Defining What You Write

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I was thinking about how to define what you write. Or how you decide what you want to write. I’m having a hard time deciding what genre I should submit my manuscript to when it’s finished. I’m about 2/3 of the way through the novel and I have, as yet, no idea where it should go.  I know what it isn’t, but I’m not sure what it is. There is some romance in the novel, but not a lot. There are some fantastical elements but it’s set in “the real world” for the majority of the novel, but some scenes are in…alternate realitites. But there are also some quasi-religious overtones that may throw some people off, although it’s far from religious fiction as well. Also, my main character is young, but not really young enough to label it “YA” at least in my own standards of YA.

At first, I was leaning towards paranormal, until another aspiring writer reminded me of the connotations of paranormal to romance these days. I know that it isn’t horror, romance, or science fiction. It’s definitely not autobiographical in any shape of that category, but I’m still at a loss as to where I’d place my novel.

 I suppose Fantasy would do, but that label doesn’t leave me satisified, more than likely it’s the lack of a real magic system that leaves me unsatisfied. There are three kinds of “paranormal” creatures, if you will, in this novel, and there are some fantastical beasts, although they are merely glimpsed. However, there’s no magic, wizards, dragons and the like and without those it just doesn’t ring “Fantasy” to me. I keep leaning paranormal, but there’s that stigma, as one friend once put it, of being a “bodice ripper.” Which doesn’t really apply to my novel. It could, if I had the mind to make it more concerned with the relationship, but the main thing about the relationship in this novel is that it doesn’t exist. And when it does, it still doesn’t, if that makes any sense.

So now, I’m 2/3 of the way through the novel and I still don’t have any idea who the intended audience is. I somehow feel that that puts me a bit behind. I’ve read about defining genre, and I suppose my novel is one of those that kind of mixes them a bit. It’s loosely based on religious mythology (not to be confused with religious teachings). In addition it has the elements of fantasy/paranormal. There’s a bit of SF (depending on the definition used) but mostly it’s paranormal. And I hate the unfair association of paranormal and romance. (I know I’ve said it before but I could rant for days on that association, besides being unfair, it’s also a bit stupid in my opinion).

I took my love of the supernatural and religion and fantasy and mashed it all up into one novel (hopefully it’ll become a series). The idea first came to me while I was taking a religious studies course which gave me the idea for the main paranormal creature.  I’m even in the progress of writing the inception of the story. I’d say prequel…but I’m really talking about the dawn of my paranormal creatures, and I don’t intend to write about them in any particular order of time. My first novel, hopefully, will take place in present day. But some of my ideas take me back through history and natural disasters.

How do you define what you write? Do you start with a goal of writing for a specific audience? Or is it that you found something new and interesting and you wanted to write about it?

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9 responses to “Defining What You Write

  1. Whatever you end up terming it, it already sounds very intriguing!

    As for defining what I write… I don’t, really. I just let the story go where it will, and worry about all those shiny little boxes later, once its ready to tuck itself inside one of them. Your story knows where it’s going, and it’ll tell you where it’s at once it’s gotten there. 🙂

  2. Two words. Urban Fantasy.

    Paranormal Romance is a genre that is really Romance-with-paranormal-aspects, but Urban Fantasy is Paranormal or fantastic creatures/events in an urban setting, and usually a modified version of the real world.

    You can break down Urban Fantasy into more detailed sub-sub-genres as well, and there’s a great post on genre breakdowns that you can read here as well. Essentially, though every agent website that I’ve ever read says the same thing: don’t worry too much about specific genre. If you’re writing a sub-genre of Fantasy, just pitch it as fantasy and if the agent likes it, they’ll help classify it more specifically.

    As for your questions… I write what I love to read, and don’t worry too much about the target audience other than them being “someone like me”.

  3. For now, I tend to take the same approach Jo mentioned. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write fantasy, but my personal idea of “fantasy” has changed some over the years. Still, it is the general label I intend to go with, as my story follows more fantasy conventions than those of other genres I’m inspired by.

    Even so, I still feel like I’m in the same boat as you, Dorothy, when it comes to explaining the finer details of my story. I do think it helps to consider the plot conventions of your story as compared to the style of the world/setting you are writing about, though. For example, the plot in my WIP is certainly a magic-based quest tale/epic with a blend of ESP elements, but the style of the world is actually what I’d consider “dieselpunk,” as it has a pre-WWII-type setting. (And I’m still actually debating whether I want to use that “epic” label because it does tend to evoke imagery of Medieval-esque worlds.) So, if I were to try and combine all of these things into one neat package, it might be something like “epic dieselpunk fantasy with a dash of ESP,” heh.

    However, I would only use something like that for the purpose of pitching to agents and/or publishers, of course (and other writers). I probably wouldn’t explain it to most other people that way, lol, though it would really depend on who I’m talking to….

    Recently I was reading this Strange Horizons interview with Jeff VanderMeer, who you may know writes some decidedly genre-bending stuff. He talks a little about genre and what can be done about this sticky business of genre perceptions, depending on the folks you’re submitting your work to.

    You should check it out!

  4. I think Jo was most probably right: urban fantasy. Howbeit… Urban Fantasy does carry it’s own connotations, these days. More and more there’s a connotation of a detective/police force/agent/or monster hunter who has to deal with supernatural incursions into the real world. It can be urban fantasy without the supernatural monster-busting… but that’s a big part of the genre. There’s also often a suggestion that there will be a romance (not emphasized, but there) between a normal-world main character and a supernatural creature – if you emphasize the romance too much it becomes Paranormal Romance.

    Also… technically speaking Urban Fantasy takes place in an urban setting (i.e. a city).

    The less-specific “Contemporary Fantasy” label takes away all of those potential caveats. Contemporary Fantasy simply means something supernatural or magical or mythical taking place in a modern, contemporary setting. So far, it has no connocations of anything to do with romance, monster-hunting, or anything like that. It’s just descriptive. Fantastical elements + modern-day real-world setting = Contemporary Fantasy. In fact, Urban Fantasy can be classified as a sub-genre of Contemporary Fantasy, even though it’s a bigger sales category.

    Still… I suspect you’ll probably fit okay with the Urban category. Although there’s a suggestion of all those elements, the term is still sometimes used to describe stories that lack one or more of thoese elements.

    • Also, it looks like the tropes that you associate with “Fantasy” generally these days are somewhat more specific to the subgenre “High Fantasy”…

      • But it just doesn’t feel like “Fantasy” without magic at the very least.

      • Really… don’t worry about it. “Fantasy” doesn’t mean magic. Fantasy means “fantastical elements”, which means any of Magic, mythology, or mysticism. If you have God and the Devil doing battle in the sky above New York, that’s still Fantasy… because that’s mystical. It doesn’t have to be wizards slinging spells. “High Fantasy” really is the genre where there’s lots of wizards and magic and a medieval or near-medieval setting. But Fantasy as a genre really has moved on from being just about magic and elves and whatnot. It can be those things, but it can be so much more.

      • I know that when most people think “Magic” they think Gandalf and D&D – wizards and spells and the like. But magic, by definition, is just the power to influence things through mysterious or supernatural means.

        Everything supernatural, religious, and mystical falls into the realm of magic. A vampire wandering down the street is just as “magic” as two Gods duking it out in the sky, or a 5th level Wizard casting a fireball.

        Plus – what Stephen said. “Fantasy” doesn’t equal magic. Fantasy is all about fantastic (ie. non-real or mundane) elements.

  5. Pingback: Religion and the Writing Craft | dwwriter

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