Types of Novels – How to Choose a Genre for Your Book

One of the first decisions any aspiring novelist will have to make concerns the type of novel he’d like to write. At first glance, this may seem straightforward, but any published author will admit that this is not necessarily so. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a novel in the following terms: ‘a fictitious prose story of book length.’ Furthermore, enter any bookshop and it will become obvious that there are, literally, hundreds of different types of novels with different styles, genres and settings. Every one of them is aimed at a specific kind of audience. The following explanations and specific examples should help a person decide the type of novel to write.

Types of Novels

In simple terms, most novels can be broken down into two broad types:

a) A plot-based novel

In such novels, the writer tends to make sure that the events within the story appear in a sensible order. The characters in the story, though well-thought out, aren’t necessarily the focus of the tale. The emphasis in on the pace of the story and it is the twists and turns of the plot that matter. There’s always a ‘race against the clock’ element in a plot-based novel and each scene is dramatic and full of tension.

b) A character-based novel

In such novels, the characters, who tend to few in number, take centre stage. The writer would analyse how they behave physically, mentally and emotionally in any given circumstance and the emphasis will be on creating detailed, sympathetic and multi-layered personalities. Often, the stories follow the course of relationships that are formed, nurtured and how they are often destroyed.

Following from this, many types of novels published will fall in between these two categories. For example, there are serious memoirs, heart-warming stories, spy stories, historical romps, and scary stories. Indeed, the statement made by Miguel Syjuco (author of Illustrado), when asked about how much reality was reflected in his novels, further illustrates this point: “I like the old writer’s cliché that applies to my book – everything in this book is true, and some of it might even be factual.”

Popular Genres for Novels

Here are six popular genres (and examples of novels in each genre) you’ll find in most bookshops:

  • Literary Fiction – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and The Gathering by Anne Enright.
  • Science Fiction – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
  • Fantasy – The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.
  • Romance – Mills & Boons series of novels.
  • Children’s Novels – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.
  • Crime (take note that this category can be subdivided into courtroom dramas, private investigator stories and others) – Agatha Christie’s series of detective novels and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
  • Historical Romance – The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory.

What Type of Novel Should an Aspiring Novelist Write?

Well, for a start, it is useful to know which type of novel best suits a writer’s style of writing. Do not feel under pressure to produce a particular style of book just because it sounds like the most commercially viable one. An aspiring author must, at all times, keep in mind that it is his novel.

When an author attempts to write a novel in a well-established genre, the advantage is that publishers will easily be able to visualise how the book should be marketed and will, therefore, be more likely to invest in the novel. Another way to look at this issue is, perhaps, to ask the question, “What kind of book do I like to read?” It might be that an author prefers reading a gentle tale of love and betrayal rather than a nail-biting thriller or chilling horror tale. Most authors have said that what they enjoy reading is also the kind of novel they enjoy writing. And, when the passion for writing the story is obvious, chances are that plenty of other people will enjoy reading the story too.

Next, a writer should consider his own experiences, background and specialist knowledge or training; all of them help point him in the right direction. While a writer may think little of his own experiences, remember that he’ll have subconsciously absorbed a vast amount of useful background information and techniques over the years.

For example, say a writer lives in Australia’s north eastern coast and has a scuba-diving licence. He is also a practising lawyer. A legal drama may be just the thing to help him use his legal knowledge and craft a story about the illegal trade of corals from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The ideas made above are but a guide to help any author decide the kind of novel he’d like to write. In the end, while he should obey the conventions within the publishing industry, he could also aim to write the type of novel that will provide something new, unusual and exciting for his readers to enjoy.

Sources

Garlitos, Randy. The ‘Ilustrado’ in Miguel Syjuco. 19 September 2008. (Accessed 23 January 2011)

Miguel Syjuco, Miguel. Illustrado. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2010

Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. Random House Trade Paperbacks (April 4, 2006)

Enright, Anne. The Gathering. Grove Press (November 28, 2007)

Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey . Roc (September 12, 2000)

Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia. HarperFestival; Reprint edition (October 26, 2010)

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Arthur A. Levine Books; Reprint edition (July 7, 2009)

Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. Anchor; Mass Paperback Edition (March 31, 2009)

Gregory, Phillipa. The Other Boleyn Girl. Touchstone; First Edition (November 2, 2004)


By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101: http://suite101.com/article/types-of-novels-a337069


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