Saturday, December 23, 2006

What's In a Genre?

My last entry, and subsequent comments, got me thinking about genre. Specifically, its purpose and its limitations. Who is genre for? Is genre something the writer decides in advance, or is it something a reader uses to identify and classify work? Does genre help us, providing useful templates to lead the way through the thorny woods of our story, or does it limit us, setting up barricades and "Do Not Enter" signs to our creative detours?

I tend to think genre is something we assign after the fact, a common, if simplistic, way for us to find readers and publishers, and for them to find us. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I've been banging my head on this one for years. On one hand, genre is great because it gives you a chance to play around with fun ideas, to do something new and unexpected.

    On the other hand, genre also gets in the way. You can't just ride a creative wave wherever it goes and write whatever you want. People get complacent. They prefer what's least until they try the unexpected, grow to like it, and later expect that instead.

    The most commonly shared view (and in my opinion, the most practical) see genre as a way of reading a text. The reader sees a story through that lens, anticipating certain standards to be met. He/she brings those expectations to the work.

    But expectations are funny things. That's what makes genre such a dubious pleasure.

    Case in point: Two empires stand on the edge of total all-encompassing war. And a rogue commander steals a secret weapon that could tip the balance.

    Now did I just describe a Tom Clancy novel...or a Star Trek episode? Or maybe Tolkien. That rogue commander could be Isildur, last king of Gondor.

    Bottom line, I think genre is for audiences and academics. It's a dubious reference point for discussions and reviews. It shows us where we've been. The danger lies in mistaking that past for the future.


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