Genre vs story – which comes first?

chair books

“Focus in on the genre you want to write, and read books in that genre. A LOT of books by a variety of authors. And read with questions in your mind.”
(Nicholas Sparks, “How to Learn the Craft,” 2002)

I came across this quote today and it got me thinking about the issue of genre. The advice above is given with good intention of course, but if I had focused on reading and writing for a specific genre instead of writing my story my way, I might never have completed my novel The Doctor’s Daughter. What’s more, I would say that the best time to have those questions in your mind is during the writing.

I adore vintage style and love digging around in the past be it for antiquities or just memories. My novel is set in the 1920s so you would think I love historical fiction too right? Nope, not really. I’m not sure I even consider my novel historical fiction, but I know that because of its setting, it falls into that genre. I prefer to think of it as a story that explores modern issues through a historical lens. I didn’t start with a genre in mind, I started with a set of questions I wanted to find the answers to. From that came the story. I have drawn influences from contemporary fiction, non-fiction, poetry, media, music, art and even my training as a counsellor and I think my story is richer for it.


I didn’t read a single historical fiction title whilst writing my novel, and yet, I think I have to consider myself an author of historical fiction. Which, to me, feels a bit ‘ye olde’ and humdrum. Whereas I like to think my writing is dark and edgy. I enjoy reading books with a similar feel, as I said to a friend just the other day, ‘I want a book that will hit me like a punch in the stomach.’ I don’t care which genre it comes from.

Personally I enjoy writing characters with flaws and love exploring the full range of emotions that come with being imperfectly human. How about you? Do you consider genre before you start to write or do you just let it flow? Do you think a writer should commit to one and stick with it, or is it okay to experiment? Which is your favourite genre? Tell me in the comments section below, I’d love to get your thoughts on this. photo (7)


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