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.