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An Exercise in Genres

January 13, 2011

Have you ever realized how thin the lines are between genres?  When I’m working on a new idea sometimes it hits me how if you change one little variable you change the entire genre of the story.  That in turn means your audience is entirely different.  It could even mean the style of your writing would have to be different.

Don’t believe me?  OK, let’s play the game.

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Here’s my base idea:  A guy we’ll call Steve has lost some important job and is now broke and about to lose his home, like a lot of people during the Great Recession.  So he goes back home to his parents, where his father runs some kind of store or something.  Steve pitches in to help his father out and they bond and hash out their differences.

We’re dealing with a male protagonist and father-son issues so I’d file this under “literary fiction.”  The audience might be more strongly male and probably more academic.

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Now let’s start changing some variables.

Let’s change Steve to Stephanie and instead of the father, it’s her mother.

Now it’s women’s literature!  If you make Stephanie a fashion designer or gossip columnist or something then it could probably be “chick lit” destined to become a movie with Reese Witherspoon or Jennifer Aniston in it.  Obviously in this scenario now you’re catering to women.  How old/young the women would probably depend how far you go into the “chick lit” thing.

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Let’s say that the mother at the store has some hunky assistant who at first clashes with Stephanie, but eventually they fall in love.  Now it’s a romance!

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But let’s not stop there.  Let’s go back to Steve.  And let’s say that Steve’s former job was as a world-class assassin.  He’s tired of the biz and decides to go home to try and live a normal life.  Then as he’s bonding with his father and new life, his former employers show up.

Now you’ve got a thriller!

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Oh we’re not done just yet.  Take the previous scenario only say that Steve the former world-class assassin flies around the galaxy in his spaceship as a galactic bounty hunter.

Now it’s sci-fi!

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Or maybe instead of an assassin, Steve is Sir Steven, a knight of the realm and his father is the king.

It’s fantasy now!

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Now, let’s say that Steve is 13 years old and flunked out of a fancy boarding school and sent back home.  Or maybe to a grandparent/uncle/family friend’s house.

Move it to the YA section of the store!

In that scenario you could also change Steve back to Stephanie and have her narrate, which like the “chick lit” scenario pushes your audience closer to 100% female.  Also if you change the age up or down from 13 you can change it from YA to middle grade and so forth.

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And let’s say that the private school Steve/Stephanie flunked out of was a school for wizards.

Now it’s a YA Fantasy!

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You could probably tweak the base scenario slightly to cater to other genres like Mystery, Christian, etc.  The point is that sometimes there’s really not separating one story from another other than the occupation, sex, or age of the main character.  Changing those seemingly tiny variables and you create a tidal shift in terms of your audience, and thus in your marketing should you complete the story.

BTW, if I had more than two occasional readers I’d ask which scenario you think sounds the most appealing.

Until next time…

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One Comment
  1. Well, as a female, Stephanie would probably work better for me (but no chic lit, please) unless you went with the thriller version with Steve. Of course, a side romance wouldn’t hurt either one.

    Fun post. Blurry indeed.

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