A little clarification on “genre”…

(it is a fair bet that most of these stories have a bad guy and a good guy, and a crime and a gun)

Not to belabor the point… as I’m ready to move on.  But a few people commented, and a few people emailed, and complained that they don’t feel “genre” is formulaic.

And while I essentially agree with them that my definition came across as simplified and  overly negative, (because, basically, I’m a snob) I’m going to fight for my assertion of genre as formulaic.  Of formula as the defining characteristic of what might be called “genre” writing.

As opposed to readership.

I think formula=genre works pretty well as a definition. But I want to explain a little what I mean by “formula”.  I don’t really mean that no good writing is formulaic.  I don’t mean that all genre writing is bad. Or that a formula means the writing can’t also be creative and new.   I just mean that books from a like “genre” will share elements of plot, craft, set-up, resolution, etc.  That‘s what I mean by formula.

That books in a particular genre share some kind of lowest common denominator in their actual storyline.  The Once and Future King and Pat the Bunny do not share an LCD I can think of.

There are romances that will be categorized as such, but also be shelved with “literary” books.  Same for fantasy, detective fiction, etc.  But some of the conventions are still there.

All romance novels are not the same, but you can pretty much bet that genre/romance will have someone who starts out alone and ends up with a lover.  Or someone who starts out with the wrong lover, and finds true love. Most will also have some kissing, and the love will, at turns, appear to be thwarted.  Do you know of a “genre” romance novel with NO romance?

All detective fiction is not the same, but most detective novels begin with a crime of some sort, an unsolved situation. And by book’s end, a clever (though complicated or flawed) character will have figured out the answer.  Whether it’s an old pulp magazine, or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, on some level, it makes use of a series of plot conventions.  Readers have some idea of what they’re getting.

That’s all I really meant.

And think about this– the less a book is plot-driven, the less the formula will make the book identical to other books.  I think when a book jumps from “genre” classifications into “literary” classifications, what is happening is that the author is leaving some of the plot/genre conventions intact, but focusing less on plot and more on other elements of craft.

I find myself thinking about fantasy, and that fantasy is perhaps, by definition, less of a genre. I recently read Merlin’s Dragon, and while I didn’t like it much, it’s NOT a book I’d call genre at all.  It has, like, no human characters.  It’s just about a little dragon creature looking for animals like himself.  Weird.

If that‘s fantasy, than I have no clue what the fantasy conventions are.  Dragons?  That’s dumb.

But I’ve read my share of mysteries, and my share of romances, and I’m sorry, y’all… they do, by and large, follow a recipe.

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One Response to “A little clarification on “genre”…”

  1. Matt’s Bookosphere 8/6/08 « Enter the Octopus Says:

    [...] A little clarification on genre [...]

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