Writing Advice

NaNo Prep 1: Genre

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It is, obviously, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words* of a new story. If you’ve chosen to participate or want to but have no idea how to tackle the challenge, then stick around, because I’ve got some help for you!

What are you going to write?

If you go into a bookshop or a library, novels are divided into sections called genre: romance, mystery, action, historical, science fiction, fantasy, and so on. Your first decision is which genre you’re going to write. I’d recommend writing one you know well, either through reading or watching, as you’ll have absorbed how that particular genre works.

For instance:

  • if you’re going to write a mystery, you’ll need a murder, a killer, and someone who’s going to put all the pieces together to catch who did it
  • if you’re going to write a romance, you need a heroine, a hero, odds to overcome, and a happy ending

Also, if it’s something you read/watch often, then assumably you love that genre and its themes. It’s something that speaks to you. That passion is important, as it’s going to carry you through writing.


Within each genre are several sub-genres that widen your scope for writing. So if you love the Wild West but also the Victorian period, there’s Steampunk or Weird Western. Love space battles and love stories? Sci-fi romance. Or vampires and Regency? Historical fantasy.

You name it, there’s a sub-genre for it. If not? Well, go ahead and invent it!

Conventions, and why they’re important

Every genre has its conventions. Some authors think they’re above convention and write a “new, edgy” take. Those authors are usually lambasted by readers and other authors alike.

So why are conventions important? In short, because they’re what the reader expects when they pick up a novel. No one wants to read a mystery novel where the killer isn’t caught, a fantasy where the bad guys prevail over the good, or a romance where the couple doesn’t live happily ever after. When you chose a genre, you’re effectively making a promise, and you must deliver on it.

Tropes and themes

These are the things literary critics moan about but are absolutely vital to writing a good story (just ignore the snobs whingeing!)

Themes include good against evil (fantasy, sci-fi), coming of age (literally anything, but a massive staple of YA), love conquers all (romance) and so on. A theme gives your story structure and substance, but is not something you necessarily have to pin down before you start writing. Or it could change as you write, which is also fine.

Tropes are plot devices found in a genre. They are cliques that form the backbone of your story, be they are the Anti-Hero, the Knight in Shining Armour, the Big Damn Heroes, or whatever fits your narrative. Not sure what tropes to include? Pop over to TV Tropes  and look up a show based in your genre.

What next?

That’s genre pretty much covered. Next time I’ll be talking about world building, and why it’s important no matter what kind of story you’re writing.


* 50,000 words isn’t actually a novel in most cases. I’ll cover this in ore detail in a later post.

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  1. This is a fantastic post! I don’t think I could ever tackle NaNoWriMo but I am going to try writing a little every day in November with no real goal in mind. I often write story “snippets” which could be considered flash fiction but they’re a few pages long so maybe no, I’m not sure, but I just can never write out a full story. I just go with it. I used to think my inability to do the stuff you mentioned meant I could never be a writer, but I just read and reviewed a book for a blog tour which is the fourth in a series of an author who says he doesn’t plan the story in advance. So maybe…!
    I think the most important part above all else is to enjoy it! It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can build on or edit things another time if you want, but you can’t edit and change things if there’s nothing to work with.

  2. I have so much respect for anyone who tries this challenge! It’s so hard! Prep series like this are really useful. I imagine it’s basically impossible to complete if you don’t plan every little detail beforehand x


  3. […] talked about Genre and Worldbuilding, and now we’re onto the good stuff – characters. As this is such a […]

  4. […] decided on a genre, done a bit of worldbuilding, and drawn up your heroes and villains – now to survive the […]

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