Thursday, January 19, 2012

Genre Cheat Sheet

I met some beginning authors recently who didn't know what genre they were writing. Uh oh. Here's my genre cheat sheet, an easy way to tell what you're writing. The following comments apply ~90% of the time:
  • YA: teenaged protagonist, plot is a coming-of-age tale, ending should be hopeful. Note: you can have sex and violence in YA but it cannot be gratuitous or gory.
  • Women's fiction: female protagonist, plot is a voyage of self-discovery/self-awareness or similar. You could say in women's fiction the woman saves herself. Note: women's fiction rarely has a male protagonist.
  • Romance: plot is person meets person and sparks fly, obstacles keep them apart, but in the end they are together and it's Happily Ever After (HEA). Traditionally, this has been boy meets girl and the HEA is marriage, but strictures are loosening. Note in romance the two characters save each other.
  • Fantasy: plot is a battle between good and evil and there must be some kind of magic/supernatural/paranormal elements. Within fantasy there are two major settings:
    • urban fantasy: setting is contemporary planet Earth
    • epic/high/traditional fantasy: setting is a secondary made-up world.

    Note: fantasy originated as a reaction against the industrial revolution/scientific method so there is an inherent irrationality at its core.
  • Science Fiction (SF): any plot or characters are allowed but SF is based on logic and reason, extrapolation and speculation. There are many famous SF tropes including: the future, alternate timelines, time-travel, outer space, other planets, space ships, aliens, androids, AIs,robots, clones, telepathy, teleportation, dystopia, apocalypse, post-apocalypse, faster-than-light travel and similar. Note: if you use any of these SF tropes in your fiction, it will generally trump everything else in your story and your fiction will be classified as SF.
  • Mystery: plot involves a dead body (or other serious crime) in chapter one, the protagonist is some kind of detective, and the bad guy is brought to some kind of justice in the end. Note: the reader and the detective essentially solve the crime(s) together during the course of the book. Mysteries are logical.
  • Thriller: the plot involves the protagonist trying to stop some kind of villain before he/she commits their crime, and the crime should be significant such as mass murder, terrorism, assassination and similar. The climax occurs when the protagonist defeats the villain. Often, the reader knows who the villain is and what they are planning but the protagonist does not--adding to the thrill factor.
  • Horror: here the key is author intent, the author seeks to unsettle and/or frighten the reader. Thus any plot or characters are allowed. Often unnatural and/or supernatural elements are involved. In recent years, horror has often involved graphic violence, including plenty of gore.

Some deprecated genres include Chick Lit (call it humorous women's fiction), and Westerns (not selling at all).

Some so-called genres modify the genres in the list above. For example, you can have historical women's fiction, historical romance, historical mystery, etc. Another example: humorous women's fiction, humorous fantasy, humorous SF.

Good luck with your genre!

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