February 19, 2014

Forget Genre: Do You Know What Kind of Story You Want to Write?

By K. M. Weiland

When someone asks you what kind of story you’re writing, your answer is probably based on your book’s genre. Romance. Mystery. Fantasy. But genre is barely going to scratch the surface of your story.
Let’s say you want to write a fantasy. But fantasyland is a mighty big place. Just what roads within that genre do you want your story to travel? Epic fantasy, portal fantasy, steampunk, space opera, paranormal?
Once you’ve narrowed your vision for your story to a specific subgenre (let’s say you’ve chosen steampunk) you will have a better idea of what your story is really about and what genre strictures will guide its creation. But you’re still not finished. You still have to figure out what kind of story you want to write.
The answer to this question will influence every moment of your writing experience. It will determine the tone of your story. It will guide your characters’ arcs. It will affect theme, setting, even the color palette you use in your descriptions.
Earlier this year, when I sat down to write my latest work-in-progress Storming, I knew it would technically be fantasy. More than that, I knew it would have some kind of steampunk vibe (which I ended up narrowing down to dieselpunk). But, just as important as either of those decisions, I also knew what kind of story I wanted it to be: a fun, summer blockbuster kind of adventure romp.
I could easily have maintained my genre choices and still written an entirely different book—if I had decided to write a different kind of story. Before you sit down to write your first chapter, take a moment to look beyond genre. What type of story do you want this to be? Fun, light, happy? Dark, tragic, thought provoking? Consider books and movies that have the same kind of feel you’d like to recreate. What kind of stories are they?
Once you’ve narrowed down your storytelling vision to a specific kind of story, you’re ready to start shaping that story into a cohesive and resonant first draft.
K.M. Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her website Helping Writers Become Authors, her books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

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