f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: “Genre”—French for “Has Its Own Section at Barnes and Noble”

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, May 03, 2004

“Genre”—French for “Has Its Own Section at Barnes and Noble”

I’ve written about this elsewhere, but it seems a decent enough topic on a day when I have, literally, only one thought in my head and that thought (“Why is my office so hot?”) isn’t helping me pen this entry. So if you’ve read this before, fear not, I’m just plagiarizing myself.

Anyway, my take on genres is that they emerged, like finch beaks on birds in the Galapagos, through a Darwinian vise that focuses on aspects of writing.

Take any book and reduce it to its core components. You have plot, characters, their dialogue, the story’s setting, and the overall construction of the book. Genres pick one of those aspects and focuses on it—not necessarily to the exclusion of the others but certainly to their submission.

Here’s some further explication.

Fantasy, I think it’s fair to see, is setting-focused. If you think of the most memorable fantasy and sci-fi sagas in the world, you mostly think of their setting. Narnia is the perfect example. Or Middle Earth. There’s Discworld, from Terry Pratchett. Even the Wachowski’s Matrix fits that bill. This is fiction for empire builders—the true demi-gods among us who want, not only to tell stories, but to create new worlds.

Romance is character driven. XX and XY must realize the gaping holes in their hearts and XXXY all over the place until those gaping holes are filled.

Horror is focused on, of all things, construction. When you hear about ghost stories, you hear about mood. Mood, in stories, is partly vocabulary but it’s words passed through a vicious alchemy of pacing that knows just when to…to…to…JUMP! out at you.

Comic novels also need pacing, but they rely on the strength of individual scenes.

You’d think westerns would also be setting driven, and I guess that’s true at some level, but I think they’re also character and dialogue driven. There just seems to be “standard” patois needed and an iconic group of characters. I just don’t read many westerns, so I could be completely off here.

Any finally there’s the mystery. The mystery is plot-driven. It’s writing (hard)boiled down to its purest essence. The mystery is the plot and vice versa. At its most basic, all writing is “mystery.” What will come next? Will XX XXXY XY? Will Aslan bleed out? Will that thing that JUMPED out at him ever die? Only mysteries, though, are content to let plot be everything.

Okay, so that’s a gross simplification of genres but I think it gives us some fodder to play around with for the next few days. Where do our books fit into this scheme? What about those, supposedly, “plotless” literary books A Reader’s Manifesto demolishes? And what about CBA fiction? If CBA fiction is a genre (it is, I say so right here) than what’s its focus? I welcome your thoughts. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.