The genre maketh the book

The reason I used the archaic third-person singular form of “make” in the title is because I was thinking about Shakespeare. And we all know that as soon as you start thinking about Shakespeare, you start talking like Shakespeare. (Unfortunately this doesn’t carry over into actually writing like Shakespeare).

I was thinking about book genres and have been for a few weeks because of the thorny problem of assigning one to Silent Symmetry. Wait a second – do people use “Shakespearean” as a genre or just an adjective? If “Shakespearean romance” is a genre what did the Bard himself call it – “Me romance”?


He knew his genres alright…

Okay, I’m being silly. But genres really matter, whether it be (or not be) (Arrrgh, get out of my head, Shakespeare!) for movies, books or plays. They matter because people like to be darn sure what kind of movie they’re paying to see before they venture out to the cineplex. Romance readers want a happy ending. Crime readers want an investigation that leads to the crime being solved. Sci-fi readers want aliens or futuristic worlds or both. Genre authors deliver exactly what their fans want, and that’s great. So how do I make sure that someone who sees Silent Symmetry on Amazon knows what to expect?

By definition, Silent Symmetry is a Young Adult novel. But that’s an age category, not a genre, so it doesn’t help much. My story is set mainly in Manhattan in the present day, so that makes it “urban”, but it isn’t science fiction. Oh wait! There are beings who may be from another world. But maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’re more like paranormal creatures (though they most definitely are not vampires). Are they shape-shifters? Perhaps. But they’ve been around for a long time, so maybe they’re more akin to wizards or elves, making it a fantasy…

Gah! Okay, so what about the plot? It’s a mystery. Yes, that we can agree on (by “we” I mean me and the voices in my head who are helping me write this post). The main character, Kari, gets involved in a mystery that she tries to solve and on the way she, oh no – she falls in love! Does that make it a romance? It seems to be a sci-fi paranormal fantasy mystery romance. Have I written a mutant? No… it’s not a romance after all because that definitely requires a happy ending and this is only book one of a trilogy. But I need to make sure that female readers know there’s some heart-wrenching, pulse-quickening, lovey-dovey stuff in there. I know! I’ll call it a love story!

And that was where my brain imploded and I came up with the original genre of “a mystery-fantasy love story”. I was happy with it. I felt like it would appeal to my main target of female readers and wouldn’t disappoint anyone. But as I trawled through book blogs requesting reviews, a thought kept nagging at me – is “fantasy” really the right term? Doesn’t it sound like there will be elves and dragons and twinkly bits? This nagging thought eventually turned into a screaming demon that I decided to slay. “Away with fantasy!” I yelled, as I plunged a genre-specific dagger into the demon’s black heart.

Then I read my first Amazon review, which included this:

“(scenes in) the book … brought to mind of Narnia, others the Matrix, others still the X-Files. In the end this is thoroughly its own book and is full of surprises. This is a fantasy of splendid proportions…”

Fantastic. It is a mutant. Even worse, the reviewer called it a fantasy! That was when I decided to chuck in writing and become a crossing guard.

But luckily, before I could fill out the police criminal background check application form, I saw a definition of “paranormal” that got my attention. I had assumed the term referred to ghosts and poltergeists, but what someone said online (I’ve lost the link) was that if you remove the weird creatures from your book and what you’re left with is a present-day story, then you have paranormal fiction on your hands. And when I wrote this, I realized that I’d found my genre:

Silent Symmetry: a paranormal mystery love story.

But Book 2 will mess that up completely…

Photo credit: Lincolnian (Brian) / / CC BY-SA


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