Should I Care About Genre? An Introduction to Speculative Fiction

Let’s talk about genre!

First and foremost, genre is primarily a marketing tool, not an artistic one. Assigning categories to books allows retailers to pitch themes and topics toward different audiences, and helps readers find stories similar to ones they’ve liked in the past. But the borders of genre are blurry, and more often than not, books don’t fit perfectly into one category or another. 

How much should you concern yourself with genre as a writer?

The answer is, as in most cases: it depends. 

If you’re writing your first draft, don’t even think about it. You don’t need to worry about anything except getting words on the page. Genre boxes you in, which is the last thing you need when starting a new project. Maybe you started what you thought was going to be a historically accurate WWI drama, but then realized that it would be way better with dragons. Throw those fiery lizards in there! You can figure out genre stuff later; start by telling the story you want to tell. 

Once you start editing, start considering genre a bit more. You’ll need to at least figure out which broad genre you’re writing in and understand its basic conventions. One thing that genre does is let your audience know what they’re getting themselves into. If a reader picks up your book because they want to read a grounded WWI story, they might be annoyed if dragons show up halfway through.

The umbrella term for what Mythos & Ink publishes is called “speculative fiction.” In a nutshell, speculative fiction stories contain elements not found in reality. Magic, time travel, teleportation—none of these exist in real life, so if they’re in your manuscript, you’re working with speculative fiction.

Under speculative fiction, there are two* broad categories: fantasy and science fiction. Fantasy stories contain elements of magic or the supernatural. Science fiction deals with technology, aliens, space travel, and things that could be possible in a distant (or, sometimes, not that distant) future. There are numerous sub-genres that fall under each of these categories.

When you are ready to start querying or begin the process of self-publishing, you should make your most in-depth genre evaluations. Figure out which sub-genre your book fits into. Below is a list of common subgenres:

Fantasy

  • High
  • Low
  • Grimdark
  • Romance
  • Heist
  • Comic
  • Fairy Tale
  • Sword and Sorcery
  • Horror
  • Portal
  • Dystopian
  • Urban
  • Magic Realism

Science Fiction

  • Soft
  • Hard
  • Science Fantasy
  • Gothic
  • Space Opera
  • Apocalyptic
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Superhero
  • Time Travel
  • Western
  • Steampunk
  • Cyberpunk

It’s likely that your story will fit into more than one sub-genre, but resist the urge to attach too many labels. It can be tempting to tack on as many as possible to cast a wide net, but you’ll ultimately just dilute the premise and confuse potential readers. A tag of “paranormal urban fantasy horror romance” becomes word salad rather than a useful description. 

If you’re confused by the various sub-genres and microgenres that exist within fantasy and sci-fi, stay tuned for future blog posts.

In the meantime, just keep getting those words on the page!

* There is also technically a third genre under speculative fiction called “alternate history.” Alternate histories are stories that take place in a timeline different from our own, where one or two major historical events played out differently than in our own world. A story where Anne Boleyn was never executed, but instead outlived her husband and became queen would be an alternate history, and therefore be included in speculative fiction even if it had no other reality-breaking elements. As you can likely glean from this example, alternate history is a tricky category, as it can be far more different from fantasy and science fiction than they are from each other. Thus, I am going to avoid that kettle of fish for now, and hope you will forgive me for leaving it out of the discussion. 

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