Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What Am I Writing, Anyway? Part I

Today we're hearing from the lovely and talented Roseanna M. White. Who also happens to be my best friend. Roseanna, like me, has always known she wanted to be a writer and finished her first novel in high school. We've had lots of, "If I knew then what I know now..." types of conversations. One of the biggest things we wish we'd understood were "genre rules." So here to lay those out for you guys is Roseanna:

When I first began writing novels, I had all these big goals—among them, to provide that ever-elusive Something Different. I wanted to write a romance where you don't know from the start who ended up with whom. I wanted to write a suspense where the main character dies. I wanted to shock your socks off with the ending of this could-be-romance—and then I couldn't figure out why no agent or editor would buy them.

As it turns out, by breaking the mold of a genre, all you do is put yourself in another. And in order to sell it, you've got to know what it is you've written. So, I'm going to lay out some basic genre definitions so you can start figuring out what that work-in-progress is.

A lot of teens might be writing for their peers, which means you're working on a Young Adult, or YA novel. YA novels are geared at people in high school, so ages 13-18 usually. Your hero or heroine ought to be about two years older than your specific target readership—so don't write about 13-year-olds and expect that 16-year-olds are going to eat it up. Um, no. If you want it to reach 16-year-olds, make the protagonist 17 or 18.

There's the Tween books, also called Middle Grade or Juvenile (not in a derogatory way, ha ha). These are books for the 8-12 crowd and should again have main characters at the upper edge of that age spectrum. Anything aimed at lower ages are grouped together under the title of Children's, though there are certainly breakdowns within it.

All these books can run the gamut when it comes to subject matter—they can be romantic, they can be adventure, mystery, suspense, you name it. Historical or contemporary, they still fall under the general headings of, say, YA. (You can certainly call it a YA Historical.)

Keep in mind that not all stories with teen main characters are Young Adult—the genre is decided by the readership in this case. I've read many a Coming of Age story that has characters anywhere from 9 on up but which are not appropriate for young people to read due to the subject matter. These are adult books.

Now, onto a few other generals. First, historical. Historical is any book that takes place from the dawn of time until the end of World War II. Don't ask me why that's the cut-off, and it will likely change in the next decade to include the 50s and possibly 60s. For now, though those are called contemporary. Within the historical genre we have . . .

Historical Romance—this is a historical of any time period, where the romantic thread cannot be removed without the story failing. If the story can stand without the hero and heroine getting together in the last chapter, then it's . . .

Historical Fiction—a very broad genre that covers everything, pretty much.

Biblical Fiction—a historical that takes place during the time when the Bible was written, including New Testament times after Christ and into the Roman Empire. These stories may or may not revolve around the historical events in the Bible—they may just deal with issues of early Christianity or Judaism.

Medieval—a story that takes place in the Middle Ages.

Regency—technically a story that takes place while the Regent ruled in England, but more broadly, anything from 1800-1830 in England.

Victorian—from above through turn of the century, usually British. When we hop over to the U.S. we get our Americana novels, including . . .

Western—um, what it sounds like. Cowboys, ranches, gun-toting hotties wearing holsters and Stetsons.

Prairie—also what it sounds like. Think bonnets and rag dolls, wheat fields and cabins.

The Wars, such as Revolutionary and Civil, are usually just called historical.

Turn-of-the-Century—not sure this is a proper term, but it's a description used a lot. It leads up to . . .

World War I—pretty self explanatory


Depression Era—my, we're getting creative.

And we end our historicals with World War II.

Again, with historicals you can have romance (which earns the Historical Romance heading) within any of these eras, adventure, intrigue, suspense, mystery, etc. We occasionally use terms such as Romantic Historical Suspense to describe books, but that's not something a publisher will usually put on the back cover as a label.

On Thursday we're going to cover some contemporaries and huge genres like Romance, Mystery and Suspense, so check back in to figure out if you're writing one of these!

Roseanna M. White is wife, mommy, writer, reviewer, and lover of all things literature-related. She has one book published, A STRAY DROP OF BLOOD (WhiteFire Publishing, 2009), and another due out summer 2011. She is the editor and senior reviewer of the Christian Review of Books, and a member of ACFW, HisWriters, and HEWN Marketing. She makes her home in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, two kids, and the colony of dust bunnies under her couch.

To learn more about Roseanna, visit Roseanna's web site.


  1. Roseanna, sometimes those Turn of the Century novels are referred to as Gilded Age or Progressive Era novels, depending on how rich the protagonists are. :)

    Love your descriptions!

  2. Knew I'd miss something! Actually, there are a lot more historical delineations--but don't you just love the term "Gilded Age"??