Novel Writing

Narrowing my focus: Choosing a niche and a time frame for my story

Novels in a Polish bookstore
How do you decide which shelf your book will finally end up on at your local book store? | Novels in a Polish bookstore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I began writing my current novel almost one full year ago, I have often struggled with determining which genre my story falls into. My thesis adviser pushed me (a lot!) in the direction of Young Adult (YA,) but it just never felt right to me. Although my protagonist is seventeen years old at the outset of the novel, the story will unfold over the course of several years and will include a failed marriage and other “adult” themes that rule out the possibility of selling this novel to a YA audience.

Another element I am struggling with is my time line. Exactly how many years should my protagonist be married to her jerk husband before she escapes? I need her to stick it out for at least a few years. But then, how do I write her through those years and get to the next big event without boring my reader?

This morning, I was reading a blog post by David Fernandez of DLFWriting titled, Becoming a Storyteller: New Adult, or, Wizards and Vampires and Sex! Oh My! that gave me one of those Aha! moments where everything suddenly becomes so clear. In this post, Fernandez discusses the growth of New Adult (NA) fiction, which is aimed at the previously ignored age group of 18 – 25 year olds.

“That’s it!” I thought. “My novel is totally NA!”

The age range fits, and so does the fact that my protagonist is no virgin as the story opens. There is sex in my novel, and not all “good sex.” There is an overall girl meets the real world clash that will probably rule out the possibility of my story ever reaching the shelves of any high school library. But the awesome part is, I can write a mainstream story that includes fantasy elements without limiting it to a sci-fi audience. Because I do think my story has a mainstream appeal that you won’t find in your average science fiction or fantasy novel.

So, I’ve finally discovered my niche. This leads me to the next question that this particular blog post might have answered for me. Which is, “what is the time frame for my story?” If I decide to write for a NA audience of 18 – 25 year olds, should I limit my story to take place in that same age frame (give or take a year or two) for my protagonist? And if I do this, will it limit my reach? Or, will it help me narrow my focus down to a time frame that is somewhat more doable than what I had originally planned?

I am going to play around with this a bit and see where it goes, but I am hoping this will help me narrow my focus. For some time now, I have been feeling as though I’m trying to do too much. I know I need to narrow my focus if I am ever going to finish this novel, but I just couldn’t figure out what elements I could afford to cut.

My next move will be to sit down and literally draw out a timeline of events to determine exactly what happens when, and how much time each event needs to play out. Hopefully figuring out the logistics of my story will help me determine exactly what I need to cut and what I should keep so I can move on.

What do you think of NA as a new literary genre? Please share in the comments below.

~Mandy Webster

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2 thoughts on “Narrowing my focus: Choosing a niche and a time frame for my story”

  1. Thanks for the pingback! I think NA gives us the chance as writers to delve into stories that explore that awkward transition from teen to adult. So much changes in such a relatively short amount of time at that age. Best of luck with your story!

  2. Mandy,
    it sounds like you’ve hit on a good solution, one that also liberates you from trying to fit the novel into a constrained style that wouldn’t do the story justice. One thought: the novel might progress slightly beyond the 25 year mark. It could engage for most of the 18-25 year old protagonist, but going beyond allows you to leave a message for people in this age group about what life could bring them just beyond the 25 year mark. Just a thought.

    PS I loved your idea about using memory books to develop characters. Brilliant way to develop complexity in character and story – and probably a good map to guide your characters journey in the narrative.

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