“Go to the bookstore and you’ll see my new book on the shelves,” said a recently published author. Her book was a fictionalised account of her spiritual journey and finding God a year after her divorce. Two days later, I was at the Customer Services desk of the bookstore, giving the lady the title of the book, name of author and even the ISBN. This was after I’d already looked for the book in the ‘Literature’, ‘Asian Writers’ and ‘New Releases’ parts of the Fiction section. The lady entered all the details into the computer and voilà, she knew where the book was.
“Follow me, Miss,” she said and we went in search of the book.
Can you guess under which section my friend’s book was placed? Self-help. How could a fictionalised account of a woman’s journey be classified as ‘Self-help’? The book was part fiction. Surely, we should have looked at shelves somewhere near the Fiction section?
The lady from Customer Services said that it was the author who had given them this classification. My friend denied this and said that she’d given her book to the distributors and left it to them to sort out how the bookstores would classify her book.
I didn’t see the need to probe the matter any further, but it made me aware of the possibility that the responsibility of classification of books rests on the shoulders of the author or aspiring novelist. So, let’s see if we can help an aspiring novelist in this matter.
One of the first issues an aspiring novelist will have to consider, therefore, is the type of novel he’d like to write. It might seem straightforward, but any published author will admit that this is not necessarily so. For one, the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a novel in the following terms: ‘a fictitious prose story of book length.’ A novel could be 50,000 words long. It could be 150,000 words long. What happens if the work is part fiction? Indeed, Miguel Syjuco, 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.”
Furthermore, enter any bookshop and it will become obvious that there are hundreds of different types of novels with different styles, genres and settings.
2 Types of Novels
Let’s see if we can make things a little simpler. At its most basic level, most novels today can be broken down into 2 broad types
a) A plot-based novel
In these 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 these novels, the characters, who tend to be 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.
The reality is that many types of novels today fall somewhere between these two categories: For example, there are serious memoirs, heart-warming stories, spy stories, historical romps, and thrillers.
7 Popular Genres
It is safe to say that today, there are 7 popular genres for novels.
a) Literary Fiction
On the Creative Writing Now website, it is stated that, ‘Some literary authors today write in a realistic way about the daily lives of ordinary people, what is known as contemporary realism. Some choose to introduce an element of magic or a spirit world in an otherwise realistic story, what is known as magical realism. Others create works of art that incorporate the traditions of commercial fiction genres such as mysteries and science fiction. A number of literary authors also innovate with non-traditional approaches to story-telling, such as breaking up the order of events in the story, offering several alternative endings, or treating the reader as a character in the book. In this type of novel, the main point often isn’t just the story itself, but also the way the story is told.’
Examples of popular literary novels are Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and The Gathering by Anne Enright.
b) Science Fiction
This kind of fiction involves using your imagination to create an alternative to reality. A good example is, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.
This is almost the same Science Fiction, but has the added element of magic – The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis is a good example.
This is all to do with love and passion. Mills & Boons series of novels are good examples.
e) Children’s Novels
This kind of novel has the child in mind as the intended audience. An example is, of course, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.
This category can be subdivided into courtroom dramas, private investigator stories and others. Examples are Agatha Christie’s series of detective novels and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
g) Historical Novel
These stories are set in the past. A good example is The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory.
Can You Create Your Own Genre?
Why not? Nothing in the publishing industry is cast in stone. For example, years ago, there weren’t things like ‘Young Adult Fiction’ or even ‘Erotica’. Now, these are popular genres. Indeed, if you can comes up with something new, you will probably create history.
Which Genre Should You Choose?
Well, for a start, it is useful to know which type of novel best suits your writing style. 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.
The advantage of choosing to write a novel in a well-established genre 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 above are but a guide to help any author decide the kind of novel he’d like to write. In the end, while you should obey the conventions within the publishing industry, you should also should aim to write the type of novel that will provide something new, unusual and exciting for your readers to enjoy.
Garlitos, Randy. The ‘Ilustrado’ in Miguel Syjuco. 19 September 2008. (Accessed 2 February 2015)
Creative Writing Now. Types of Novels and Which One You Should Write. (Accessed 2 February 2015)
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)
Aneeta Sundararaj avoided distributing her book Ladoo Dog: Tales of a Sweet Dachshund via local bookstores because she was told that a book with an image of a dog on the dust jacket was unlikely to sell. As such, the book is now available online [Smashwords | Amazon.com ]. Nonetheless, she does wonder how a book based on blog posts about her lovable dachshund would have been classified in these bookstores.