Thursday, June 11, 2009

What's Your Genre?

Several times in the recent past I’ve heard writers say they didn't know what genre they were writing. This is important information which should be decided before the first paragraph is written. Different genres dictate the tone of the book. So, I’ll try to explain them here. If I've missed one/some, let me know in the comments and I'll add it in for future reference.

Romance is a love story. That’s the main theme of a romance novel regardless of what else is happening. It should end on an emotional note with the reader believing love lasts forever. The main genres for Romantic fiction are:

- Contemporary – Modern day romance

- Historical Romance – Any past period such as Medieval, Western, Regency, Biblical

- Inspirational - It’s a love triangle between the hero, the heroine and God

- Mainstream with strong romantic Elements

Now, add to that the fiction genres that may have romance but if it does, it would be just a sub-plot in the story:

- Chick Lit – Hip, Stylish Career-driven heroines. Urban scenes. Irreverant tone.

- Erotic – Emphasis is on the physical/sexual relationship of the characters vice the emotional.

- Fantasy – Struggle between good and evil using magic and alternate words, alternate history

- Hen Lit – Quirky, light-hearted and entertaining for middle-women.

- Historical Fiction - A period of history without the heavy romance

- Horror – Like it sounds

- Mystery – A problem which must be solved.

- Paranormal – Ghosts, Shapeshifters, werewolves, vampires, part human, etc.

- Science Fiction – Futuristic, Space Travel

- Suspense – The element of suspense or anticipation must run throughout the book.

- Thriller – Usually investigate something on a global scale. Element of danger.

- Women’s Fiction - A woman’s journey. Family members are more important than romance.

*See below for more genres/sub-genres suggested via the comments.

Yes, this 2nd group can have romance, but it’s not the focus of the book. If it does have a romantic element, it would be considered a romantic sub-genre. For example: Chick Lit Romance or Romantic Suspense. The same would be the difference between Historical Fiction and Historical Romance.

Yes, there is a difference between Suspense and Mystery. Actually, mystery is the story of someone solving a puzzle, whereas suspense is the excitement of being a part of the puzzle. Or, as Carol Wheat said, “Readers of mysteries are looking for clues. Readers of suspense are expecting surprises.”

I’ve heard a couple writers say they would write their book first and then they’d see which genre it fit best. Usually, that’s a no-no. Why? Because certain elements are required for certain genres and once the book is written, you can’t just go back and fill those in. A case in point: the following 3 genres all have an additional element which makes that genre unique:

- Suspense – the threat of danger

- Inspirational – the relationship with God

- Historical – the period in time

In each of the above 3 genres, if you don’t add that 3rd element when you write the book, it’s almost impossible to add it in after. Yes, you might be skillful enough to weave it in afterward, but from what I understand, it will always have the feel of a story that’s ‘missing something’. Not to mention being an awful lot of unnecessary work.

*These genres/sub-genres were added after this post went on-line:

- Urban Fantasy - Combines paranormal and fantasy in a modern/modernistic setting.

- Young Adult - Written for the 13-18 yr old crowd.

- MG - Written for the middle grade level crowd.

- LGBT - Niche market for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender

- Bizarro - 'weird' often has a speculative element ie fantasy, Sci-Fi, horror, etc.

- Speculative - Alternate history, Parallel Universe

Have I listed them all? Is the genre of your work in progress (wip) or manuscript (ms) listed here? Do you believe you can change genres half way through and add in the missing element without starting from the beginning?


Silver James said...

Oh the joy of subgenres! (Note the tinge of sarcasm in my virtual voice.) I would add one: Urban Fantasy. UF is a stand-alone genre now, combining paranormal and fantasy in a modern/modernistic setting, where Fantasy is more "traditional" in its setting (Lord of the Rings, for instance).

Me? I'm a cross-genre writer, and I think as publishers tighten their financial belts, cross-genre is going to become more prevalent. (At least I hope so! LOL) I write suspense with paranormal overtones, urban fantasy and paranormal with suspense, and romance is woven throughout the whole plot.

My first sale (and hopefully the second) is a time-travel paranormal romance. (The second deals more with reincarnation but set in the same "world" involving the Tuatha de Danaan.) The MS I have out on submission is a SciFi/Futuristic Fantasy Romance (Try saying that with your mouth full! ;) ) The book I plan to pitch at RWA is a romantic suspense with paranormal overtones (ghosts).

Are you confused now? Yeah. Me, too. LOL! Great topic today!

Ban said...

like silver i'm cross genre - didn't set out to be but each story that comes to me is different and i only label them after i figure out what's going on. i've got epic fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance ...
ps: silver, got my finger crossed you're right - but come to think of it ... writers aren't the only ones who are cross genre - a lot of readers are too, me included so, if one were lucky enough to build up a loyal following, wouldn't most of them read all your stories, reguardless of the genre ?!?

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thank you, Silver. I've added Urban Fantasy to the list. I have to admit, I don't follow the this genre and every time I've heard of it vampires and the movie 'Twilight' spring to mind although I don't know if that's correct.

You might have noticed I omitted 'Time Travel' from the list. It's because some refs said it was Fantasy, some Paranormal and some Sci-Fi.

And the book you're pitching at RWA - romantic suspense with paranormal overtones - reminds me of the movie 'Ghost'. Would that be the right example?

Yup, I can see where you'd be an expert on subgenres, albeit a reluctant one. :) Thanks for stopping in, Silver. Your insights are always appreciated.

Helena said...

If you're speaking of category romance, I couldn't agree with you more, Anita. That's exactly what I did when I set out to write what I thought would be a romance novel. I printed out the writing guidelines for a Superromance which I thought would be the best fit for the story I wanted to write.

At the time I started, and I admit I got a slow start, Harlequin specified 80 - 85,000 words; they wanted a "contemporary, involving read with a mainstream tone in its situations and characters, using romance as the major theme." They also said "criteria are flexible" and later on in the guidelines, specified "we don't want imitations and we are open to innovation ... sincere heartfelt writing based on true-to-life experiences and stories the reader can identify with." Sounded like something I could do, without feeling too constrained by a lot of dos and don'ts. That was only three years ago, which is probably a *long* time in the publishing world.

Now, the guidelines specify 60,000 - 65,000 words (20k less), and they want "stories about today's woman in today's world" ... "involving central romance" with "other aspects of your heroine's world. Secondary characters, situations and subplots should all be relevant and believable." They also want "strong, contemporary ... individual writing ... clean and clear."

This is not necessarily contradictory to the previous guidelines, but particularly the change in length restricts the breadth of scope and depth of character development, and fewer subplots can be explored.

So I am one of the ones who says perhaps my wip no longer fits the Harlequin line that I originally intended. It may be more acceptable by a publisher of women's fiction. That's why I decided to stop stewing about where it fits until I finish it, which will be soon. It may still be a Superromance since they do publish family sagas, and my story is a mother and daughter story, each with a romance, with a twist from the past.

This was a long, roundabout way of saying that I agree with you, Anita, except that sometimes the publishers throw a wrench into your plans before the end is reached. Your list of genres and subgenres is very useful.

One question: who publishes a line where hen lit would fit? That would be useful in the context of an earlier post of mine where I discussed the "older heroine."

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Ban, so if I'm reading you right, you write the book first, then combine sub-genres for the label.

Okay, I can see where that would work when you're dealing with epic fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance... because they all have an 'other wordly' plotline.

Re: readers following the author regardless of genre - I believe they do... I do. Once an author becomes an auto-buy for me, I'll buy anything they write because I know I'll get my money's worth. (Well, unless they switch from say inspirational to erotic - that brings up so many questions I'll never read another inspy from them.)

Thanks for mentioning the readers, Ban.

Yunaleska said...

I think mine are Young Adult: then either sub genre of fantasy or sci-fi :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Morning Helena. Yes, Harlequin did change the word length of the Superromance (HRS) line and threw some people into knots which was unfortunate but it was a 'belt-tightening tactic' I believe. 'Tightening' is the operative word here because it can't all be blamed on a loss of sub-plots. At least half of the cut came from authors tightening their writing and that's happening all around and not just with that line. It's like when you offered the alternative 'tag line' for the Chicks blog here. You took what Janet had written and tightened it to the one line we see under our header, now. Tighter writing equals a faster read.

The other thing that hasn't changed is that HSR has always been a romance. So, if your story centers around a mother and daughter and their respective romances, then it's one too many romances for HSR unless it's very clear which one is the main character. A romance can only have one heroine.

And, I can't say who's looking at hen lit these days, because I can't remember what the new term is since the hen/chick lit terms are actually taboo now. I'm hoping someone 'in the know' will step forward and fill us in on what's happening on that score.

Not sure if I've helped Helena, but I do appreciate your comment.

Karyn Good said...

Is there a club or movement I can join that advocates renaming of some genres or subgenres? Because the term Hen Lit (seriously!?!) does not work for me. Who is the brain child behind that designation. The term Chick Lit is bad enough but Hen Lit - that's just wrong. Whew! Okay, all done over reacting! What the heck did I put in my tea this morning?

What were the questions again? Oh, yeah! I'm one of those people who needs a focus and a sense of where I'm going. I am not hardwired with the ability to wing it and see how it all turns out. And I'm definitely not talented enough to rewire a manuscript after the first draft has been written. At the moment I have an interest in two romance subgenres, romantic suspense and paranormal romantic suspense. I have a wip in each and I'll see how that goes.

Great post, Anita.

Ban said...

guess that means you forgot YA and MG, which can incorporate any of the above ... thanks to yunaleska for reminding me (actually two of mine are YA so i get a whack across the knuckles for forgetting myself ;)

Yunaleska said...

You're welcome :) I know I'm YA, and which sub genres I'm under. YA is wonderful!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Thank you, Yuna. It's a good thing to mention the Young Adult (YA) genre because I recently heard (can't remember where) someone thought YA was the 18-25 yr old crowd.

YA is targetted at 13-18 teenagers who like to read the same stories as the adults but don't need the sex, violence and language that often goes along with it.

Thanks for contributing, Yuna.

Helena said...

I agree, Karyn, but I was just going with the term offered. I'm hoping for an update, too, on what the current term might be, if there is actually a category for (shudder) hen lit. (Google, here I come!)

As for more than one romance in the story, it is perfectly acceptable to me for one of them to be in a sub-plot, with the principal characters of that thread of the plot being considered secondary. However, I think your comment probably reveals the distinct possibility that my novel would not be considered for category romance. So I will just happily carry on writing my romantic novel and try to pitch it as such.

Believe me, your comments are valuable to me. I need all the help I can get. Thanks, Anita.

Silver James said...

Anita, SHADOW DANCE involves a 15 year old murder, the suspicious death of the alleged murderer in prison, and the heroine being dragged kicking and screaming into the mystery--along with her life being in jeopardy. It's a complicated plot at at it's heart is the growing relationship between Katherine and Guy, the "uncommon Cajun cop turned cabby" who helps her. The title alludes to the ghosts of the murdered debutante and her lover, the man accused of her murder.

For examples of Urban Fantasy, look to authors like Patricia Briggs, Rachel Vincent, and the like.

YA has as many subgenres as Romance, though some of them are darker and more graphic than some of us "old foagies" might be comfortable with. All I can say is, I'm glad The Only is in college now. ;)

Silver James said...

Oh, and ban, I, too, tend to follow an author I enjoy regardless of the genre. I REALLY hope that my "fans" (How egotistical does that sound? LOL) will follow me around, too!

Helena said...

Anita, you might put the term "matron literature" in brackets after Hen Lit in your list. (I know, Karyn, could it get any worse?)

Wikipedia has a little description that includes the term hen lit to describe it as "chick lit for graying readers" and the heroine is age 45-65. Yikes!

However, since the chick lit term is gone (from industry jargon), maybe the other is, too. Still waiting for confirmation from someone who is in the know.

Karyn Good said...

Oh my gosh, at least the term Hen Lit doesn't seem so bad now! It's not that bad really!

Captain Hook said...

I do tend to know exactly what genre I'm writing when I put the first words down. The only exception to that are my shorts. I still don't know what half of them are. Probably because most of them started as writing exercises.

I'm another one who will follow an author across genres if I like her/him.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

A couple completely unrelated genres/subgenres (whichever you prefer) that spring to mind are bizarro... which I cannot begin to explain but I know exists, and LGBT... which I think Harlequin has one subgenre for, don't they?

I'm fantasy through and through, but of course getting into another main genre opens up all its new subgenres. I'm low fantasy, somewhat romantic fantasy (as opposed to the a fantasy-romance like you mentioned, where the romance comes first), and I think there was one other that could apply. The thing I love about the fantasy genre is that a lot of elements can be really fluid, as long as it has some fabulist element to it.

If you're curious, before I dash off to class here, here's a wiki list of fantasy subgenres.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karyn, I think you'd really like this plotting crse I'm taking because the instructors want us to figure out everything before we even think about plotting. Some folks are balking at that but I think you'd do well. I'm not saying you should sign up - I'm saying you're on the right track with your thinking. :)

As for the chick/hen lit club, the only thing that comes to mind is a coop. LOL

Seriously, though, I've put out a call on FaceBook so we'll see if there are any takers. Oops - I haven't posted this to my eharl blog yet either so someone over there might know...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Ban, what's MG? I'm having computer probs today and don't want to stray from here...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Silver, your book sounds fascinating.

You said, 'YA has as many subgenres as Romance, though some of them are darker and more graphic than some of us "old foagies" might be comfortable with. All I can say is, I'm glad The Only is in college now.
I hear you on this. My kids at home aren't into paranormal and 'scary' stuff, but our oldest child thrived on it. She started with the Goosebumps books and moved up through the animorph ? stories on TV (with glowing red eyes) and on to Pet Semetary etc. Thank goodness these ones aren't into it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Umm Helena... you don't like the term 'middle-aged'? I'd rather be middle-aged than mature and greying. LOL

Anita Mae Draper said...

Umm Helena... you don't like the term 'middle-aged'? I'd rather be middle-aged than mature and greying. LOL

Karyn Good said...

Hey Anita. I'm very interested in your plotting course. It does sound like something I'd be interested in so let me know how it goes!

Coop! Good one!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Silver, you don't sound egotistical at all. I'd rather hear someone say, 'my fans' than 'although why they like me, I don't know'.

'My fans' shows confidence.

The other smacks of false modesty.

If you know what I mean and it's just IMHO. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Capt'n - nice to see here today.

I'm the same with my 1000 word eharl challenges. I know the main genre when I start - ie contemporary or historical or inspirational - but other elements come into play as I write it out. But they're always first and foremost romance. That never changes.

Thanks for the visit.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey there Hayley, I know you're gone to class, but maybe you'll pop in later...

What is LGBT? I don't think I'll add it or bizarro to my list until I can get a tiny bit more info on them. :)

But I do appreciate you mentioning them because this is starting to become a very good reference list.

Thanks for taking the time to drop in. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Before I forget, Cheryl St John (this Sat's guest here) has one of MY posts on her blog today.

If you'd like to check it out, go here:

Thanks and please ignore the blatant self-promo. I learned it from Silver. ;D

Anita Mae Draper said...

I'll be sure to do that, Karyn.

I have to skip out for a few mins and pick up Jessie from school. She has her Gr 8 voice exam with a rep from the Royal Conservatory of Music today and since it's in the city, I'll be gone for a few hours.

But if anyone thinks of any more genres, sub or otherwise, post it here, please and I'll check in when I get back. Thanks.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Anita,

LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. I know there are lines and genres out there, but they seem to remain small and unannounced. I'm pretty sure there's romantic sub-genre of LGBT.. at least I can't see why there wouldn't be.

Bizarro is a fiction genre noted for 'weirdness', and often has a speculative element to it (fantasy, scifi, horror, etc). It's not something I know much about.

To answer your question to Ban, MG stands for Middle Grade, the aimed at a younger audience than Young Adult fiction.

And wandering out of true 'genre', there are the myriad types of literary fiction, and the lines can blur there too as a so-called genre work can suddenly be deemed to have literary merit and get 'promoted'. I blogged about that once, and it didn't end happily :p

Helena said...

Anita, I didn't intend to leave the impression that I don't like the idea of middle age. Esp. when it's hard to get agreement as to what that term means -- it's all a matter of interpretation. Hey, I felt I was barely middle-aged when I retired! Even tho by conventional wisdom I was a senior by then.

So I choose to take your remark as an attempt to catch me asleep at the switch. It's okay, my sons try it all the time. And they're usually successful.

I have enjoyed today's discussion. So wide-ranging.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I agree that it's a good idea to have a genre in mind before writing. It's almost impossible to insert the tone of another genre.

The nice thing about epublishing is that it has room for stories that don't quite fit traditional print publishing. So if you want to write a story that's a little longer or a little shorter, it's okay. Or if you want to write about a time period or a place that's out of the ordinary, that's possible too. It's a brave new publishing world.


Janet C. said...

Great post - one that will be a great resource for us as we move forward in our careers. And great discussion.

Just a note on 'Chick Lit' - even though the term is outdated, agents and editors are still looking for good women's fiction that is quirky, fun, and entertaining. Check out Bookends Agency blog (type chick lit into their search) and discover what an agent thinks of Chick Lit. I know I read another agent's blog about the popularity of Chick Lit in Britain - only they call it Urban something or other (how's that for helpful). I'd look it up, but I'm too busy looking for a couple of extra hours in today already.

BTW - middle age, hen lit, matronly - all offend me. Do women over the age of 40 (35 maybe) not have a life? Are we not allowed romance and adventure? I think there needs to be a revolution here, people. I'd love to lead it, but I have packing to do :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Okay Hayley, I've added those to the post.

And then I remembered Speculative, too.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Helena, I didn't give your remark another thought. Actually, I think you relish your current age. At least you act like you're in the prime of life. :)

And if I seemed to sneak something past ya, it was because I was rushed to get Jess to the city.

I'm glad you enjoyed the discussion today. I did too. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jana, good point about the epublishing. I found that out with The Wild Rose Press where they state some lines are 5-20,000 and then 20-40,000, etc. That's quite a nice range.

Thanks for your input, Jana.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, I believe you're right about just the term being outdated. I can't see the genre itself fading away. It's like saying humor is going out of style.

However, I can see how the term chick and hen lit could be considered sexist. And maybe that's what all the hoopla is about?

Hmmm I don't understand where matronly and middle-aged could offend you, or anyone else because they just pertain to your calendar age. And since most people can expect to live to age 100 more or less and if you're in the 40-60 age bracket, then why in heavens name can't you say you're middle-aged? It's the truth. I can't do anything about my age and I refuse to deny the amount of years I've experienced.

Now, if they were referring to my spirit, then I'd take offense because that's where my romance and adventure come into play.

Just MHO. :)

Helena said...

Thank you for your comment, Anita. I have to admit I am in a pretty good place in my life right now. I just notched another birthday, and my mother commented on how happy I seem to be. We agreed that I am a cup half-full kind of person, so I guess attitude helps.

And Janet, I'd love to get on your bandwagon, if you have one, but I don't have time either. So I'm content to let other people create whatever negative labels they wish. I know who/what I am, and you are so right -- you can have a life at any age.

Philip O'Mara said...

Read a great new romantic comedy, entitled Classes Apart.
This is an adult sporting comedy that follows the fortunes of Paul Marriot, the secretary of the Barnstorm Village Sunday soccer team and coach of a school cricket team in Yorkshire, England. The story describes the remarkable camaraderie between the players and supporters of this little club and their desire to achieve success. The team had previously been known more for its antics off the field, rather than their performances on it.

During his time at the club he meets and becomes involved with Emma Potter, who is the sister of James Potter, a major player for their bitter rivals Moortown Inn. Thus, begins an entangled web of romance and conflict. He also begins working at Derry High School, a school with a poor reputation of academic success, where he becomes coach of the school cricket team. Here he develops an amazing relationship with the children and they embark on an epic journey.

Becky said...

This is a fun question to answer, since I love reading so much and talking about all of my favorite reads. Out of all of them I would have to say that I am more inclined to love historical fiction and historical romance. Just read a great one titled, "The Shopkeeper" by James D. Best that I found intriguing- powerful western. I typically don't like western books, but this one tied some history up in it with a touch of romance- two of my favorite things to read about- loved it!