How Did You Choose Your Genre? Weigh In!

Most writers have to write. The stories sing through our bones and steal our sleep. I get that part.

What I want to know is, why do you write in the genre the you write?

For me, I think it’s because I’m trying to gain a sense of self.

When I’m talking to “most people,” I tell them I write fiction.  When I’m talking to other writers, or people I know to read broadly, I’ll more accurately say that I write fantasy.  I got interested in the genre when I was very young and eager to play pretend.  I always wanted to be Robin Hood, never Marian.  I played at being heroic Red Sonja or ruthless Queen Gedren.  Later, I saw my little girl face reflected in the childlike vampire Claudia.  A few years after that, Xena came around.  I saw my heroes surrounded by forests, swords, and in some cases, magic.

My core beliefs and morals came from stories.  It’s because of heroic stories that I value justice, courage, accountability, and friendship.  I couldn’t get interested in a story unless it centered on a hero who looked like me.  These women shaped my self-image.  I believed in them, and wanted to become someone I could believe in.

As an adult, I continue to write fantasy because fantasy makes me angry.  I read more broadly now, and see problems I didn’t recognize as a kid.  When boys play pretend, there are hundreds and hundreds of heroes, (in dozens and dozens of re-incarnations) to choose from.  I could only learn at the feet of three: Red Sonja, Claudia, and Xena.

Arwen and Eowyn weren’t enough. Arya Stark and Cersei Lannister weren’t enough. Monza Murcatto and Brienne of Tarth are still not enough, because enough people thought that the DC Reboot was a good idea to see it launched. They’re not enough, because there are far more women in stories who rose to power because of trauma than because of pursuing their destiny. They’re not enough, because the SFWA is still fighting over inclusiveness and sexism. We need more stories, until we have so many that everyone can pick and choose what resonates with them; without feeling like they were denied a slice of the pie.

There’s no amount of burning or boycotting that will change the industry. We have to keep writing — keep striving for better — until everyone can see heroes, villains, romances and all the rest reflecting their own face back at them. That’s the only way to fix it.

Why do you write what you write?

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
— George Bernard Shaw

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
― Richard Buckminster Fuller


16 thoughts on “How Did You Choose Your Genre? Weigh In!

  1. S. A. Hunt

    I honestly don’t choose my genre… I just get an idea for a story, and the genre just sort of shows up. My Outlaw King series is a half-dozen genres mashed together into one jigsaw puzzle, and the picture on the pieces is one of humanity itself.

    And I think that’s the important part of any story–the emotional center. You could have a puzzle whose pieces are made out of cardboard, cheese, wood, plastic, and oatmeal cookies, all fitted together, and as long as the picture revealed at the end is a fulfilling, cohesive, and entertaining one, well then… it was worth putting the puzzle together, I think.

    1. Setsu Post author

      Cardboard-cheese-wood-plastic cookie puzzles DO sound fulfilling. 🙂

      I heard somewhere that psych majors chose to study psychology because they want to work out their own issues. I wonder if there’s a similar statement that could be said about writers.

      1. S. A. Hunt

        Very much so. Writing Whirlwind helped me exorcise a lot of demons, bounce back from my divorce, and reacclimate to civilian life after coming back from Afghanistan.

        There’s a piece of us in our writing, I think. They say “write what you know”, but They should clarify that to “write what you’ve learned”, or perhaps “write what you are”. When I write, I cut little slivers off of my soul and paste them into the work. When you read my books, you are reading me.

        Is that true of everyone? I don’t know. Probably not. Should it be true (at least in my opinion)? Certainly. I believe it lends authenticity and heart.

  2. Bob Bonsall

    In “Wizard’s First Rule”, Terry Goodkind wrote that “Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true.” I don’t know about other writers, but that’s pretty much how I end up writing in my genres. I write fantasy because I want it to be true, and I write science fiction (usually dystopian science fiction) because I’m afraid it might be true, if not today then someday.

    1. Setsu Post author

      Ah yes, Mr. Goodkind. Storytelling is a great way to name and shape to our dreams — good and bad alike. There’s bravery in that, especially as we start to share our writing.

      1. Bob Bonsall

        It’s interesting you should phrase it that way. Two of my longest-running series started with dreams. They’re also the ones I care about the most. One also happens to be fantasy, and the other cyberpunk. Good and bad dreams indeed.

      2. Bob Bonsall

        Not yet. I keep delaying, promising myself I will finish polishing them “someday”. Considering I started writing them both in high school, “someday” has become code for “fear is my friend”.

        Eventually I’ll let go. Today is not that day. Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

  3. Mike

    For me it’s very simple – I write about things I feel passionate about and things were I feel I have something original to say.

  4. wordrew

    I, for most of my writing endeavors, believed myself to be a fantasy writer. I have lived in that genre through reading and role-playing for the past twenty-four years. I have fancied myself a fantasy guru (especially in RPGs) in my mind.
    Then, a few months ago, I had a dream. A whimsical sort of thing that, to me, has some fantastical undertones, but is far from living in the Fantasy genre. It resonated with me though – I cherish it for that.
    I think that is my key ingredient. Resonance. If I can feel the humming of its core, or the gentle chatter of characters in the hazy distance, I know that I need to write my path towards that destination.
    It was a HUGE shock that I wrote some of my best work outside of the Fantasy genre. I also think that is why authors do break the boundaries of what they traditionally write – it is a refreshing change of pace, and you never know what precious geodes lay in hiding if you don’t break through your confines from time to time.

    1. Setsu Post author

      I totally get what you’re saying about resonance! For the little of your work that I’ve read — you really shine through in the tone of the words, the setting, there’s a pervasive joy like a belly-laugh all through the work. You’re not just putting a story out, you’re putting energy out there.

  5. fencingwithink

    I write fantasy because of way too many video games. But those games showed me how a good story can take root in someone’s heart and never let go. Plus, fantasy opens the doors for some fantastic worldbuilding (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Avatar the Last Airbender, and as I said before, infinite video games).
    But one more reason I write fantasy: the Christian fiction market doesn’t have enough of it. Supernatural, ie angels and demons? Sure, lots of that. But genuine magic and magical worlds? The last big one was CS Lewis. Look in any Christian bookstore and there’s almost no fantasy–if any at all! So I want to bring the awesome aspects of fantasy into the Christian mainstream.

  6. REDdog

    I write the stories that I would otherwise tell at theBar, it would never occur to me to try and write in a genre, I think that would take skills I don’t possess. Is our story fantasy?

    1. Setsu Post author

      What you write could be a lot of things, but memoir leaps quickest to mind.

      Ah yes! That one! I need to get back on it.


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