Writer, Know Thy Genre!


Genre choices are the most important decisions you need to make. –Shawn Coyne

Distinguishing sub-genres is important when you’re trying to pin down the genre of your own work. On the importance of genre choices, Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know, says:

“Those choices will tell the reader what they are in for if they pick up your book… Deciding what Genre(s) your story will inhabit will also tell you exactly what you need to do to satisfy your potential audience’s expectations. Genre will tell you the crucial conventions and obligatory scenes you must have in your novel. …If you fail to abide by your Genre’s requirements, you will not write a story that works.” (45-46, emphasis mine)

Anybody can slap together a readable story. But to write a story that is satisfying (and, Coyne would add, commercially successful) an author has to know their genre and stick to its conventions. Miss one element and your readers will notice even if only on a subconscious level.

Writers must know mandatory scenes of their genre:


  • If a detective novel starts with anything other than a dead body, it will flop.
  • If a superhero doesn’t battle an equally super villain, the story will fizzle.
  • Skip the torture-laden face-off between the antagonist and the hero in a thriller and readers won’t be thrilled—they’ll be miffed
  • A Gothic romance better have an ingenue, a sprawling manor (or equally impressive architecture) and a rampant lunatic or it just won’t work.

Writers must know the conventions of their genre. For example, murder mysteries include the following conventions:

  • A dead body
  • A sleuth of some permutation
  • A cast of extras, including a prime suspect, a ‘Watson,’ a witness, etc.
  • Clues and ‘red herrings.

Genre Resources

It would be handy if every genre and sub-genre had its own bible of conventions and obligatory scenes. Until that happens, writers are advised to read widely. The more intimately you know a genre, the better the feel you will have for its requirements.

Here are a couple of wonderful resources I’ve dipped into through the years–or that I’ve found and earmarked for future use. I hope you find these books and online resources helpful.





Fantasy and Science Fiction

Narrowing this list down was really hard. I’ve included a few titles from the masters…




Historical Fiction


  • Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities: A Book of the Sea by Terry Breverton includes historical and fantastical information…
  • Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths by Susan Alleyn

  • KateTattersall.com is a website dedicated to a YA series about a Victorian girl spy. Author RS Flemming offers an mind-blowing range of information about the Victorian era and more. I returned to the site a number of times while writing my Gaslamp Fantasy.

Superhero | Comics

  • The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios. This cool resource is helpful for crafting villains and heroes that fly (rather than flop).


Maybe you have a favourite genre resource! If so, do tell! Please leave a comment.


Image Credits

Book Covers from GoodReads, Fair Use

Cuppa-Sunshine Photo Montage by Mystic Art Design, CC0, Public Domain

Ivanos Detective 05 by Stekelbes, CC By-NC-ND 2.0

9 responses to “Writer, Know Thy Genre!”

  1. Wow! This is really comprehensive and useful Ali. Thanks very much for posting.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It is indeed! I find the biggest problem is when one’s genre floats between two genres – or maybe even three. Like Magical realism and Historical. What is it called? I wish we didn’t have to choose actually! I love the look of your site, Ali. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It might be Gaslamp Fantasy, Sheryl. (See last week’s article! Where history and magic meet–under the hazy amber glow of a gaslamp. 🤓 ) Thanks for stopping by. We’ve just had a make-over.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. melanieannehill Avatar

    Did you enjoy The Story Grid, Ali?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Mel, Yes! I have the last bit to read, and I’m still going through the podcasts. I’ve learned a lot! Thanks for the great recommendation.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. karenwrites19 Avatar

    Hi Alison,
    What a wonderful post for writers … and readers.
    Thrilled to see my latest genre WIP mentioned in the mix … Superheroes.
    Thanks for being an awesome Beta reader and sharing your genre writing tips with me.personally and right here.
    Wishing you great success with your Gaslamp fantasy: The Toby Chronicles…
    Cheers, Karen Tyrrell 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Karen! Did you find any good super hero resources when you were writing your WIP? I found the one I mentioned above and thought of you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. karenwrites19 Avatar

        YES, I found great resources on Wikapaedia and visuals/ audio on You tube and superhero movies. Thanks for the book you recommended … Karen Tyrrell

        Liked by 1 person

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