Why are the Genres of Literature Crucial in a Story?

Genres of literature

“Know safely what the rules are, and
then break them with joy.” Neil Gaiman

Genres of literature: I know many people despise the word “market”. Marketing, write to sell, things like that. They think that “genre” is the same thing. That you only have to “fit into a genre” if you want to “write to sell”. If you want to write whatever you’d like, the genre is something you can ignore.

That’s not true!

“Genre” is not only for the market. It’s for your readers and yourself as a writer, so you won’t be totally lost.

What is Genre in writing?

It means “category”. A genre has a determined set of characteristics that set one apart from the others.

Some common genres of literature are:

  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Thriller
  • Horror
  • Western
  • Historical
  • Literary fiction

Every genre has its own expectations, conventions, and tropes. Each one has a type of character, a tone, and certain things that are probably going to happen.

You can’t have fantasy without a fantasy setting. It wouldn’t be fantasy!

You can’t have romance without people falling in love. It wouldn’t be romance!

Why do you need a Genre?

A genre, for the reader, will help them to know what they are reading.

For example, you, as a reader, really like fantasy but you hate cowboys.

You want to read an epic fantasy in which the hero goes in a mission to save the world.

You get an interesting book and start reading it. It starts as a fantasy, but in the middle of the story the Chosen One gives up his quest to become a cowboy.

You go: what the hell?

And, then, you, as a writer, want to write a sci-fi story. You start with an alien boy that meets a girl in a spaceship. Every conflict in the story is about their relationship. Sci-fi fans go: what the hell? I wanted exploding ships and not a boy-meet-girl story.

Does it mean that you can’t write romance in space?


It means that your genre, in this example, is Sci-fi ROMANCE, and not Sci-fi only.

It may sound complicated, but it isn’t.

You need a genre to make it easy for your reader to understand what they’re buying, and to make you, as a writer, know what path your story should take so you can accomplish what you’re aiming for.

What is Subgenre?

A subgenre is a specific category inside the big genre.

For example, sci-fi romance is a subgenre in romance. As is erotica romance, dark romance, young adult romance, etc.

Space opera is a subgenre inside sci-fi.

Detective stories is a subgenre inside of thriller.

And it goes on.

Here is your best possibility of “mixing” two genres. If you really love fantasy, and you really love horror, you can do both in a specific subgenre, like “Dark Fantasy”, for example, in which the fantasy is expected to have horror elements inside.

What if I don’t Want to Fit a Genre?

“Know safely what the rules are, and
then break them with joy.” Neil Gaiman

There’s a difference between writing a book all over the place, and not wanting to use clichés on your book.

People are usually afraid of committing to a genre because they think it’s limiting and they don’t want to use its clichés.

However, the cliché is an overused element. You don’t need to write a story full of clichés for it to fit a genre.

If you want to write a story with a dragon in another world, you’re writing fantasy. That’s because dragons and other worlds are elements of fantasy. It’s impossible for you to change that. Does it mean that you’ll have to put the 12-year-old orphan that is the chosen one in your story? NO! You don’t need the CLICHÉS for it to FIT a genre.

Your story WILL FIT a genre or a lot of different genres, even if you don’t want it to.

The difference is that it will happen involuntarily or not. You can control the story and make it a good one, or you can refuse to understand the rules and make a big mess.

Genres of literature: Readers expectations

Every time a person goes to a musical at the cinema, they are expecting songs. If they don’t get songs, it wasn’t a musical, and they will be REALLY disappointed.

Each time a person goes to watch a movie about drugs, they expect drugs. If you promise them drugs on the screen, and you give them a couple kissing, they will be disappointed.

If you want to make your story a good one, you have to think about the readers. Of course, you can “write whatever you want, not thinking about no one else”, however, you won’t improve as a writer if you do as so.

Having a genre doesn’t mean clichés. It doesn’t mean a boring story without any surprises

People WANT new things. People WANT surprises.

If you choose to write romance, you don’t need a “too dumb to live” girl that falls in love with the bad boy that should be in jail instead of there.

You CAN have a strong female character and a good male guy. You CAN bend the clichés.

You don’t need a kid orphan saving the world in your fantasy.

However, you do need to understand that conflict from a romance story is totally different from conflict from a fantasy story.

You need to understand that readers from a romance story are expecting a happy ending. They will be EXTREMELY disappointed if you don’t give it t them. Because that’s why they bought a romance in the first place.

You can be a genius, a famous writer. Even so, the readers are expecting a certain type of story from you. For example, people are expecting horror by Stephen King. They can buy his romance, but if he said: this is horror, and give people romance, he will be skinned alive, regardless if it’s Stephen King or an unknown pen-name.

You have to give the readers what you’ve promised. And this doesn’t mean any surprises.

And you promised from the cover, the blurb, the title, the first paragraph, the type of characters.

If you say the character has a secret, the readers are expecting to know the secret. The story won’t end until you tell them. If you just “forget” about the secret, this is not a surprise, this is bad writing: you put an element in your story that didn’t serve any purpose in the end.

always like it if you give them what
they want, in a way that they’re not
expecting.” Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass

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