Thoughts on Writing – How Genres Are Like Different Types of Stores

The other day, I had the thought that book genres are like different stores. I’m not really sure how I got to that particular idea, but it stuck around. So, today, I’m going to delve into that analogy.

Genres are like stores.

You have all kinds of stores. Big stores, small stores. General stores, clothes stores, game shops, book stores, specialty stores.

Each type of store has certain things that make it that particular type of store, just like a genre will have particular elements that make it that genre. While two genres may have similar traits (example, science fiction and fantasy both tend to have speculative ideas, surprising tech/magic, and vivid worlds), they aren’t the same. A reader may enjoy seeing those traits in either book, but there are certain traits they expect will be there, regardless.

For example, someone going to a grocery store versus a convenience store isn’t going to expect the same product availability.

A grocery store sells food–usually a decent variety, along with various other household goods that might be useful… like toilet paper.

A convenience store has a large variety of items, but a limited number of each, and they’re oriented towards quick, on-the-go products and essentials. Plus, they sell gas.

(There’s a nice article on the difference between grocery and convenience stores here)

If you want gas, you’re going to go to a convenience store, and you’ll be sorely disappointed if there are no gas pumps to be found. However, you might be pleasantly surprised to discover they have donuts available, something the grocery store also has. On the opposite end, if you want a bag of spinach, you’ll probably head to the grocery store, because that’s where you expect to find what you’re looking for.

If you want a book with shiny magic and mystical worlds, you’ll choose a fantasy book. You might be pleasantly (or unpleasantly, if you’re not a fan) surprised when there’s a decent romance on the side. But if you’re looking for a romance with a  lot of tender, loving kisses, you’re going to look for a sweet romance book… and if that just so happens to be found in fantasy trappings, great!

Each book has a primary genre, but it may delve deeper to appeal to a specific audience. The same is true of stores.

For example, a clothing store sells clothes. Obviously.

But break that down, and you get different types of clothing stores. It’s kind of like the romance genre. There’s a large market for romance books, but they can each be broken down into sub-categories to better target their reader.

You might be looking for clothes, but if you have the option to choose, are you going to grab the first thing you’re offered? Probably not.

More likely, there’s a particular store you drift toward.

Here’s what I mean. Out of clothing stores (and their comparable romance sub-category):

  • Children’s stores, which cater to kid’s sizes and trends. (YA Romance)
  • Fancy upscale stores, which cost a lot of money for brand name alone. (Category romance, in this case, with a rich man or woman as the love interest)
  • General clothing stores… with just about everything you need to make sure you at least have something. (General romance)
  • Western stores, everything blue jeans and leather. (Western romance. Cowboys, ranches, etc…)
  • Adult stores with “special” lingerie. (Erotica)
  • Eclectic stores, with alternative culture clothing (Romance with fantasy elements)
  • Pop culture stores, with clothes tied into popular movies and games. (Romance with science fiction elements)

The list goes on. (And of course, these are just examples, by no means cut-and-dry).

I like incorporating elements of different genres into the same book. A story will have it’s primary genre, but you can use pieces from other genres to help flesh out the story.

For example, if you go into a fancy upscale store, and notice that the products have been highlighted with specialty lighting which really makes a certain pair of slacks catch the customer’s eye, you might consider using the same technique in a children’s store. Sure, each store targets a different audience, but good techniques often have multiple uses.

In books, this might be stylizing writing to match a certain mood. If you want a fast-paced action sequence in your western romance, it probably wouldn’t hurt to read a few thrillers and see what keeps the pace moving along.

If you want to include a warm, heartfelt romance in your science fiction novel, reading a sweet romance might give you a few ideas of how to build character chemistry.

In the YA science fiction novel that my husband and I are writing, Distant Horizon, I used elements of horror to build tension. When the main character reaches a facility where people are being transformed into sub-human monsters, I include elements that are typically associated with horror. I want the reader to sense the creepiness.  The story isn’t horror, but using those techniques helped to set the mood.

Just remember, when you’re trying to pitch your book to an agent (or to a reader), it helps to know what type of reader they are. Just because a person likes romance, doesn’t mean they’ll like all types of romance. Some people may only like westerns. Others, science fiction. Others prefer contemporary.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you found any good analogies for various genres? 🙂

(For examples of other types of stores to fuel your imagination, see this article)

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing

2 responses to “Thoughts on Writing – How Genres Are Like Different Types of Stores

  1. Enjoyed this, and I agree with the analogy. Good advice, too.

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