Genre seems to be one of those things that fiction authors rarely think about. “It’s a book. I wrote it.” But learning how to write screenplays has definitely given me a different view of this.
Successful movies often are blends of two or three genres – thriller/crime, crime/horror, action/comedy, etc. This rarely works well for writing a novel.
A novel must fit certain forms. For instance, in almost every genre, you must show that the protagonist is changed at the end of the book by the events of the novel – or its a failure. In mysteries, however, you CAN’T show the protagonist changed. Why? Everyone expects the protagonist to be the same character in the next novel. Really, the mystery genre was set in place with Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Nero Wolfe. These established the genre’s form and rules. Hercule Poirot remained in book two right up until the last of the books Agatha Christie wrote essentially the same insufferable character – because that’s what the readers wanted.
In thrillers, often the antagonist remains a puppet in the hands of the secret government – This is why Star Wars is a combination of Thriller-sci fi-samurai-western. does that work for a novel? It’s difficult to pull that off in a novel because you’ve got to fit the forms and conventions of that genre of novel.
We get ideas for novels that are a flash in your mind. “That’s a good story. What if?” Sometimes its someone relating a story, and something they say unrelated to the story gives you that flash.
Once you have that, ask “what genre is this?” if it’s a genre for action, then you know, “Okay, I have to have the protagonist do some kind of spectacular thing.” If it’s a drama, there are two or three central characters that are dominant, and everything else is setting. If it’s a thriller, you’ve got to set up your paranoia. Failing to conform to the forms of the genre will leave your reader (if you get any) disappointed and feeling cheated. and they’ll never, never buy another one of your books.
But before you get to that stage, you’ve got to get past the agent and the publisher. Your agent is going to tell you immediately, “it’s not going to get published.” And even if you convince them, they’ll do the worst thing possible and let it go to a publisher. The publisher wants a good book, If your book doesn’t fulfill the forms of that genre, they’re going to reject it, and it’s going to make them hesitate when they hear your name in the future.
You don’t want that.
Write the best book you can. And I know that’s your goal. But keep in mind that when you say, “It’s a….” people expect it to offer what they’d expect from a sci-fi novel, from a fantasy novel, from a thriller, a drama, a romance, a mystery.
Some overlap between genres is sometimes unavoidable. However, try to keep most of your novel within a single genre, so your agent knows how to pitch it, the publisher knows how to market it, and the stores know where to put it on the shelves.