What Genre Do You Write?

December 18, 2009 at 5:11 am (fantasy, Genre, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , )


I stumbled across Dorotie’s Blog the other day and read a post called “Crossing the Boundaries – Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror” and I found it raised a few interesting points.  Admittedly it left sci-fi and fantasy sitting together and contrasted both genres simultaneously with horror but it was still a good read.

The arguments brought forward are that in fantasy and science fiction the heroes have abilities that are comparable to their antagonists (yes, there are exceptions but for the most part that is true), that usually one of the characters has knowledge about what is going on or why it is happening (or they can find someone who can explain it), and that most of the characters will make it through the climax and live to the end of the story (again there are exceptions but generally this is true).  These things happen in fantasy and science fiction. In horror the heroes are usually completely powerless compared to the antagonist, they are usually completely clueless or misinterpreting the situation and most of them die in tragic ways usually long before they reach the climax.

All and all, I agree with these distinctions for the most part and it was something I hadn’t really thought about before.  I read all three genres prolifically and yet because most of the horrors I read are fantasy/horror or science fiction/horror I never bothered to think about what distinguished horror from the other two genres.  I have however spent a lot of time wondering where the line between fantasy and science fiction begins and ends.

I classify myself as a fantasy writer.  I deal with magic, mythical creatures, mental powers, gods, destinies and prophecies.  Mostly these are set in make believe worlds with very occasional attempts to write fantasy stories set on Earth in modern day without putting too many cues in that might date the story.

I have attempted to write a story set on a space ship.  The ship is alive and talks, has a very annoying personality (based on the original pilot of the ship) and the characters are all slightly off-kilter.  This is not a science fiction story.  There is no explanation of technology, no exploration of themes such as do machines have souls and what does it mean to be human, the physics of careening through space are left completely out of the story.  The ship flies.  It is piloted telepathically.  It is a fantasy.  The characters deal with their own personal demons, relationships form and are tested, and there is a minor political drama midway through that disappears entirely by the third act.  I will admit I class this as an attempt to write a fantasy in space.  I don’t think it was overly successful as the couple of fantasy readers who have had a look at it, don’t like it the setting and the science fiction readers who have read it claim there are too many scientific impossibilities.  Well, we have to try new things occasionally and I like enough of this story that I may salvage it and relocate the events to a fantasy world, or maybe I’ll just research myself up a storm and have a go at writing straight science fiction (somehow I doubt it).

What genre do you write?  How do you classify your genre?  Do you cross between or do you stick to one?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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25 Comments

  1. Fiona Skye said,

    The book I’m currently working on is…uh…well, I’m not actually sure where it would fit. There’s vampires in it, so it could be horror. But there’s also a bunch of murders, so it could be a mystery. There’s romance, so it could be a romance. And there’s also quite a bit that takes place in the past, so it could be historical fiction. I’d call it an historical romance horror mystery. 🙂

    The next book I want to write – which I am already doing a bit of research for – is very definitely a caper story. Think Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, and The Thomas Crown Affair.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      It makes it hard when you have a little bit of everything, even when you start out to write a fairly straight forward story. I would buy a book that claimed it was a historical-romance-horror-mystery. Sounds like my kind of thing.

  2. kyuun said,

    I suppose you could call some of what I write science fiction, but particularly for the novel I’ve just finished the first draft of, it’s more like fantasy dressed up as science fiction. I have all the ideas and how everything works and what relates to what done, but it’s not researched. And it won’t be science fiction until it is researched.

    But when it is researched, then I’ll regard it as sci-fi.

    I’ve dabbled in fantasy, and dabbled perhaps not in horror, but just plain creepiness (which might fall into the same category, anyway).

    Carrying on from what Fiona said, the next book I want to write is where a woman leaves her name, address and phone number on a sticky note placed on the window of a car, after she accidentally backed into it. It’s an expensive-looking dent, but the real problem is that the car’s owner crops up to be a serial killer…

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think it is the research part that prevents me from going fully into science fiction. I love reading it but writing it requires me to have a much better understanding of physics and mechanics than I do. If I ever got transported back in time and was asked how anything I was carrying worked my answer would be ‘You hit the button’.
      Your next book sounds like it might be really interesting. Way to attract the attention of a serial killer.

      • kyuun said,

        I think it helps because I do already have some understanding of things like quantum teleportation, string theory, antimatter and quantum physics, which is mainly what I’m circling around. What doesn’t help is the fact that my knowledge of how to build… erm, stuff is rather lacking. So instead I blather about what I know and mix in what I’m really quite unsure of with it, and then promise to myself that I’ll research the nuts and bolts of a teleporting machine later…

        Thanks! Though it’s unlikely it’ll ever get published, so I don’t think it’ll count as a book. But I say to myself, one day, if I keep trying and getting good ideas, then I’ll get there. I just have to push myself. 🙂

  3. sapphireangelkj said,

    I mostly write poetry but I try to write other fictional context. if I were to use anything for inspiration it would be music. music portrays so many different emotions.

  4. dystophil said,

    Like Fiona, I also have a hard time putting my current novel Light into just one particular genre niche. While it definitely is the the fantasy spectrum, it blends elements of urban fantasy, science fiction, LGBT and noir fantasy. Officially I refer to it as dark urban fantasy, which sort of covers it. Yes there often is romance, intrigue and mystery in my writing, but they are just elements in a story that is overall fantasy with some science fiction influences. So I suppose you could call me a genre writer.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I’m struggling right now to think of a fantasy that doesn’t have any romantic elements in it and I am failing miserably.
      I like the ideas you seem to be blending, it sounds like it could be an interesting read.

  5. Sevvy said,

    I write sci-fi and fantasy. I would try to write horror but I’m afraid I’d scare myself.

    Seriously now, I write whatever story comes to me, but it seem the only stories I’m ever interested in writing are speculative fiction (the fancy literary term for sci-fi/fantasy/horror), which is all right with me because I love reading that genre and writing it. I’m comfortable writing in either sci-fi or fantasy, though I’ve noticed that when I’m trying to think up novel length work I’m usually creating a fantasy story whereas most of my shorter work is definitely sci-fi.

    I use Orson Scott Cards classification to tell the two genres apart. Sci-fi is about what could happen, fantasy is about what can’t happen. Spaceships could happen, magic…not so much. There are cases where it isn’t as clear-cut as that, but when I’m desperate I use that definition.

    I do have a science background that helps me with my writing, but I don’t think you need to be a physicist to write sci-fi. Unless the story is about how a gadget works, then it’s okay if you don’t explain how it works. Just show it working, your readers should assume that somehow in the future we smart humans invented a way to do that. I mean, general science knowledge is good, but when it comes down to it, none of us really know how a transporter would work, because it hasn’t been invented. Nor do we know how faster than light travel would work, or synthetic food (though we’re getting there) etc.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      True we don’t know how they work but too many sci-fi fans expect the story to be about ‘what could happen’ and if you blatantly break the ‘laws’ that they believe in they aren’t going to appreciate the story.
      Thanks for the comment.

  6. jenniferneri said,

    Hi Cassandra!
    What an interesting post!
    I do not write sci-fi or fantasy but I am an avid reader of them!
    Off the bat, the first thing I thought of when reading this post was Dan Simmons, both his Hyperion series and Ilium. Have you read them? Would not agree that there are sci-fi and fantasy elements to them?

    I almost classified my first novel as sci-fi because it has holograms and extensions of certain scientific hypothesis (i have a degree in biochem), but did not because the story takes place today, in our society, and I just knew it was not science fiction. In the end I categorized it as mainstream, and when an agent read it she called it woman’s lit. Who knows? I would place it with Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

    I find the most interesting reads are cross-genre: Time Traveler’s Wife (to me is certainly NOT sci-fi), the Gargoyle, to name a few. Sorry to carry on so, you obviously have me thinking! Thanks for stopping my blog, and I will def be back!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I find I prefer cross genre myself. I prefer fantasy that is fantasy/romance, fantasy/mystery, fantasy/horror rather than the sword and sorecery fantasy as I think the others tell a more interesting story.
      I’m glad you liked the post, thanks for the visit and the comment.

  7. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Cozy mysteries….mass market and trade paperbacks.

    But then….I wrote specifically for a particular market.

    I’m hoping that, later on, I can move on into some different types of fiction (and non fiction) that interest me. And I’ll have something on my resume that will help me get those other books published.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      What other types of fiction are you interested in?

      • Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

        I’d like to write historical sagas, YA, children’s. I’d like to write a lit fic book, too, but I don’t have the gravitas right now. Or maybe ever. 🙂

        Elizabeth

  8. inkspeare said,

    I agree with you. I tend to go more towards fantasy, but like to read all genres. I think that these days the lines between the genres are crossing more than in the old days due to a new generation of readers – this younger generation – and the influence of technology such as video games. In the future, I can see more crossing of the genres, and more versatile writers. Look what the first Digi-novel (Level 26 by Anthony Zuiker) is offering us, and the many possibilities of interactive reading for the future.

  9. Carol Kilgore said,

    Mystery, crime fiction, suspense, and romantic suspense. Horror usually scares the pants off me. Science fiction becomes too technical. And I often have difficulty immersing myself into a fantasy world. I enjoy it when I can get into the world in a few pages. I don’t like being at page twenty and going, “What?”

  10. jadesmith09 said,

    Hi, and thanks for visiting my site! Your story sounds interesting–I am working on what I term a “science fantasy”, and I too have struggles with the tech involved. But there is a lot of sci-fi that doesn’t describe the technology too well–namely the classic short stories. I was talking to someone the other day about A Wrinkle In Time. The concept of “tessering” is explained very simply as folding space/time. But you cannot always get away with simple explanations!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Though tessering is also a fairly common sci-fi concept and I guess they assume that you have an approximate idea of the concept going in. I like science fantasy as a term – definitely my preference. There is science involved, just don’t ask for an explanation.

  11. cherylangst said,

    I most definitely fit the ‘science fantasy’ writer category. My stories take place in space, the gadgets work, but I’m not about to spend page after page explaining how. When I write, I write about my characters; the science is only a minor part of my tale.

    This is a very interesting post, and I have enjoyed reading all the comments as well!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      The comments have been fantastic for this post. Thanks everyone for contributing.

      Cheryl, sounds like you write the kind of sci-fi I like to read. The books that spend pages explaining stuff really start to get boring after awhile.

  12. Corra McFeydon said,

    I agree with your suggestion that crossing genres can draw displeased responses from both ends of the spectrum since neither likes the muddying of their own genre by other genres. I think when writers can pull it off, it makes for unique and fascinating reading.

    I write historical fiction and literary fiction. (And poetry.)

    The focus in my stories is more on the characters than the plot, though I certainly feel plot is important. I’m interested in the way people interact, grow, and become damaged by one another.

    There is usually a love story (as opposed to a sex story), and it usually ends tragically. My historical fiction work is most often set in America anywhere from the 1860s to the 1940s.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      “I’m interested in the way people interact, grow, and become damaged by one another.” – I love that.

  13. Barb said,

    sorry for being so late in commenting this lovely post… the star-ship story is science-fantasy (like Star Wars, George Lucas never called it sci-fi), and it’s what I sometimes write too. I don’t like horror, and I usually write heroic fantasy or sword&sorcery – but then apparently the sub-genres of fantasy are endless…
    I am character-oriented and love creating alternative worlds, usually in the past, but sometimes in the future (although, as I said, my science is awful, thus it’s science- fantasy! ;-))
    Keep up this great blog!
    Have a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful 2010! 😀
    Keep writing
    Barb

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      thanks for the comment. I think you are right in that the sub-genres of fantasy are endless.

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