So today, I decided to write a blog post on the subject of choosing a genre to write because it's one apparently a lot of aspiring writers struggle with. I thought maybe I could throw in my own two cents to help y'all out. So here are my thoughts on how to choose what genre you should write.
Which I guess gives you your first piece of advice: choose a genre you love to read. It'll be the most natural to you. You love the area already, and you know the ins and outs of it as a reader. This will also help you when it comes to publishing and marketing, because you'll be aware of the market.
For me as well, it's easy to pick a genre because the idea comes first. If you've got a good story, it should naturally fall into some sort of genre that, apparently, you're being drawn towards. Most of my ideas are in the fantasy realm, with some moving into the grey area of speculative fiction, and others further into science fiction. For most of the novels, I didn't sit down and say, "I want to write a YA speculative fiction novel" or whatever the genre was. The idea came, it fit into some kind of genre, and I wrote it.
Another thing when it comes to genres is that, if you slip out of your ideal genre, you're likely to feel it. There will be this sense while you're writing that something's off. You'll likely struggle to move forward with the proper plot points. And even if you're fine while writing, afterwards you'll look at it, for editing or publishing considerations, and you'll see that it's not quite right.
For me, the most spectacular example of this was when I tried to write realistic fiction, back in middle school. I finished the novel, all right, but it was really, really bad. So bad. You have seriously no idea, and you never will, because no one is ever going to see that novel. I personally need the more metaphorical, deeper concepts that fantasy and sci-fi allow. You strip away all of the speculation, and suddenly everything falls flat, and I've got absolutely nothing original to say. It makes sense, in its own way. I write fantasy because that's actually sort of how I see the world. It's hard for me to be logical or realistic. And maybe that's how it'll work for you too: maybe you should write in a genre that reflects the way you think.
Update Note: The one exception in this experience is with What It Takes to Deal, which I originally wrote as a speculative thriller, but which developed into being more of a realistic fiction. The fact that I approached it originally from that arena, and the fact that it focused around a real life event very clear in my life, allowed me to challenge myself and extend through genre boundaries.
That covers the basis of my tips when it comes to genres. In case you need a little more help, or have written a novel you're currently considering genre-challenged, here's a list of different genres and sub-genres to give you some more idea of what's up, including examples (some of which I have read, some of which I haven't).
A genre with fantastical and fictional elements, such as magic or supernatural forces.
Contemporary Fantasy: Takes place in the modern day and often in a real rather than imaginary world. (Harry Potter, the Borrowers)
Urban Fantasy: A contemporary fantasy taking place in an urban setting. (Unearthly, House of Night)
Dark or Gothic Fantasy: Combines horror with fantasy and often has a gloomy or horrific feel. (The Vampire Chronicles, Shadowland)
Fairytale, Fable, or Mythic Fantasy: Tells a cultural-specific story that often has a specific moral or historical background; may be retold in a new way and may fall into a genre other than fantasy in the retelling. (Percy Jackson, Cinder)
Epic/High Fantasy: The most familiar kind of fantasy, with a typical heroic journey, famous archetypes, and most likely some kind of quest or fight between good and evil. (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia)
Paranormal: Focuses on paranormal creatures such as werewolves, vampires, and ghosts, a much lighter form of horror. (Twilight, Shiver)
A genre where the story is told to deliberately frighten the reader, often with a fantastical element.
Ghost Story: Revolves around the existence of ghosts, spirits, and occasionally, Revenants. (The Shining, The Monkey's Paw)
Monster Story: Revolves around some kind of fantastical monster. (Frankenstein, Dracula)
Occult Fiction: Revolves around concepts such as demons, witchcraft, and Satanists. (Macbeth, Speak Daggers to Her)
Slasher Fiction: Very much about the blood, gore, and violence, often about a psychopath or something similar. (Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
Survivalist Fiction: Derived from the monster story, this one focuses on humans trying to survive in a world overrun by some kind of creatures, such as zombies. (The End Game, The Hunt)
A genre with a protagonist who journeys to places and often ends up in a desperate situation.
Military Fiction: Centers around a war, fictional or real, and a central character caught up in it. (The Things They Carried, A Farewell to Arms)
Spy Fiction: Centers around a secret agent or military member sent on an espionage mission. (James Bond, Gallagher Girl)
Western Fiction: Cowboys, Indians, outlaws, and all that sort of gun-slinging action. (Jesse James, The Savage Guns)
A genre where the story takes place at a historical point of time, often centering around real, major events.
Alternate History: Where the author tries to answer a "What If?" about an important point in history and how it might have changed things. (Aristopia, If It Had Happened Otherwise)
Period Piece: Where the historical setting is merely a backdrop and the story runs more on its own with no focus on a major event. (Cinderella Man, The Western Canon)
The overarching category a story fits into according to age -- should be included along with the genre when you pitch your book.
Picture Book: A book for very young readers, with few words and many pictures.
Young Reader's/Children's: Category for children who have graduated picture books, moving into chapter books and beyond, usually up to age eleven or twelve.
Middle Grade: Category for what might be called "pre-teens", from ages ten to fourteen, similar to a young adult novel but gentler, often sillier, and more often in third person POV than young adult.
Young Adult: Category for teenagers typically in high school, fourteen to eighteen. Defined by the age of the protagonist and the content of the book.
New Adult: Rising category for college-age adults who don't quite feel like adults yet, usually ages eighteen to twenty-five. This fiction has protagonists of the same age and focuses on college / transitioning into independent adulthood. Very heavy on the romance at the moment.
Adult: Category of fiction for adults.
A genre that centers around elements that don't exist in the real, modern world, but are scientifically explained.
Apocalyptic/Post Apocalyptic Fiction: Takes place during or after an apocalyptic event (the end of civilization) and examines the effects of such an occurence (Gone, Life as We Knew It)
Dystopian Fiction: Can also be in other genres, but is a typical sci-fi standard; often derives from post-apocalyptic fiction. This looks at societies and worlds which are, essentially, "nightmare worlds." Another less-common derivative is utopian fiction, which shows the opposite. (The Hunger Games, Divergent)
Hard Sci-Fi: Has very detailed, researched, and potentially realistic science behind the story. (Jurassic Park, Prey)
Soft Sci-Fi: Focuses more on the central themes and political and social concepts and less on the science itself. (1984, Brave New World)
Superhero Fiction: Revolves around characters with superhuman abilities, i.e. superheroes. (The Adventures of Superman, X-Men)
Space Opera: Takes place almost entirely in space and revolves around space travel. (Star Wars, Star Trek)
Cyberpunk: Includes humans who have been enhanced by cybernetic technology. (Neuromancer, The Blade Runner)
Steampunk: A historical sci-fi crossover, where some important part of history has been turned sci-fi, focusing on the time and use of steam engine technology. (Leviathan, The Time Machine)
Speculative Fiction: Runs as a combination of sci-fi and fantasy, sometimes in addition with horror, and is used whenever the exact genre of a novel in this area is uncertain. (The Yellow Wallpaper, The Outsider)
A genre somewhat between action-adventure and horror, which works on inciting both fear and excitement through a more realistic story premise.
Disaster Thriller: About some kind of mass peril the protagonist must save people from, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster. (State of Fear, Ashfall)
Psychological Thriller: Explores the mind of the protagonist; is often written in a way that confuses and misleads the audience. (Black Swan, Inception)
Crime Thriller: Crime fiction that runs more on the horror/thriller side. (Vertigo, Jack Reacher)
Medical Thriller: Focuses on some sort of medical disaster or problem and the limited time to solve the problem. (Contagion, Coma)
A genre close to action-adventure that focuses specifically on crime, including mysteries.
Detective Story: Tells the story of a detective's journey to solving a crime, the who, why, and sometimes how. (Death on the Nile, The Drowning Pool)
Courtroom Drama: Usually television-oriented, this focuses on stories of crime and the law, in all sorts of areas. (Law & Order, Boston Legal)
Murder Mystery: A mystery or detective story focusing specifically on a homicide case. (I Hunt Killers, Dark Places)
Gangster Fiction: Focuses on gangs and criminal organizations. (Cold Fury, The Godfather)
A genre which focuses on romantic relationships.
Contemporary Romance: A romance taking place in modern times. (The Princess Diaries, All-American Girl)
Historical Romance: A romance taking place at a historical time. (Pride and Prejudice, The Fires of Winter)
Fantasy Romance: A fantasy novel which primarily revolves around a romantic relationship. (Beautiful Creatures, Hush Hush)
Sci-Fi Romance: A science fiction novel revolving around a romantic relationship. (The Host, Perdition)
Erotica: A very sexualized romance, where the story focuses on the sexual relationship. (50 Shades of Grey, etc.)
LGBT: A romance that falls under categories of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or related areas. LGBT fiction isn't always romance, but the element exists. (Two Boys Kissing, Boy Meets Boy)
What's your favorite genre to read? What genre do you/will you write?
Images via clarklib.org, Tumblr, sciencefiction.com, wikihow.com, radiotimes.com, theguardian.com, and article.wm.com.