What Does Genre Mean to a Writer?

The coolest building in Seattle: the Seattle Public Library.
Photo by Sylvia Yang on Unsplash

Anyone old enough to remember card catalogues, remembers learning the Dewy Decimal System–a library’s classification system based on subject.

Dewey Decimal Classifications:

  • 000 – Computer science, information & general works
  • 100 – Philosophy & psychology
  • 200 – Religion
  • 300 – Social sciences
  • 400 – Language
  • 500 – Pure Science
  • 600 – Technology
  • 700 – Arts & recreation
  • 800 – Literature
  • 900 – History & geography

*source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dewey_Decimal_classes

I spent a lot of my childhood in a gothic church remodeled into a library. It was the coolest library I’ve ever been in besides the library of Trinity College in Dublin.

The Before Times when I went to libraries in other countries!
Photo cred Kelli Staci

In my childhood, I learned the Dewey Decimal System from a local librarian long before I learned it in middle school. I’ve long known books were categorized for ease of identification of what the contents would contain. Could you imagine walking into a bookstore or library that was only organized by the author’s last name? Chaos. *Shudders*

This gives me angina.
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I think of genre as a subset of classifications in the 800 or Literature section of a library. Genre is a roadmap to navigate the contents of books in fiction and non-fiction section of stores as well as libraries.

Photo by Ty Feague on Unsplash

Genre is how you market the contents of your book. Traditionally published authors can rely on an agent or editor to help them determine this. How do indie authors pick a genre when there are so many?

Setting: Urban Fantasy could be categorized as the modern world, or near future, with magical elements such as supernatural or mythological creatures affecting the outcome. However, Paranormal Romance can tout the same thing.

Science Fiction is usually set in space or in the distant future and technology affects the outcome of the story. Horror is set at anytime and anyplace. If your story is supposed to be scary, it’s horror no matter the setting. I’m really put off by books and movies that are horror passed off as science fiction.

Plot: Genres go by specific plots. In Urban Fantasy, there’s usually an antagonist, who has a problem presented by the magical world. The magical world will be both the ally and enemy pushing the antagonist either toward or away from their goal.

In the Romance genre, regardless of the sub-genre, are about a romantic relationship. Each plot point will drive the main character and their love interest together or apart. If your story is about a relationship, it is Romance.

There are stories that the setting and the plot are too intermixed and the novel is a cross-genre mashup. In this case, you have to pick a predominant genre, or the one you want to market to the most, and add the phrase “with elements of (insert genre)”.

I hope this breakdown helps! Happy writing!

©TJ Deschamps

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