What Genre Is – Misconceptions – Truths – Freebie
Hello Lovelies, and welcome to the second talk on genre. Last week, we talked about what is a genre and why it matters. Today I want to spend some time defining something a little more controversial, and that is, what is not considered a genre.
What Genre Is
I talked more in-depth about this in last week’s post, What Is Genre?, so if you need a more specific introduction, please check that first one out. When we talk about genre, what we are trying to describe is the category in which our books are put into. These categories can and do set certain expectations for the reader, whether we want them to do so or not. And this is important because the better you know the genre of book you’re writing, the better you can meet those expectations in new and interesting ways that readers will love and keep coming back for more.
What Makes Talking About Genre Difficult?
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the discussion surrounding genre. Let me go over a few of them now.
- There is a definite thing that separates and characterizes books of each genre, and that thing is known and set in stone.
- There is genre and there is literary, and the two are mutually exclusive.
- Genre is for fiction only. Non-fiction books cannot be genre, nor can books cross genre categories.
- Once a book is decidedly categorized into one genre, it will always be in that genre.
Truths About Genre
Let me address each of the above misconceptions more specifically.
There is a definite thing that separates and characterizes books of each genre, and that thing is known and set in stone.
We may like to think that publishing houses, especially the big five, have things all figured out. The truth is that what makes one thing stand out to one publishing house as a Western might be termed a Historical Fiction at another publishing house. Genre conventions can be very similar and are extremely subjective.
George Lucas doesn’t believe Star Wars is a Science Fiction. He thinks it’s a Space Fantasy (Or what we now term Space Opera). Traditionalists who have read space operas would probably largely disagree with Lucas, given that what categorizes Space Opera is, in large part, the large-scale military-style space battles. Star Wars definitely has some of that, but it isn’t the main focus of the series, no matter how many times our beloved characters blow up a Death Star.
There is genre and there is literary, and the two are mutually exclusive.
If you hear “genre fiction” and think it equates to “commercial” or “popular” fiction while “literary fiction” is “unpopular” fiction you have probably been misled somewhere. It often follows with this misconception that genre fiction is driven by plot, and literary fiction is driven by character. Yet I feel a deep connection to many genre characters, such as in the popular A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. Definitely hitting all the high fantasy tropes of commercial genre fiction, but also very deep characters which people really connect with, feel fealty to, and argue about who will win the Game of Thrones.
Genre is for fiction only. Non-fiction books cannot be genre, nor can books cross genre categories.
While there is such a thing as the anti-genre movement, there is little in literature that can be said to be completely devoid of genre. If so, we look to meta fiction or late Nietzche texts such as Twilight of the Idols as examples. Nearly every other thing that is published has some sort of genre that it goes by. Even non-fiction books have an expected structure, pacing, and cadence that lend themselves to a genre. Books can be romances while also being comedic.
When Star Trek decides to do an episode going into the mirror universe, is it suddenly Fantasy and no longer Science Fiction? Maybe. At least for that episode. And though Harry Potter is solidly placed in our real world, all we care about is the magic being done just out of reach, so the real-world (read: Urban Fantasy) aspect doesn’t really matter as much as the magical realism does, even when they are running around all too real places in London.
Once a book is decidedly categorized into one genre, it will always be in that genre.
The Wikipedia page on genre reminds us, “Genres form by conventions that change over time as cultures invent new genres and discontinue the use of old ones. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.” So, again, no. Genre interpretations are fluid, and they absolutely do change over time.
As a reminder, I have a freebie for you that will help you through the entire year. This year is going to be a fun ride, and I hope you will come along for the journey. If you want your very own PDF to follow along, you can grab those pages totally for free by clicking the link below!
- What categories do you think make up the five pillars of genre?
- What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
- How many genres and subgenres can you name?
- What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
- What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?