Your Book Might Fit Into More Categories Than You Think
Too often as writers, we get obsessed with labels and genre. How will I categorize my story? Where will it fit in?
It’s a valid concern to a certain extent; in order to find readers, books need to be marketed to those readers, and labeling them helps focus those efforts.
But I think finding those labels is best done in the publishing process, not in the writing process. Because the truth is, each story has the potential to fit into more than one genre. It doesn’t have to find just one ideal reader. Why stifle a story with one set of rules or constructs when it may have the potential to grow beyond them?
Think of your book as a teenager just starting high school. She’s just starting to explore her identity. All around her, schoolmates fit into certain groups or cliques. She wants to fit in, but she also wants to be her own person. If she’s lucky, she’ll find a group of friends who understand her. And sure, maybe people who don’t know her all that well will still want to define her based on one word: a jock, a hipster, a nerd. But anyone who took the time to get to know her would realize there’s more to her than one label can describe.
That’s exactly how books are: complex as people, complex as the characters we write. We can’t know exactly what our stories will become before we start writing them. Usually, we discover what they are during the creative process. And even after they’re published and in the hands of others, they continue to evolve.
Below are a few examples of books that fall into multiple genres:
Room by Emma Donoghue: A story told from the Point-of-View of a 5-year-old boy who only knows the life that exists within a 10×10 foot room that he and his mom have been held captive in since before his birth. One of my favorites, Room is both a literary novel about the strength of a mother’s love and an intense thriller about a woman’s quest to escape her captor. Jack’s voice carries both the simple innocence of childhood and the clear-sighted wisdom of untainted youth. The plot is heart-pounding (I say that quite literally: as I read this book I remember pacing the room, back and forth, because my heart was beating so fast).
Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler: Go to this novel’s Goodreads page and you’ll find that readers have categorized it as everything from historical fiction to romance to women’s fiction to literary fiction. Kibler’s debut novel tells the story of the forbidden love between a young white woman and young black man in 1930s Kentucky, and interweaves it a modern-day roadtrip in which a 90-year-old woman asks her most trusted friend to drive her to a mysterious funeral. The story was inspired by Kibler’s own grandmother, who fell in love with a young black man as a teen, but their families tore them apart. I think this tie to real life is a large part of why Calling Me Home transcends so many genres. Life is complex and messy sometimes. It’s heartbreaking in some moments, blissful in others. It’s never easily defined. A piece of fiction that taps into life’s truths is often just as intricate.
Now, indulge me for a moment: The third example I’d like to mention is my novel, Chasing the Sun, because it’s the only novel I can truly comment on with regards to the intention of the writer. Though it can fit into several genres, such as literary, women’s fiction, Latino Lit, suspense, none of these labels occurred to me as I wrote. I started with a spark of an idea, inspired by questions I had about my grandfather’s kidnapping when I was child still living in Lima, Peru. Eventually, Chasing the Sun evolved into the story of a man whose wife is kidnapped just as their marriage is falling apart, and the ripple effects felt by the whole family. I was driven by the idea that nothing happens in a perfect bubble: a kidnapping of a happily married spouse is one story, but a kidnapping of a spouse who’s recently tried to leave you is another. These two elements—the kidnapping and a frail marriage—coexist and affect each other throughout the narrative. Most fiction is like that, too. Elements of different genres swirl together in dynamic, fascinating ways.
What are some of the genres your writing fit into? Are there any labels that have surprised you along the way?
Natalia Sylvester is the author of Chasing the Sun (New Harvest/Amazon Publishing, June 2014). Born in Lima, Peru, she came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida, where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her articles have appeared in Latina, NBCLatino.com, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer magazines. Find her on Twitter: @NataliaSylv or Facebook.