Something that I’ve been struggling with recently is defining my genre. Right now, I pitch my tales as “speculative” because this seems to me to be the most professional way to define “weird shit” which is, apparently, what I tend to write.
People have told me I have a “style,” but when I ask them what that style is, they say, “Um, well, I dunno. It’s just kinda weird.” Helpful.
Define “weird shit”
I don’t write stories about real life in the strictest sense. I mean, recently I’ve written tales about murderous, oversized cookies, a clothes shop for zombies, and a dog barbershop quartet. However, many of my stories are based very much in reality, too.
I like to write about people and relationships and the way humans think and process, because a lot of the time that stuff is funny and, well, I don’t know about anyone else, but it makes me laugh. Sometimes I write about real people and nothing really weird even happens – like in this flash fiction story about a woman who is crushed by books, or the stream-of-consciousness style piece about a guy who drives on the motorway for the first time.
Other times, the story is based in reality but something surreal comes along, like the one about the guy who disappears when he goes out to buy milk, or the bicycle which seizes up its own breaks as punishment for is rider who kicked it.
And at the end of the day, that’s what speculative fiction is, right? It takes real world situations and asks, “What if this thing happened?” Like, what if women could shoot electricity from their hands (a la The Power), or if disease spread across the world and turned everyone into zombies (a la I Am Legend)? And I guess that’s what I tend to do with my fiction. Only often, particularly with the stories I post here, the what-ifs are a little more silly.
Is it marketable?
The trouble is, I think the term speculative fiction can be too broad of a remit to really define a story. Usually, books are defined as something else despite falling within the speculative bracket. Let’s take the two books I mentioned above, for example. The Power is a dystopian novel, or more specifically, I guess, a feminist dystopian novel. I Am Legend is science fiction, or more specifically, apocalyptic science fiction.
Defining my short stories and flash fiction as speculative makes sense, because it gives me the freedom to write a huge array of little stories within that broad remit. However, when it comes to my novel (which I’m still querying to agents), whacking it into the catch-all speculative bracket seems like a cop-out.
I haven’t really spoken about my novel much on my blog, but long story short, it’s about death and the afterlife. It’s speculative because I’m asking, “What if our souls went to the afterlife when we died?”
However, it’s also a coming-of-age story, in a way, because the protagonist is a 20-year old woman who needs to figure her shit out. Due to this, and my protagonist’s age, it could be defied as a new adult novel.
Oh, and because of all the death and the souls and afterlife and stuff, it kinda fits into the supernatural fantasy category too. Which would make it a new adult supernatural fantasy novel, right? I guess. But…
It gets more complicated
When I think of a new adult supernatural fantasy novel, I think of ghosts and demons and ghost whisperers and demon hunters, with a healthy dose of wild, heated romance and a protagonist who is one of those “plain” girls who just happens to be the most beautiful creature in the world and is capable of kicking serious ass, all the time, and… well, that’s not my novel at all.
And the fantasy elements of my story are reasonably low-key. My afterlife setting is incredibly similar to our own world, there’s no magic in the traditional sense, and the bad guys aren’t the terrifying demons you might expect from high fantasy novels. I don’t want to pitch a book as fantasy and leave a whole host of readers feeling disappointed when the plot only touches lightly upon fantastical elements.
When it comes to romance, my novel focuses on platonic love and familial relationships rather than the romantic kind. I feel as though young adult or new adult novels kind of have to have romantic elements because that’s what readers are looking for – that’s often part of the whole coming-of-age situation. I don’t want to force romance in somewhere it doesn’t really belong, so does that mean it’s not a new adult novel? Is it just my protagonist’s age that defines that? Should I make her older to avoid the issue and just call it adult fiction? But if I change her age the book doesn’t really work – she has to be that age.
Then I’ve got to factor in the fact that it’s written in first person POV with a self-deprecating and (hopefully) funny narrator, which is somewhat reminiscent of many women’s fiction novels which are very much based in reality. In many ways I feel it could appeal to readers of general contemporary fiction, but failing to mention the speculative elements would be misleading, too.
It’s everything and nothing
Basically, we’re looking at a mishmash of multiple different genres, and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.
On the one hand, it could have reasonably wide appeal. On the other, it may not be enough of one thing or another to appeal to anybody at all. I think crossover fiction is pretty popular right now, but a manuscript that doesn’t have a clearly defined target audience is never going to do well, because nobody really knows who to sell the bastard thing to.
The marketability of my novel – and my writing in general – is a big worry for me right now. Sometimes it feels like I should have picked a genre way before I started writing the novel so that I wouldn’t have this problem.
However, if I’d have done that, I probably wouldn’t have written the story I wanted to tell and wouldn’t be half as passionate or excited about it. At the end of the day, I can only write the stories I want to write because doing anything else would result in me writing rubbish stories – there literally wouldn’t be any point.
Write the thing first and figure out where it fits in the market later – that has to be my mantra. But it’d be bloody lovely if a literary agent could help me out with the latter right about now. 😉Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com