f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 1 of Genre – Introduction

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

Monday, July 26, 2004

Day 1 of Genre – Introduction

I don’t know that there’s an official list of official genres. Like every other conversation there seem to be some blurry lines. Is “coming-of-age” fiction a genre? There’s enough stories out there, certainly. Let’s spend some time setting up some parameters and boundaries and then look at each genre case by case.

Genre is a word of French derivation that essentially means kind or class. It’s an organizational word meant to group things by characteristic. It’s linked to words like genus and gender all of which are also about cataloguing. If I were better at etymology I could tell you why we all use this word for artistic categorizing, but I’m not so we’ll just move on.

Here’s my list of genres, arranged alphabetically.

CBA Fiction
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual

Feel free to make your own or comment on this one. General/Literary gives me the most trouble, but I don’t want to subdivide it too far.

Chick-lit may surprise people since it’s relatively new, but I think it’s agreed upon in the industry at this point that it’s managed to pass the point of “trend” to actually establish itself (ironically by reaching back through time to authors like Austen) as a legitimate category.

The others wax and wane with the time. Or rather, enter and exit out of the greater public consciousness with time because none of these genres every really disappears. There are always niche presses and publishers who know how to reach their devoted core of fans that are truly the resonate population that defines a genre. It’s those readers more than anything that allow a category make this list. 

Let's go back to “coming of age” stories. Are there are a ton of these books out there? Yep. Are there readers who just LOVE coming-of-age stories and can’t wait for the next one to come out? That seems less likely to me. It’s where we get into problems with the general category. It’s too broad. I think “literary” is almost a better designation because there are certainly readers who will pick up the next work praised in the Times book review. But the line that separates literary from general fiction is as clear as coffee.

The last point to make is that, obviously, most of these genres have sub-categories that are nearly popular enough to be considered their own genres. Apocalyptic Christian fiction, for instance. Or “speculative” thrillers in the vein of DaVinci Code and Rule of Four. Or “pulp” under the mystery category. You can break those out if you’d like, it’s just that list begins to get a little unwieldy at some point.

The rest of the week (and maybe longer), we’re going to be looking at these genres and especially their relation as sub-genres in the Christian market. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Christian literature and I’m not abandoning that, but the fiction world is far broader than simply that slice of the puzzle. And there’s a question of value. Is it better to write a poor novel with literary pretensions or craft a finely honed drawing-room mystery? I don’t want to be accused of elitism here (even though I wear my interests and preferences on my sleeve); I mostly want to champion stories well told, no matter where it finds itself on the list.