storytelling · writing fiction · writing tips

Writing Genre Fiction

Happy Flag Day!
flag-dayFlag Day is celebrated in the United States on June 14 to commemorate the adoption of the Stars and Stripes on June 14, 1777, following a resolution proposed by John Adams in the Second Continental Congress. There was  a circle of only thirteen stars in those days, “representing a new constellation,” as Adams described it. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson officially established June 14 as Flag Day in the United States. There were only forty-eight stars, then, with number forty-nine (Alaska) added in 1959 and number fifty (Hawaii) added in 1960. And, of course, we have George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” which he wrote back in 1906 for his Broadway musical, George Washington, Jr.

Writing Genre Fiction

I’d like to spend the next few weeks looking at genre fiction, what it is, and the expectations of readers for each.

What Is Genre Fiction?

According to Publisher’s Weekly , genre fiction is a subcategory of fiction, usually thought of as commercial fiction (plot driven) as opposed to literary fiction (character driven). The categories of genre vary, depending upon who you ask, but Publisher’s Weekly (PW) tracks sales using the following categories:

Adult Fiction

Graphic Novels
Science Fiction
General Fiction

Children’s Fiction

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Magic
Social Situations/Family/Health
General Juvenile Fiction

I don’t begin to try to understand exactly why these categories were chosen and labeled as they were, or why Fantasy and Science Fiction are distinct categories in Adult Fiction, while they are lumped into a single category in Children’s Fiction. It won’t matter to me as a writer, anyway—until I go looking for an agent or publisher, who will probably have their own definitions of what constitutes Fantasy or Romance.

There is, of course, plenty of overlap among genres. Science Fiction can have Romance in it, for example, and a Western might have some Suspense, but it is a good idea to figure out up front what the main thrust of your story is because there is a big difference between a Science Fiction story that happens to have some romance in it and a Science Fiction Romance. The former is primarily about the space fantasy and cannot be set in any other time or place while the latter focuses on the romance, and the story could really just as easily be put into another setting.

What Genre Should I Write In?

My first suggestion to new writers who ask me what genre they should write in is this: “Write what you enjoy reading.” If you want to write Science Fiction, read Science Fiction. If you want to write Romance, read Romance.

No, you are not reading other people’s books in order to get ideas for your own stories—that would be akin to plagiarism, and anyway, as any writer can tell you, once you start writing, you won’t need other people’s story idea, because you will have plenty of your own!
Rather you are reading books in a specific genre so you can learn what readers expect from a book written in that genre. Readers who read Science Fiction or Romance read them with certain expectations about how the story will go. Not the details, of course, as those will change from story to story, but when I pick up a Fantasy novel, I’m going to expect something magical or supernatural or paranormal in nature, and if I don’t get it, I’m going to be disappointed.

Can I Write in More than One Genre?

I have been told by workshop leaders, teachers, agents, and others who seem to know what they’re talking about that writers should stick with only one genre, or at the very least they should change pen names when they change genres. That is something I have never done myself, though I know writers who do. (One acquaintance of mine uses so many pen names I have a very difficult time finding her books!)

I do personally write in more than one genre because I basically write stories I like to read, and I am an eclectic reader. I don’t change my name, except to differentiate between my professional/scholarly publications, for which I use Laura A. Ewald, and my fiction, for which I use Laura Anne Ewald.

Some quite famous writers write in more than one genre. Some change their byline, and some do not. For example, Jayne Ann Krentz writes stories set in Victorian England, contemporary America, and on futuristic alien planets. To differentiate between them, she publishes the first under the pen name Amanda Quick. For the second, she uses Jayne Ann Krentz. And for the third, she uses Jayne Castle (her maiden name). To bring her readers with her, when she started writing in the future, her covers read, “Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle.”

On the other hand, Anne McCaffrey has always used Anne McCaffrey, from her contemporary romances of the 1980s to her extensive science fiction portfolio, including the epic Dragons of Pern series, to her Fantasy chapter books she has most recently written for her grandchildren.

This is very much one of those “it depends” questions. I think the bottom line is, “What do you want from your writing?” If you want to find a commercial agent and publisher who specialize in a specific genre who can help you earn fame and fortune, then sticking to that genre for all your writing may be a smart move. As for me, I just want to keep writing stories so I can get those pesky characters out of my head. Sometimes the story is in the here and now, and sometimes it is on another planet or in a star ship. Sometimes my characters are just regular people, and sometimes they have a little more—or aren’t even human.

For as long as I keep reading multiple genres of fiction, I expect my stories will continue to be just as varied. But writing stories is the thing I most enjoy doing, so I expect I’ll keep my imagination primed by reading whatever strikes my fancy—and keep writing the stories that pop into my head in whatever genre they may be.

The next time, we’ll start looking at what readers expect from different genres.



by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

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