My Novel Idea: The Trouble with Genre

November officially begins in two days, and for me and a few hundred thousand other writers, November 1 marks the beginning of my first NaNoWriMo journey. I’ve already given a brief overview of what genre hole I’m stuffing my novel’s peg into, but I’d like to go into a little more detail. Here is a synopsis of my novel, straight from my NaNo profile:

The story follows two young lovers, Jaed and Aston, as they abandon their home to find their own way, challenging themselves and each other over what they were raised to believe. Along their journey, the adolescents become entangled in a political plot that takes them far beyond the borders of their small town, embroiling them in a conflict they sought to avoid.

After much deliberation over the last few weeks and hand-wringing over the semantics and subtleties of genre types and sub-types, I think I’ve settled it! The official genre of my novel is… High-epic, alternate-universe, adolescent, adventure fantasy.

That should roll right off the tongue for my future guest appearances on The Daily Show, Conan, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Why try for nuance when you can achieve extreme specificity?

But really… compartmentalizing the main features of my story into a hyper-specific collection of sub-genres feels like overkill.

While my story centers around two characters under the age of 21 who each experiences personal maturation and growth, I’m not necessarily targeting young adults as an audience. I actually haven’t decided who I’m targeting at all. And, while there are aspects of adventure in the story, there is no epic quest for some lost relic or ancient weapon to defeat an evil overlord. It just happens to be adventurous… I hope.

So, in an effort to satisfy my own obsession for appropriate classification of anything, I will attempt to nail down one genre.

What Makes a Fantasy?

Here is where I got caught up in the variety of fantasy sub-genres. Technically, epic or high fantasy takes place in an alternate universe or fantasy world (check), often where there is an eternal battle between good and evil, and contains some form of magic, creatures, or beings of a fantastical or supernatural nature. Where does my story diverge from common high fantasy cliches, you ask?

1. There are no elves, dwarfs, trolls, or dragons.

2. There are also no vampires, witches, wizards, zombies, or werewolves.

3. I have invented no detailed system of magic or superhuman powers.

What I do have is an alternate universe containing a dialect of my creation, that may contain some aspect of supernatural phenomena. If that qualifies as fantasy, then I’ll roll with that as the overarching genre for this series. I think this will allow me even more freedom to explore this world as I see fit.

This is fascinating for me as a writer, because this series gives me the creative space to toy with various genres and writing styles. Aside from “Jaed and Aston” (which I am using until I find a real title), I have several other pieces of this world in developmental or first draft stages, including: a mythopoeia; a short horror story; a prequel to “Jaed and Aston”; and various poems and songs.

The “trouble” with genre is that this world-building project can be any genre I choose, which is probably the best kind of trouble I could ask for as I expand and explore this world.

Steve D

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