5 x 5 Writing Tips: Genre

  1. Genre is a ridiculously overused word that has the potential to be very confusing. Etymologically, he derives from the French word that means ‘kind’ or ‘type’. Consequently it can be applied as a superordinate term, such as when discussing the genres of poetry, prose or plays, or it can be more subordinate, such as when discussing the prose genres of fiction or non-fiction, comedy or tragedy, or when discussing categories of genre fiction such as cyberpunk, steam punk and splatter punk.
  2. Genre is simultaneously vital and unimportant. Genre is unimportant to many writers because, when we get an idea, genre is only a minor consideration as we work at telling the best version of the story we want to tell. However, genre can be vital to some readers who enjoy (for example) science-fiction, pay their hard-earned money for science-fiction, and don’t want that story to be bereft of spaceships, aliens and maybe some ray guns.
  3. Genre becomes more important to writers as they consider marketing and selling a story. You’ve written a western? Make sure it’s populated with cowboys, gunfights and wild west machismo. You’ve written a murder mystery? Make sure the clues are neatly spaced out so the reader can play the game of detection alongside the detective. Readers understand what they want from a genre and it’s a writer’s job to meet those expectations.
  4. Some genres are semantic and some are syntactic. To illustrate: a romance is a romance because the two smitten characters are introduced early on, circumstances force them apart through the majority of the text, and the story invariably concludes with them coming together and having a happy ending. This is the syntactic structure of the romance story. However, if the semantic furniture within that story shifts, it can become a different genre. Set this romantic narrative aboard a spaceship, and you’re reading science-fiction.  If the same romantic story is set aboard a pirate ship that’s about to pursue an immortal dragon, then you’re firmly in the territory of high fantasy.
  5. Genre is often treated as a dirty word, such as in the phrase, “He writes genre fiction.” Genre is only a dirty word in the mouths of those literary snobs who believe that anything done for the consumption of a broad audience is inferior to the inaccessible bollocks published outside the rubric of a specific genre. Admittedly, there has always been snobbery within writing but if you enjoy writing or reading a specific sort of material, whether that’s cosy murder mysteries, HEA romance or dinosaur erotica, I’d advise you to embrace your passions and ignore the sneering snobs. Reading and writing should only ever be about what pleases us – not someone with their own skewed agenda. 

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