Grab a Guide to Genre Writing

Most aspiring writers I know have some trouble with choosing the genre where they wish to craft their tales. The biggest problems I have with any “genre” are that the term alone seems limiting.

As humans, we tend to love classifying things with specific categories, and when we can no longer perform such tasks, we are often perplexed by the unclassifiable. I guess it’s human nature to seek these identities in other things as we often spend our entire lives trying just to define our own personal identities. What makes me “me” and what makes you “you”? That could be easy or hard to define depending how you look at it.

The same goes for different genres of fiction. How does fantasy differ from science fiction, and isn’t steampunk usually a bit of both? Beats the hell out of me, and I write the stuff. So, for a new writer, I can see why this can seem so confusing.

Personally I could give a fuck about any genre label. I’m going to write my story the way I want it done, and if there are lesbian amazons with magical powers riding unicorns outfitted with gauss rifles who are trying to solve the mystery of who killed the witch doctor, then damn it, that’s what I’m going to write. But then when an agent or editor asks you, “So, what type of story are you writing?”

You would probably scratch your head trying to classify it into a simple term for them. Fantasy? Science Fiction? Romance? True Crime? Some combination of all of those? Hmmm…beats me. I can’t just say, “File it under Awesome because that’s exactly what it is. No, why are you shaking your head? Perhaps under Fucking Awesome then?” In the end, the Agent needs to sell the book to the editor who pushes it through their publisher to the book store owner has to put your book on a shelf with other books, and unfortunately, at least the last time I checked, Awesome wasn’t a genre at Barnes & Noble.

Suppose you do settle on a genre for your story. Is there a subgenre to your genre? I love horror, but what separates gothic horror from splatterpunk, and how does that differ from a slasher story? I think I know, but sometimes it helps to turn to a guide on writing genre fiction for easy reference.
There are basic genre guides, such as Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the Craft, which will help you sort out the differences between genres by detailing sort of a “shopping list” of what is expected in the recipe for a particular genre. Again I could go on an anarchist rant about how I don’t give a damn what readers want because I wrote the story just for me, but then again I’m sure every writer hates finding their Amazon stats loaded with zero sales. Readers expect certain things in certain genres. If you wrote a Star Trek book and never once mentioned the Enterprise, the Federation, or photon torpedoes, then you probably didn’t really write a Star Trek book.

Maybe you’re writing a piece of Paranormal Romance, but you’re not sure you’re covering all your bases. Should you have a Witch in there somewhere? Do you really need another damn vampire popping up? Turning to a genre guide can help. But what may help even better is a book written specifically for the genre you’re writing about, such as Writing the Paranormal Novel.

Specific genre writing guides are packed with advice from successful writers in the genres you’re interested in. Don’t waste your time trying to craft a piece of erotica by reading tales of how a Sunday school teacher published her coloring book. While authors will seldom detail their exact road to success, their advice can often be invaluable. Genre-specific guides also often contain writing exercises which will help you sharpen your writing sword.

Since I enjoy writing horror, for the most part, the two book I keep close to me are How to Write Horror Fiction and On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association. I’ve read On Writing Horror twice and skimmed various parts numerous other times. Each time my eyes touch the pages I seem to learn something new. It’s also refreshing to ramp up for a project by reading over an essay which details how to craft great gore or creepy atmosphere. The writers are all members of the Horror Writers Association, so I appreciate learning from people who earned the respect of their ghoulish peers.

Before you run off and grab the first genre writing book out there, I would strongly recommend reading some online reviews for different books, and then perhaps visit a bookstore to flip through some actual pages. Different writers learn in different ways and we all take different journeys to get our words on the page. Sample some books to see if they jive with your style. There are numerous workshops at writing conferences and fan conventions that can help you define the genre you hope to master.

I think that’s more than enough to swallow for now. I’ll leave you alone to gather your thoughts and brainstorm for a while. I’ll just be right over there finishing up my unicorn-riding amazon space opera with a dystopian reflection of turn of the century civil rights.


  1. You should totally write the book about the lesbian amazons with magical powers riding unicorns outfitted with gauss rifles who are trying to solve the mystery of who killed the witch doctor.

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