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Genre-Schmenre

In this world, there are insane amounts of information available. The internet alone has opened up an immense collection of information readily available at your fingertips. That is, IF you know the correct keyword to use. If not, well, then we start to get cross information of completely unrelated topics. And, we’ve all seen those goofy commercials with the pregnant woman at yoga class quoting keyword/search engine information overload, or the husband and wife in bed who end up arguing due to his keyword/search engine information overload.

For writers, there is a completely different type of keyword overload, and it is generically defined as one simple, somewhat inoccuous little word with a H-U-G-E meaning – GENRE.

Genre, as defined, by Webster’s English Language Dictionary:

A class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like.

Seems simple, right? If we read and understand the definition, then describing our work of fiction should be easy. I mean, what topic does our literary baby fall into? Well, let’s take an example of a classic story and define what topic it falls into. For this example, we will use a well-known and well-documented fictional tale – ‘Wuthering Heights’.

‘Wuthering Heights’ basic story outline is as follows:

Many people, generally those who have never read the book, consider Wuthering Heights to Romeo and Juliet on the Yorkshire Moors. But this is a mistake. Really the story is one of revenge. It follows the life of Heathcliff, a mysterious gypsy-like person, from childhood (about seven years old) to his death in his late thirties. Heathcliff rises in his adopted family and then is reduced to the status of a servant, running away when the young woman he loves decides to marry another. He returns later, rich and educated and sets about gaining his revenge on the two families that he believed ruined his life.

Now, here is a listing of the different types of genres that you and most people might be aware of:

  • Romance
  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Women’s Lit.
  • Historical
  • Western
  • Contemporary Lit.
  • Horror
  • General Lit.
  • Young Adult (or YA)
  • Mystery

Seems fairly straight forward, right? Well, one would think so. However, there is another type of genre listings that are not as straight forward. These are subgenre listings, and subgenre listings can be both a hindrance and help to the writer. Here is a list of subgenres I’m talking about:

  • Supernatural
  • Post Apocolyptic
  • Slasher
  • Erotica
  • Criminal Mystery
  • Thriller
  • Court Thriller
  • Realist
  • Modern ________

Seem as easy? If so, then you are one of the lucky ones. However, most writers easily become confused about the different types of genres available that may be applicable to their story. Often times, when asking an author what his/her particular story is about, one ends up hearing that that author’s story is a “paranormal/historical/romance with an adult theme.”

Huh? So this story is about werewolves/vampires/ghosts set in the past (so non-modern day conveniences) with a prominent love story for readers over the age of 16 years? Hummmmm…Totally self-explanatory!

Right. So let’s take a look at what is so confusing about this way of using genre to define one’s tale.

Writers are ego-centric people on a whole. Woah, there, wait a minute, B.C.! You’re making us out to seem like bad guys, you writers are saying right now. (Or, at least, the writer’s in my head are saying right now.) But, truthfully, I’m not. Authors ARE ego-centric; we have to be. It is a staple of our craft. Without the ability to focus wholly on one’s self, we would not be able to create diverse characters that are both rich and varied. But saying that we are ego-centric people, does not mean that we are wrapped up solely in ourselves either. It simply means that we, as writers, have the capability to turn our mind’s eye inward and focus on ourselves to the point of excluding all others. By doing so, authors can split themselves, the whole, into as many different entities as required to fill an entire world with fresh, different faces and personalities.

So what are you getting at here, B.C.?

Well, the point I am trying to get to is that with writers being ego-centric people, we also tend to lead very lonely lives. The actual process of literary art is a solitary practice. Have you ever seen a writer’s group hard at work? Twenty or thirty authors all clustered around a table, a laptop or notepad at the ready, and the room is silent since all their heads/feet are bopping rythmically to whatever song/event is being pumped through the tiny speakers of their earbuds/headphones. Despite the illusion of community, the writer him/herself is isolated. The people around him are peripheral to the world, the characters, he/she has already immersed themselves into.

The point already?

Ever been around someone who is lonely and doesn’t want to be? They tend to be chatter bugs that you can’t shut up. The same is true of most writers. Writers are people-people; we have to be in order to market our work (that is when our egos do not get in the way). And writers also tend to be little kids are heart. We have overactive imaginations that run rampant and seek out opportunities to include things and people in them. With that understood, you can better relate to what writers experience when someone actually ASKS them about their work.

Many people are interested in the arts. Millions of people flock to art galleries and museums, clubs and concerts; but, on a whole, looking at a picture or listening to a song floating through the air is “easy” art interest. The act of reading itself takes effort and time. So when a writer is approached by someone concerning the work they’d already done, when they are approached by someone showing genuine interest, writer’s – well – they tend to get a little overexcited. And, lastly, it can be difficult to clearly define something that is as intricately written as a story, which normally contains a plot and one to two subplots. Once you’ve started weaving that particular braid, it can be easy to get caught up in the complexities of a story well crafted. (Or, at least, we HOPE well crafted.)

Authors are masters of “the hook”. We learn very early on that we have to “hook” the reader, or else they will put down our book and move on to the next guys. If that next guy can’t “hook” them, then they move on to the next and next and next, and so on until they find the one book that draws them in. And once the author has lost the opportunity of “hooking” you into their story, as a general rule, they’ve lost you entirely as a reader for that book, that world. So when a potential reader expresses interest in their story, an author can forget that sometimes less is more and let their imaginations get carried away. Because, after all, they have written THE quinessential story of all time and you MUST read it, MUST be interested in it. Right?

Riiiiight.

So that is what happens when a writer is asked to describe their story. We jump straight to the hook. (In this case, we’ll jump straight to Wuthering Height’s hook.) The only difficulty is that we know nothing about the potential reader we are speaking to, or relatively nothing most likely, so we try to expand our book topic to include as many possible hooks as we can. Despite the fact that there is only one ghost, who is a peripheral character in the story by the way, in the whole book, I excitedly blurb that my book is paranormal (because my reader MIGHT like paranormal stories). And I KNOW that my story is a romance, so I add that it is a romance. Now my story has become a paranormal/romance. BUT my story also has a historical slant to it, so I feel the need to include historical to the list of genre because the reader might really dig that. So I’m up to a paranormal/historical/romance. Oh, wait, but I’m not done! My story also has a mystery in it, so I’m now up to a paranormal/historical/mystery/romance.

Starting to get a little wordy here, huh? Most editors and agents think so as well. In most research I’ve done concerning manuscript (MS) submission and Query submission, I’ve found that most agents seems to have a preference to a two-word genre tag. The old addage of less is more is as true in the literary field as any other and, by giving too much information (hence information overload), the writer begins to damage their chances of the reader actually caring about the piece. By the time we’ve gotten out our third description of the book, our reader’s eyes have began to glaze and a little pool of spittle has began forming in the corners of their mouthes. Clearly, we’ve oversold – like the used car salesman trying too hard to upsell you the Ford Taurus on the lot because it has heated seats instead of selling you the simple Toyota Corola you were originally looking at. And, as a consumer, you’d be just as put off by this salesman and your potential reader has now become of you. So the basic advice is that writers should stick with a two word genre that is as close to the major plot arches of the story as possible. In our case of Wuthering Heights, we would define our story as a historical/romance. If your reader isn’t interested in either historical or romance, then you might have hit a snag in selling your story to them; however, I can guarantee that the more information you give them, the more the chance their eyes are going to glaze and their mouthes are going to go all drooly. And you’ve lost them regardless of what you say.

What am I trying to get at with this article? A) To help clearly define what genre is, B) To illustrate how writers like you and I misuse and abuse this valuable and necessary tool, and C) To smack writers everywhere in the face with the simple knowledge of “less is more”. Or, I suppose, saying I am “equipping” writers with a simple truth sounds a little better, doesn’t it? LOL

For more information concerning writing, please visit often to www.bcbrownbooks.blogspot.com, www.bcbrown.webs.com, or follow me on Facebook (bc brown books @ gmail . com) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/bcbrownbooks).

{Currently Reading: The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts by Lilian Jackson Braun and Speaking with the Angel edited by Nick Hornby (short story anthology) and The Anthology of the Living Dead by J. Travis Grundon (short story anthology of collected authors)}

B.C. Brown

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2 thoughts on “Genre-Schmenre

  1. So…I should stick with my 'YA Smut' and 'Adult Smut' as short answers to 'What do you write?'????? Oh yeah…forgot…'Contemporary Adult Smut'….

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