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Pick a Genre and STICK with It

About the time characters begin rifling through your brain, there is usually some sort of story that is following them. While it maybe something as simple as Character X is a low born who is going to go on an adventure, defeat a monster, fall in love, and become King/Queen, you should have some idea what is going to befall that character. If you don’t, it’s definitely something you might want to start thinking about. Either way, this advice and information will be good for you.

There are several different types of genres that saturate today’s market. There are pros and cons to this saturation. Genre novels have a higher rate of getting published versus contemporary fiction. Also, genre publication expects series where contemporary fiction expects single stories that can stand on their own. So why does it matter so much to understand these genres before starting to write? While there are several reasons that we will explore, the most important advice I can give is to choose a genre and stick with it!

First, let’s go over a quick over view of a few popular genres:

High Fantasy

This fantasy is what I call high quality fantasy. It is also known as epic fantasy. These would be your stories where fantastical worlds have been created and include original or “re-imagined” races, creatures, etc. In my opinion, the father of this genre is J. R. R. Tolkien, so keep his great works in mind as a model when you think about this genre.

They contain your kings and queens, sorcerers and sorcery. They also mainly focus on that deep fantasy vs just your run of the mill D&D campaign turned into a story.

Some popular authors in this genre would be Robert Jordan, Peter Rothfuss, Terry Goodkind, etc.

Science Fantasy

Ok everyone. If you’ve ever saw a spaceship on or in a description of a book and say ugh I hate science fiction, put your hands up. I’ve done this so many times. But science fiction and science fantasy are really two different genres. Unfortunately, everyone mashes them up. Science fantasy are your fantastical stories that are filled with science but are not accurate, nor are they things that could actually happen. They are fantasy stories that want to seem scientific. For example: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is science fantasy.

So what is Science Fiction then?

Science fiction is stories that are told many times in the future. These stories are plausible and based on actual scientific facts. If you look at a lot of these stories, specifically older stories, you will find that a lot of what they wrote about, in aspects and regards to technology, have come true.

Some true science fiction authors would be Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clark.

Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is basically taking fantastical things such as witches, being able to cast fire balls, demons, etc. and putting them in an urban setting. A modern time, with a similar world, and seems parallel to ours. While the supernatural series can either follow under supernatural horror, romance, or fantasy, I think it is best defined as urban fantasy.

Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, and Kelly Armstrong fit into this series.

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So why do you have to choose a genre? Many of the genres listed here are actually offshoots where people didn’t really choose a genre. It does look like all these genres took a little from each and from there a new genre was born, doesn’t it?

Well here are some of the faults trying to do this one. There is a lot of work and research that needs to be done to properly pull it off. Science fantasy is looked down upon by a lot of science fiction fans because it looks like it’s piggy backing on fantasy and science fiction and falling short. Also a lot of supernatural stories are confusing to figure out. Should it be in the fantasy, horror, or the romance section?

Many our favorite writers who are in these subgenres, decided from day one what genre they wanted to be in and made tweaks when they started the outline. Changing midway through a book from fantasy to suddenly adding science can be confusing. As stated in a previous review, I picked up a book that I definitely knew was fantasy, but the first fifty or so pages were contemporary fiction so when the element of fantasy began to seep in, it felt weird and uncomfortable.

For novice and first time writers, I suggest choosing a genre that really calls to you from the four I listed and STICK with it. This will help you avoid falling into a rut where your story suddenly feels awkward because you delved into another genre midway through the book. Take a few minutes and think about your story and the little wisps of ideas and plot that have begun to build from the hell of your imagination. They will plague your for the rest of your lives. Now think hard about which genre you think your story will thrive in. Once you find it, it’s time to research, research, research! Now you must find a way to make your story, your protagonist, and your world stand out against all the other books in that genre. The next several articles will explore fantasy-building exercises to make your story stand out from the rest.



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Great article! 🙂 I certainly agree that as a new writer you kind of have to pick one and stick with it in order to get better. Once you have written a good story within that pre-existing genre when it comes to writing your own bits it is a bit easier. I think Brent Weeks said it best when he wrote ‘Black-Prism’ and basically said that if you write within a world that people already know (i.e. ‘a fantasy world’) you can focus on your story and characters without worrying too much about building the world and as a whole you end up with a better paced novel.

    Attempting to tell a story, create characters and explain a whole global set of rules / locations is a huge challenge and early on it is so much easier to base things in a familiar world that has the rules already laid out 🙂

    • Overlord,

      Exactly! New writers (and even all of us advanced writers) can get discouraged easily. Writing within a genre at first and not mixing it up can definitely lead to a better novel that allows later for you to break out of your shell a little.

      A few things I’ve noticed in regards to writing in a pre-existing world, is that a lot of the major writers, got their start writing either short stories OR writing books within major pre-existing series (Such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Ravenloft, etc). This is a great way to hone your art before delving into the convoluted world of mixing genres.

  2. I guess it depends on the person and what they’re hoping to achieve. It can certainly be easier to sell and market a book that fits a particular genre.

    For my part I’ve always just started writing, with just a scene in mind, a moment to put on the page. If it’s a good moment, if the character starts to come through, the dominos will start to topple and I follow them. I don’t stick within any boundaries, and I don’t go looking for those boundaries to trample on for the sake of it, I just tend not to notice them at all.

    Does this hurt the story, startle the readers, unsettle their expectations? Well the story dictates my path as it evolves, so I don’t think there’s damage there. As to reader expectations? I feel that if the reasons for the story path have grown naturally and painlessly as it unrolls, then the reader probably won’t even notice we’ve coloured outside the lines…

  3. PS – an interesting article. I wouldn’t be commenting unless it were a good read 🙂

  4. Mark,

    You are absolutely right. What I’ve found is a lot of writer’s who are just starting off or struggling to write, sometimes get wrapped up in multiple genres. Some are very talented and switching between genres doesn’t even phase them, but others, can get caught up with the tone and research that goes into any story.

    Personally, I could mix high fantasy, urban fantasy, maybe even sci-fi fantasy but the amount of research and knowledge that goes into science fiction I struggle with. So if I started pulling the science fiction genre into my book (which I’ve done before), I tend to find a rope around my ankles and the story stalls.

    There is always an exception to the rule and you certainly sound like you have a great grasp on your writing, but for those who are struggling, they should definitely choose one thing and stick with it.

    (And thank you for the complement on my article =) )

  5. Avatar Khaldun says:

    This is one of the biggest hurdles I’m currently facing. The world my characters exist in is a semi-medieval “standard” fantasy setting, with but a few deviations. However, not knowing exactly how the magic system works and what other magic systems are out there has been annoying me. I like to know how everything works beforehand so that I don’t write the novel, and then have to come back and do a massive edit. Right now I’m just going ahead with the writing, but I have to live with that annoying feeling that the setting just doesn’t quite work. I’m also worried with the advents in magic/technology I may be getting a bit too close to being science-fiction-y.

    To Mark and all the other published authors on this site, do you tend to get the story/scenes/plot down first and then come back to add little flourishes to the setting, technology, magic, etc. afterward? Or do you work out the setting, magic systems, geography all out in great detail beforehand?

    • I think I mentioned this in fleshing out your characters.

      – Basically when I decide to write a story, I usually start writing and get a grip on who my protagonist is and where the story is going. Then as I take a step back from my writing, I map out my story. I do an outline; I do several exercises for fleshing out my characters; and then I start looking at the backstory of the world. Even if you don’t tend to state that entire backstory in your book, it emerses you into that world and makes you familiar.

      My best suggestion for getting to know the magic systems that are out there and what you want is to sit down and research them. Think of everything you’ve read; maybe jot down some ideas from different books that you liked. Then think about how you want people to be able to use magic in your story and how it works in your world. Do some exercises to work with the system: like writing scenes that you may not use in your book where various characters use different magic systems. Pick, borrow, create: it will make your system more unique. Pick what feels natural and makes the most sense for your world.

      I think when it comes to researching for your book, whether it’s for the world you’ve created or your characters, sometimes you have to take a step back from the actual book and just play around with that world, magic system, etc.

  6. Avatar A.J. Zaethe says:

    Thank you, someone who can acknowledge and set people on the right path about Sci Fi and Sci Fantasy. Star Wars is the biggest example that comes to my mind. Mind you, I like Sci-Fi, visually, but hate it textually. And I myself and a co-author of mine for a certain story line, write sci fantasy. Its all how it is done and how you want the focus.

    • As I said Philip K Dick I believe was the one I read who stated that but it’s a huge difference. I hate how everyone looks at a book with a spaceship and says “Eww I don’t like sci-fi”.

  7. @ Khaldun – there’s a whole spectrum of writers from those who plan the plan, then write the plan, then write the story, to those who just start typing with no idea of what waits even at the bottom of the first page. I’m at the latter extreme, the pieces will fall into place. You gotta find what works for you 🙂

    • This works for a lot of writers. Write the plot, write the story, get everything on paper then tweak and add during the editing phase.

      • Sometimes to much research can be discouraging or gets you sidetracked where you actually don’t end up writing the story. Don’t burn yourself out but keep these things in mind. If you look through all the various articles here by writers, you will get suggestions of what works for them and what they look for in other people’s writing.

  8. With the rise of infinite shelf space (due to ebooks) tagging becomes as important as a genre label or more important depending on your point of view. Label a book epic fantasy gives a reader a pretty good idea of what’s contained in it’s pages… but tagging it #fantasy #epic #military #dragons (Novik’s Temerarie series) opens up many more avenues of approach from readers. recently ran a piece on it here –!5781896/are-book-genres-being-replaced-by-affinity-clusters

    What we do to create our books as writers is important to us but isn’t as important to readers. If I call my book a “sword and sorcery” but my readers call it an epic fantasy, that’s fine with me because people are buying and reading it!

  9. Avatar Caitrin says:

    Thanks for the article! But I’m pretty sure it’s Patrick and not Peter Rothfuss?

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