Friday, March 16, 2018

Discovering Your Theme

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

It's Fri-YAY! I hope you're ready for a little chat on craft before you head off to celebrate a week well-lived.

Last Friday, we talked about how I organize the things I've learned about my story during my early discovery writing sessions, and then we moved on to how I write a synopsis just for me so that I can use it as an outline.

Now that I've written a working synopsis, it's time to get back to the business of first-drafting. But before I do that, I want to scour my synopsis for clues to point me in the right thematic direction.

Together with setting, character (point of view), plot, and style, theme is considered one of the key elements of fiction writing. It can be defined this way:

Sometimes a work has more than one theme. Sometimes a work has one major theme and several minor themes. Sometimes a work's theme is clear and sometimes it's harder to dig out.

As an author, the hardest theme to get a hold of is often the one for the book you're currently writing. Here are some thoughts that may help you.

Sometimes a theme arrives with the story idea: Once you've seen, you can't unsee

 My debut novel, Angel Eyes, was basically the result of an idea that took the shape of a theme very early on. When this happens, it's a gift. It can direct your storytelling from beginning to end.





Sometimes a theme comes to you as you draft: Worship is warfare


The second book in my trilogy, Broken Wings, was harder. I had several guiding ideas, but the theme of worship is warfare didn't come to me until I'd first-drafted the final few scenes. At that point, a light flickered on in my tired brain and I knew how I wanted to rebuild one of my newer ranks of angel and how I wanted to restructure some of my character arcs. It was a fantastic moment, but one that took a lot of faith to get to. Until that moment I couldn't adequately answer the question, "What are you writing about?"



Sometimes, especially in series writing, the theme of a book is inevitable: Choosing not to see comes with its own bondage


By the time I got to Dark Halo, I knew what I needed to tackle. The conversation about seeing the invisible--the conversation that I'd started in book one--was still missing an important element. It was time to introduce a new question: What happens if you choose to close your eyes to everything you've seen?

But, sometimes, especially when you're early on in your career, figuring out if you have larger themes to explore can be difficult. You may have to dig a bit. Some questions to ask yourself:

Does your main character believe a lie? What is it?

Search your working synopsis. Search your opening scenes. See if you can find anything to point you to a lie your protagonist might believe. Early in JM Barrie's Peter Pan, Peter says to Wendy, "It was because I heard Mother and Father talking about what I was to be when I became a man. I don't ever want to be a man. I want always to be a little boy and to have fun."

The lie here is clear: Peter believes that if he grows up to be a man he won't have any fun. This lie becomes the lynch pin for a theme Barrie explores throughout the book.

Is there a task only your hero can accomplish? 

Scour that working synopsis, friends. Let your brain run wild. Is there something crucial a character in your book offers? It doesn't always have to be the protagonist. Sometimes another character is the true hero. In CS Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan tells Lucy and Susan, " . . . when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself started moving backward."
The ability of an innocent king to take the punishment for a treacherous subject is, at its core, a classic redemption story and this act provides us a crucial and powerful theme. The entirety of the book builds toward this moment. I wonder how early on CS Lewis identified this action?

What are YOU, the author, trying to say?

Is there an idea you want to convey with this story? Maybe:
-No one is beyond redemption
-Life is frail
-Comfort keeps us from our destiny
-We need others
-War makes monsters of us all
-Even a small light shatters the darkness
-Power corrupts
-Love is worth fighting for

All of these things are noble, worthy themes. As you write, look for different ways to highlight these ideals and provide either a question for your readers to ponder, a message, a moral, or an idea to chew on as a takeaway from your work.

Next week, we'll return to this topic and I'll give you some things to think about as you carefully, light-handedly work theme into your story.

Today, tell me, have you been able to identify a theme in your current work? What is it? How did you discover that theme?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How to Use Headings in Microsoft Word to Organize Your Novel

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

When I gear up to write a first draft, whether I'm starting from scratch or doing a rewrite, I like to organize my Word file. I do this because being organized sets me up for success. In the case of Onyx Eyes, I'm doing a bit of a rewrite, but since I only ever wrote out the first few chapters, I don't have to rearrange an entire first draft, I just need to create new chapters for the whole book. As always, doing this doesn't mean the story will stay like this. Later on, I very likely might end up deleting a chapter or adding several. Who knows? But doing this really helps me get ready to write a full novel. Here is now I tackle such a project.

First, I open my story file. Then I need to open the navigation sidebar. To find it, click on the "View" tab, then click the little box that says "Navigation Pane," which is in the left center of the toolbar under the "Ruler" and "Gridlines" boxes. Here is an image to help you find it:

Once you select that box, the navigation sidebar will open to the left of your document. If you have already created headings in your document, those will show up in a list. If they don't, make sure you click on the word "Headings" under the search box. Mine looks like this:

And since that is very small, here is a much closer look at my navigation sidebar. See how the word "Headings" is dark blue? That's because I clicked on it. You can also click on "Pages" or "Results" if you want to look at your pages or the results of a word search.

As you can see, I divided my story into chapters, then I divided the chapters of my story into parts, with part two starting between chapters six and seven. I did this by starting each new chapter or part page on a new page break. Then I wrote the chapter number, or "Part Two: Idaho" or whatever the case, selected the text, then chose a heading style. For the part pages, that title is all I'll ever write on those pages. But with the chapter pages, I will write the book after the chapter titles. The words of the book don't show up in the navigation sidebar because I did not choose a special heading for them. The text for your book should be "normal," which it likely is already by default. (FYI, in the image above, Part Three: Idaho has already changed to Part Three: Kenmare. And who knows? It all might change again.)

Heading styles are what enable the text to show up in the headings list on the navigation sidebar. I put my part three between chapters twelve and thirteen since that will be my midpoint, then I put my part four between chapters eighteen and nineteen. You don't have to have parts in your book, but I wanted them for this story.

If you don't have any headings showing up and don't know how to make them, it's pretty simple. You type out one or more words, select them, then click on the "Home" tab and choose a heading from the selections on the right side of the toolbar, like this:

If you use headings and subheadings, your list will stack, like an outline. It's pretty handy. Play around with it until you get a good feel for how it works.

Once I've reorganized my book file, I can copy and paste sections of my first draft so that everything is in the right place. Then I use my outline to write my plans into each chapter. If I've done a major rewrite, I will use my storyboard cards to go through each chapter and write any notes into that chapter so that when I come to it in my rewrite, all my notes are right there waiting to remind me what to write or change. I might type these notes into the document itself at the start of the chapter, or I might put them in a comment so they don't affect my word count. Once I've added in all my notes or instructions, I'm ready to write. Or rewrite. Being organized like this makes writing a lot easier.

Do you organize your document file before you start writing? Share in the comments.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Go Teen Writers Live Episode 9: Difficult Writing Times That We're Grateful For

Stephanie here! I have the joy of sharing with you my favorite episode of Go Teen Writers Live!

We were asked about a memory that we "hate to love," meaning a hard time or circumstance we went through with writing, but that brought about something positive. Here's the link to view it on YouTube if the embedded video doesn't work:

I shared about how my agent and I nearly broke up, and that was when I decided to go for it and write the book that became The Lost Girl of Astor Street.

Jill shared about her first writers conference, and how when she pitched her novel she rambled and messed it up, but that it was a wake up call about how much she had left to learn. That she could either give up or pursue writing wholeheartedly, and fortunately for all of us, she carried on.

Shannon talked about the first major, critical review she received for Angel Eyes and how she thought it would kill her, but she pushed through.

We close by talking about how we were able to survive all of these things because of being in community with other writers, and how we want that for all of you too. If you are looking for community, get plugged in at the Go Teen Writers Community Facebook group. To expedite your approval, send an email to GoTeenWritersCommunity(at) and let us know you've applied. This helps us keep the group safe.

If you have questions you want answered in a Go Teen Writers Live episode, email us!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Organizing What I've Discovered & Writing a Working Synopsis

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

You all hanging with us? That novel you're writing just might be the one that turns you into an author with a completed draft, ready to edit. That is quite the accomplishment, friends, and I know you can do it.

After several discovery writing sessions, I've finally reached the point in my process where organizing my thoughts becomes necessary.


Organizing What I've Discovered

Over the years, I've done this several different ways. I've used index cards, notebooks, and tabbed binders. But, for my most recent projects, I've been using Stephanie's Story Workbook.

Quick note: If you sign up for Go Teen Writers Notes, you'll receive a free tutorial for setting up your very own story workbook.

This handy tool is an Excel spreadsheet that allows me to list details I don't want to forget as I move forward with my project. If I don't do this now, I'll waste time as I write, scrolling backwards through my manuscript trying to remember a character's hair and eye color, their stature, nickname, and other defining attributes. The Story Workbook helps me keep everything organized and never more than a click away. Here's a shot of what mine looked like before I started filling it in (click on the image for a larger view).

One of the things I like about using Excel (similar to Google Sheets) is that I have everything in one place. I can create various worksheets within the one document (people groups, settings, fantasy terms) and I can save it to my Google Drive. That means it's with me wherever I go. If I want to work outside my office, I don't have to gather up all my notebooks or my index cards; I can simply access the document from my phone or my laptop. Very, very handy.

It's also customizable. To start with, I'll simply add in everything I've discovered about my characters and storyworld during my early writing sprints. As I continue forward in my manuscript, I'll take periodic breaks to fill the worksheet in more fully and adjust items I've changed as the story has unfolded. Simple. Keeps me sane and makes subsequent books easier to draft if I'm working on a series.

Writing A Working Synopsis

Once I've got all my details in one place, it's time to scratch out a synopsis. There's a reason I do that now before the novel is completed, and I wrote about this in detail back in 2016. Here's what I said:

I have to tell you, I was thoroughly inspired by Stephanie's recent blog posts on synopses. If you haven't read them, you should absolutely do that. They're very straightforward and readable, and I promise you, not all blog posts on such topics can claim to be both of those things.

Stephanie's articles got me thinking about my own experience and how my relationship to the dreaded synopsis has changed over the past few years.

Like Steph, when I started out, I dreaded writing a synopsis (a summary of your novel). There were all these stipulations and formatting rules established by publishing professionals and, oftentimes, the advice seemed very conflicting. And, let's be real, I still stammer when someone asks me to explain what my books are about. The idea of trying to summarize 100k words into just a few pages can be daunting.

Over the years, my perspective has changed considerably. Initially, I considered prospective agents and editors the primary audience for my synopses. But, several books in now, I've found that I read my synopsis more than anyone. It has become a vital tool in both drafting and editing my novel.

In essence, my synopsis serves as my outline.

The process usually looks like this:

I get an idea.

I stew on the idea--sometimes for minutes, sometimes for weeks.

I sit down in front of the computer and I write. Not my synopsis. A chapter, maybe two. I do everything I can to simply BE the narrator of the story for a bit. This can last a couple writing sessions or it can last weeks. I write long enough to have some sort of an idea about the world, the main character, and where her journey might lead. In short, I let myself write by the seat of my pants for a little bit.

THEN! Once I feel like I'm in the story, I open a shiny new blank page on my computer and I TELL myself the story. (Steph's advice on telling in a synopsis is stellar. Go read it.) The writing of my synopsis can take several days. I come and go, making huge sweeping decisions for characters I've barely met and letting myself skim over motivations and lesser details.

And then . . .

I conclude the synopsis with what I see will be the end of the story. I do. I will not make myself stick to this ending, but I do write it. I write my initial conclusion and when I save this document on my computer I name it Working Synopsis.

Here's where it gets fun.

This Working Synopsis now acts as my outline, but it is also so much more. This short document is full of writing prompts and guideposts that help me when I get lost. At any given time, I can pick up my imperfect synopsis, select a paragraph, and use it to get me writing. I can read about the actions of my characters, things I've told myself will happen, and I can spend my writing session digging into those moments and looking for motivations while playing with cause and effect.

Here's a random paragraph from my current Working Synopsis.
The only way to free Lenore is to ensure Mars’ haul makes it to the same rebel camp. But Sylvi’s rig—the Silver Dragon—is too heavy to make the trek across the ice. She’ll have to stick to the Shiv Road and despite her protestations, she won’t be traveling alone. 
It's a prompt just begging to be written, right? Who's Lenore? Who the heck is Mars? What are they hauling and why is it so heavy? The Silver Dragon?! What's wrong with traveling the Shiv Road and who will be traveling with her?

There is just so much here to dig into. And for my purposes, that's exactly what I want the first draft of a synopsis to be.

It's especially helpful to have a Working Synopsis in place when you've had to step away from your manuscript for chunks of time. The synopsis (read: outline) brings clarity and focus and reminds you where you were when you left off.

Another thing: I'm not big on printing out my novels to read them and mark them up anymore--I work better on the screen--but I do print out my Working Synopsis and I scribble notes in the margins whenever I deviate from it or need to remind myself of new doors the drafting process has opened up for me. Every now and then, I take these notes and update the synopsis on the computer and print it out again. I keep my most recently updated version at my elbow the entire time I write.

How and when you choose to write your synopsis is entirely up to you and, like the rest of us, you'll carve out a system through trial and error. But if you haven't written a synopsis toward the beginning of your process, give it a go. It just might be the outline you never thought you could scratch out. It might give you the direction and motivation to keep writing when things get tough. And I guarantee it will give you hints about where your characters should go next when you've forgotten just which road they're supposed to be on.

Of course, if and when you decide to let other people read your synopsis, you're definitely going to want to lean on Stephanie's post, How to Edit Your Synopsis. A scribbled up document is fabulous for a writer, but not so much for those fancy industry professionals you're trying to impress. 

Tell me, friends, do you have a system in place for organizing your thoughts as you write? And what do you think of writing synopses? Do you love them? Hate them? Could you ever see yourself using the synopsis as an outline of sorts? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Planning Out a Series

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She has a podcast/vlog at You can also find Jill on InstagramFacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. Tagboth (Tag for short) is a goldhorn dragon from Belfaylinn, a hidden fantasy realm on the western end of the Sargasso Sea. Jill is working on the first book of this tale for this year's Grow an Author series.

This is a release day week for me, so I've been scrambling to do all the things that one tries to do for a release day. It's not as much as usual, since this is the release for A Deliverer Comes (Kinsman Chronicles, Part 8), which is an ebook-only release. But it still throws a regular work week into a bit of chaos and makes it hard to stay on schedule. You can learn more about the Kinsman Chronicles here.

As to Onyx Eyes, I've spend a lot of hours in the past few weeks, reading over everything I had in my thick story file, my notebook, and the chapters I'd written. I made a list of plot holes and problems and brainstormed my way through most of them. I've got a pretty good handle on the plot for book one, but since I know I'm going to write a five-book series, I want to take a little time to think through my plans for that, mostly so I know where I'm going and can plant important things that will pay off later. In the past, I've always had a very loose plan for the series I've written. They've gone a little like this:

Blood of Kings: I will have three books. One where Achan finds out who he is. One where he travels around the land and gathers and army. And one where he heads south to fight a war.

The Mission League: I will have one (full-length) book for each summer trip of Spencer's high school years. So in book one, he is finishing up ninth grade, book two: tenth grade, book three: eleventh, and book four: his senior year.

The Safe Lands: In each book the captives will experience a new area of the Safe Lands. Book one: the highlands, book two: the midlands, and book three: the lowlands.

The Kinsman Chronicles: In book one I will destroy the land. In book two they will get on boats to look for a new land. In book three they will fight to get to live in peace in the new land (which will be the same land from the Blood of King's trilogy).

None of those series had all that much of a plan. And while little planning has always (eventually) worked out for me, it's been pretty stressful sometimes. Mostly that was due to deadlines from traditional publishing houses. I always felt like I was racing to finish something that I really had no idea what it was going to be. However, I'm not sure a self-published series would be all that different, since, ideally, one would try and publish each book as quickly as possible so readers didn't have to wait long.

Which is why this time around, I wanted to try and get a little more series plotting done in advance. Even if it's not a lot. Even if I only know twice as much as I knew in those above examples. If I'm going to seriously try and pump out five books in two years, I needed (I wanted) a bigger plan.

Here is how I tackled this plan. First, I filled in the little plot chart I created for last week's post for book one, then I printed four more, one for books two, three, four, and five. Since I have tentative titles and a theme for each story, I wrote those across the top of each page. This is what they say:

Book one: Onyx Eyes. Theme: sin/evil.
Book two: Ruby Eyes. Theme: sacrifice.
Book three: Diamond Eyes. Theme: redemption/rebirth/renewal.
Book four: Emerald Eyes. Theme: Growth/change toward being a stronger, whole person.
Book five: Golden Eyes. Theme: Heaven/eternal life/finding a true home.

This was helpful because, as I plot out each book, I will be able to engineer character situations that fit each theme. So while my initial plan for the "sin" theme in book one was that Drake was going to be performing forbidden magic to bond with a dragon. But now I also plan to have Drake discover that the Aerials are kidnapping humans and enslaving them (more sin theme), that Drake's own government has a traitor (sin theme), and that an even bigger crime had been taking place right under Drake's nose for years (sin theme). So I will reveal many sins/evils in book one, and as I take those various subplots through the series, some will pass through the other themes as well. And in book two, someone will make an incredible sacrifice for Drake (sacrifice theme), then later, he will make a sacrifice for another (sacrifice theme), which will show that he has grown over the course of the first two books (character growth is always good stuff).

The next thing I did was tape together several sheets of paper to create one long paper that I could use to create a three-act structure for the series as a whole story. Then I did some more math. If each book was going to be 24 chapters long, the full series would be 120 chapters long, so my inciting incident for the series should happen somewhere around chapter 12 of book one. My "end of act one/break into two/change of plans" situation should come somewhere around chapter 30 of the series, which would be the the end of chapter six in book two. The midpoint of the series would come at the beginning of chapter 60, which is the exact middle of book three. And so on. I tried to ensure that important things were happening in these general areas.

I marked these key story elements on the long sheet of paper with their corresponding book and chapter information. Then I used sticky notes to add plot points to the series (overall story) timeline. I didn't do a lot of series plotting. Until I write book one, I just don't know enough about my characters or the story to have a clue what might happen in the middle of book four, etc. Plus, things change as I write. But this chart helped me organize my thoughts and plans for the series, and I came up with some good ideas too. Here is a picture of this process:

And a few days later, it looks different still. I've re-read through my entire folder for the Belfaylinn series and used many ideas and notes I found to create scenes, which I put on sticky notes and added to the timeline. Then I wrote what was on each sticky note on the corresponding book plot sheets above. This gave me some good bare bones situations that will occur in each book if I'm going to stay on track toward my planned ending. Like I said before, some of this will very likely change, but I now have direction. I'm not writing into a void or with a super loose plan, wondering how I will fill five books with story. I have direction, and it feels great.

Have you ever plotted out a series, completely or loosely? If so, how do you go about it? Share in the comments.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Newbie's Guide To Writing Historical Fiction

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

Once I've written two to three chapters, I have more of a feel for who my characters are and how the story should unfold. This is when I set aside what I've written, open a Word doc, and begin my synopsis.

Over the course of my 10 years of writing professionally, I have gone from haaaaaaating synopses to now rejoicing when it's time to write one. I wrote two blog posts about my process for them last year, so I won't repeat that, I'll just link to them:

And then Shan wrote a post about how she uses her synopsis as an outline. That's a good one too.

As a historical writer, once I see my synopsis, I have an even better idea of what kind of research I may need to do ahead of time.

For example, for Within These Lines, I knew a character would be shipping out with the navy and getting taken prisoner, so I needed to research possibilities for that in order to build my timeline correctly. I also knew that my climax surrounded a historical event in the concentration camp, so I spent time researching that as well.

More research topics always crop up as I get into the first draft, but the synopsis helps me to take care of a few ahead of time.

Lastly, if you write historical or historically-inspired fiction, I have written an ebook that I'm giving away for free to those who are email subscribers!

When I decided to write historical fiction, I was lucky enough to have a seasoned historical fiction author as my best friend. I wrote this ebook to help guide those who don't have that advantage! If you're not already signed up to receive my author emails, you can do that here and grab your copy.

Happy writing!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Genre Conventions and Reader Expectations

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

We are just trucking through our Grow an Author series--a series where we hope to show you that when you write a novel, you're not just writing a book, you're growing into a author. 

If you've missed a few Fridays, here are my February links to catch you up.

Now that we've spent oodles of time focusing on what I look for when I'm discovery writing my early scenes, I want to talk to you about genre conventions and reader expectations.

You may have thought about this before setting out to pen your novel, but discovery writers (read: pantsers), like myself, are notorious for neglecting to consider this aspect of noveling early in the process. I hear questions like this one here a lot (in fact, I've asked it myself):

"So . . . uh . . . my book has angels and demons and people, but, like, the people don't fall in love with the angels or the demons . . . so . . . but also there is romance . . . what genre would YOU say that is?"

Ever had this moment? It's like we're begging someone to define our story for us, a responsibility we should routinely shoulder as part of our writing process. I should clarify: you only need to worry about genre conventions if you're hoping to have your book published. If you're just writing for you, write, be free. Do it however you want. But if you're hoping your book will end up on a store shelf somewhere, you need to consider where it would be shelved and what readers who buy that type of book will be expecting.

There is nothing, NOTHING, quite so miserable as selecting a book from a shelf marked 'Mystery', taking it home, and finding out there isn't a mystery to solve at all. 

As a reader, I expect books in the 'Mystery' section to contain certain things. I'm hoping for a mystery and some sort of detective. A guilty party and plenty of red herrings to distract both me and the detective from discovering who it is too quickly. There should be plenty of twists and turns and, at the end, I expect the mystery to be solved.

Every genre (category) has its own expectations. Here's a list of the main genres (yes, I'll miss a few) you'll find shelves for in major booksellers. I've noted several of the conventions that are typical of each group:


-A love story is central
-Plot focuses on the two people falling in love
-Traditional romance: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back
-Happy endings are expected

The 'Romance' genre is the most popular genre and has more subgenres than we can reasonably name. Some of them include historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, fantasy romance, paranormal romance. Truly, the list could go on and on. 

The traditional genre is so popular and the reading audience so defined that some publishers have very strict guidelines for submissions. So strict it could be called formulaic. But these publishers have learned precisely what their readers want and if you're wanting to publish with them, be sure to look up their guidelines and tips. Such requirements can be as specific as "Main characters must meet before the second page." If you're good at following a tried and true formula, consider writing formula romance.


-Features unique, fictional story worlds or alternate versions of worlds we know
-Often set in an era long past where legend and myth play a role
-Features magic systems or mystical power sources
-Magical creatures are commonplace

Subgenres include urban fantasy, epic fantasy, high fantasy, among others.

Science Fiction

-An outrageous but plausible setting (maybe future earth, alternate version of earth, outer space, deep ocean)
-Science and technology play a key role (not necessarily science and tech as it currently exists, but a conceivably possible version of it)
-Often explores the consequences of scientific endeavors, inventions, and innovative ideas

Subgenres of science fiction include space opera, first contact, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk. And there are many, many more.


-Faith-based fiction, often Christian

This is such a broad generalization for a category, you can imagine the possibilities for subgenres are wide-spreading: inspirational romance, inspirational thriller, inspirational fantasy, and so it goes.


-Intentionally instills fear, fascination, and/or revulsion in readers 
-A battle of good versus evil
-Supernatural or psychological forces are often at work
-Draws on the fears of the reader 

Mystery (Crime/Suspense/Thriller)

-A mystery to solve (maybe a crime)
-A detective (professional or amateur) or team of detectives
-A responsible party (often a guilty party)
-Red herrings (multiple suspects or distractions to keep you and the detective from solving the case too early)

I chose to categorize 'Mystery', 'Crime', 'Suspense' and 'Thriller' novels together. I did that because Barnes and Noble shelves them in the same section. When you walk into their stores, you won't find a 'Thriller' shelf, but you will find several 'Mystery' shelves housing all four of these genres. HOWEVER, they are specialized, they each have subgenres, and there are distinct differences. If you suspect you might be writing any one of these four genres, you'll want to read up on what makes them each unique.

Children's and Young Adult

-Marked by the target age of the reader
-Distinctions within this broad category: Picture Books (targeting up to age 5), Early Reader (targeting ages 5-7), Chapter Books (targeting ages 7-12), Young Adult (teenagers)

Within the category of 'Children's Literature' you can find nearly every genre of fiction. Most bookstores shelve these books by reader age, but publishers who specialize in this space often excel in specific genres. It's always good to research those who sell what you write.

Literary Fiction

Some fiction works do not easily fit into a genre and we often classify those books as 'Literary Fiction'. While category fiction can absolutely provoke deep thought and cause us to examine the world around us in profound ways, 'Literary Fiction' is often defined by this feature and does not easily provide an escape from our world. Instead it thrusts our thought life deeper into it. 

I've given you a handful of the genres category fiction is divided into. There are others and not every bookstore or publisher defines them in precisely the same way, but it's important to know what your potential readers expect of you. Part of being an author is taking the necessary steps to learn, understand, and be able to intelligently explain why your novel would be a good fit for a particular publisher or reader. 

And at this point in the writing process, it's important to understand the expectations. It brings clarity and direction to my writing sessions. I know it will do the same for yours.

Tell me, as you look at the list I've left you, can you find your project in there somewhere? Is it perhaps a subgenre or a mash-up of more than one of these main groupings? If you were to open your own bookstore, is there a category you would add?