I was recently asked by someone why I chose to write Space Opera, which tends to be a niche category with several unwarranted stigmas attached to it. I was as honest in my answer as possible. My answer was quite simply “I didn’t.”.
I didn’t choose Space Opera, or any specific genre for that matter, when I began writing Ghost in the Machine almost a year ago. I had an idea of what I wanted to do with the book and how I wanted to tell the story, but I didn’t pick a genre and then write specifically for that genre following some sort of genre-specific guidelines. Although I do guide certain aspects of how the series is constructed, for the most part, I let the story take shape on its own. When I started, I had no idea that this was going to turn in a five novel series (so far planned), with several side story novellas, which would span a fully constructed universe, include over a dozen different planets, and several different story-lines all weaving together around the story of Ethan, Orynn and Jarren. When I started, I was just hopeful that I would be able to tell one story about Orynn and Ethan, and I was quite surprised, and excited, when the story began to expand around them.
As the universe grew around Orynn and Ethan, and the history and cultures of that universe took shape, I started to understand that I was, in fact, writing what cold be considered Space Opera. This realization both made me happy and frightened me at the same time. Space Opera, as a genre, can be defined, loosely, as a work of futuristic / science fiction which focuses on the universe building, character development and character relations rather than on the journey (action and adventure science fiction), the battles (military science fiction) or the science (hard science fiction). Science and the journey are still important, and there is typically battles and some military aspects involved, but they serve more as backdrops and settings to the true heart of the story, which is the exploration of how the characters relate to one another. The focus is on each individual character, making them believable and complex, and how these living, breathing characters interact with the world and others around them. There is a heavy emphasis on creating a deeply constructed universe for your characters to live in, complete with expansive histories and diversely unique cultures.
When most people think of Space Opera, they immediately think of Star Wars. Although Star Wars was not the first, it was what really put the genre on the map, even if the book form of Star Wars came after the movies. So, I will admit that realizing my book was having to follow in the large footsteps of works such as Star Wars was a bit frightening. I began questioning myself and my book, asking if my universe could be as richly constructed and my characters as deeply explored as readers in the Space Opera genre would expect (or even demand). I was also concerned if the Space Opera community would be open to certain parts of my story and the direction I wanted to take it in, including my emphasis on exploring the emotion of love and its many different aspects.
I do believe that trying to pigeonhole a book into a specific genre, or trying to limit a genre to a certain type of book that follows certain rules, is the wrong way of going about categorizing a book. I think that trying to stick to a genre can limit, or bind, a writer and keep his or her story from being as good as it can possibly be. So, while I do have my series in Space Opera (and Science Fiction Romance) as that is the genre it most predominately represents, I believe that it is a good idea to keep testing the preconceived boundaries of any genre, as those boundaries will only exist as long as we authors continue to conform our writing to them.
I do know one thing for certain. Ethan and Orynn, and the universe they live in, still have many stories to tell, and they won’t let those stories be bound by preexisting rules. So my message to other authors is this: don’t let your genre define your story. Be true to the story that is in your heart, and it will define its own genre.