G is for genre

Sin#6: Not understanding genre

Genre, a word that evokes fear in most writers…myself included.

The dictionary defines genre as:

One of the categories, based on form, style, or subject matter, into which artistic works of all kinds can be divided. For example, the detective novel is a genre of fiction.

The problem is dear dictionary that most books nowadays are so complicated they defy, or transcend, simple genres. While your book may be detective fiction – let’s stick with the above example, my brains too frazzled to think of another – it may also be a Pratchettesque comedy of dark and witty humour so therefore you may not want it pigeonholed into the shelves of Detective Fiction of Waterstones.

You might want it in the comedy section or fantasy if the detectives aren’t entirely human!

Even if you DO want it to go into Detective Fiction maybe the readers disagree? I’ve picked up plenty of books in my time from the Horror section only to throw them to the side when I realise they aren’t actually Horror…

OK, I don’t actually throw them. I put them back, in alphabetical order, rearrange the surrounding books and pull out my emergency set-square so I can make sure they all line up perfectly.

I have a hard time deciding which genre my work should fit into. Whilst I would like to pick a certain genre, I feel as if I do I will be blocking certain options when I write my work. So do I wait until I’ve finished my novel THEN decide what genre it falls under?? But wouldn’t that mean I missed out on certain techniques I could have used if I knew what genre I was writing?

See what I mean?? This genre stuff is hard work!!

At the moment, but perhaps always, genre seems to be a way of selling a novel without even having to read it.

Publisher: Horror?…No thanks. Sci-Fi?…Nope. Paranormal Romance?? Come right in Mr.Sappy McTwilightcashin.

Ok, maybe I’m being a bit cynical but it’s hard not to be when you write in a genre that most writers have a certain disdain for…that’s right the dreaded genre of horror!

I think I’d better back away slowly before I dig myself into a deeper hole!


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    • Rosalie Warren on April 8, 2011 at 11:16
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    Agree with you that genre is a problem!

    The only way round it I can find is (i) write a book that is definitely of a particular 'genre'. Send it to agents, publishers and so on. Live in hope…

    And then (ii) write the genre-crossing book you really want to write. If (i) gets published, (ii) may just stand a chance. But even if it doesn't, you will have enjoyed writing it and you never know, one day…? Or you could publish as an eBook?

    Of course you can do (i) and (ii) at the same time. Or (ii) before (i). Just make sure you do both. And don't write (i) cynically. Throw your heart into it, but it in a genre-respectful way.

    • Steven Chapman on April 8, 2011 at 11:28
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    i before ii? ii and i? i before e except after c? i i i i i i like you verrrrry much? That's cleared things up 😀

    I think I'm currently writing i, ii, iii, iv and none of them have a specific genre….please refer to A is for….!

    • Sue H on April 8, 2011 at 11:30
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    Ah! I remember the days when I still worked in the library (was it really only a couple of months ago…?) when we had to categorise new stock! Thrillers, Crime, Mystery and Suspense all seemed to blur and more often than not it was left to individual staff to make the call on which fitted best……

    Even more worrying was when the "head honcho's" at headquarters would decide to categorise stock before it was delivered to us! (I have no idea how some of them managed to qualify as librarians….!)

    • Anthony Cowin on April 8, 2011 at 11:49
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    I describe my novel with a tongue stabbing my cheek as a, 'paranormal time shifting urban thriller coming of age story with horror aspects.' Do you reckon Waterstones have signs for that? But when I take my tongue away from the inside of my mouth that is really the only way I can think of summing up all the aspects of the book.

    So the best way to ascertain which genre your crossover novel fits into is to strip it down.

    Paranormal urban thriller-does it NEED the paranormal, Urban and Thriller aspects to maintain the story? Paranormal =Yes (or at least some sort of not normal) Does it have to be urban? No, although it works better as an urban tale it could be set anywhere that has a few of the locations needed, but they could in fact be in the middle of the countryside. Thriller? Yes it is thrilling and has conventions of the thriller genre.

    Time shifting? Yes because it sort of relies on a movement in time, but that may not be time shifting and could be part of the paranormal. Coming of Age? Well yes but again as in all novels it's a journey, both personally and geographically so we could say that's just the two arcs anyway.

    Horror? Well yes some pretty horrific thing happen and some out of the ordinary creatures and events happen. Could these actually be paranormal? I guess so yes, even psychological.

    So it is definitely paranormal, definitely a thriller so maybe my novel is a paranormal thriller?

    I need to point out that I did that on the fly and only realised the genre of my book in this post. Steven I think I may owe you some royalties if it sells now, damn it.

    • Ellie on April 8, 2011 at 11:51
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    A thought-provking post for sure! I say write the book in the genre you want to write in, not what will sell. Having said that, when I go into a bookstore, horror seems to have the lowest shelf space 🙁

    Ellie Garratt

    • Steven Chapman on April 8, 2011 at 13:14
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    Holy crap donkeys! That was a hell of a reply, Tony! Nice to see I'm not the only one struggling to pick a distinct genre.

    And a cheque will be fine for the royalties…cheers.

    Horror shelf space has certainly shrunk, Ellie 🙁 I'm also fed up of trawling through sci-fi/fantasy books as the all tend to be thrown in the same pile in the back corner of book shops nowadays.

    • Jeffrey Beesler on April 8, 2011 at 15:00
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    Hello from a fellow A-Z Challenge participant! Genre can be a tricky mistress. I for one thought my novel was Fantasy, but my publisher felt it best as a sci fi, super hero fiction novel. I definitely agree with my publisher on this after looking at it from her perspective. Great post!

    • Jayne on April 8, 2011 at 16:35
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    Genre? Oh flippin' 'eck. It's a tricky one. I wish there was a great big dirty list of all the genres out there in the book world so we could make an informed choice, before I label my work hysterical historical fiction. 😉

    • ttofee on April 8, 2011 at 19:05
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    Its a tough one! The problem with writing in a particular genre to get published is that you (probably) dont put your heart and soul into it. But as Rosalie said, once you are published it would be (hopefully) easier to get that genre-crossing novel published. For me, I just write the damn thing hopefully finish it (which will be an achievement in itself!) then worry about that for the next book!

    • Laura M. Campbell on April 8, 2011 at 20:37
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    Great post. Writing should come from within. I don't worry too much about what genre I'm writing, I just do. Once it's done and read over I can start to determine what it actually is. Sometimes we set out to write a specific genre, but later find the novel took on a life of its own, deciding it would rather be something else. Good luck with the challenge!

    P.S. Love the zombie makeup! Back on Valentine's Day, my boyfriend and I did ourselves up for the Zombie Prom. It rocked!

    • Cheree on April 8, 2011 at 22:52
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    Fantastic post. Very thought-provoking. I agree that there is a problem with Genre, sometimes at bookstores I've seen them just lump all of fantasy together (fantasy, urban, horror & sci-fi). It really makes searching that genre really difficult.

    • thelmaz on April 9, 2011 at 00:32
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    My book discussion group has been arguing lately about what genre books set in the future belong in. Science fiction? Fantasy? Neither?

    • Cheryl on April 10, 2011 at 08:23
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    A particular bone of contention with me. I attended a writer's workshop last year (I won't say whose) and was told that mixing certain genres never works; particularly Science Fiction and Romance – exactly what my book is! How open minded and encouraging!! Anything is possible – who would have thought there would one day be a whole section in bookshops devoted to 'Gothic Romance'? This category never existed before Twilight! Like it or loath it Stephanie Meyer obviously decided not to be restricted by this kind of negative advice.

    • Steven Chapman on April 12, 2011 at 12:28
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    Sue, sounds like hell! I'd get really stressed out trying to OCD the books into the right place.

    Jeffrey, it is a tricky one, especially when your publisher disagrees! I think I'd be quite happy with having a publisher to concede the point though!

    Jayne, lets get working on an uber list of genres then 😀

    Laura, that's the problem with my novels though. I wait to long to decide a genre and then it’s almost impossible to do when I'm finished!

    Cheree, I got so stressed last time I went into a Waterstones. I was looking for a horror book but because everything was lumped together I couldn’t find one at all!

    Thelmaz, it depends on the novel as a whole I suppose. Stuff like The Time Traveller's Wife and The Lake House are love stories but both have time travel elements.

    Cheryl, it's impossible to say whether something will work or not, I can't believe the buggers said that to you!

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