Finding your genre

Someone on the Bransforums recently posted a thread entitled “Finding your genre”. It turned out it might more appropriately have been titled “Defining your [book’s] genre”, since it was about determining which genre label to use for a finished manuscript when sending out query letters.

But I thought “finding your genre” was an interesting subject for a blog post. Because it took me some trial and error to find mine. You’d think it’d be intuitive, wouldn’t you? But it wasn’t, or at least not for me.

The first novel I wrote was high fantasy, set in a completely made-up world, told in third-person with a male protagonist in his late-twenties. In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess in my teens and early 20s I would read a lot of high fantasy, and much of it featured male protagonists because that’s what there was. So maybe the basis for this early attempt was grounded in all those books I read when I was younger. I had a fun time writing the book, don’t get me wrong. I liked my characters and I saw them right through to the very end. But I didn’t love them enough to want to go back and revise when I realized the manuscript had flaws. Quite a few.

Perhaps indicative of just how not-my-genre high fantasy was, my next novel was contemporary fantasy, set in a modern world, told in third-person with a male protagonist, but this one a young teen of fourteen. I remember when I started this novel that the protagonist who’d initially come to mind was female, and I’d made the very conscious decision to make the main character male because girls will read male protagonists more often than boys will read female leads. I should’ve probably trusted my gut. I had fun with this story, too, and I think the world I created was a lot more unique and interesting than the one of my first novel. I saw this book to completion, too, and enjoyed doing it. But in the end, it suffered the same problem: I didn’t love the characters or setting enough to want to spend much time fixing the story when I realized it wasn’t working.

So then came book three. This time, a female protagonist, aged sixteen. Told in first-person. A light fantasy set in an contemporary world based on an alternate history, in a rural landscape. I think I knew this one was different from fairly early on in the manuscript. I’d started reading a lot more YA by this point, and the ones I liked best all seemed to be teen female leads in fairly normal contemporary settings but with fantasy elements. I had no trouble finishing the first draft… and for the first time, I really wanted to go back and start revising. I loved the characters, and more than that, I loved the setting, the world they lived in. I loved her story. Something about that particular subgenre spoke to me. I’d had fun writing the others, but writing this one was different. I felt like I’d finally figured it out.

Novel number four is very similar: seventeen-year-old female, first-person, contemporary setting with fantasy/supernatural elements. And like the last book, it feels right to write. I think I’ve found my genre.

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