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Whose genre is it anyway?

Buried in the Slushpile

I’m into watching TikTok right now. 

I know. I know. I’m too old. And for a lot of the stuff over there, I really am too old. I’m never going to be doing any fancy pants dances. My days of kicking up my heels passed when I hung up my pompoms. 

But one of the people I follow on TikTok is author Mary Robinette Kowal. I love her takes on writing and if you do TikTok, I highly recommend looking at her content.

In one of my favorite videos of hers, she breaks genres into two types: structural genres and aesthetic genres. Here’s the video so you can watch her explain it fully.


For those of you (like me) who didn’t watch just now, basically a structural genre is any genre where you need to hit certain story beats or have certain structural elements in place in order for your work to be considered a part of that genre. Mysteries and Romance are the examples she uses for this. If you don’t have a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now ending in a romance, you haven’t written a romance. You’ve written a book with romantic elements. 

An aesthetic genre is one where the book is defined by an overall feel or look to the story. A historical would be a good example of this. You don’t have to hit any specific story beat or have a certain type of character to be a historical; you simply have to set your work in a historical period.

Kowal thinks it interesting when authors mix structural with aesthetic genres. Think a historical romance. She points out to all the nuance that a mixed genre book can bring.

I love thinking about genre in these terms. I’ve never seen it anywhere like this before, and in the comment section of the video Kowal admits that she may have made it up. Absolutely brilliant.

But, Kowal is an adult writer talking about adult books.

Let’s extend this to kiddie lit.

Like with many things when it comes to children’s novels, two is going to be the magic number. These books have dual audiences, dual markets, and at a bare minimum dual genres.

Every kid’s novel will be in one of three categories:

·      Chapter Book

·      Middle Grade

·      YA

And books in these genres come with their own structural expectations. The main character should be a certain age. Certain themes are expected to be present in some capacity. There are word length and reading level expectations to be met. All of these are structural things meaning that all children’s novels are inherently structural in nature.

But, there’s also the genre of the actual story. Is the book a contemporary or fantasy or mystery? 

Like I said, a minimum of two genres. 

But, where it can get really interesting is when you start mixing three or more genres together. For example, I’m working on plotting a YA Science Fiction Heist Romance. Or you could say I’m working on a Structural Aesthetic Structural Structural Novel. Fun, right?

Take a moment to think about the genre of your work and whether it’s more structural or aesthetic in nature. And then consider how that informs the book and your writing. I suspect you’ll make some fascinating discoveries. 

Also, I’m thinking of starting a Writing focused TikTok of my own. Let me know what topics you’d like to see covered in 3 minutes or less…

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