Find Your Writing Genre: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

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You know you want to write, but you’re not completely certain what genre to commit to – or even what story you want to complete. Never fear! With a little bit of thought, you’ll be on your way in no time to completing brilliant masterworks* in your genre of choice. Start by asking yourself the following five questions to narrow down your genre choices:

Question 1: What do you like to read?

What is your favourite thing to read? What section of the bookstore do you head towards first? That impulse is your first clue in terms of choosing a genre to write in. If you like reading westerns, you might not want to spend the next year writing a Victorian romance novel. The advantage to writing what you like to read is that you will already have an idea of what needs to be a part of your story to make it fit within the genre. Also, when your enthusiasm flags for your writing project (which it inevitably will), your love of the genre may help to bring you back to the story.

Question 2: What are you curious about?

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert has a great exploration of curiosity as a driver for her novels. In the book, as advice for those searching for their “passion,” she says instead to follow the clues of curiosity and see where they lead you. “Then follow the next clue, and the next, and the next… Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places.” Starting with a light curiosity about growing a garden in her backyard, Liz Gilbert eventually followed the breadcrumbs to a year of botanical research for her novel, The Signature of All Things (which is genius and a must-read). So, ask yourself: are you curious about anything? Even a little bit? Why don’t you research it a bit? Your research may blossom into an idea that you can explore for your next novel.

Question 3: What authors do you admire?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and imitation is also a great way to begin writing. When it comes to choosing a genre, what authors would you want to emulate? Are you awed by the evocative and romantic lyricism of Salman Rushdie or the wacky twists of imagination of Tom Robbins? Are you more drawn to wordy, descriptive writing or spare realism? See if your favourite authors fit into one or two genres and consider staying in that space as you begin to write.

Question 4: What genre elements are already part of your writing?

Describe the stories that are in your head or that you’ve written in the past. How old are the characters? In what time period is your story set? What are the rules of the world they live in? The rules of the world tend to dictate the genre: do the characters abide by real-world rules or can those rules by broken? Is there magic or science? Also, when there are elements from multiple genres in your story, what is most important? For example, you can have a murder mystery with a love story in it – but would you want murder mystery lovers or romance lovers to pick it up? Choosing a single genre will help you to be more marketable.

Question 5: Do you understand the conventions of the genre you want to write within?

Readers tend to choose and stick to a specific genre because there is something in that style of story that they love – maybe it’s the type of lead character, the structure, the happy ending – but whatever it is, you can only go so far in breaking genre conventions before you are left with unhappy readers. Now, I’m not saying that you should try to make everyone happy; that’s a sure road to misery. Instead, read widely in your chosen genre and make sure you understand the essential conventions – what must be there to make the story fit – and then keep those conventions in place when you begin to write. Restrictions can make you more creative by taking away certain decisions and allowing you space to play in other ways, so rejoice in the consistent elements and then go as crazy as you like with everything else.

Do you have more questions about writing within genres? Let me know in the comments!

*Maybe you will! I don’t know you, and I make no guarantees, but your writing will be perfect for someone (even if it’s just you).

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