Why Should I Care About Genres?

I don’t know about you, but after going over the Who, What, and Where of Genres, I’m ready to finish up with the Why and go do some fiction writing. That being said, let’s muster up that last pound and a half of energy and get to it.

Why should we care about Genres?

We should care about Genres because they are part of the literary world that we have chosen to inhabit. They help provide substance and structure, stability and reality, and a very important aspect, dollars and cents.

That last part seemed a bit crass and commercial, didn’t it? I mean, isn’t the point of being creative to share our expressions with the world? Sure, but have you ever tried to eat a book? Or a Kindle? Not very tasty and I’d wager that they’re not very nutritious either.

Like it or not, unless you are independently wealthy or have someone to support you, you will have to earn a living and earning a living means to learn a skill. Writing is as much a skill as it is a calling and skills require learning the tools of the trade.

Knowing the significance of Genres is one of those tools. Now, you can pooh-pooh me on this and that’s fine, but I feel that knowing your workplace and playground is important to getting the most out of it. Money doesn’t have to be your primary motivator. In fact, the less you concern yourself with getting financial gain from this, the better. Do your best and the money will come, and you’ll never feel like you’ve worked a day in your life.

Whew, I’m ready for a drink now. 😉

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Where are Genres Needed?

So far, we’ve discussed the Who and What of Genres. Now, we move on to the Where. Where are Genres needed?

Genres are at their core, labels. In my opinion, they serve little to no useful purpose in telling a story but they are useful after the story is finished when it comes time to publish and market them.

But, Wallace, where are they needed?

If you remember from our earlier discussions, a Genre is a type of literary classification. Classifications help us to place particular items in particular groups for identification and easier selection. Some items can be easily placed while others have characteristics that allow them to inhabit more than one group.

For example:

A story with spaceships and aliens dealing with the near or distant future would go into the Science Fiction category, for the most part. Yes, there are exceptions I.E. Dystopian, but by and large Science Fiction would be the way to go.

However, a story involving thatched huts, magic, a dragon here and there, or the like would be more suited for the Fantasy Genre. Why? Because the story characteristics indicate that it’s not The Future, not Advanced Technology, nor following what is commonly known outside of Fantasy. Add an alien, spaceship, or something else and you’ve just taken the Off-Ramp out of Fantasy. The details matter.

Have I answered the question yet? Probably not, so let’s go at this from another angle:

You have a finished story. You love that story and want to share it with the world, but you’re not sure where you should show it off. Here is where you need to know the Genre that it will fit in. Ideally, Fiction is Fiction and classifications shouldn’t matter to a good story. However, the world we live in is a world with labels and the labels will determine who and what is reading and being read.

Earlier, I mentioned Publishing and Marketing, so let’s discuss those items now:

Publishing: To a degree, the Genre is important because a publisher is looking for a type of story that they can sell to make money. I didn’t make the rules, I’m merely commenting on them. To Date, I haven’t seen a single publisher who didn’t place some kind of preference on what they will consider. Even if one said that they would consider anything, Anything just became a Genre. It’s a never ending thing.

Marketing: This goes along with what I stated above. Marketing at its core is Sales and in order to sell something, you have to be able to define it. A product defined is a product that is potentially sold to a demographic. Again, I don’t make the rules, I merely comment on them.

Do you as a writer need to worry about Genre? I don’t believe so at the beginning. Write the best story you can and figure out where it belongs when you are ready to put it out there. Research the market that you want to approach to determine if it is the best fit. In the end, you have the final say.

Identifying Genres

Depending on where you are in the Writing Process, your thoughts may be drifting toward where your story (or idea) will exist. I’m not talking about Time or Place, but what kind of story it is or will be.

Identifying a particular genre isn’t all that hard. In fact, there are tons of defining characteristics. For the purposes of this discussion, I will focus on Science Fiction and how to discern not only what constitutes it a genre but also what differentiates it from other types. I’m also very familiar with this genre so I’ll be saying the most about it.

I’m not going to go all Master Race here and put down one particular genre down in favor of another. That’s not the purpose here. My point is to give you ways to determine what is what and go from there. My examples are not all-inclusive so feel free to add to the list as you need.

Science Fiction:

Science Fiction is a very expansive genre that combines multiple concepts and subdivisions. However, a science fiction story can be sussed out by looking at the following items:

1) Construction Materials: What are the buildings made of? If they utilize items such as sheet metal, cinder blocks, plastic or composite materials, the story is most likely Science Fiction. Furthermore,  if the methods of construction utilize rivets or welding, that can also be a giveaway. Advanced construction materials and techniques indicate an advanced level of technology.

2)Technology Level: Science Fiction has always dealt with The Future, either near or distant. Cell phones, electronics, digital and/or analog computers, space travel, etc are hallmarks of an advanced technology level. The technology level can be speculated to your heart’s content, but any trace of advanced technology beyond present day capabilities (with some exceptions like certain dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories) places the story firmly in the Science Fiction camp. In other words, if your civilization is agrarian in nature, placing a computer in the thatched huts makes it Science Fiction.

3)Social Attitudes: You can go in a lot of different directions with this one so I will merely state that, in general, advanced civilizations often breed advanced and enlightened attitudes. Yes, there are exceptions and yes, they are determined by the Writer’s attitudes and preferences.

4) Spaceships: This goes back to the Technology Level, but spacecraft have always been a staple of Science Fiction. If you see a spaceship, bingo!

5) Aliens: This is kind of a gimme, but what the hell, I’ll include it anyway. Aliens (the Outer Space kind), are another staple of Science Fiction. Little green people, tall gray people, even shapeless amorphous blobs of protoplasm from Planet X. Doesn’t matter. If they show up, you know what you’ve got.

I will probably revisit this particular discussion at a later date, so if you have suggestions on a particular genre that you would like me to talk about, leave a comment. I’ll do the necessary research and present a discussion on it.

I’m here to help. 🙂

What is Genre?

When we talk about Writing, the conversation will inevitably steer itself toward Genre. But what is Genre?

Merriam-Webster.com defines Genre this way:

1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content
2: kind, sort
3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usually realistically

Pretty dry, huh? Well, let’s translate this into something a little more relatable to those of us who don’t specialize in writing dictionaries.

In my opinion, there is a handful of times where a writer has to worry about defining what genre their work goes in.

The First is when someone asks, and they inevitably do, what kind of story they’ve written. We could go into enthusiastic explanations about the characters, the plot, the action that’s taking place, but after a few dozen or hundred times, that gets old very fast. So, we do what any normal person who gets tired of answering the same question over and over again: We go for a stock answer because that’s what’s generally expected. It’s one thing to go into detail over a particular story, but when you use a tag like Science Fiction or Mystery, people instantly get it. It’s amazing how quickly the topic of conversation goes to something like cats or good food when that happens.

Another time is when you are approaching a publisher or agent with your work. Marketing is an important tool when finding a home for your work. Publishers and Agents don’t have a lot of time for long pitch conversations as they receive about tens of thousands of queries and manuscripts every year. So, you have to get in and out quick, grab their attention, and hope for the best. Placing your work within a particular genre streamlines the process and lets everyone involved know exactly what’s what.

How many literary genres are there? That’s a tough question because the list is like The Universe: Ever Expanding at an accelerated rate. Add to that expansion that some genres, like Fantasy and Horror, can start as a sub-genre of another, like Science Fiction, and expand to a level where it becomes a full-fledged genre in its own right. Of course, there are also contractions that can place due to cultural changes and popular tastes. I feel that Satire is one of those that grew to enormous popularity in the 1970s, then shrank as audience preferences changed.

Anyway, to sum it all up, Genre is simply a type or category. It’s a name plate or a coat of paint. It doesn’t change anything about the story except who may be reading it.