a puzzle to the reader, and hopefully, they will enjoy trying to figure it out, but the story is not a traditional mystery with a detective, a murder, and a closed group of suspects. No, not a mystery – but there is adventure and a treasure hunt in the story. Perhaps the genre is adventure.

“Adventure stories feature physical action and courageous heroes who save others from danger or impending doom. The adventure genre of fiction is fast-paced and usually centers on a protagonist in a dangerous or risky situation. Adventure fiction overlaps other genres, such as romance, spy thrillers, military adventures and Westerns.” (Tucker)

No, I don’t think my story is an adventure. It’s not like a James Bond novel where the protagonist is constantly running, fighting to stay alive. My protagonist has to slow down every now and then to figure out the clues. There is romance in the story – could that be the genre?

“Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.”

The love story is not the main focus of my story, so it’s not a romance. What else could it be? The protagonist has unique gifts that might seem like magic to some people. Perhaps it’s fantasy?

Fantasy is supposed to contain things which aren’t real, like magic or talking animals. Personally, I think those things are quite real. My dog, Toby, talks to me on a regular basis. But, since there are talking animals and strange magical happenings in my story, maybe we’re getting closer to finding the genre. But fantasy isn’t quite right because magic isn’t the focus of my story either, unless you’re talking about the magic that happens all around us every day when we treat each other with respect and find a way to work together in harmony.

“The genre of magical realism is defined as a literary genre in which fantastical things are treated not just as possible, but also as realistic.” (Pryor)

The characteristics of Magical Realism are:

“Magical Realism or Magic Realism is a genre of fiction and film that blends magical elements with reality in a way that blurs the edges until seamless. The stories are generally but not always characterized by a unique tone and atmosphere of wonder, magic, mystery, or just a sense of strangeness.

Magical Realism is not a genre of its own because it is applied to other genres, such as romance, historical, or contemporary. By its nature, a title considered to fit within the Magical Realism genre will always be a cross-genre title.” (Carroll)

My story is set in our regular world, and there is magic, but there is not a sense of strangeness. After all, there’s magic in our regular world, and it doesn’t seem strange. It’s all around us if we just look. Doesn’t it seem magical to you when you see a dragonfly’s wings sparkle in the sun?

So, how am I going to decide, and if Magical Realism isn’t a stand-alone genre, what other genre should I combine it with?

‘According to Wikipedia: “Speculative fiction is a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements, notably science fiction, fantasy and horror.”

Magical Realism is generally considered to fall under the Speculative Fiction umbrella. In fact Amazon categorizes it as a subgenre of fantasy; however, the main difference is that Magical Realism is set in a reality that is extremely similar to our own.

It is different than most stories about a haunted house or the discovery of a thousand year old vampire not by the subject but by the way it is presented. Magical and fantastical elements are presented as ordinary, plausible, and even mundane.’ (Carroll)

Very interesting, but it still doesn’t make it clear, at least not to me, how I should categorize my story. Perhaps the only way to figure it out is to find books similar to mine and see how they are classified. Will you help me?

I’m going to give you a brief synopsis of my story. It will give you a good idea of the type of comparable book I’m looking for. If you know of any that sound similar, leave me a comment with the title.

Dr. Jay Johnson, a respected horse trainer and college professor, has spent the last twenty years lying and avoiding close contact with others in an effort to hide her unusual gifts. Now she must return home to help her family save the ranch that they have been entrusted to protect for generations and learn to work with her father who rejected her years ago. As she strives to develop a plan to save the ranch, she learns that her 5-times-great-grandmother Ruby, a woman with gifts like her own, foretold their need and hid a treasure on the ranch to help them protect the Ancient One, but someone else has learned of the treasure as well. Admitting that she can’t save the ranch alone, she forms a business partnership with several others, including a handsome Cherokee man, but she is afraid that if her partners learn about her gifts, they will back out and all will be lost. As she struggles to make the business a success and decipher the clues to the treasure, she discovers that she can no longer hide who she is. She must face her fears of rejection and embrace her gifts if she wants to succeed in protecting the Ancient One, even if it costs her the love of all those she holds dear.

I expected to end this blog post with a great announcement declaring the genre of my story. But I’m just not sure yet. After reading the synopsis, what genre do you think it is? I’d love to know – leave me a comment and let’s discuss it. Happy reading.