5 Tips For Choosing What Type of Story to Write

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5 Tips For Choosing what Type of Story to Write

Anybody Can Write a Novel 2.0

Chapter 2 World-building – Section 1 "Story Types"

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The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.”

-Thomas Edison

When crafting a novel, the first thing you need to know is what type of story you are telling. Most writers begin with ideas on the general themes and events that will take place; but eventually you will want to refine this general idea into something specific. Think of this step as a creative concept for your novel—the step by which you will note down the details that will provide inspiration for your plot outline, your character designs, and the nature of your world. Today I'm going to provide some questions to help you narrow down the type of story that you want to create, moving from broad generalization to more detailed specifics.

Questions 1: What is the genre of your novel?

When I wrote my first novel, I did not understand the need to pick a genre (or genre hybrid) and stick with it throughout the entire story. I wanted the story to scary at some parts, fun and adventurous in others, romantic, and even funny toward the ending. Let me clarify that I was not writing a romantic horror-comedy adventure, but a story that sort of dabbled in each genre, depending on the chapter. The result was that I completely undermined the power of my story; it was too serious for the humor sections to work, too horrifying for the romance to make sense, and too lighthearted to build up any amount of horror or suspense. It is important to pick the exact genre or genre hybrid you want, from the beginning of your story, and to stick with it; because consistency will be what creates the build-up, expectation, and payoff for the genre elements of your novel. I've written articles on the genres of Romance, Fantasy, Sci-fi, Supernatural, Young Adult/Children, Historical Fiction, Horror, Autobiographical, Humor, Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Religious, and Erotica, that you can use to pick a genre. Note that these tutorials are rather outdated, but will be updated soon.

Question 2: What is the intensity of your novel?

With any genre that you select, you will find that there are multiple intensities. For example, within the realm of humor (comedy) you can have dark humor, which makes light of heavy themes; light humor, which is rather tame and mocks common topics; high humor, meant for the amusement of exclusive audience demographics; low humor, meant to amuse people across many cultures and demographics; and every intensity between those extremes. By figuring out the intensity of your story, you can decide whether it would help to include specific political themes, inside jokes, and jargon, or whether you should use more universal themes, humor, and language that could be understood in multiple cultures and education levels. If you are writing high science fiction, for example, you could consider a look at advanced philosophies of war, human nature, science, and other elements that only a highly educated audience with an interest in those topics would care about; whereas if you write low science fiction, you may want to focus on light-saber battles, themes like good vs evil, and universal human experiences that can be enjoyed by people of almost any culture, interest, and education level. Note that there is nothing inherently better about any particular level of intensity over another, it is simply a matter of preference, interest, and audience targeting.

Question 3: What is the nature of the conflict in your story?

Many writers and literary theorists try to calculate the “types of stories” that exist—coming up with wildly different answers to the question. In my perspective, what the discussion really boils down to is the question of what the protagonist is fighting to overcome. They can be trying to overcome their own fear or selfishness, society's expectations of them, a person or organization that wants to crush them, a mystery that they cannot solve, the emotional obstacles that prevent them from finding love, wild animals and nature, advanced technology, or any one of perhaps infinite struggles that could form the core of a story. This core conflict/struggle/quest will be what pushes the entire plot forward, and what drives the characters to perform the actions that form the story. Note that the core conflict does not have to be against an antagonist character for you to include a living antagonist—your hero's main struggle can be against his/her own fear, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't include a dragon to trigger that internal struggle.

Question 4: What are you trying to accomplish with your story?

How do you want your novel to affect your reader? In my article on erotica, I discuss how no story exists in a vacuum. If other readers can access your story, read it, and trust their imaginations to you, then they will be affected whether you intended for it or not. This being the case, you should know what you hope to accomplish with your story, and craft it in a way to reflect that goal. Whether you are trying to create hope, to instill anger that drives readers to change the world, to entertain, to escape the drudgery of the real world, or anything else, make sure that you know why you are writing, and craft your story accordingly. Often, the best way to figure out how your story will affect others is to try to consider how it affects you on a deep, subconscious level.

Question 5: Are you writing Comedy or a Tragedy?

While literary theorists and writers have classified many different types and definitions of “comedy” and “tragedy”, it all basically comes down to the question of what happens to your hero in the end. Both of these story types deal with the pains and struggles of life, and so you can have comedies that are extremely sad as well as tragedies that are very funny; it is just a matter of deciding whether the hero wins in the end. Also, the protagonist can conquer everything around him/her, but this will still mean Tragedy if the true antagonistic force was the hero's own desire for destruction. Note that that your decision of whether to make your story a Comedy or a Tragedy will greatly depend on what you are trying to accomplish with it. Tragedy, for example, is more effective in urging your readers to action or dealing with tragedy in their own lives, while comedy can allow readers to think clearly about heavy themes or have hope in the future.

Weekly Recommended Watching: Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog (Staring Neil Patrick Harris – for the purpose of analyzing how genre, intensity, conflict, and tragedy employed in an unexpected way can create tremendous power within a story. Can be found for free on Youtube.)

Write-A-Novel Exercise 2.1

Answer the questions in the tutorial above, for your own story.

Critique other writers' posts by looking at what the writer hopes to accomplish with their novel (Question 4), and contrasting it with their answers for the other Questions (1,2,3, and 5). Help generate ideas and suggestions that might increase the potential of the story that the creator of the original poster has in mind.

Click here to post your exercise.
Click here to see a sample of my own first chapter exercises.


Click Here to see my full gallery of writing tutorials!


Go to the previous/next tutorial.

Feel free to comment with other suggested resources. Any questions about writing? Things you want me to discuss? Comment or send me a message and I will be glad to reply or feature my response in a later article. If you enjoy my reviews, please feel free to share my articles with friends, add it to your favorites, become a watcher on my page, or send send a llama my way!

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MakenMeister's avatar
Thank you for this. I feel like I now have a direction for my own stories in general since they take place in the same universe.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Awesome :) I'm glad to hear it. 
nixcoo's avatar
Such awesome tips.. and then a recommendation to Dr Horrible's Sing Along?! This is one FANTASTIC post!  
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Well thank you very much :)
Watchful-Bystander's avatar
"When I wrote my first novel, I did not understand the need to pick a genre (or genre hybrid) and stick with it throughout the entire story. I wanted the story to scary at some parts, fun and adventurous in others, romantic, and even funny toward the ending."

This is something I needed to read--mirrors my original intentions exactly. All the same, is it not possible to incorporate all in a moderated fashion? Or is it an issue of making "Part 1" comedy, and then "Part 2" romantic? I can see the issue in my second question, but just wanted clarification.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Yes, you can incorporate them all, but they all have to be consistent. My problem was that I switched between them with no real rationale other than preference. 
UniqueJasmyn's avatar
Oh my god, this is exactly what I needed!  Whenever I write a novel, I can never keep my head straight on what I want to do with it, using this is going to be a GREAT help!  Thank you so much!
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Shweet! :) You're very welcome. 
The-Moon-Witch's avatar
These are some good tips! I already figured out what my genre should be (Horror/Fantasy/Adventure but there is some romance in the later books), but this is going to help me figure out how to actual make my book relate more to those genres. Thanks!
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
No prob :) 

Awesome, I'm glad you think it'll help!
ttobserve's avatar
Is there such a thing as a story with no protagonist?
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Well the protagonist is just the character who is doing things. So... I suppose if there was no main character that was doing anything at all, maybe? 

Why do you ask, just out of curiosity?
ttobserve's avatar
A history book can be an interesting read,
documenting the development of an ethnic group,
from paleolithic, say, to city-state.
There may be a number of individuals identified,
but the story is really not about any of them, or is it?   :hmm:

We know from personal experience that human psychology has quite a broad spectrum of possibilities,
but if you consider populations of thousands or more, things average out considerably.
Have you ever wondered how our history would differ, if our average psychology
were slightly more individualistic? Or, slightly more solidary?
In the first case, we could probably never achieve any organized civilization,
even if we individually were extremely smart.
In the second case, we might have achieved peace and harmony, without war.

To explore such possibilities, as a writer, leads to a time span of many generations,
and I can envision a narrative made up of a series of vignettes:
snapshots from successive stages of a developing society.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Well I know of short story collection where an overarching story is told through the viewpoint of many protagonists and many stories ... I certainly encourage you to give it a try if it's something you're interested in. I think "City" by Clifford Simak did something similar. 
ttobserve's avatar
Thanks for the pointers! Evidently, I have a lot of reading to catch up on.   :reading:

Which leads me to this question: have you ever read a piece that features a reverse anthro?
I.e. a character with human(oid) appearance, who is actually a morphed cow or other livestock,
and still, psychologically, a cow, struggling to adjust to human anatomy?   :?   :moo:
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Haha, only in aesop's fables ... I think it was a story where a cat fell in love with a man, so a god turned the cat into a woman. But the man didn't find out until the woman tried to catch the mouse--which disgusted the god and so he turned her back into a cat. 
ttobserve's avatar
        Sociable plz 
Graeystone's avatar
"Write what you read." If you read a lot of romance, then write romance. If you read primarily sci-fi, then write sci-fi, and so on. Good for beginners and for those trying to find their niche.

Although I don't really recommend sci-fi. Believe it or not sci-fi relies on a whole bunch of genres to work. One book I have is called 'Game of Empire' by Frederick Pohl. Its a space military war with a lot of military espionage plus it touches on 'the origins of life' a little bit. Sounds like the plot right? Well that's not the true plot. The true plot is about a young human girl(17 years old) and her alien friend who are 'coming of age/becoming adults'. Now a lot of people who are sick of 'young teenage girl Mary Sues' don't need to worry. The girl in this story is written more realistic.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Cool :) Good example of the whole "true conflict" thing. 
CaptainElsa's avatar
I think I will use these tips when I plan my other stories. 

Do you have a journal for choosing viewpoints in a story?
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Sure! I have two ... though they are currently a bit outdated. I'll be getting to update them in the coming weeks. 


bufffycat's avatar
As if I needed another excuse to watch Dr. Horrible again :D
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Lol, just sitting here listening to the music :P
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