Do Genres Matter?

Genre categories are needed to sell a book, but not to write one.

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You want to write a novel. Maybe you’ve started. Perhaps you’ve got your plot mapped out to a certain degree, or not. You might know who your main characters are. It could just be an idea floating around in your head. The question you are asking, or have already decided, or might be holding you back, is a simple one: What genre is this?

There are countless facets to take into account when you write anything, but genre isn’t one of them. You shouldn’t be sitting down and thinking “I’m going to write a fantasy novel,” or “I’m going to write a romantic comedy,” because you are opening the possibility of writing a cliché-ridden patchwork of tropes and genre-traits. Instead, you should be thinking of writing a story about the last dragon that’s on a quest to resurrect his fallen brethren, or a story about a couple of friends who discover that they’ve always been in love with each other, and let the tale take its own form. Genres don’t make a story; a story is what makes the story.

That’s not to say that genres don’t have their place—they do—but it’s extremely limiting for you as a writer to shoehorn your work in a single category when you write. I thought that I was writing a dark fantasy when I started my book. The fantasy elements have almost become a subplot now with more of a transgressive lead and elements of dark humour in there for good measure. I didn’t plan on any of this; it just happened.

That’s why genre shouldn’t matter to you. By allowing yourself the freedom for the story to develop naturally you end up creating a much more well-rounded piece that tells the story that needs to be told. This is also one of the reasons that I don’t like formally plotting. By untethering your creativity, you allow it to do what you’re asking it to do: create.

So what role do genres play? Genres are great for readers, publishers, and booksellers. Because of this, agents will also have their focus on the genre that they are interested in. So, when you’ve finished your book and you’re looking to do something with it, you’ll need to start caring what genre you’ve written in. This is either to find a suitable agent, or pitch it correctly to a publisher, or categorise it when self-publishing. You don’t want to send your fantasy novel to an agent that only wants sci-fi and you don’t want to label your romantic comedy as a horror when you list it on Amazon.

For now, though, don’t concern yourself with what genre your story will be. You can figure it out later. Just write.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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