Don’t judge a book by its genre

On the surface of it I guess genres are a great idea. Scan the book, find features that slot it into it’s category and any prospective reader knows what they are getting into and whether it’s the right fit for them. Cool right?

Evidently not for me or I wouldn’t be writing this post. From my point of view I think it’s a flawed system, genre can be so constrictive and misguided. To say that a book is one thing and is defined by that one category seems crazy to me. It’s weird when you apply the idea to people, I have a homosexual friend and I often feel as though he defines his life by that one aspect of his being and I really wish he’d see there’s more to him than his sexuality. I digress but it’s a helpful point as a novel will almost certainly have more than one character. There will hopefully be an abundance of character traits, flaws and quirks. To define a group of characters to one genre seems counter productive.

Not only this but genre rather limits your expectations of how the story will be told and unfold. I don’t expect to find the same ending in a horror novel as that of a romance novel. But that’s not to say you when writing a horror you couldn’t end with a happily ever after romance or violently kill all the characters at the end of a romance. Hell Shakespeare killed his lovers in Romeo & Juliet. I’m not saying do that by the way. Just that don’t feel constrained by your genre, don’t begin the story in one way because it’s going to end this way because that’s typical of the genre. Follow your story and tell it truthfully (whether its fact or fiction there’s a believable truth to your story that in your heart you know whether you are happy with it or not).

Our appetite for literature is probably to blame for the pigeon holes of genre unfortunately, Austen didn’t tie everything up neatly at the end because it was realistic, Fleming didn’t have Bond survive so many death defying escapades because it was realistic and George R.R.Martin didn’t decide to put dragons in because it was realistic. As readers we have demands of our books and if they aren’t met we won’t literally buy into it (all puns intended). I guess I’m suggesting that thanks to our demands as readers publishers have expectations of their writers, writers end up tied to genres and tropes because it’s what we want but by god it’s frustrating as a writer.

I don’t want someone to look at my work and so ‘oh science fiction, that’s not really my thing.’ (Science fiction does tend to get a bit overlooked in the literary world sadly) It’s very disappointing that because a story is set in space the other more important elements are completely  unnoticed. Science fiction is so much more than that. It can be an adventure novel, a romance, a thriller, a horror, a drama, a fantasy, a comedy, a realistic fiction. The list is endless. And I’m sure anyone who feels attached to any genre feels the same. A good story is so much more than something that can be defined by a set of tropes, real life doesn’t play out in tropes so why should fiction?

I think I have more thoughts on genre but I’m struggling to articulate them today. So I’ll think on it some more and consider a return to the topic later. Your input would be helpful to me in getting my mind around the value of genres.

As always get involved through comments or contacting me.

S.Hansen

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