What Is Your Main Genre?
Are you writing fantasy, science fiction, or fiction?
There are two types of fantasy: low fantasy and high fantasy. In high fantasy, the world is fictional, and the characters have zero ancestral connection to Earth. They are alien, even if they have a humanoid form. In low fantasy, also known as urban fantasy, a magical world exists in another realm on Earth that you cannot find on a map. The beings have their own society separate from our own, like in the Harry Potter novels. In science fiction, the characters have an ancestral connection to Earth, though they may have never lived on Earth. If they have never lived on Earth and call another planet home, it is a science fiction fantasy. The last option is fiction. These stories are about people who live on Earth.
Are you writing paranormal, supernatural, or realistic fiction?
Paranormal stories do not take place in hidden realms on Earth. The paranormal beings may live underground or walk the streets among humans. They have their own races of beings with defined traits and abilities—vampires, for example. In supernatural books, characters have special abilities brought on by scientific or natural means. Genetic engineering is when these abilities are given to the person on purpose by a scientist (Wolverine and Captain America) or a specific cause (Spider-Man). Abilities such as telekinesis, clairvoyance, and telepathy may be present in an individual who is otherwise human and not part of a paranormal race. If a book falls into none of these categories, it is realistic fiction.
In which time does the story take place?
In fantasy, time periods may appear to mirror Earth’s time, such as medieval, industrial, or present day. It is irrelevant in a high fantasy because the characteristics of the time do not have to reflect Earth’s time. The civilization could be at any stage in its development. The worlds are apples to oranges, even if they share some characteristics.
In all other stories, there are three options: past, present, and future. If it is the past, it is historical. There is much debate on how far back a book has to take place to be historical. Think of when your ideal reader was born. If it takes place before that time, or you as the author were not alive during that time, you could say it is historical. For example, young adult books are geared for those under eighteen, so anything written before the year 2000 is historical for them. They were not alive to experience it, and it was a whole different century. If it takes place in the present, it is contemporary fiction. If it takes place in the future, it is science fiction.
We can further break these main genres into sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. Some can go five or six levels deep, but knowing the base genre will help you find your niche. Once you know the book you are writing, you’ll know what themes and tropes you need to include to satisfy your readers and build your reputation.