What I Learned From Changing My Novel’s Genre

How little changes can pull out your character’s strongest traits.

Dec 22, 2020 · 4 min read
A woman blows magical dust from her hands on a city street.
Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

When it comes to novel writing, anyone will tell you that sometimes you just need a new perspective to truly understand a scene or character. Unfortunately, getting that new perspective can be pretty difficult sometimes. Should you analyze your character through another character’s lens? Maybe try out one of those free character sheets available online? In my case, the key to success turned out to be exploring my story through a total genre change. Here’s what I learned.

Most writers have at least one story that has just been haunting them for years. For me, this story was one that I started when I was nineteen. True to my interests, it involved a quick-witted female protagonist named Ryla who was locked in a daring battle with a dangerous ex-boyfriend, Eli, who just so happened to also be an incredibly talented warlock.

Now, I’m not going to say that it’s the most original story that I have ever written. I’m not going to say that it is a masterpiece that is destined to make me millions. But hey, it was a fun story that I’ve enjoyed working on and I’ve put a lot into it over the years.

There’s just one problem. I could never create a story where Ryla could win. As a human being, she was always outmatched by Eli’s magic and I just couldn’t see past it.

It wasn’t that it was impossible. There’s always a way for someone to win. I could have pulled out something to make it work, but nothing felt like the right solution. My protagonist was completely human. How the heck was she supposed to outwit a crazy high level of warlock born from a powerful fae bloodline?

The logic of my mind just couldn’t let it go, so I decided to shake things up. I was so hung up on looking at magic as this unbeatable force that I was failing to acknowledge the other parts of my story that would lead it to its conclusion. So, I got rid of the magic element.

Despite the fact that I spend my days writing friendly marketing content and blog posts about generally uplifting topics, my true writing isn’t particularly pleasant. Since I was young, I’ve always had a darker edge to my writing, so I tend to come up with villains that are nightmarish in more than a few ways.

There I was, writing a fantasy novel about a girl being hunted through an unfamiliar city, and I was trying to write it like a fantasy novel, which wasn’t working. So, I recast my characters in a thriller.

In the original version, my antagonist was corrupted by the raw power of his own magic. In the new version, his source of corruption was money.

The old version of Eli had parents that were dead — so the new version had parents that were ever-present and consistently playing an active role in his corruption.

Instead of my protagonist being hunted down and captured out of obsession (and a twisted need for a family), she was now being held captive in the Hampdens during the off-season. She wasn’t cursed anymore. Now, her family was at risk.

The entire story changed on the surface, but you know what really changed? My protagonist.

Suddenly, Ryla was not slinking around in the shadows out of fear. She wasn’t desperately trying to escape. Now, she knew she couldn’t escape. Instead, she started working against Eli from within. She started slowly chipping away at everything about him— using the tactics of the rich and corrupt against him. She focused on mind games and little tricks — tricks that a human could use against anyone, regardless of how powerful they were. Instead of living in fear, she resigned herself to take his family down with her at all costs.

In a lot of ways, Ryla grew into herself.

She stopped being the young and vulnerable character who was desperate to escape an untimely death. The truth? She lost a lot of the traits that were assigned to her by a much younger version of myself — a version that was scared and wasn’t sure what strength she really had.

Ryla was reborn for me. She went from being a girl who was only focused on escaping to being a girl who was using her knowledge and skills to break her way out of a terrible curse — and when danger comes her way now, she rises to the occasion. She isn’t haunted anymore. She’s a survivor.

Yes, Eli has magic, but Ryla is so smart and has so much to live for, which ultimately makes her more powerful than him in the end.

Making this change completely altered the way that I saw my story. I know a lot of writers who are always split between genres and see it as a weakness. In reality, it gives you the perfect set of tools to tackle your story.

Next time you try to pigeon-hole your story into one genre or another, try writing it as both and see what happens. While the change to Ryla’s character was what I needed, writing the story as a thriller with those changes has also caused me to rewrite the story in a lot of ways — and it is a lot better now.

What started as a simple writing exercise ultimately gave my story a richness and depth that years of hammering away at it couldn’t. Next time you’re stuck, try shaking things up with a genre-twist and see what happens. The heart of your story might present itself in an unexpected way.

At the very least, you might be able to finish the damn book.

For more writing-related ramblings from a professional(ish) writer, feel free to check out my Twitter or Instagram.

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Written by


Full-time Writer, Content Creator, and Host of the Among the Dirt and Trees Podcast.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.


Written by


Full-time Writer, Content Creator, and Host of the Among the Dirt and Trees Podcast.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.

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