With the end of the year fast approaching, I thought it was time for a lighter article. Stepping away from educational pieces, I decided to write a personal preference blog post. It will give you an insight into what genres appeal to me and my thoughts and advice on each. You can read it with the intent to learn something, but really it’s just my biased ideas and thoughts on things I enjoy, so you might not get much education out of it.
However, I hope you are entertained! Here are my favourite genres and my thoughts on writing them!
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1. Writing Fantasy
When I started planning this blog post, I decided to make a list of my favourite genres and order them from my most favourite to my least favourite. Instinctively, I put fantasy at the top of my list and I struggled to knock it off the top with my other favourite genres, to properly order them.
Fantasy stood up against them all and for good reason.
Fantasy is fun. It can involve anything and everything, it can be set in any time period, any place, any reality. Of all the different genres of fiction, fantasy feels, at least for me, the freest. I can make rules up as I go along and still find some semblance of logic in the story to keep me invested and believing in what I have written.
Of course, it might seem a bit obvious, maybe even cliche, for fantasy to be placed at the top of this list, but as I said, this is a biased piece and I will stand by it until I disagree with it one day. Until that day, I will stick with fantasy as being my favourite genre to not only read, but to write.
Speaking of writing, here is some advice I picked up after years of writing fantasy stories and novels.
First and foremost, try not to get lost in all that freedom. It’s easy to lose yourself in a torrent of imaginative ideas when writing a fantasy story and completely lose the plot. When you lose the plot, you lose any interest you had at the beginning of your story, which is truly sad, as that initial burst of inspiration could have turned into a great novel if it was properly managed.
Secondly, fantasy and daydreaming is the perfect combination. When you are not writing and dealing with some other task, it gives you the space from the sheer focus on writing to daydream about your story and world. Daydreaming and fantasy go so well, as you can think up pretty much anything and most of it will work with your story. The number of ideas that came to mind when walking the dog, or doing the dishes, or even working on an article has inspired many chapters in my novels and short stories on my blog.
Thirdly, concept art is a great asset to make use of when writing your fantasy story. There are countless artists out there creating new pieces every day, these artworks can range from interesting to amazing. When designing a character, or picturing a place, it helps to look on places like Pinterest for some concept art that appeals to you.
You might find ideas that fit what you have in mind or ideas that are far better and you adjust your subject accordingly.
Those are some of my thoughts on the fantasy genre!
2. Writing Dark Fantasy
Secondly, we have the dark fantasy genre. I know, I know, it’s more a sub-genre of fantasy than a genre on its own. Yet, if I was to play the lawyer in this argument, I would say that all I have listed are genres. All sub-genres are genres, but not all genres are sub-genres.
With that said, here are my thoughts on dark fantasy.
Like fantasy, there is a certain freedom I find appealing when writing the genre. I like a darker side to any story, be it from the actions, to the character, to the way the world is designed. Dark fantasy allows for an abundance of all this, which I enjoy writing because it feels like I am mirroring regular fantasy.
When I am crafting a regular fantasy world, I throw in the good and bad, but I have a certain line that I don’t cross. It’s not just gore, which tends to play a big part in a lot of dark fantasy today, but really the theme in general, from the names to the places to the nature of characters and the objects I use in the story.
For example, a fantasy novel might have a hero with shining armour and use a sword, which is sleek and beautiful. It represents the world, I suppose. Yet, when I craft a similar character in dark fantasy, I want to add a sense of dread and despair. The character won’t be so fortunate to be equipped with shining armour, but perhaps some rusted cuirass and instead of a pretty sword, they use a rusted old axe.
Already, it feels like the character in the dark fantasy is in for a rough time as compared to the character in a regular fantasy novel. Now, their trials might be equally challenging, but the feeling from each tells you which one feels tenser than the other.
The first thing I learnt when writing dark fantasy is to avoid going over the top. In all genres, there is a line you try not to cross to keep the reader believing in the story, to keep them invested.
If every character in your fantasy is a good person, it will come off as unbelievable, thus uninteresting. If every character in your dark fantasy is evil, it will come off as unbelievable, thus uninteresting.
The same applies to other elements of the story, not just the characters. These elements include the amount of violence, the shocking themes, the language used, etc.
My second piece of advice is to remember that in dark fantasy, a character has the greatest opportunity to look badass. Yes, badass. You can make them appear cool and skilful by putting them in a tough situation and watching them fight, or talk, their way out of it. It’s these moments that make dark fantasy so investing, as you see that the world isn’t so hopelessly difficult for the characters to overcome. It just requires greater effort, which highlights these moments when the protagonist takes a step forward, rather than a step back.
Those are my thoughts on dark fantasy. Generally, I still approach dark fantasy with the same tactics as I would regular fantasy. The planning, the daydreaming, the plot structure all pretty much aligns with that of regular fantasy. I just make a few subtle tweaks and give it a wash of grey with some dark undertones to get the feeling right.
3. Writing Mystery
Mystery is certainly my favourite genre that’s set in a more realistic world, specifically mystery with detectives. I have always found the characters interesting, the way they encounter all sorts of horrible people and have to steel themselves before investigating every crime scene. Mystery can easily be dark, but by the same token, it can also be presented in a more positive style.
I have already mentioned this in an older post, but detective stories first got me interested in writing. That post is called the detective-writing toolkit, which I would recommend checking out if you are interested in this genre, as I have a lot of information that can come in handy.
Anyway, that is also one of the reasons my website is called the Penned Sleuth, as I felt it not only highlighted what the website includes, but also one of my biggest inspirations.
With that said, here are my thoughts on the mystery genre!
Mystery I have always considered to be a special type of story, as you are kind of working against the reader. In most genres, a reader will settle in and follow your story without much thought as to what will happen in the end, in the sense that they won’t try to predict what happens to your characters or what will happen in your future scenes so often.
Yet, when it comes to mystery novels, I approach them with the intention to solve the mystery before the protagonist does. Now, I am sure I am not alone in this. Anyone who has watched a mystery movie, or series or seen a single episode of Scooby-Doo, has this inclination to spot clues and piece them together.
Sometimes, we solve the mystery, sometimes we don’t. I think a great mystery is believable and presented well. From there, it can be a simple case or a complex puzzle, but having all the information presented will help the reader to either solve the mystery or come to understand the conclusion if they didn’t.
If there is any piece of advice I can give, it’s to do just that, but also have a bit of fun in messing with the reader. In other words, distract them with red herrings. Make them believe another character is the culprit or lay down other clues or interesting subplots to confuse them. Anything that keeps them guessing as to what the twist will be.
Mystery will always have a special place in my heart as being an investing genre, but also the reason I am writing today. It is also one of the genres I have the most difficulty writing, as I still hold it in such high regard that there is more pressure on me to write better. Of course, when pressured, the results aren’t great, but I feel there will come a time that I approach mystery easily and write it comfortably.
Until then, I will stick with writing mystery short stories before I start any full novels.
4. Writing Non-Fiction
Non-fiction, generally something I like to read more casually, as I get less involved. With fiction, you can get attached to characters and get excited about the plot, but with non-fiction, you are there to get a new perspective and perhaps learn a thing or two about a subject you are interested in.
I don’t read non-fiction as often as fiction unless you count manuals and instruction booklets that help better understand a piece of technology or software. Yet, the non-fiction that I prefer to read is based more on subjects that I don’t partake in but certainly have an interest in.
One of the first books I reviewed on my website was about the JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and their various missions to send probes into space. I found it absolutely fascinating and generally a relaxing read. If that book was to go on for another eighty chapters, talking about such events and the politics that affected them, I would happily have read it to the very end.
However, like with fiction, I am selective with what non-fiction I decide to read, if not, more so.
With fiction, I can pick up a book in any genre, read the synopsis, get a good idea of the writing style in the beginning and then decide if I want to read it or not. Normally, my taste allows me to read all sorts in different genres, rarely do I find myself saying ‘no’ to a book that I pick up.
Yet, when it comes to non-fiction, subjects are much easier to separate than different fictions. But, let me not talk too much about that, here is some advice on writing non-fiction.
When writing non-fiction, you are really there to answer questions. The information you provide, no matter which subject, should help alleviate confusion on a subject first and foremost. From there, you can use your style to make the subject matter more readable and even enjoyable.
I have written a few non-fiction books on different subjects, from programming to writing. These were skillsets I had and felt that I could share. Although, I am most proud of my non-fiction surrounding writing, as it is the subject I enjoyed the most and feel I put more effort into.
5. Writing Science-Fiction
Ah, science-fiction, another wonderful genre with various sub-genres that intrigue me. Yet, as a whole, the genre is one that I have a lot of admiration for. It makes use of great techniques which help to describe complex technology, it often presents philosophical questions throughout its stories and can have a lot of fantasy elements to make it all the more investing, at least for me.
I think one of the reasons I put science fiction so low on this list of favourites is because of the cliche science fiction ending. Normally, science fiction will end with an unsatisfying or vague ending, where you have no clear idea of what the ending is, thus you don’t really know how to feel.
Should you feel happy with the ending that you are presented with, or unhappy? You are stuck in-between, which then just comes off as you feeling unhappy that you are not presented with such a clear ending...if that makes any sense.
The funny thing is that these types of ambiguous endings came about to avoid a cliche ending. It could be the cliche ending where the protagonist lives happily ever after, or the cliche twist where it's all a dream and so on. Yet, what it has done is establish itself as a cliche. It’s now expected for a science fiction story to end in such a way,
For me, at least nowadays, I like to have a satisfying story. I want to see plot and character development matter in the end. I want characters to reap what they sow. I can live with the antagonist winning and the protagonist losing, as long as that is made clear in the end.
Yet, that’s my only problem when it comes to science fiction.
Otherwise, I enjoy reading the characters, I enjoy the worlds that many science fiction authors create. There is a sense of wonder I find myself feeling when I imagine a dystopian future or a city of robots and neon lights. These are elements that I happily immerse myself in.
If there is a special tip I can give on writing science fiction, it’s for writing descriptions of complex technology or strange alien species. When describing any of these, it helps to compare them to other objects or creatures the reader is familiar with. If an alien has a dark, pointed beak, compare it to a raven’s or a sparrow’s. If a piece of technology can be compared to a watch, then do so and only point out the differences.
6. Writing Thriller
Finally, we have thrillers.
When I was young, the closest thing I experienced to horror or thriller writing was that of the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine. At the time, I found the stories intriguing. The idea of stories written to scare you, of monsters and strange phenomena. I enjoyed many of them and it could be why many of my short stories have dark themes or twists.
Now, the reason I have this the lowest on the list is that I tend to use it as a theme for other genres rather than a core genre of a story. In other words, I would couple it with dark fantasy, or science fiction, or mystery stories. As much as I like the idea of thriller stories being down-to-earth, I feel the plots that come from thrillers are a bit too real, or dramatic for my tastes.
That is why when I choose to write a scary story, I choose another genre and just write it as if it were a scary story. That way I get the plot I like, but also the feeling of dread I enjoy from thrillers.
Yet, that is my personal preference. Of course, you might enjoy thrillers that feel a bit more down to earth than supernatural monsters or detectives chasing creepy serial killers.
If there is any advice I would give on writing a thriller story, it is to turn off the lights, play some creepy music and delve into the darkest corners of your mind. Find what scares you and use it. Make a scene that gives you goosebumps, that sends a shiver down your spine.
When it comes to writing any genre, it’s always good to have the right mindset. Yet, for me, being in the mindset to write a thriller requires different preparation and is a bit more difficult to get into. I find it natural to talk about fantastic elements, but when I am trying to write something spooky, I need to pay special attention to the emotion and atmosphere of the scene, which requires the right mood.
Those are my thoughts on the thriller genre!
Those are my thoughts on all the genres that I enjoy. These are all the ones I enjoy reading as well as writing. I think that I’m very much set in the way of writing books that appeal to me, so it was easy to cross these two over and treat them as the same thing.
I think over the past few years my tastes have changed a lot. I would say that they matured to some degree. I can enjoy a lot more general fiction, but I still find myself happily attached to these genres that explore more fantastic stories. I think it comes down to escapism.
We want to detach from reality and experience something unreal, different and enjoyable. For me, these genres help me do just that. I get to explore worlds that interest me, invest myself in likeable characters, marvel at some atmospheric writing and enjoy a satisfying ending to a great story. I believe it is easier to find all these elements in my favourite genres than in others.
But, that’s enough of my rambling. I would very much like to hear your thoughts. What are your top 3 favourite genres to read/write! Let me know in the comments.
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!
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