Plan Your Novel: Start with Genre by Beth Barany

WFZ_Plan Your Novel: Start with Genre by Beth Barany_v01 (600 x 600 px)To plan your novel, it’s helpful to think about your genre, so that you’ll have a general idea of your story ending.

If you’re not sure what your genre is, take a guess and start there.

After all, preparing your novel is about testing ideas and seeing how they fit together.

You’re in a creative lab here.

What is genre?

“Genre is a label that tells the reader/audience what to expect. Genres simply manage audience expectations.” – Shawn Coyne,

There are many definitions of genre in fiction and in storytelling in general.

I like Shawn Coyne’s definition from book, Story Grid, where he also has an extensive discussion of how to analyze genre in his material.

For example, readers of romance expect a Happily Ever After or a Happily For Now.

Mystery readers expect a mystery at the beginning that is solved by a sleuth and the perpetrator brought to justice.

Thriller readers expect a fast-paced ride where the main character runs for their life but finds a way to overcome in the end, but maybe at great cost.

Orson Scott Card’s book, Characters and Viewpoint, gives another take on reader expectations:

“Whenever you tell a story, you make an implicit contract with the reader. Within the first few paragraphs or pages, you tell the reader implicitly what kind of story this is going to be; the reader then knows what to expect and holds the thread of that structure throughout the tale. . .”

You probably already know your expectations of your genre.

Hopefully, you read what you want to write. If you don’t, I highly recommend that you do.


Common Problem at this Stage

I don’t know my story’s genre because I’m just getting to know my story.

That’s okay. You’re in the right place.

Possible Next Step

Go ahead and continue to plan your novel and notice what kinds of stories your story idea resembles. What other stories is it like? Enlist the help of others to help you see the connections to other stories.

My story seems to be a mix of several kinds of genre.

Yes! We welcome and encourage stretching genre boundaries and mashing up genres. This works well if you already know your genres, or if you’re willing to explore.

Possible Next Step

Pay attention to which elements of your story belong to which genre.

That way you can pick and choose from your buffet of options.

This whole genre discussion makes my head spin. Can I just work on the story idea I have an ignore genre?

Sure! When you’re doing something for the first time or exploring something new after doing it one way, the questions of genre can seem like too much to consider at this stage of the writing process.

Possible Solution

Brainstorm your story and ask yourself story questions as you go, letting your subconscious ruminate on the genre question.

Above all, hold the planning and first drafting process lightly. It’s an exploratory, play space, or a laboratory where you try things.

In the editing you’ll have a chance to refine your story and make conscious decisions about genre.


  • What is your genre or genres?
  • And what are your questions as you explore genre?


Want more support to plan your novel?

Then check out our course, Plan Your Novel: 30-Day Writing Challenge, Planning for Non-Planners: Get Ready to Write Your Novel.

Perfect for those who want to work at their own pace.


More story planning resources here:

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