Tag Archives: sub-genres

Adventures in genre writing…Lesson One

By Jeanne Stein

Welcome, everyone. Let’s have some fun.

I suppose most of you looked at the topic question and shrugged. Genre is everything that’s not literary, right? It’s what Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is all about, right?

But the subcategories of genre books have both expanded and tightened in the last few years. An example is Urban Fantasy.

Until around 2002, all paranormal works (and I’m using this term to refer to the type of book in which science or technology do not play a major role in the story) were categorized as fantasy, horror, or paranormal romance. Each was specific in its content and readers knew what to expect when they picked up a book from Carol Berg or Robin Owens (fantasy), Anne Rice or Stephen King (horror), J. D. Robb or Christine Feehan (paranormal romance.)

Paranormal romance, in particular, was (and is) a hugely successful genre. However, there are rules to be followed in any romance category. The most important is that by the end of the book (or story arc if it’s a series,) the hero and heroine MUST end up together. Happily-ever-after is not only expected, it’s demanded. The romance is the driving force of the book whether the characters are human, otherworldly, or a mixture of the two.

Into this mix came a new type of book. Edgy, contemporary, set in an urban (or suburban or rural) setting, generally written in first person with a kick-ass heroine who does not depend on a male partner for protection or to save her when the going gets tough. The biggest distinguishing factor, however, is that at the end of the book, there will most likely be NO happily-ever-after for our protagonist. She may have a lover, may even find herself in a committed relationship, But in urban fantasy, that relationship will be constantly challenged and will not define who our heroine is or how she lives her life. The romance, if it’s there at all, will play a minor role in the story.

The tag “Urban Fantasy” was coined specifically to differentiate these stories from paranormal romance. The interesting thing, however, is that readers of paranormal romance made the shift to UF in record numbers. Not in place of paranormal romance but in addition to it.

The same could be said for the mystery genre. We now have contemporary mystery (Marcus Sackey), historical mystery (Josephine Tey), suspense (Lee Child), thriller (James Patterson), crime novels (Lawrence Block), police procedural (J.A.Jance), the private eye (Robert B. Parker), cozy (Agatha Christy), legal (John Grisham)…the list goes on. Like Urban Fantasy, each has its own characteristics and a reader knows going in what to expect.

As do the agents and editors. Which is why it’s so important to properly classify your book. It’s not enough to tell an agent I’m writing a romance. You have to tell them the kind of romance you’re writing. Is it contemporary (Nora Roberts), historical (Catherine Coulter), erotica (E.L. James), category (meaning the type of lines put out by Harlequin or Silhouette—RMFW’s own Cindy Myers fit here), Regency (Elizabeth Michels), Fantasy or Paranormal (Christine Feehan), Time Travel (Diana Gabaldon), Gothic (Mary Stewart), Suspense (Jayne Ann Krentz).

So here’s your first assignment. Categorize your WIP. And if you have a well-known author whose work contains the same elements of yours, the first line of your query might be: Fans of John Grisham will love my legal thriller (BLANK). Share if you’d like.

In the introduction I mentioned a list of authors who will be adding their own particular spin on genre tags and how it affects their writing. One of the most popular is Charlaine Harris. Charlaine began writing straight mysteries—the popular Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard (Shakespeare) series. It was Sookie Stackhouse, debuting in 2001 that made her a super-star. The popular Southern Vampire Series caught the imagination of the reading (and now television) public in a huge way. In its last season, True Blood is wrapping up. But on the horizon her cozy series, the Amanda Teagarden mysteries, has been picked up by Hallmark. Her latest work, Midnight Crossroads, is a paranormal mystery set in another fictional town, Midnight, Texas.

Here’s what she had to say:

1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?

I write Rural Fantasy, as anyone who’s read my books will appreciate. But I’m always lumped in with Urban Fantasy authors. I don’t mind. My work suits that tone, though it’s distinctly not urban. I’m not a tag lover, but at least when you say “He/she writes Urban Fantasy,” there’s a general understanding of what that comprises.

2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?

Supernatural characters, a blend of humanity and the fantastic, and the dark workings of the magical world affecting the mundane world of regular humans.

3. Did you set out to write UF?

Ha! That term didn’t exist when I began to write the Sookie Stackhouse books. There was Laurell K. Hamilton, and there was me, at least as far as crossover writers went. Some straight science fiction writers had been writing works that would now be classified as UF, but I wasn’t familiar with them.

4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?

I think almost everyone would like to believe there’s more. They’d like to believe that even if you have to pay your electric bill and worry about your kid’s grades in school, there are werewolves around the corner and vampires in the bar.

_________

Next lesson, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of genre writing—determining point of view, setting and world building. Think about your characters—whose story (or stories) you want to tell—and their relationship to the world.

Any questions? Put them in remarks.  Want to share your log line? Share away.  See you in September (egad!!)

The Sub-Genre Rabbit Hole

By Pamela Nowak

I feel as if I fell down a rabbit hole. But instead of Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee, I encountered a score of similarly-dressed fiction sub-genres. They were nearly identical. Here and there, one had a sash or hat or tie or button that was a different color. Looking closely, I could see each was subtly different from its cohorts but my head ached from trying to sort out the minute variations. They advanced on me, grinning like evil Cheshire Cats, insisting I recognize their individuality. I lay there, confused, as they morphed into a gang of lurching zombie look-alikes from another genre altogether.

During the past month, RMFW Colorado Gold contest committee volunteers have been busy clarifying and redefining sub-genre categories. We were challenged by the need to keep up with the industry while avoiding excessive complication—a task that was nearly impossible. Editors want submitting writers to know where their manuscript belongs and writers who are self-publishing must know how to market. A good contest provides a tool to practice that categorization. Because it had been awhile since the contest sub-genres were last reviewed, we started looking at current sub-genres (our sources included marketing sights, professional genre organizations, blogs by industry professionals, and author input, among others). As we near the end of the process, I am picking my jaw up from the floor and shaking my head.

I never knew there were so many!

When I lived in rural areas and shopped in a small bookstore, there were two adult fiction sections: romance and everything else.  In bigger cities, I discovered mystery and sci fi/fantasy had their own sections. Then, thrillers were given shelf space as well. Horror, women’s fiction, literary, historical, action were all shelved with mainstream, alphabetically by author. Within the genre sections, there was no breakdown by sub-genre.  That’s as complicated as shopping got.

Years ago, querying my first manuscript, I could easily classify my novel as a romance. Most editors and agents also wanted to know a sub-genre. That was easy, too: contemporary category, contemporary single title, or historical. That was it.  Over the years, things changed. Paranormal, inspirational, and erotic sub-genres appeared. Contemporary suddenly had multiple variations. Historical was separated by time period or locale and category historical was created. Other genres such as fantasy and suspense were blended with romance.  Authors needed to be able to define their work in order to submit to the appropriate lines.

Still, nothing prepared me for the explosion of new variations that seems to have occurred since we began the shift from print books to digital. Sub-genres have changed immensely.

What used to be sci-fi/fantasy or horror is now blended and called speculative fiction. When this shift occurred a few years ago, it seemed understandable, given the increasing number of paranormal novels. At first, the sub-genres were simply sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and paranormal—pretty cut and dried. Today, we discovered the following sub-genres listed by varying sources: alternate history, dystopian, post-apocalypse, epic fantasy, low fantasy, fairy tale, horror, new age/spiritual, science fiction, steampunk, urban fantasy, near future technical/science fiction, urban-supernatural fantasy, new age-steampunk, tie-in, futuristic, anthropological sci-fi, contemporary fantasy, magical realism, epic historical fantasy, ghost story, historical fantasy, mainstream time travel, weird west, cyberpunk, paranormal, supernatural, superhero, and high fantasy.

Action/Thriller—the old action/adventure—was a bit less extensive. Here we found action adventure, bio-tech/biological, legal, political, psychological, spy/international, archeological, art, military, serial killer, techno, historical suspense, private eye, crime, disaster/survival, martial arts, and noir.

Romance sub-genres are complicated by the combinations that occur and the use of multiple terms for the same thing. Among them were traditional, category, long, short, single title, suspense, paranormal, regency, time travel, futuristic, fantasy, historical, futuristic/time travel, kink/bdsm (usually but not always classified under mainstream erotica), lesbian, male/male, paranormal/supernatural, sensual/erotic, small town, sweet/traditional, western, contemporary, inspirational, highland, medieval, and YA.

Mainstream, too, has expanded.  Included are chick lit, comedic, coming of age, contemporary, historical action based, historical character based, magical realism, multicultural, western, women’s fiction, fairy tale, literary, and erotica.

Mystery, once just a handful of subgenres, now has suspense, cozy, private eye, police procedural, amateur detective, historical, suspense, new adult, character, crime, paranormal, medical/forensics, and whodunit/traditional.

Young Adult can be extremely complicated. A relatively new genre itself, it can have all the sub-genres found within fiction.  Most common seemed to be action adventure, contemporary, epic fantasy, urban-supernatural fantasy, mystery, sci-fi/futuristic, coming of age, sci-fi, historical, comedy thriller, dystopian, fantasy romance, romance, low fantasy, magical realism, middle grade, steampunk, new adult (sometimes listed under mainstream), new age/spiritual, paranormal/supernatural, and urban fantasy.

As authors, we are presented with the challenge of trying to define our works in this current world. At times, it might be great to select a very specific definition for our stories. Yet, there are those novels that fit into multiple sub-genres and others that still must cleave to broader definitions for lack (lack???) of an appropriate specific sub-genre. There are cross-genre books that require an author to make difficult choices.

For the reader, finding favorite authors is still fairly easy, especially in brick and mortar stores where there are limited genre sections. We need only remember that one store classifies our favorite author as thriller and another shelves him with mysteries. In online stores, we simply plug in the author’s name and search.

The nightmare of the rabbit hole, though, occurs when readers are browsing for new authors. Among all these complicatedly different-yet-not sub-genres, how do they plug in the right words to find us? How do we (or our publishers) select the appropriate sub-genre that will unite us with those searching readers? And what will keep us from becoming Mad Hatters, one and all?

~~~~~~~~~~~~

downloadPamela Nowak writes historical romance set in the American West. In addition to widespread critical acclaim, her books have won multiple national awards. In love with history and rich characters for most of her life, Pam has a B.A. in history, has taught prison inmates, managed the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and run a homeless shelter. She was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year in 2010, chaired three conferences, and now serves as president. Pam and her life partner Ken live in Denver. Their combined families include six daughters and several grand-children. Together, they parent two dogs and a cat.

Pam loves hearing from readers and invites them to visit her on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.