Tag Archive | books

Writing a Novel #2 : Choosing a Genre

What do I write?

You’ve got your space all set up, or you know where you’re going to go to write. You’ve got your supplies. You sit down and you look at the blank page…and you blank. What do you write?

This is the first big challenge. A lot of people claim they want to write, but when it comes to actually doing the work, they back off. They don’t have a clue where to start or what to write. The blank page, whether paper or a computer screen, can be intimidating.

One of the first things you need to figure out is what genre you want to write in. There several major genres and dozens of subgenres to choose from. Let’s start with some of the main ones (Note: since I’m talking novels, I’m talking strictly fiction here)(second note: this is by no means a comprehensive list):

  •  Adventure (aka Action-Adventure) – these are stories where the main character does something risky in order to obtain something. Examples include Indiana Jones, Die Hard, Jackie Chan
  • Comedy – something inane, lighthearted, witty, designed to make the reader chuckle. Examples: Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, Jackie Chan (an example of a combination of two or more genres)
  • Fantasy – contains magic and/or supernatural beings/devices. It is magic based and not technology based. Dragons, sword and sorcery, witches, etc. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling)
  • Horror – a story meant to shock or scare the reader. Anything by Stephen King fits this genre, but the father of all is Edgar Allen Poe. Also check out Mary Shelley, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice.
  • Mystery – focuses on a problem, usually a murder, to be solved. Includes many subgenres like true crime, crime and cozies. Agatha Christie books, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, Perry Mason, Carl Hiaason, Elmore Leonard – all good mystery writers.
  • Romance – a story about the relationship between two main characters. Though romances run the gamut of subgenres (romantic suspense(mystery), futuristic romance, paranormal(fantasy), sweet, snarky, etc.) the main focus of the story is the development of the relationship and not the underlying genre. Norah Roberts, Susan Wiggs, Katie MacAllister, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Beatrice Small and more.
  • Science fiction – uses technology. If there is no science, there can be no science fiction. You might have a dragon – but you’d better have a plausible, science-based reason for it being in your world. It can include apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, alternate history, alternate universes, aliens, genetics, plagues, military, social science fiction (concerned less with technology and more with society – think 1984), space opera, cyber-punk, steampunk and more. Examples: Star Wars, Avatar, Wild Wild West, Star Trek, Firefly
  • Thriller – usually something that involves spies, espionage, dark crimes, disasters, etc. where there is a constant sense of impending doom or physical threats. Silence of the Lambs can fit this as well as any Tom Clancy book, Ludlum’s Bourne series, etc.
  • Western – any story set in the American west, usually involves ranches, cowboys and girls. Authors include Zane Grey, Louis Lamour.
  • Literary (also known to some as “Women’s Fiction” – though I might argue with this) – usually have strong female protagonists (heroines) overcoming personal issues. Not always with a happy ever after ending. Authors include Fannie Flagg, Nicholas Sparks, Anne Rivers Siddons, and more.

Each of these can be combined with each other or with other sub-genres to make dozens of different types of stories.

For instance, in mystery, you can have cozy mystery (think Murder She Wrote) where there is a body (or two, but rarely more), an amateur detective (someone who is not a cop/detective/etc.), and a mystery to be solved. There is rarely gore or violence. They are light, quick reads. On the other hand, a straight crime mystery usually has a professional detective or cop as a lead character, the possibility of multiple bodies, violence, gore. They are edgier and darker than a cozy. Both of these can be set in contemporary times, but they can also be combined with science fiction for a futuristic mystery, or placed in a past century for a historical mystery. Or they can be westerns, or psychological, or urban…you get the idea.

Action/adventure can be science fiction in nature (Terminator movies). Urban fantasy takes place in the here and now. You can pick any one or combination of them to write what you want – just be forewarned that not all sub-genres will sell well so if you want to write something marketable, keep this in mind.

Most writers tend to write in the genre which they read the most in. And you’d better be reading! So what do you love? What kinds of books take up the most space on your shelves (or in your electronic reading device)? That will probably be the genre you are most comfortable writing in.

Homework for this week:

Decide on a genre and make notes on what is needed for that particular area.


I have discovered I have an obsession with books. Okay, no surprise there, especially for my family, but it is becoming an issue of space. In the past several years, I have donated/sold/otherwise disposed of thousands of books and yet my shelves are still overflowing. My to-be-read piles continue to pile and there is no way I will ever read them all, not even in two lifetimes.

And yet…I continue to get more. I’ll see a title by an author I love and I have to have it. Or an intriguing blurb by a new (to me) author and it goes on my list. Working in a bookstore only feeds my obsession. And please, don’t point out that I can go to a library and borrow a book – doesn’t work for me (and I have a Master’s in Library Science!). I have to *have* the book. It has to be mine. Mine to read, to review if I like it, to get rid of if I don’t. Mine to savor and put on a shelf, or share with someone else.

I don’t understand why I am like this. And it really is just books. I have other collections and interests, but they don’t pull at me like books do. Books, whether paperback, hardback, or in e-format, are doorways to other worlds. Within their covers, people have problems that are solved and adventures in exotic places. They take me away from my troubles and let me live in a fantasy world for as long as I am in them.

And maybe that’s the draw.

Whatever the reason, I know I’m not going to quit getting books, whether for myself or others. And I know I’m not going to stop reading. After all, where else can you find such enjoyment for such a small amount of money?


Wow. I surprised myself.

I did not have a great day today. I won’t go into details, let’s just say it was a frustrating day. On top of the frustrations, I wasn’t able to get any writing done (except this blog). So I feel behind on things I should be getting done. Plus I looked over a couple of my contracts and realized there were a couple of problems I need to discuss with one of my publishers, so that topped off my day.

In light of the contract issues, I sat down to look at some of my stories that I had finished and in progress…and I surprised myself. If you look at my websites, you will see that I have four books and three short stories published under this name, and four more under another name. Okay, eight stories or books – not bad considering that most people who write will never be published. But then I looked at the other stuff I have sitting around. In addition to what I have out, and what my publishers are sitting on (four more stories), I have twelve more finished novels that just need me to work on them (edit), eleven more that are nearly done, twenty-five short stories (almost all are science fiction in nature), and another thirty-eight stories that are at least started, but just sitting there waiting for me to do something with them.

You don’t have to do the math, I did. I have a total of one-hundred-one stories either published or waiting for me to do something with them. And I’m sure there a a few ideas sitting around somewhere that I don’t have in my computer.


Now I’m certain that very few of them will ever go any further than they are right now, and several will probably be combined to form a single story, but still, I surprised myself. I didn’t realize I had that many. It feels pretty good. It shows me that I am a productive writer, even when I don’t feel like I am.

So on days like this when I’m feeling low about the writing, I’ll pull out that list, take a look at it, and know that I can get the stories out and that if I run into a block, all I have to do is pull up one of those works in progress and work on it.

I think I’d better go pull up a file and get some writing done. 🙂

Addendum: I kept counting (don’t ask – it was something I just felt I had to do), anyway, in addition to the above, so far this year alone, I’ve done 50 reviews for three different sites, critiqued twelve stories/novels for friends, relatives, and crit partners, done a half-dozen articles for newsletters, and blogged (I didn’t bother to count these) for this and other sites. That’s in addition to past articles for newspapers and magazines (I was a newspaper reporter for two years), more reviews than I can remember (did this for almost fifteen years), and copy-edited almost fifty full-length books (fiction and non-fiction) for private clients.

And yet, most professional writer’s groups don’t consider me a published writer because I’m not actively pursuing a career in writing. Interesting, huh? 🙂

Old friends…

I recently read a book for review from an author I haven’t read in years – Rosemary Rogers. I fell in love with her books back in the 70’s. She was among the pioneers of the epic romance novel. Her heroines were not wimpy simpering women who waited for the hero to rescue them. They had strength of character, spirit and body. They were women who weren’t afraid to go after what they wanted. She put her characters in situations very few of us will ever face, but she gave us a chance to see that even if the odds were against us, we could survive. She and Kathleen Woodiwiss were authors whose books I bought just because of the author’s name. I knew if I purchased a book by Rogers or Woodiwiss, I would enjoy it.

Somehow, over the years, I got away from historical novels. My tastes changed to ones with a more science fiction, fantasy or paranormal touch. The only historicals I read were ones with time-travel as the reason for going back. I grew away from Rogers and leaned more towards Gabaldone, Showalter, and Sinclaire.

Then I picked up “Bride for One Night” by Rosemary Rogers and remembered why I fell in love with her writing (you can read my review at Goodreads). There was adventure, passion, romance, wit, and danger. Since I was reading a pre-pub ARC, there were also some editorial problems, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. And there were enough threads left dangling that I am sure there will be more books in this particular universe – and I know I’ll be looking for them.

Will I go back to reading historical novels? Probably not on a regular basis, but who knows? I really enjoy my paranormals and will never give them up, but I think going back to a light historical is something I need to do more often. It reminded me why I fell in love with romance novels in the first place. And that’s never a bad thing.

A Real Live Book

I am a lover of electronics. And all they can do for us, especially in the realm of books. Or e-books. Carrying an electronic library around is a heck of a lot easier than hauling boxes of books from place to place. I know during our last move, my husband would have preferred more of my books to be in electronic form than the dozens of boxes we packed and carried.

But, that being said, there’s just something about holding an actual book in your hand. Especially when that book has your name splashed across the cover.

Last Friday, after an especially bad week, when I was feeling the lowest I’ve felt in a very long time, I got a box from my publisher. My shipment of the book PRIME TIME – my latest futuristic romance. I opened the box, tore out the packing material, and smiled for probably the first time all week. My book. With its gorgeous cover and my name.

I can tell you, it was a pretty good feeling. And it continues as I show the book around.

Yes, PRIME TIME, like all my books, is available as an ebook. And I am as proud as punch when each book comes out no matter the format. But still, there is something to be said for that feeling when you’re holding your own book in your hand.

May the feeling never go away. 🙂