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Why I Don’t Like Sub-Genres

Urban fantasy, science fantasy, magic realism, dark fantasy, classic fantasy, epic fantasy, fairy tales. It all gets a little mind boggling, to be honest, and a little nichifying. [As an aside, I just created the word “nichifying”—in the same way […]
| Oct 11, 2010 | No comments |

Urban fantasy, science fantasy, magic realism, dark fantasy, classic fantasy, epic fantasy, fairy tales. It all gets a little mind boggling, to be honest, and a little nichifying.

[As an aside, I just created the word “nichifying”—in the same way that author Gregory Spencer creates words for a people group in his Welkening novels. Must be catching! 😉 ]

Yes, nichifying. And honestly, I don’t like being shoved into a niche, or a stereotype. I don’t like being pigeonholed, categorized, classified, marginalized, or any such narrowizing.

Being labeled as a fantasy writer seems like part of the marketing/selling necessities. Identifying myself as a Christian fantasy author reveals my worldview, and therefore seems important. But from then on? I don’t like the divisions and the subdivisions.

What exactly do these additional terms give us? I suggest they give us separation.

I most enjoy epic fantasy, also known as high fantasy or classic fantasy. Does that mean I shouldn’t read Kathryn Mackel’s Birthright Chronicles, a science fantasy series? Or Robin Parrish’s superheros stories? If I had stayed within the bounds of the epic fantasy genre, I would never have discovered Watership Down (Richard Adams), one of my favorite books of all time. Or another favorite,Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis.

I guess I feel strongly about this labeling issue because I don’t like the implied message genre distinctions—and now these sub-genre distinctions—give to readers: These books are only for the sci fi geeks or These books are only for readers who want to lose themselves in a made up world.

But don’t good stories draw readers regardless of genre?

This might seem like an odd thing for someone passionate about fantasy to be saying, but I bristle at being nichified. The only niche I want to be in is that of good author. I’m not there yet. I’m not even in the published author niche, but that’s where I’d prefer to be, rather than in some other division that chases away readers.

Here’s why I love to write fantasy:

  • Fantasy literature uses a good-versus-evil motif that naturally lends itself to a story about spiritual things.
  • When I write fantasy, I get to create in a way that is second to none, developing peoples, lands, languages, political organization, you name it.
  • That’s it. But what those two points add up to as I see it, is writing Big.

    I’ve plotted a contemporary story and written several chapters. It happens to be a story I believe in and hope to finish some day. I think it’s a Big story, too, so I’m not saying fantasy is the only way an author can create Big stories.

    However, it seems to me fantasy requires Bigness.

    But to bring this back to the original point, I believe the slicing and dicing of a genre into all the different sub-genres reduces this Bigness. Nichifying belittles the books forced into ever-shrinking categories for ever-reducing markets.

    By comparison we might say cats are only for cat lovers—you animal lovers need not apply to be cat owners. How silly.

    An edited version of an article originally posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction February 8, 2008.

    Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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    Tim George

    The truth is genres have more to do with writers and publishers than with readers. Sure there are some who turn on Dean Koontz because he switches gears and writes an oddly funny novel like Relentless but even the complainers come back to him because, well, because he’s a good writer.

    In spite of this, I see publishers keying on whatever sub-genre is hot at the moment to draw some of that group to their latest offering. That’s business I guess. Someone recently posted that Stephen Lawhead’s “The Skin Map” is science fiction rather than fantasy. Their reason, it involved time travel and plays out in the real world. So is Stuart Stockton’s “Star Fire” fantasy because it has talking reptiles and the “real world” is nowhere to be seen? The line aren’t that easy to be drawn and honestly shouldn’t be.

    Jeremy McNabb
    Jeremy McNabb

    Sometimes the sub-genre tag expands the audience, rather than shrinking it. Let’s say that I despise fantasy, but love horror. If I see something that says dark fantasy, I might pick that one up. If I hate mystery and horror, but like romance, I might pick up a paranormal romance, even if they’re in the fantasy section.

    Sub-genres and niches are an inevitable middle step to creating a new genre. What are now called “steampunk” and “dieselpunk” genres were once stuffed under the umbrella of speculative fiction, and yet, much of the spec-fic audience has no clue what either are, but science fiction fans almost certainly do.

    Ken Rolph
    Ken Rolph

    As I use the words speculative fiction it is a super category which takes in science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales, horror and all the other speculations. That’s the way it is used around people I talk with. You seem to be using it in a different sense. How is science fiction NOT speculative fiction?

    Rachel Starr Thomson

    I think “nichifying” is a fantastic word.


    One of my first dabblings in writing fiction was in the sub-sub-sub genre of cattlepunk. Only a few of my friends read it. Publishing was out of the question.

    Johne Cook

    Niches are something to be aware of, but only in a tangential way, as a way of adding flavor to something I’ve already decided to try.

    I remember our local Christian bookstore’s attempt at nichifying back in the day when they used a secular group to match up to a Christian group they were trying to sell on their own shelves. “If you like Fleetwood Mac, you might like The Happy Goodmans.” It wasn’t an exact science. Things have gotten better. “If you like Switchfoot, you might like Switchfoot.”

    Instead of confining myself to genre, I tend confine myself to quality. I read everything Mystery author Walter Mosley has ever written, but very few other mysteries. However, in the case of A. Lee Martinez, I am so in love with his hardboiled sci-fi noir “The Automatic Detective” that I haven’t read any of his other stuff. So it’s a tradeoff.

    Kaci Hill

    I guess since I don’t really think in terms of genre, to me they’re nothing more than descriptive terms – means of giving me some semblance of what to expect from it. I suppose it depends on if you see the wall as keeping people in or out. Dunno.