Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Genre...Whatever.

I think one of the most-asked questions we writers get is, "What genre do you write?" It has always been frustrating for me to answer that question. Every time I'll pause and run through all the major things I've written. Hmmm. There's poetry, extremely literary, literary/suspense, contemporary drama, young adult bordering on adult, fantasy, and even more literary. Literary. I always come back to literary. I love that completely vague term, don't you? If I try hard enough, I can explain all my work as fitting into this lovely little category. That doesn't mean that's what I write, though.

Sticking our work into a genre is limiting. Many people say it must be done, however, because there's agents who will need to know, publishers who have to know, and marketing. You can't market without a set genre and your intended audience who reads that specific genre. Heaven forbid.

And sadly, I think putting our work into genre categories is like labeling ourselves with those personality tests. You know, those color ones, or the letter ones...I happen to be a ESFJ. I am now labeled. Aren't you happy you know more about me?
In general, ESFJs are helpful people who place a high value on harmony. Paying close attention to people's needs and wants, they work well with others to complete tasks in a timely and accurate way.
When I was a kid and in school friends of mine would tell me my daily horoscope and I remember going through the day with my horoscope in mind and I'd purposefully do things to make it stay on its target. I didn't want to prove it wrong. Horoscopes are always right! Right? Genres pin our work down. They get the job done. Right? Right.

My point today is that many times I feel I'm catering to a genre instead of letting my work breathe on its own, and it can limit what I'm writing. But like any good story, no matter how you plan it and write it, it will contain specific elements that all good stories own, and undoubtedly it will naturally fit into one of the genres out there. So don't worry about genre so much. My author business card says that I write contemporary, literary, and fantasy fiction. I think that's broad enough for some breathing room, don't you?

What genre do you write. (That might be a trick question...)

12 comments:

  1. Urban fantasy, YA fantasy, comic fantasy... hang on, I'm sensing a theme. Can I just say "stuff" instead?

    I did find one quite irritating market that insisted on High Fantasy. Only high fantasy. No parodies of it. No blends with sci fi or horror or anything else. Nothing but elves and orcs and blokes in furry underwear (you see the problem. Even if I start something like this on a serious note, it won't stay there). That has to be the literary equivalent of music's infamous Blues Police ("That's not proper blues, it doesn't sound like Robert Johnson").

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  2. Wonderful post Michelle. Good question too.

    I write epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, dark fantasy, and apparently romantic suspense (I tried to find a home for this story but it insisted that it was indeed mine and that there was no use denying it). However, there are a couple science fiction and horror novels roaming around up there too...so...hmmm.

    I think the only thing I don't write is pure literary. Some of my contemporary fantasy definitely steers toward the literary side, but nothing I've ever written has been without some element of the supernatural or fantastic (as in 'fantasy' not quality).

    Perhaps the trick is determining genre after you write the book? At the point where you are trying to sell it?

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  3. I just say that I write short stories and flash fiction. I know, that isn't really a genre, but I write all kinds of things within the word confines and even a few stories that even I don't know what genre they fit into. I agree, lets call them literary and be happy! :)

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  4. Interesting post. I think about this a lot, because while I call the bulk of my work "romantic suspense", it's neither dark enough to fit in a true "mainstream" rom/suspense, nor "sweetly" romantic enough to fit in with a category definition of the genre...and it's more erotic than most romance and suspense. So it doesn't really "fit", even though that's the niche I've given it.

    I plan to write thriller/horrors later...which will undoubtedly have elements of romance, but again, will probably fall outside the "norm" in some way for those genres.

    But whether it fits a specific genre or not...that's "what I write", you know?

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  5. Ha! I have no idea what genre I write in, other than the one I am writing in at the time.

    One of my beta readers just called me Nicholas Sparks.

    I think, I think then, the genre I write in is MUSHY STUFFS.

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  6. I often lump my stuff into 'commercial fiction' since that's a broad genre. I mean, if it doesn't neatly fit into a specific - romance, YA, MG, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. - category, then I think (dangerous for me to do most days) 'commercial' pretty much covers it. : )

    In the end, I write what I write, and I don't (for the most part) worry about genre until I get to the query process.

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  7. Stu: I never thought that about high fantasy, but that makes sense, and I agree with you about the annoying quality!

    Breanne: I think that, yes, it's best to determine the genre after you write the story. This is probably impossible to do once you have publishing contracts and publishers and an agent and editors who expect certain things from you. As far as writing straight literary goes, I'm not sure anyone writes that, do they? Sometimes I think it's a myth... :)

    Janel: I love short stories and flash fiction. I think they are my favorite things to write, aside from the novella which I'm currently in love with.

    Jamie: Oh, yes, I know. I feel the same way. Nothing I write fits nicely anywhere. It's frustrating but cool at the same time! Self-publishing has helped me figure out what I really write when left to my own devices, though. That has been interesting.

    Anthony: Wow. Nicholas Sparks? I don't see that at all. What on earth were they reading?

    Scott: Commercial is a good term. It's almost as vague and broad as literary, just not as important-sounding. Not that I think any genre is below another. This is why we do Genre Wars. :)

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  8. Michelle, they are reading TOTALLY SECRET SQUIRREL EPIC CONTEMPORARY YA LOVE STORY NOVEL.

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  9. Oh boy do I remember taking those silly personality tests. My boss had us all take one and I remember the results being some big words and phrases to the effect that I use humor to mask insecurities, and that basically I was a smart ass. Well duh, I could have told you that in 30 seconds without taking your stupid test. *grin*. Although my boss did look at me funny after that.

    Getting back to the genre question, fortunately or unfortunately I know exactly the types of books that I can write, thrillers, and if you want to get more general, I guess those would be a sub genre of commercial fiction.

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  10. Anthony: Oh, THAT book...

    Douglas: Haha about your boss! I've never had to take one of those for a job. I think I'd be pretty irritated if I did. I love thrillers. :)

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  11. Hi, everyone! Nice discussion! I've always been thinking that literature shouldn't be divided in genres so much as we do... I mean we writers should srtive to create books that could be applied in any period of our history, future or present... The main goal of books should be to inspire kindness, good thinking, willing to change for good... Books could be a great power, I remember what influence Flesh had on people's minds in USA, it changed people's opinions about ozon layer. So now we owe our existence to a great extend to this 150 pages book...;)
    Well, I write fantasy, sci-fy mostly, but strive to create my books that way that they could inspire willing to change for good... and the wisdom one could find there could be used anytime in our history. Guess my 1st Tale of The Rock Pieces could be a good guide for kids and their parents to lead a healthy way of life for exmple... Best wishes to all writers/readers of the most serious genres (fantasy&sci-fy)!

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  12. Allan: Thanks for your input here! I think you're right about writers striving to create books that can be applied in any period of history. I think this is what many of the classics accomplish, and it is why they are timeless.

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