Know Your Genre Before You Write

Regardless of whether you feel confident in your writing abilities, it is always a good idea to expose yourself as much as possible to the genre you plan to write in. Not only can you test how unique your idea is, but you can also gain a lot of insight to what is popular in the genre and the best writing techniques. For example, you will undoubtedly discover the level of detail necessary to pull of an effective fantasy story, especially in terms of worldbuilding and characterization. There is much to be gained from reading. After all, it’s likely you’re planning on writing a fantasy story because you were inspired by something in that genre in your lifetime.

Now, there’s a lot of information out there about which fantasy books and series are “must-reads”. Some writers even go as far to say that you shouldn’t even attempt writing until you’ve read a certain selection. Personally, I don’t think you should chase after a book that you really don’t want to read or will not finish for whatever reason. And by no means is certain books the end-all, be-all of the fantasy genre. Depending on what you’re working on and your own personal fantasy interests, some popular books may not be for you. They may be so far away from what you want out of your own writing that it makes absolutely no sense to ever pick up the book.

And that’s okay! I’m exactly the same way. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret. *glances left, and then right before leaning in to whisper* I couldn’t finish the Game of Thrones series. And… *voice drops down lower* I still haven’t gotten around to reading the Lord of the Rings.

And yet, I reached the threshold where I felt comfortable moving forward with my novel. Every author reaches their comfort level at a different point. You just have to find yours. (And by the way, your threshold can’t be zero. You do need to put it in a little effort.)

Below, I am leaving a list of fantastic fantasy books to look into depending on which sub-genre you plan to write in. Anything I’ve read, I will highlight in bold so you know I practice what I’m preaching. Please remember that this is by no means an exhaustive list; I’m posting what I think I can confidently recommend based on my own reading and reviews online. Feel free to comment if I miss something major you believe should be added in or if I should add another sub-genre! Happy reading!

Epic Fantasy:

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
  • Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin
  • Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (I’m about to start this series!)
  • Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas
  • The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini
  • The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima
  • Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis (made it through about half the series

Urban Fantasy:

  • The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
  • The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
  • The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
  • Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews

Dark Fantasy:

  • Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan

Historical Fantasy:

  • Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare

Are You an Outliner or Pantser?

There’s two traditional types of writers when it comes to long form fiction or novel: pantsers and outliners. Figuring out which one you are can help you better analyze what steps to take when getting ready to start a new story.

Pantsers

Pantsers tend to fly by the seat of their pants, as the name suggests. When they come up with an idea, they jump in head first with little to no preparation. Most likely none. They rely primarily on their inspiration and whatever their brain comes up with in the moment to put words down on the page. A story idea has to be fairly strong in a person’s mind in order to drive this kind of writing, or you must be exceptional at seizing ideas as they arise and acting on them. In my opinion, pantsers are a very special type of writer. I know personally, I couldn’t create half as well if I didn’t give myself at least a very basic outline. But these writers can create gold out of essentially nothing but an idea and a strong belief in said idea. I admire that. It’s a powerful way to write, but these types of writers have the potential to need more focus and time on the revision process.

Outliners

Of course, outliners are incredible writers in their own right. These writers like to work out a framework of where the story’s going before they start writing. Outlines give writers a little order to the chaos of creativity swirling around in their brains. These can range from a simple bullet point list of plot points to a comprehensive scene-by-scene playbook. For me, my outline guides me down the right path and gives me a base to stand on to embellish and create off of. A little prep work can go a long, long way and sometimes bring you closer to a finished draft faster, depending on how you work. The downside for outliners is sometimes they can get bogged down by trying to create the perfect framework, they can delay starting their novel. Sometimes they may never even get around to it.

One tool that I would like to recommend to the outliners is an Excel spreadsheet that I discovered on a fantasy and science fiction blog about a year ago. Click here to see the original post and download the tool to follow along. This worksheet is the most incredible outline tool I have ever seen, and it is a great way to really flesh out a story.

Here’s how it works: First, you write your story idea in one sentence. Sum up everything in one sentence, and try to keep it a reasonable length. Then, split that idea into three sentences: beginning, middle, and end. These sentences are automatically transferred down to the next section where you will split three into nine (beginning of the beginning, middle of the beginning, end of the beginning, etc). Eventually, nine becomes twenty-seven, and twenty-seven becomes eighty-one full sentences that give you a detailed layout of how your scenes are going to go in your story.

You come up with ideas that you had no idea you had when using this tool. I found myself pulling scenes and characterization moments out of thin air, and they actually fit beautifully with what I was hoping to convey in my novel. I planned out almost the full trilogy that I plan to write with three separate spreadsheets, and it was absolutely crucial to making sure that I could successfully carry long arcs that would not seem repetitive or burn out too early. I would highly recommend it to any serious writer, pantsers and outliners alike.

So what kind of writer are you? Which style do you fall into? Comment below and share your experiences.