Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scratching the Paint: My Hidden Genre

For a long time, I struggled with my current WIP's genre. I remember back in December, I did a few posts with this question. I couldn't quite pinpoint it. Fantasy? Science Fiction? Steampunk? It seemed to me, White Echoes had elements of all.

The more I planned it, the closer to science fiction it got. And I fought this.

I was a fantasy writer, and yet my leading project was a science fiction? No, I thought. Surely the fact it was set in an alternate world and had nothing to do with space, aliens or robots disqualified it. I couldn't perceive myself as a sci-fi writer. It didn't work.

Fast-forward to the recent weeks. My rewrite is about 66% complete. There was a lot of talk about science fiction, and where it was headed or why it was awesome. Some of it here, with David's guest post, and more on the Bransforums, where Watcher sprang a thread to discuss the guestpost further. Combined with the increasing amount of sciency topics on this blog, I started to rethink how I saw myself as a writer.

I love fantasy. I have many fantasy novels waiting for me to give them attention (and clamouring for it). I remain a high fantasy writer.

But I'm a science-fiction writer, too. And today, I'm proud of it.

I love science. It is a part of my daily life, and for all its weirdness and potential creepiness, it is freaking awesome. Scientifics in the fundamental research fields are often gifted with a great imaginations. They constantly come up with theories to explain their results and ways to test these further. Most are hardworking, honest and passionate.

I'm proud to be a part this group, just as I am proud to examine the potential consequences of our acts and the dangers of abusing science. I am proud to take a closer look at how we, as humans, relate to science, to microscopic cells, to life itself and the ways we play with it.

I realised this past weekend that the reason I was so confused about White Echoes' genre was simple: I did not want to admit the obvious. It was a science fiction, but I brought my fantasy manners over to it, attempting to cover the truth with another colour of paint.

Rewrites are scratching the paint, and revealing a bright new novel, more powerful than it could've been sitting across genre, aimlessly searching its themes and purpose.

I am a fantasy and science fiction writer. I love both genres equally. It's time I accept this fully, and revel in it  (because revelling in stuff is fun).

Out of curiosity, what's your genre? Did you ever change? Doubted you wrote in the right genre?


  1. While I've always listed myself as both a fantasy and sci-fi writer, I've always viewed myself as truly a fantasy writer. My first book was epic fantasy. But, while creating the backstory for that book I realized I needed to do a sci-fi novel. Now this new sci-fi novel is getting FAR more buzz on Authonomy than my fantasy novel ever did. It's making me feel that it will end up being the book that I first manage to get published. And we all know how publishers like to pigeonhole writers. So, I find myself contemplating being a fantasy writer who only gets to write sci-fi novels!

  2. We should have a coming out party for you!

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  4. Let's try that again:

    Genres were invented by booksellers not writers.

    Commerce needs to put things in boxes with a big sticker on them. That way the buyer knows exactly what it is within three seconds. That’s fine. I want to sell my books as well as write them.

    But there is no reason why we, as writers, should be limited by those labels. We can use them, sure. They will help us find an audience, and help our audience find us. We just need to be careful that we are not putting boxes around our imaginations.

    I had to classify my first e-book on Amazon as literary. People today would probably call it slipstream, but the old pulp label of weird fiction is more accurate. I call my second e-book “old-school science fiction”, but you could easily make the argument that it’s not quite science fiction (some of my readers have).

    My next e-book is non-fiction. The one after that will either be a thriller (short story) or a historical (novel), whichever gets done first. I have plans for several more historical novels, but one contemporary, surreal one, and another that straddles the fiction/non-fiction divide.

    I think big publishing has long wanted to put writers in boxes. It makes sense from a branding point of view. If you write in a different genre, your readers won’t necessarily follow you across.

    However, I think that big publishing has been overplaying this phenomenon. John Locke, for example, had no problem getting his readers to go for a Western (a supposedly dead genre).

    I think self-publishing is freeing writers in this sense. If I had an agent and I had told her my plans for my next work, she would have hit the roof! I get it, it’s a tougher sell. But I would rather write what I want to write than write for the market and make a few extra dollars.

    And maybe, just maybe, if you can build an audience in different genres, you can get your loyal readers to try something new, increasing your overall readership.

  5. This is why I use the umbrella term Speculative Fiction. Kind of covers the science fiction angle without conjuring images of robots in space. :)

  6. {Cue Twilight Zone music) Y'all's contest and the thread on Bransforum made me take a a good hard look at my WIP. I wanted it to be sci-fi in the worst way,but it's clear that it's more fantasy than sci-fi. Like you, I'm cool with that, since I do have a couple of actual sci-works simmering on the back baurner.

  7. Oh, Claudie. I've asked myself this question over and over. And not only genre, but age group, too! I'm pretty sure my current WIP is MG, but it reads like a regular adventure book with some magical elements. I have NO IDEA what I'd call it.

    My old WIP is a laughable YA (laughable because given YA these days, my story really isn't that good) but it's clearly set in another world, so I can safely stick the Fantasy flag in the ground.

  8. Embrace your inner sci-fi!

    That's one thing I fear about traditional publishing--getting tied down to a specific genre. I want freedom, plus my wips are all over the board. Although they do fall under the Speculative fiction umbrella.

  9. Ted: I thought of you when I realised this current novel, my main WIP, was a sci-fi, for exactly what you're talking about. Don't let yourself be pigeonholed! Your two novels are tied together, right? (Unless I got crazy, I recall the sci-fi being somewhat like a prequel to the fantasy. So you have one argument there).

    I do hope neither of us gets stuck in one genre. I like sci-fi, but most of my ideas are fantasy.

    David: Woot, coming out party. Any reason to party is a good one to me. :D

    More seriously, this is one of the other reasons I am looking the self-publishing way. Like cookie, my novels are all over the place but all fall under speculative fiction. So far I have urban fantasy, historical fantasy, high fantasy (x2), science fiction, political fantasy and, hum, fantasy (no easy subgenre classification there). So. YEAH.

    LG, cookie: Speculative fiction is a lovely term, and one of my new favourite best friends. :D It's the only term that'll cover all the genres I listed above. ^^

    Watcher: Haha, sounds like you're in my situation, only the other way around. XD

    Tricia: It's a tough question to be asking, which is amazing because if you read David's comment, well, he's quite right that these are mostly publishers' distinctions. Knowing our genre has its uses, but it shouldn't limit us or our imagination. Yet I can't help but feel partly defined by my genre.

  10. I can't imagine myself writing anything other than epic fantasy. I like sci fi, but I don't know enough about science to write it. I'm trying to encourage my husband to write sci fi though. He has some really interesting ideas.

    And I agree so much with David's comments above. I love that self publishing is really opening up a whole world of opportunities for writers.

  11. I'm a sci-fi writer. Even my horror is more sci-fi than scary. I embrace the science and encourage exploration of possibilities.

  12. Yep, my two books tie together, but they are so different that readers wouldn't know that unless I write a novel that shows them how they tie together. There are just little clues that are too subtle, unless a reader was following my blog. I would like to write a book that ties it all together, but that story feels less interesting to me right now, so I need to write the ones first that appeal to me the most.

  13. Congratulations on coming out as a sci-fi writer! :-)

    I'm a fantasy writer. Modern fantasy, more rural than urban.

    I enjoy reading some science fiction, but I'm not enough of a science person to ever write sci-fi, I think. Then again, who knows what the future will bring. =)