How to Write a Novel – Pt 1: Genre

You’ve finally decided.

You’re finally going to write that novel you swore you’d always write.  But how to get it done?  You may have an idea, you may not. Perhaps you sit at your computer screen, watching the cursor-turned-straight-line blinking at you.  Is it best to free write until something comes or organize your thoughts first?

I’ll take you through the process step by step–seven steps, to be precise:

  1. What kind of genre?
  2. Getting your idea.
  3. Creating characters.
  4. Know your writing style.
  5. Start writing! (and tips to stay motivated.)
  6. Get it out! Rough drafts are easy.
  7. All finished?  Cheers!  Now onto the editing series.

Note that this isn’t necessarily chronological.  Since all of us are different people with different imaginations, our ways of writing will also be different.  If this is your very first novel, it may be best to start it this way.  However, if you find you are stuck on what the story should be about, but have a few character ideas–by all means, flesh out those ideas first.  These are merely stages that all writers have to go through at some point when creating their novel.

The truth?  Writing a novel is hard work.  It will take all your best efforts.  It may frustrate you to death.  Nobody just writes a novel.  Just like nobody just paints a painting or just becomes a concert pianist.  But it can be a lot of fun and very fulfilling.  Don’t fear hard work.  Hard work always pays off.

In this first post we’ll cover genre as it’s often helpful to identify what kind of story you want to write in the first place to help determine where you’re going.


Genre is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.”

There are all kinds of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, romance, mystery, drama, historical fiction, etc., etc.  For more, check out this really long list on Wikipedia.

But even within a genre such as urban fantasy, there are more ways to categorize it.

Is it commercial or literary fiction (think Twilight vs. To Kill a Mockingbird)?  Is it a children’s book (Berenstein Bears), middle grade (Frindle), young adult (The Hunger Games), or adult (A Time to Kill)?

If it’s literary, you’re going to need to spend a long time on perfecting your prose to be very descriptive and beautiful.  Each word counts enormously.  If this is your first novel and you haven’t really written anything else, I’d recommend trying at least a short commercial fiction story.  I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying your skill level needs to be pretty advanced.

Commercial is more like every popular book out there, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Uglies, Coraline, etc.  I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, just different ways to communicate story.  And the kind of story you want to tell will likely dictate which way would be best.


If you’re fairly certain you’re writing a children’s book, than I must admit this is not my area of expertise.  Your book will require illustration and tightly knit, simple but descriptive sentences.  It’s tougher than it seems.  I’d probably start here and connect with other children’s lit authors on Twitter.


Your characters are usually somewhere between 9-12, possibly 13-14.  A lot of people can get middle grade confused with Young Adult, but a few agents at the Backspace Writers Conference I attended said MG will probably have themes of making friends and dealing with bullies, while YA must have some kind of romance in it.  A few of these themes may cross over between genres, but if bullies abound and romance lacks your story is probably speaking to an MG audience.


Your main character will need to be a teen.  Twenty is pushing it, plus if they can accomplish everything they need to accomplish being aged at 17 or 18, an agent will likely recommend you make them younger.  Romance must be included.  Often the character is doing something to save the day in their world, whether the whole world like a superhero, or their family or friends on a smaller scale.  You will likely want a heavy emphasis on relationships as well.

To pull in the widest audience possible, you probably want to keep expletives limited, and dance lightly over sexual things.  Otherwise you may want to consider categorizing yourself as adult fiction.


The age range here is probably like what it sounds 18+, (although the protagonist Paul Muad’dib in Dune started out as 15, but it was still fairly adult things he was dealing with).  The sky’s the limit here, it all depends on the audience you want to reach.


What kind of books do you like reading?  Which stories excite you?  Have you ever read a book or even seen a movie and said to yourself, I’d love to create a story like that!  Note which genres you like best and use that as your starting point.

If still don’t have any idea for story, don’t worry, that post is coming next.

Zombie Ninja Fairy attack!

If you do, then what is your story about?  Zombie ninja fairies?  A forbidden romance set in the 19th century?  The color blue and how fantastic it is?  Whatever the genre, as you write, also spend time reading books that are similar to yours.

If your answer is: there’s nothing like it on the market.  That’s why I’m writing it!  Odds are you haven’t bothered to look.  Go to the bookstore and figure out where on the shelves they would place the idea you have in novel form.  See what books would be there beside it and read them.  Being well-read in your genre not only helps you better understand your audience and how to approach them, but it can help you hone your own writing taking notes from the best.

I’ve found reading other books extremely helpful while honing my craft because I can see the error of my ways.  One book may have a spectacular opening that perfectly sets the tone of the novel.  Another may have a beginning like some of my earlier drafts, an info dump, an opening scene where nothing important or exciting happens, etc.  You can examine how the books you really liked constructed their plots.  And the books you don’t like you can discover what about their construction didn’t catch your interest.  It’s a great education, and it makes you a better writer.  Plus continually reading I’ve found inspires me to reach beyond the stereotypical stories inside and strive for something a little more original.

All right, enough of that soapbox.  So what do you think?  Have you figured out what your genre is?  If you need help, feel free to ask in the comments below.  And any other questions or feedback you have, post that too.

Coming tomorrow, getting your idea.

8 thoughts on “How to Write a Novel – Pt 1: Genre

  1. I’m working on genre right now. So far I’ve got: fantasy/sci-fi, paranormal, and horror. Now I just need to figure out which of those is the sub genre.

    • I’ve probably told you this before, but I really do like paranormal. I want to see a logline! Come on! And I think you’ll figure it out as you get the story out on paper, digital or otherwise.

  2. Have I told you how much I heart these doodles? No? Well they are awesome. I especially like the blush on the romance doodle. Your attention to detail is superb.

    And now you have to write a story about a zombieninjafairy. Your public demands it!

    What a fun and informative post. And it has Zombieninjafairy! That’s his name you know. I like the second to last paragraph where you talk about picking through books to see what you like and don’t like to help with your writing. I do the same thing. Or if I’m feeling crappy about my manuscript I pick up an awful book and think if they can get published, I can too. Can’t wait for the next post.

    One last thing, does Zombieninjafairy have a gnarly gash on his leg just like you? It sure looks that way. 😉

    • I actually created znf before the injury. Maybe it was an omen I should have paid more heed to. The way I currently walk isn’t unlike the undead. Thanks. Scribbles make it fun. 🙂

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s