How do you define genre?

TalkHobnob with Authors

Join LibraryThing to post.

How do you define genre?

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Apr 10, 2010, 11:28 pm

I'm curious about reader opinion when it comes to genre. It is difficult at times to decide myself, which genre to assign a story I've written. I write what I like to read, tales that interest me, not that I have any particular genre that I prefer. I simply write about things that appeal to me. Then when space travel shows up in the story, well, it seems there is no other choice but to classify the work as science-fiction.

Classification is a good thing and helpful. We humans tend to enjoy organizing things into categories, and it helps us find things in which we are interested. But at some point I wonder who has decided these categories (genre) and what each one truly means to the populace of readers out there.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

What qualities of a story put a book in a particular genre?

And what qualities of a story disqualify it for another genre?

Lastly, what do you consider as "literary" fiction? What makes a story that might otherwise be assigned any number of genres, but rather it is somehow considered as literary, and escapes the label of genre?

Apr 10, 2010, 11:58 pm

Very briefly, here's what I used to teach my library kids...

Science Fiction: Stories can take place either in present time or the future. Stories can take place either on Earth, on another planet, or in space. Plots include forces or devices that are at least marginally possible by scientific theory, but do not presently exist.

Fantasy: Stories can be more or less realistic, but always include magic forces or magical beings.

Adolescent fiction: Stories feature teenage characters who face problems and situations familiar to adolescents. Social problems (sex, drugs, alcohol, abuse) are common. Stories are rooted in the present day, and are realistic in nature.

Historical Fiction: Stories take place in the past. Central characters are usually created, but the setting and the social events of the story are rooted in historic fact.

Western: A special sub-set of Historical Fiction. Stories take place in a very limited time frame - basically 1840 until the turn of the century. (There can be some leeway either way) The setting is usually west of the Mississippi River. Themes can include exploration, pioneers, Oregon Trail, gold rush, wagon trains, gunslingers, western justice, Native Americans, horses and cattle drives.

Mysteries: Stories concern secrets. A crime, in the legal sense or the moral sense, has occurred and must be solved. Stories can include clues, character analysis, adventurous behavior, and threat to main characters.

Survival: The very existence of a character is threatened. The stories include the threat of death or injury, and the methods the characters employ to survive. Most adolescent survival stories find some way to eliminate the adults so that the teen-aged characters must rely on their own resources.

Apr 11, 2010, 9:11 am

@ MerryMary

Your definitions cast stories set on worlds other than ours, but that use neither magic nor "forces or devices that do not presently exist", into a sort of limbo. Stuff that reads like historical fiction, except that it is set in places that never actually existed.

Some people say "Obviously that's fantasy, it's on a made-up world", and some people say "No, it can't be fantasy, there's no magic!"

Since I've written that kind of thing more than once, I'd like to see it get it's own specific name, so that I can side-step the 'fantasy or not' argument, and just let people know what to expect.

Apr 11, 2010, 10:20 am

lshelby, can you list some published examples of what you mean? I think it might be easier to gauge if we can consider some concrete books.

Edited: Apr 11, 2010, 11:36 am

--> 1

"Classification is a good thing and helpful."

To a point. Sometimes classifying books in a genre takes them out of circulation. For example, I don't particularly like Western, romance, science fiction, or fantasy so I tend not to read those kinds of books. At the library or in a book store, it's simple to avoid them as they sometimes are pulled out of general fiction circulation and sit on separate shelves. The real test comes in other venues where fiction may not be thus classified. I sometimes find myself pulled in by these books for whatever reason and discover that I do like them. Sadly for the author, though, I found them at random, and may have missed them had they been pulled out of the fiction collection to be sorted elsewhere.

I do see the need for separating books to market them. A science fiction fan, for example, is not going to want to wade through tons of books that have nothing to do with science fiction in order to find book she likes.

What qualities of a story put a book in a particular genre?

I like Mary's definitions with a few exceptions (these are in my own mind only).

When I think of Western, I do not exclude contemporary fiction (although, by definition, it does). Stories of cowboys, Texas ranches, ranchhands, etc. still seem like Westerns to me even if set in the present time. :)

Magical realism: To me, that's not fantasy (although it is, in a way, I know). I've heard it defined as "urban fantasy". It just seems like a realistic novel with a touch of fun or a dreamlike state within it. It's almost as if one of the characters were daydreaming and abruptly comes back to reality. The odd thing about this type of novel is that, if the book were defined as fantasy, I'd never pick it up. If I discover this fantasy in the course of my reading, I'm usually delighted. Some authors who do this extremely well are Jonathan Carroll and Meir Shalev.

And what qualities of a story disqualify it for another genre?

I'm not sure this can really happen because each story is "qualified" only in the mind of its readers. I might classify Jonathan Carroll's books as literary fiction while someone else might classify them as fantasy.

what do you consider as "literary" fiction?

For me personally, "literary fiction" are novels with captivating writing. The writing does not only need to be done well, but the story has to be resonant with its readers.

What makes a story that might otherwise be assigned any number of genres, but rather it is somehow considered as literary, and escapes the label of genre?

These are the best novels, in my opinion. I think that's the case because the author doesn't limit his writing to just one sphere of creativity. These are the novels that often span more than one genre and cannot be easily classified. That is so much more realistic to me, even if the subject is not realistic.

For example, take the novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Is that science fiction? Is it literary fiction? If it took place in Texas, would it be a Western? :) The point is that it doesn't matter! It spans so much and grabs readers of more than one "genre".

ETA: Phew! I didn't mean for my post to be so long. :)

Apr 11, 2010, 10:40 am

>5 SqueakyChu: It's interesting, I have almost completely the opposite opinion of literary fiction. I think a book is classified as literary fiction if the emphasis is on the writing rather than the plot. This, to me, doesn't necessarily imply that it's good. For me, lots of pretty descriptions in a book where nothing much happens don't make for an enjoyable read.

I agree with MerryMary about the distinction between science fiction and fantasy: science fiction is based on technology, while fantasy is based on magic. I would add a further distinction between fantasy and magical realism: the magic of a fantasy world is constructed around certain rules, while the magic of magical realism is surreal/dreamlike/doesn't have to make any sense.

And, like SaraHope, I'd like some concrete examples of the sort of world described in #3, because I can't think of any offhand.

Apr 11, 2010, 11:32 am

--> 6

I think a book is classified as literary fiction if the emphasis is on the writing rather than the plot

I don't disagree that, in literary fiction, the emphasis is on the writing. I've seen some works in which the writing seemed to be the *only* emphasis of a novel. In turn, those novels did not resonate for me and seemed more like wannabe literary fiction. When I think of literary fiction, I think of works that have "class". They're all around good works in the world of fiction.

I looked up literary fiction on Wikipedia. Maybe what I'm trying to express is that "psychological depth" to which Wikipedia refers in its definition.

Apr 11, 2010, 12:13 pm

It's probably worth quoting that whole wikipedia definition here:

Literary fiction is a term that has come into common usage since around 1960, principally to distinguish serious fiction (that is, work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature). In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, the plot may or may not be important. Mainstream commercial fiction (the page-turner) focuses more on narrative and plot.

I guess I just reject the whole idea of conflating "serious fiction" with "good fiction". Especially because, as you said, there's a lot of "wannabe literary fiction" out there. And yet as long as it tries to be literary, by focusing on style at the expense of plot, it's often considered automatically better than any mere genre fiction could ever be. Gah. Because of all this wannabe literary fiction, I often associate literary fiction with pretentiousness.

Edited: Apr 11, 2010, 12:39 pm


That's exactly the word I was thinking of when I wrote "wannabe literary fiction". It just throws itself at the reader in a way that I find hard to stomach.

ETA: It's almost as if the writer, rather than simply telling a story, is trying to impress his audience.

Apr 11, 2010, 1:09 pm

Actually, J.R.R. Tolkien "Lord of the Rings" is considered "literary fiction" because he was a scholar and set out to invent languages and mythology. It was written for his peers and not the mass market. Of course, we all know how 'massively' popular LOTR has become with kids since then. :)

I think the divisions of genres are subjective and arbitrary. When I wrote ALLON, my target market was high school (age 14) and up and I told that to my publishers. But when I received the ARCs I saw "juvenile" and age 9-12 listed on sites. When I asked my publisher about it, they said there are only 3 divisions for ISBNs and age classifications - children, juvenile and adult. So my book is actually in a limbo age range that doesn't exist, howbeit a fast growing market that should have its own division. I've had readers from age 8 to 88.

Edited: Apr 11, 2010, 1:53 pm

>9 SqueakyChu: trying to impress his audience

As an author, I'd think the best way to impress an audience would be to tell a good story. If the writing is pleasant, that's a bonus.

I ask about literary fiction for a reason: I've struggled to assign a genre to my work since it began. To be honest, early on not even I knew what it was. And it wasn't like I set out with a goal of producing work in a certain genre. After editing one of my manuscripts, and we were going over it, I asked my editor, "What genre is this thing?" She said, "literary fiction" with no uncertainty. Huh? I couldn't see how, but then I'm not an experienced editor.

However, I couldn't bring myself to label the work as literary fiction. Perhaps for the very reason in #8 and #9 - pretentiousness. I wouldn't want to be viewed as pretentious. I ended up choosing science fiction/adventure mainly because the story contains travel between planets using spaceships. Somehow (at least to me) it HAS to be sci-fi simply because of that one aspect of the story.

Then I notice something about #2, MerryMary's list of genres, which indicates sci-fi as either present or future. My story takes place in the past, a long time ago just not far away, it happens in this galaxy. But I wouldn't label it historical because it begins before our recorded history (though later catches up to it).

(A side note to #2 -- no romance? Not that it's any genre of book I've sought after, but still, that's no small market. Perhaps that it's considered "throw-away" fiction? Your thoughts?)

My favorite response is #5 from SqueakyChu, the idea of "Magical Realism." That one makes me bubble inside, because it may best describe the sort of fun I've been trying make. Dead Forever is full of dreams, not recounted afterward, rather told first-person in present tense. And since the story is about the subconscious, suffering from amnesia and the struggle to regain memories, the dreams fit right in and become a foreshadowing device as I link weird dream experiences to all that occurs in reality (which is no less weird). I really like that - "Magical Realism," but then what the heck genre is that?

At times I fear my project is misclassified by wearing the label of sci-fi. And as SqueakyChu notes, many readers who might otherwise enjoy the tale could walk on by simply because the for-sale sign said "sci-fi."

Apr 11, 2010, 1:38 pm

I am an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy but I don't always agree with where the line gets drawn. Personally, I slot into sci-fi based on whether the book is trying to make a point. Sometimes it's obvious such as technological or sociological what-ifs and their consequences or aliens as 'others' with different biologies. Other times it's more subtle and about adapting to change. Magic or no, superhero books read sci-fi to me because they are present-time what-ifs.

I am often uncomfortable with straight literary fiction because I like at least a touch of abstraction. Any hint of magical realism will get a book tagged fantasy. If something is literary fiction, I often don't know what to tag it at all. And for the same reason I don't like "fantasy" or "sci-fi" books that are simply otherworld politics because they read like historical fiction (I have little tolerance for historical fiction).

An example of the latter: My boyfriend's favorite fantasy series is George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series beginning with A Game of Thrones. I began to read it at his request and the entire first book was just regular people from different kingdoms engaging in soap-opera politics. I complained the whole way through because it read like historical fiction to me. Every chapter I would comment (to his amusement) that there had better be some dragons or supernatural doom in here to make all the petty back-stabbing politics worth it. (Thankfully, eventually it delivered on the fantasy front.)

Also, Naomi Novik's Temeraire series beginning with His Majesty's Dragon. I knew it was historical fiction, but hey, dragons! So I gave it a try, and the first book had enough interpersonal human/dragon to be quite nice. After that though, it felt more and more historical fiction (with dragons!) and so even though I feel they are very interesting and well-written, I couldn't bring myself to pick up the later books. Doesn't feel fantasy at all. *sad*

It just seems, as always, that your mileage may vary :)

Apr 11, 2010, 1:46 pm

>12 macsbrains: different kingdoms engaging in soap-opera politics... to make all the petty back-stabbing politics worth it.

I agree, not the best read, to me just a slice of reality cloaked by magical realms and hard to produce names. If we wanted any of that, we could always tune to CSPAN and watch our own congress in action...


Apr 11, 2010, 1:55 pm

So, Will, what would the title be for this fantasy kingdom of petty back-stabbing politicians?

Spectar's Realm or The Reign of Reid? :)

Apr 11, 2010, 1:55 pm

--> 11

"Magical Realism," but then what the heck genre is that?

Sorry, Will. To me, magical realism is not a genre, but rather a literary device, and one that is used quite effectively in "literary fiction" (whatever that is!).

And since the story is about the subconscious, suffering from amnesia and the struggle to regain memories, the dreams fit right in and become a foreshadowing device as I link weird dream experiences to all that occurs in reality (which is no less weird).

The way you describe your story is making it sound more enticing to me... :)

Apr 11, 2010, 2:06 pm

--> 11

In reading the description of your book, Will, it sounds as if most of your story takes place in the altered reality state. For me, that's not magical realism at all. To my way of thinking, magical realism is just a very small, incidental, but important part of a larger novel based on reality.

For example, in the Meir Shalev novel, A Pigeon and a Boy, there are parallel stories of two individuals living in different eras. In one scene, a pigeon talks to the main character. In the rest of the book, pigeons simply act like other pigeons (...and don't say a word). If the pigeons talked throughout the book, I'd have labelled the book a fantasy. :)

Apr 11, 2010, 2:11 pm

--> 12

Any hint of magical realism will get a book tagged fantasy.

I don't necessarily agree with that. A light sprinkling of fantasy in a spot or two is sometimes like a daydream. I think it depends on how heavy-handed the author makes it.

Edited: Apr 11, 2010, 2:14 pm

It should be mentioned, I think, that nowadays, in order to have even an outside shot at being considered for publication, a writer has to fit him- or herself into a genre, and thus, more so than ever, you'll find good writing all over the genre map. A writer going with this flow might well feel tyrannized by the current realities of bookselling, but then how can you fight it when these categories have been imprinted on the audience as well? Even here, on this thread.

I didn't want to call my book a memoir. I wanted to call it a nonfiction novel, a term Truman Capote used for a very different kind of book: In Cold Blood. Because my book has characters, dialogue, a plot (albeit one dictated by reality)--everything fiction has. But then who, among a prospective readership--much less the gatekeepers at publishing houses--would know what the hell I'd written?

Apr 11, 2010, 2:22 pm

It's probably a sign that I should try to read more of it, but "Magical Realism", as a term, makes the tiny muscles around my right eye spasm.

My gut reaction to it is that it's fantasy for/by people who don't want be seen reading/writing fantasy. Like it's the fantasy equivalent of science fiction's "speculative fiction".

> 4, 6

How about GRRM's Dunk and Egg stories? They're pretty much ASOIAF, but without the sprinkling of dragons and magical spookiness beyond the Wall: historical fiction set in a world that never existed.

Apr 11, 2010, 3:28 pm

#18 In fact, Jeannette Walls called her recent book Half-Broke Horses a 'true-life novel.' It was based on a historical person (her grandmother), but obviously she could not report every aspect of her book with 100% authority as 100% fact. Therefore, she felt it was only appropriate to call it fiction, but to clarify that it was based on something true. Neither the gatekeepers nor the readers seemed to have problems with that--neither group is dumb or without vision.

Apr 11, 2010, 3:37 pm

#19 To me, Speculative Fiction isn't a term that is necessarily intended to elevate science fiction--it simply clarifies things that may not exactly fall under the traditional science fiction umbrella. For instance, The Road, which has been mentioned here, could qualify as Speculative Fiction because it is post-apocalyptic--it is set in our world, with the technology we currently have, but the premise of the novel takes place under a catastrophic circumstance that hasn't yet occurred. Clearly it's not really science fiction in the traditional sense--it isn't set in space or on a different planet, and advanced/as-yet-nonexistent technologies do not play a vital part in the plot (as far as I know, I admit I haven't read it).

In that vein, to me magical realism describes a small subset of novels which take place in the real world (either historical or modern) and which for the most part follow normal rules of fiction, except for a small magical system that is part of the plot (an example would be Sarah Addison Allen).

Apr 11, 2010, 4:12 pm

Genre divisions aren't hard-and-fast rules. Some, like cosy mysteries, are more rigidly defined, but others are not. "Historical fiction" can also be literary fiction, for example. Genres are just sets of conventions; how a book is classified depends on how many of the conventions of the genre it hits.

One alternative definition of literary fiction is that it's fiction written without concern for genre conventions. That is, while murder mysteries revolve around solving a murder case, romance revolves around romantic love (with certain other conventions, e.g. resistance), and science fiction revolves around the social implications of some theory or fictional technology, literary fiction is simply about characters. Literary fiction is not required to hit certain plot points or collect certain character tokens as it moves to its conclusion.

One consequence of the competing definitions of literary fiction is that literary fiction isn't always literary; it depends whose definition you use.

Predictably enough, "pretentious" has cropped up already in this thread. When science fiction is bad, we just call it bad; when literary fiction is bad, people call it pretentious. And since "bad" is, in part, a matter of taste, threads like this inevitably lead to the point at which someone says that (a) literary fiction is pretentious, and (b) people who read it are pretentious, don't really enjoy reading literary fiction, and only read it so that people will think they're smart.

The interesting thing is, I don't know any readers of literary fiction who don't also enjoy genre fiction.

Apr 11, 2010, 4:18 pm

> 19

Your gut feel about magic realism would be more valid if it wasn't a gut feel.

Magic realism is not a genre; it is, as SqueakyChu said above, a literary device in which magical events are allowed to occur in realistic fiction.

"Magical," in this context, does not imply the use of a magic system, or any kind of sorcery. Magic realism is simply the deadpan presentation of improbable or impossible events in an otherwise realistic narrative.

One of the important features of magic realism is that the magic is not explained; fantasy, on the other hand, typically involves magic systems in which magic and impossible creatures have to adhere to systems of rules, which may be made explicit.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is among the poster boys for magic realism. If you read him, you'll find that your gut reaction is far off the mark. He's not writing anything resembling fantasy.

Apr 11, 2010, 4:26 pm

Predictably enough, "pretentious" has cropped up already in this thread. When science fiction is bad, we just call it bad; when literary fiction is bad, people call it pretentious.

Well, yes. This is largely because of the fairly commonly-accepted definition of literary fiction given in places like the wikipedia article: Literary fiction is "serious literature with claims to literary merit", while genre fiction is just genre fiction. So bad genre fiction is just bad genre fiction, but bad literary fiction is bad fiction with claims to literary merit. And that pretty much defines pretension.

Of course, this doesn't apply with your alternative definition of literary fiction.

Apr 11, 2010, 4:48 pm

But then any bad fiction is pretentious, because it all makes some sort of claim of merit.

Apr 11, 2010, 4:55 pm

>25 ajsomerset: Sure, but not so directly. In a genre called "good fiction", bad fiction would seem especially pretentious. And "literary" often seems to be used as a synonym for "good".

Apr 11, 2010, 5:04 pm

I'd suggest it tells us as much about the people levelling the charge as it does about the work they level it against.

Apr 11, 2010, 5:09 pm


If the people evolved on that world, it's science fiction.

If it is an alternate earth of some sort, it's science fiction.

If they are humans who were sent to that world from a distant past they might not even remember, then it can be either science fiction (ships, gateways, etc.) or fantasy (magical gateways).

In many cases, it just doesn't matter how they got there, and the science fiction workds well.

Although I think the Speculative Fiction tag really works best for this type of story. It takes in all aspects of science fiction and fantasy, so that it could be either or both.

Apr 11, 2010, 5:13 pm

Genre tags are marketing tools and really nothing more. I've seen far too many writers agonize over 'what am I writing?' worries when it doesn't matter until the book is ready to be sold. By then, the publisher will have decided where it best fits.

When you are writing, I would suggest ignoring the genre labels. They can become a straightjacket if you decide you have to fit within some walls. Let your imagination free and don't worry about how somone else is going to tag it. You may be one of the rare people who even come up with a new genre or sub-genre that way.

Apr 11, 2010, 5:21 pm

>24 _Zoe_: Having a daughter who recently finished college literary fiction with 'claims to literary merit" seems more to come from English Lit professor who have their classes dissect the work. The more esoteric, convoluted and 'pretentious' the writing, the more merit it has in the eyes of the literary elite. The way out assumptions made of what the author intended are incredible and extremely subjective. Again, the wilder the assumption the better - even if is totally opposite of what the author says was the intended purpose.

Honestly, I don't want to work that hard to understand a piece of fiction. Mysteries or any genre that are written, draws me in, keeps me guess - and yes, even provoke some thought - are more stimulating and less tiresome then trying to figure out each nuance of every word the author meant.

Apr 11, 2010, 6:37 pm

--> 14 So, Will, what would the title...

Clash of the self-important nitwits.

TV Guide listing: Pompous league of snobbery assembles to exchange empty arguments aimed at further inflating the bloated egos of those appointed to serve bureaucracy. One hour special, commercial free.

--> 15 Sorry, Will. To me, magical realism is not a genre...

Sometimes I wonder if sci-fi is even a genre. It must be, but when I write and elements of sci-fi show up, I don't think of it as the story's genre, rather the stage upon which the story is played out. The story isn't about science or technology. It's about people and their problems, with their world and between each other. The sci-fi elements just happen to be in the background.

Which is why I wonder if labeling my work as sci-fi is doing me a disservice. For example, if I came along and said, "Hello there, I have a book for you, science-fiction. Would you like to have a look?" To which you may respond, "Sorry, not my cup of tea. Thanks anyway." A response that is perfectly understandable. Not all enjoy the same thing.

But on the other hand, if I describe elements as I have so far, and perhaps others -- a promiscuous female takes advantage of the hero's amnesia, the rebels reincarnate as adults, leaving the hero longing for a childhood denied to him for lifetimes. This story is about far more than sci-fi gadgetry. The other day I arrived at the simplest answer to the question we authors are often asked: "What's it about?"

Tired of all the wordy explanations, I boiled it down to: "Forgetting how to reincarnate."

--> 15 The way you describe your story is making it sound more enticing to me... :)

Thanks. This is why I love talking with readers. You may discover me or not, but either way I'm learning much about how to present myself and find the right audience for my work. I can't think of any better way than talking to readers, and I'm trying to behave by doing it in this group (for authors) and doing more than just dropping off my business card and heading for the door. I want to interact and I certainly enjoy it anyway, whether it leads to anything besides good conversation. I'll settle for that much.

--> 22 ...literary fiction is simply about characters.

When I hear this kind of thing, I think more and more perhaps my editor was right. The work might be literary after all. Though I hate to be the judge of that, as possible pretentiousness comes with it, as we have already discussed. If someone else wants to call it that, fine. I might even call it Space Opera, but then not too many years ago, that wasn't exactly a compliment.

--> 28 ...Although I think the Speculative Fiction tag really works best for this type of story.

That's another one -- speculative. It seems rather new as genres go, or I've been out of the loop. But my current understanding is that this label includes horror, and the current paranormal fade, which seems synonymous with vampires. Me=plenty tired of that, as I imagine are a few in this discussion. But what about horror? Do any see that as its own genre? Where do monsters fit in? A class of fantasy perhaps? Your thoughts?

Then there is "Thriller." With sub-genres like technological thriller, psychological thriller, maybe some of other -ological thriller. What are these? High suspense? Threat of death, either an individual or society? I'd imagine serial-killer type stories go here.

And still few comments about romance. I can imagine the great many formulaic bodice-rippers have left a bad taste for serious readers of finer literature. But how do we classify a good love story? Is it that any of the accepted genres (historical, western, sci-fi or fantasy) may contain love stories, and that does not yank them out of their genre?

Pennies, pennies, pennies for your thoughts...

Apr 11, 2010, 7:25 pm

While reading a story that fits clearly into a certain genre can sometimes be comforting, I tend to prefer stories that blur the lines between genres and even between genre fiction and whatever you want to call non-genre fiction (literary, mainstream, contemporary).

The Time Traveler's Wife is a good example. You find it in the Literature section of the book store, yet time travel is science fiction, right? In this case, the science behind it happens to be biology rather than technology. However, the relationship between the time traveler and his wife is really the central focus of the story. So clearly it's a romance! ;)

Reading lshelby's question about how to define a story about a made-up place without magical elements, I thought of Ursula K. Le Guin's Malafrena. It's set in an imaginary central European country in the 19th century so it reads like historical fiction. Since the country of Orsinia never existed you might consider it fantasy, but there's no magic. It is somewhat akin to Le Guin's other sociological science fiction, yet it's set in our own planet's past and has no futuristic technology.

Obviously, blurring genre can be a gamble. It might draw in those who wouldn't touch a particular genre, but it might also disappoint someone who was expecting a specific genre.

Apr 12, 2010, 8:07 am

>31 WillCampbell: I'm collecting on my penny thought...

Like I & #22 said earlier - genre divisions are subjective and not 'hard and fast rules.' However, they do tend to create 'hard and fast' divisions in people's minds. Which you talked about in the reaction of telling someone you write sci-fi.

I heard something similar from #12 when speaking about the titles of the fantasy books read and thinking they were more like historical fiction. I was writing historical fiction before my daughter asked me to write her a fantasy novel - so guess what? It's about a kingdom that doesn't exist where mortal and immortal characters live and interact - along with mystical creatures and supernatural elements. Thus - it crosses 2 genres.

In fact, most fantasy used to be based upon 'history' in one form or another. The "Arthurian" legend for example, or the any kingdom of the dark and middle ages. Which is why I set mine later - more toward Elizabethian - and not the normal setting. Only more recent has fantasy become dark, urban or other worldly and created its own sub-genres.

Admittedly, is difficult to figure out how the publisher will categorize a book even when an author tells them the target audience. It changes and morphs almost as fast as modern technology. That's why I felt a bit apprehensive when mine was 'down graded' to a younger audience than what I intended. It could be 'pigeon holed' in that category.

We all want to reach the widest audience we can and genres tend to frustrate that effort. Still, that is the current system.

Whew! That's more than a penny's worth, but that is agreed term. :)

Apr 12, 2010, 10:08 am

To my mind there are almost infinite divisions and subdivisions of genre, some are more clearly marked than others, but all are very blurry at the edges. Being firmly in one genre clearly attracts a specific audience - at the expense of excluding all the rest, however being of no clear genre means you aren't specifically attracting anyone at all. But genre is much more than just the setting surely?

I'd perhaps consider books another way - how much empahsis is placed on the following key elements:

Character - how the characters feel, what their motavations for their actions are, why and how have they come to this point in their lives?

Plot - action focused, what happens, how does it happen, what happens next, what are the consequences of the action?

Social commentry - why do some groups act like this, what defines these groups? who are members of this group or that group?

World building - how does the world function? where does the water come from? what other inhabitants are there?

Obviously an ideal book would be a balance of all of these, but also very very long. So genre is often a shortcut to defining where the book has strengths - and which ares it's less strong in.

Science fiction - typically strong in worldbuilding, with sides in plot and social commentry
Fantasy - also strong in worldbuilding but with more character focus than SF, and less Social commentry
Literary fiction - almost exclusively character and social commentry
Mysteries - very plot focused with some character

Obviously there are huge variences, with some being more typical and others less - but at least with this focus you can ignore arguments about the presence of absence of spaceships or magic being the defining feature of a genre.

Apr 12, 2010, 10:15 am

I like your definitions, reading_fox...

almost exclusively character and social commentary

Yep! That's my reading interest to a tee.

Apr 12, 2010, 10:31 am

Having cut my teeth as a screenwriter - now turned novelist - for me it's character & plot driven stories.

Grab attention, develop quick, yet complex characters, keep the plot moving but growing in depth, throw in several twists and turns, and end with a bang. Parking anywhere too long on word building or social commentary is a drag on the story.

Apr 12, 2010, 11:27 am

I wonder if the element of tradition isn't also something rather important when you're thinking about genre labels? Genres are not arbitrary, fixed categories, but they shift around in response to what authors do with the genre. As an author you are - consciously or otherwise - engaging with earlier work in the same tradition, and either staying within the boundaries of subject, style and form that earlier writers have set, or experimenting with going beyond those boundaries in some way. If a mediocre book crosses genre boundaries, it just becomes something awkward to place, and probably fails; if a really good book does this, then it might well shift the boundaries for those that follow it, or create a new (sub-) genre.

As a reader, you can "place" something as a crime (or whatever) novel because it shares attributes with the books you happen to regard as the defining works of that particular genre(*). Which are not necessarily the books that I, or the author, or the publisher would pick for the same purpose. To the extent that we agree, there's a definition of the genre, albeit a dynamic one, that certainly won't hold true in ten years' time. To the extent that we disagree, there are blurry boundaries.

(*)Of course, those attributes aren't just in the text: the name of the author, the publisher, the cover design and format, all play a part. You know you can probably expect a crime story if it has a black cover, because Ian Rankin novels always have black covers. And so on.

Apr 12, 2010, 12:20 pm

One factor that hasn't been addressed in the designation of 'genres' is the consuming public and social trends. My husband and I saw this a lot of this in Hollywood with producers, studios, etc. The public shift in attitude also drives the market. Which is why you see a glut of the same type of movies, books or t.v. shows in an attempt to capitalize and reproduce the 1 success that captivated the public. It would constantly frustrate us as writer to get the go ahead on a script project only to have it shelved or altered because of shifting tides in the public interest.

The same for publishing. Example -Christian spiritual thrillers and speculative fiction - not something that one would normal consider genresin the Christian market - but it really took off with Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins and Ted Dekker. The same could be said for "Chick Lit" - a new spin on the old 'romance' genre. "Urban Fantasy" Teen lit, the list goes on to satisfy public trends.

Often times this leaves the author/writer scratching their heads. The author does the writing, knows their audience and researches the right publisher for submission, and just when the manuscript hit the editor's desk, the tide has shifted and the rejection letter reads 'this no longer fits into our publishing needs.' What? you the most prolific publishing in my genre when I submit a few months ago, what changed?

Apr 12, 2010, 12:23 pm

The author does the writing, knows their audience and researches the right publisher for submission, and just when the manuscript hit the editor's desk, the tide has shifted

I wasn't really aware that authors write "toward" their public. I always thought that authors write about what "speaks" to them and then seek a publisher. As you describe shifting trends, I guess that if authors did what I thought, even less books would be sold. :(

Apr 12, 2010, 12:47 pm

That depends on the author.

Apr 12, 2010, 1:20 pm

I have been fascinated by the depth and texture you all have added to my simple definitions in #2. I have really enjoyed the debate on science fiction, fantasy and their various permutations.

My definitions are necessarily simple, because I was teaching this particular set of lessons to 4th, 5th, and 6th graders - who often were unaware of the existence of such genres.

Apr 12, 2010, 1:39 pm

>39 SqueakyChu: No, I don't write toward the public, but it is one of the 'rules' of publishing that editors and agents always ask a writer - Who is your target audience?
Actually, I wrote ALLON because my daughter asked me. She was my target audience.

And a big YES - if I or some other write even attempted to guess the shifting public trends and try and anticipate what to write - we're probably go insane before we were done. lol.

That's what made writing in Hollywood so frustrating. Usually a series had a certain set of 'rules' and/or guidelines that the writer had to follow. But when public shifts begin to alter the focus of the show and word came down from on high to change and accommodate the shift, some writers quit because it became too chaotic. We know of writers who rejected and denounce their own work on certain shows because of such shifts.

>41 MerryMary: I visit middle schools and love talking to the kids about writing. They are so enthusiastic and unguarded in their speech and questions, it is refreshing to deal with them.

Apr 12, 2010, 1:52 pm

"Science Fiction: Stories can take place either in present time or the future. Stories can take place either on Earth, on another planet, or in space. Plots include forces or devices that are at least marginally possible by scientific theory, but do not presently exist"

Alternative history has already been mentioned, and in addition there is time travel fiction. Both of which can be set in the past and be science fiction. So first sentence of the science fiction definition would need to be changed to something like: "Stories can take place any time period."

Throw time paradoxes and the like and you could end up with stories that occur in a sort of bubble universe that pops after some action or inaction. Therefore causing the story to occur outside of time.

Apr 12, 2010, 1:54 pm

Actually, I wrote ALLON because my daughter asked me. She was my target audience

What a perfect reason to write a book!

But when public shifts begin to alter the focus of the show and word came down from on high to change and accommodate the shift...

How upsetting that must be! :(

So, authors, assuming you are writing a book that suddenly shifts out of the public focus, trend, or genre, do you usually change your writing to adapt to the changes, or do you set aside your current manuscript and begin anew with something more apt to sell?

Apr 12, 2010, 1:57 pm

--> 43

Therefore causing the story to occur outside of time

I'd better stick to contemporary literary fiction. ;)

Apr 12, 2010, 2:00 pm

41> Explains why romance wasn't on your list of genres.

Apr 12, 2010, 2:05 pm

Apr 12, 2010, 2:08 pm

Now that you mention it, I did include Romance in a very minor way. Had to speak of that particular genre over the moans, groans, and ewwws of the boys. I usually mentioned it when talking about Adolescent Fiction.

Apr 12, 2010, 2:10 pm

45> There are some movies and at least one episode of the television show Sliders that included that "bubble universe out of time" element. I do not actually recall any book that would fit in that category.

The one movie, whose name escapes me, that falls in this category involved a science experiment that sent a aircraft carrier back to WWII. It was near Hawaii near the time the Japanese sent their planes to attack. The aircraft carrier saw the waves of planes and found itself in a dilema. Attack and destroy the planes and thereby change history, or not attack. They choice not to attack. Then they popped back into contemporary time. Some people died in the transistions between time, but otherwise characters were impacted, but time was not. The action occurred in something of a bubble universe.

(there is a book series like that described above, but there they decided to join the time line, thereby creating alternate history)

Apr 12, 2010, 2:41 pm

>49 MikeBriggs: The movie title is "Final Countdown" and stars Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.

>44 SqueakyChu:. I'm stubborn, I'll wait for the tide to shift back rather than write to satisfy a whim that could change tomorrow. Here in Tennessee there's a saying, "Don't like the weather? Wait 20 minutes, it'll change."

My personal mantra is if I wouldn't like reading, I'm not going to write it. And if I write, would it be something I'd be ashamed of to let my family read?

Edited: Apr 12, 2010, 2:55 pm

50> I was actually thinking of "The Philedelphia Experiment" :), if I'm getting the title correct. Then, while writing, I recalled that there were some time line changes and in mid-stream switched to the "Final Countdown" plot.

The Philly movie had the crew, two I believe, sent to '80s Philly. And the ship/crew might have been from the '40s era. Ok, I can't really remember that movie now.

Final Countdown still works for bubble universe.

Apr 12, 2010, 3:15 pm

LOL!! Yes, "The Philadelphia Experiment" came out in 1984 and is based upon what is believed to be a true story from the Naval shipyards about a crew going 40 years into the future.

"Final Countdown came" out in 1980 and is about a nuclear aircraft carrier that rides though a 'freak' electrical storm in the pacific and ends up near Pearl Harbor right before the attack. Most of what describes in post 49 is the premise of "Final Countdown."

And yes, both work to for the bubble universe theory. :)

Don't worry about getting confused - aside from having worked in Hollywood - I married a movie buff. It's taken 25 years of playing 'movie title' charades, to learn a thing or two about movie trivia.

Apr 12, 2010, 6:40 pm

Maybe I should have called mine "fiction" and left it to the reader's imagination.

I do like...

--> 34, character, plot, social commentary and world-building.

An interesting take on the subject, and I'd call it accurate. But it makes me wonder -- do these genres that treat character, plot, etc., as they do, do so because of the old standard, "it's always been that way." ? What happens when those lines blur? It would seem to me that a blend of all four of the listed story aspects would make a worthwhile read, and in fact, are aspects I have focused on in my so-called "sci-fi" adventure. The first book is more on character, the second (Apotheosis) definitely world-building and oozing social commentary disguised as the troubles of alien cultures at war.

--> 39 I always thought that authors write about what
> "speaks" to them and then seek a publisher.

Yes and no. Think of all the Star Trek paperbacks. Not being an original concept, I wouldn't think the majority writing these are spec offerings, rather work for hire. It's fine either way, but commissioned work is a sure thing. Me, I did that "speaks" to me thing. Unfortunately, while it appeared interesting to agents and publishers, in the end it didn't "speak" to any of them the way it speaks to me. Too different, some would say, which I thought was the whole point -- anybody ready for something new? Or just the same old recycled tale? I could always write about vampires, that's popular (gag me with a spoon). Publishers couldn't see how to market my work, and to be honest, now I see why. Dead Forever is not fitting cleanly into any of the accepted genres. I tried mixing them and for it, made myself a harder to market book.

--> 41

Me too, MerryMary. You left us a great bread crumb to follow. I was thinking more about romance left out of the list (which have since explained). We might even consider that romance can fit into any of the genres you described. After all, we can have romance in space, in a historical setting, or a western on the ranch and riding horses. So it takes me back to the new question, what is genre and what is setting? Is genre the type of plot that happens? Or the setting in which it happens? There's something to consider, which (I hope) spurs more comments.

Apr 12, 2010, 6:45 pm

--> 50 "Don't like the weather? Wait 20 minutes, it'll change."

Hey! You stole that from us Oregonians! (grin) But we got you beat... wait 10 minutes. Ha!

Apr 12, 2010, 7:55 pm

Boy, Will, you just want to keep this thread going, don't you? :D

New question - what is genre & what is setting?

Okay, I'll bite....

Genre - category for ease of identification.
Setting - place and time in which something occurs.
Plot - the mechanics of the story.

Do I set my story in the 'fantasy" genre? Yes. But the genre doesn't tell me where, when or how to structure the setting of my story. Plot is separate from both genre & setting, since it sets the tone for the story which can be placed and adapted to any setting or genre.

Apr 12, 2010, 8:15 pm

--> 53

Too different, some would say, which I thought was the whole point -- anybody ready for something new?

Why do you think publishers are afraid to try something new? Books that are "different" can be marketed that way. I, for one, am excited when I find works that are different.

I also wonder why readers are so often hesitant to try things that are new or different. People like to make up their minds about the genres they like the most. I know I do. When writers try to blur or blend genres, often willing readers happily discover that going outside of their usual limits is not that bad after all.

An example would be my husband trying to get me to read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. After his describing it to me, I simply labelled it as fantasy and thought I'd pass on it. He persisted, I read it, and now love to read Gaiman's writing (although I still cannot get into his Sandman graphic novels).

I do get upset at all of the specific genre shelves both in libraries and bookstores. I never think of looking there for something new to read. oh, well. Others do. I guess that's the point.

Apr 13, 2010, 8:27 am

>56 SqueakyChu: you asked....
" Why do you think publishers are afraid to try something new? Books that are "different" can be marketed that way. I, for one, am excited when I find works that are different.

For adults it's different than with kids. Adults can more readily take new, edgy and different and separate fiction from reality. Not kids. Because of their imaginations kids need something familiar, something comfortable to them. Which is why there usually is a glut of the 'same' thing when one is successful, it has captured their imagination.

I've been amazed when meeting with 6th graders and they begin 'role playing' my book before reading a word. Just the fact that it has knights and swords and the imagines on the website of men in armor and adventure - they run with it. I heard comments from the kids Oh, I know that, or it's like this book or that story - something they could associate with that stimulates them.

I have had lengthy discussions with librarians and teachers about this. There is unanimous agreement against the push of 'new' and realistic edgy urban books about life on the kids. How it has taking away from their need to imagine, play and - yes - some form of escapism. Most of these kids 'live' these books of urban danger, family drama and such, they don't read about it. So anything that gets the kids excited and eager to imagine and play, the teachers are all for.

So 'new' maybe good for adults, but not necessarily for kids.

Edited: Apr 13, 2010, 8:35 am

I was really directling my question about adults, not even thinking about kids. However, yes, I can see where familiarity would be comforting to kids. I would even think that it's something they really need in order to feel secure. They're still learning about the world and want to be able to predict what is safe and what is not. Even in stories of escapism, I imagine it would be of comfort to them to know what to expect (at least to a degree) so as to not have to transfer uncertainty into their real world (which is scary enough!).

Apr 13, 2010, 8:40 am

Actually, the reason you get a glut of the same thing when something is successful is simple greed.

Apr 13, 2010, 9:14 am

>59 ajsomerset: Yes, greed to capitalize on the success but it begins when something achieves wide acceptance. If it wasn't for the initial success of the movie, tv show or book, the rest wouldn't follow as rapidly since they couldn't even hope to make money.

Two sides of the same coin - create an appetite and fill the appetite until it has run its course. Saw a lot of that out in L.A.

Edited: Apr 13, 2010, 12:04 pm

--> 55 Boy, Will, you just want to keep this thread going...

I see plenty of mileage left in this subject. Besides, I'm having fun, and hope everyone involved can say the same.

In my last post, I guess the subtlety of my question didn't come across as intended and rather appeared ignorance instead. I know it was my exact words, but between the lines, more than plainly asking what is genre, setting, and plot, I was hoping to draw attention to their interconnectedness.

A story happens in outer space or on another planet (setting), we call it sci-fi. A story happens in a forested realm with castle (setting) and we think of fantasy. Switch that to 1890 London (setting) and now it's historical. Next tweak plot, someone is murdered and we don't know the culprit (plot), the genre has now shifted to mystery. And if it so happens that Holmes is investigating it might even have its own sub-genre.

Independent woman meets Adonis male but can't stand him until he somehow rescues her... this describes a plot but also the genre of romance. A particular formulaic series of events that "happen." A romance novel roughly follows a certain plot and because of it earns its genre.

What I'm trying to propose for its conversational value -- how much of a story's genre depends on setting and plot? And what are good examples of stories that break these molds? (i.e. sci-fi in a western setting, mystery in a magical realm, etc.)

Apr 13, 2010, 12:11 pm

Heir Apparent is a lovely mish-mash. A girl gets trapped in a video game (sci-fi), the game is a medieval adventure (historic), she must survive the very real consequences of the game to live (survival), and she combines forces with another character to survive and they find each other after the game is over (romance - admittedly pretty minor part of plot)

Apr 13, 2010, 12:25 pm

--> 62

Nice! Tron meets King Arthur. I admire that sort of creative blending.

Apr 13, 2010, 3:11 pm

lol Yes, Will, I'm enjoying this too. Notice the smiley face at the end of "Boy, Will, you just want to keep this thread going." :D

By the way, I'm keeping track of the pennies you own me for my thoughts. :)

As for your thread - I can think of several books "Timeline" by Michael Crichton. "The TimeKeeper" series - the author's name escapes me just now. All are sci-fi, that cross into historical fiction with military or para-military themes thrown in. Hence why 'genres' are a state of influx and adding new sub-genres almost daily.

The only limit is the author's imagination.

Apr 13, 2010, 4:02 pm

Oh, we are forgetting to mention the forerunners of 'genre' bending rules - Jules Vern, H.G. Wells and Mark Twain - with "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

Apr 13, 2010, 6:05 pm

--> 64/65

Oh yeah, Shawn, I know it's a friendly poke but I cannot deny that you are right -- I was trying to keep the thread going. About the pennies, I may end up owing the most but do think we've all profited from the topic.

Your reference to the older titles bending genre gives me more fuel to keep the fire burning (grin). At what point were the likes of Vern, Wells and Twain assigned a genre? Seems like back in the days of old it was simply "fiction," or not. The classification system we have today must have come later. When, roughly? Anyone have access to some history here? Regarding at what time each genre came into being, or took hold and gained popularity as a means to classify. Fascinating to imagine the "good old days" when authors of the classics were penning their masterpieces. So different a world then, I imagine.

Apr 13, 2010, 6:18 pm

Genre, in some form, goes way back.

Aristotle recognized genres in the form of comedy and tragedy. These were defined, just as modern genres are, in terms of sets of conventions.

As to how much genre depends on setting and plot, this depends on the genre.

Some genres are heavily dependent on setting, Westerns being the obvious example. You can't set a Western in NYC -- well, you can, if you set out deliberately to question the conventions of the genre, but let's not go there.

And other genres are dependent on plot. Romance depends on plot elements (which Will describes above), e.g. resistance.

So a book can easily cross genres, as long as the conventions aren't directly opposed to each other. You can't have a literary romance (for reasons defined by Melvin Udall, i.e. Jack Nicholson, in As Good as it Gets), but you can have literary sci-fi (Atwood, Vonnegut, etc.) or sci-fi romance.

Apr 13, 2010, 6:55 pm

> 66 "Your reference to the older titles...give me more fuel...."

Oh my, I've created a monster. :)

Thanks, aj, for picking up the baton!

Edited: Apr 13, 2010, 8:24 pm

--> 67

You can't have a literary romance

What about The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger or Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez? ...and what about these?

Edited: Apr 13, 2010, 9:16 pm

The fact that a book can be called romantic doesn't make it a romance.

Romance, as a genre, has certain plot conventions, without which it ain't romance. You can have literary romances dating from a time when those plot conventions were new, but now those plot forms are worn out; if you use a hackneyed plot, no-one's going to call the result "literary," no matter the quality of the writing.

Looking at that tagmash, for example, neither The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms are romances, although they both obviously revolve around romantic relationships. And conversely, there is no way that I'll let anything by Nicholas Sparks be called "literary" while I'm in the room. ;)

(I knew someone was gonna call me on that one!)

Apr 14, 2010, 3:38 am

>69 SqueakyChu:,70
What about David Lodge's Small World? A literary campus novel with a plot that is an explicit pastiche of medieval romance (Faerie Queen, Roman de la Rose, etc.). Or A.S. Byatt's Persuasion, where the characters in the "present day" story discover that they are trapped in a standard romantic narrative, despite the fact that both of them know that romance is a literary convention that doesn't apply to the real world. Maybe you can get away with anything if you treat it ironically?

Apr 14, 2010, 7:41 am

Personally, this is one woman who doesn't like the typical 'romance' a la, Harlequin or the new chick lit. Now, if it is part of the story interwoven in the plot fine. But bodice ripping in and of itself - no. I even have romance as part of my plot. Hard to gloss over relationship in almost any genre.

>66 WillCampbell: As for you question about the history of genres - that seems to be a convoluted mess. I love doing research so I went hunting. The history varies by 'genre' - no real surprised, but I couldn't find one source that traces a history.

Some say the old genre "Gothic" goes back to the English author Horace Walpole in 1764. Some cite Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the originator of the Sci-fi genre. Aj in >67 ajsomerset: was right about the Greek's recognition of genre - that seemed to be the only point agreed upon in my internet search.

Apr 14, 2010, 8:27 am

Another throught about genre:

Do you think that genre has gone beyond its original purpose (that of classifying books) to become a marketing tool?

Apr 14, 2010, 9:06 am

I would say that genre is now primarily a marketing tool.

On the bookstore shelf, we have mystery, sci-fi, romance and a big catch-all called "fiction and literature." But within that catch-all, book marketers are continually creating new categories such as "women's fiction" for marketing purposes.

Edited: Apr 14, 2010, 9:12 am

This message has been deleted by its author.

Apr 14, 2010, 9:09 am

> 73 Excellent question!!!! Thought provoking.

Yet, I don't think there is a simple answer. It has grown into a marketing tool, still it is used for it's original stated purpose of identifying categories.

I think the marketing aspect is clearly seen in sub-genres where publishers attempt to expand a 'niche' market beyond it's 'traditional' boundaries.

Take romance for example - since this is the genre of discussion at the moment. It has gone from the typical dime store love story written to capture the 'female' audience of its day to 'paranormal', chick lit, Regency, literary, and any other title they can come up with to 'stretch' the boundaries to bring in a wider audience.

Same can be said of the dime story "Dick Tracy" type detective stories to crime drama, urban mysteries, mystery thrillers, paranormal mysteries, psychological crime, historical detective, time travel detectives, the list goes on.

So, yes, I believe the marketing aspect is all in an attempt to 'push' the envelope of that 'genre' to bring in more readers, hence more buyers.

Apr 14, 2010, 9:13 am

Ooops! It posted twice for some reason. So I deleted one.

Apr 14, 2010, 9:15 am

>72 ShawnLamb:

I doubt if you can talk about "the history of genres" completely in the abstract. Genres go a long way back (at least to Aristotle, as someone pointed out above) as a way of talking about different sorts of books academically. But the practical need for booksellers and librarians to divide prose fiction into different categories for the ease of their readers wasn't very great before the boom in novel publication in the 19th century, and probably not until quite a while after that. I've looked at a couple of booksellers' catalogues from the early 19th century, where fiction ("novels, tales, romances and the like") only takes up three or four out of several hundred pages. They often use size as a higher-order category than genre - reasonably enough, as the difference between 12mo and 8vo is rather important when you're deciding where to shelve those elegant leather bindings you ordered.

Marie-Antoinette's Legacy Library is a bit unusual for an 18th century library because it consists almost entirely of "light reading" of various sorts. She had a lot of novels, and they needed to be arranged somehow. However, if you look at her tags, which we took from a 19th century published catalogue of the library, most of the subdivisions are not really genres at all ("romans anglais" - i.e. translations from English; "romans français", etc.). The only things that stand out as genres in our sense are "romans de chevalerie", "voyages imaginaires" and "contes de fées". What we found surprising when we made the LL is that the history categories freely mix history, memoirs and fictional works (imagined memoirs, etc.) with historical settings.

Apr 14, 2010, 10:54 am

>78 thorold:. No, you're right, genre divisions serve a concrete purpose. I was simply throwing in my penny answer to the question of the use of genre in marketing. :)

Like Squeaky said in #56 post "I do get upset at all of the specific genre shelves both in libraries and bookstores." I agree and believe there is overkill with sub-genres to the point of being a distraction and a deterrent. Too many, and you don't know where to look,because your eyes and mind glaze over with all the choices. Yet, too few and a specific book is hard to find.

Very interesting about Marie-Antoinette's Legacy Library. I love tidbits from history.

Apr 14, 2010, 12:14 pm

18> It should be mentioned, I think, that nowadays, in order to have even an outside shot at being considered for publication, a writer has to fit him- or herself into a genre, and thus, more so than ever, you'll find good writing all over the genre map.

This poses a difficulty for some of us. My first book of short stories was predominantly gay stories, for ages 14-80. My second book is not of this genre at all. For me to be fit into an 'author' genre would be a real bugger.

Apr 14, 2010, 1:53 pm

--> 67 can have literary sci-fi (Atwood, Vonnegut, etc.)

This is what I'm looking to explore. Something I want to touch, experience, for my own education. Any single book you could recommend? That, in your view, exemplifies "literary sci-fi."

-- > 68

Don't worry, I was this monster long before we met here (grin).

-- > 73 Do you think that genre has gone beyond its original purpose...

Yes though I wonder if the desired result isn't backfiring (my case for example). It seems to me that genre is becoming so increasingly specialized, further categorized and compartmentalized, it narrows the focus of what a reader may choose. And readers (correct me if my assumption is wrong) through a pattern of past success (good reads) and past failure (bad reads) in their choices of books to read, associate those successes and failures with genre and grow to prefer a particular, very narrowly focused genre and are less apt to "try something new."

My assumption could be crap, but if not, it doesn't exactly make the case for being a means to sell more books, rather less.

--> 78

Love the Marie Antoinette stuff. I learn something today. I'm beginning to think, in thinking back to Aristotle, the only genre back then was tragedy or comedy. The hero either died (after learning a lesson the audience is meant to learn) or everyone laughs about it all. Seems to me (from what I'm reading here) it wasn't until Frankenstein that sci-fi was born.

Anyway... in response to all the responses, I have thoughts about the term "literary:" When we consider a work "literary" how is humor viewed? This could certainly be my own twisted view, but somehow I always think of literary as "serious." If an author interjects a pun or two, does that ruin an effort to achieve "literary status?" Just another question that drifted up from the depths.

Finally, a quick self-promotion if that's okay since this is the author's group. If not interested, this message is over. My online interview on The Indie Spotlight "airs" today. Check it out if interested:

Apr 14, 2010, 2:02 pm

--> 80

I wholeheartedly agree. It's like being an actor or actress and being stereotyped. A good actor can play any part, hero, villain, nerd or king. Just as it happens in the performing arts, we authors live under same threat. Dean Koontz wrote about this in How to Write Best Selling Fiction, that he had to essentially erase his past of writing science fiction. Dean strongly suggests that authors abandon all genre labels and call your work "mainstream fiction," which could include any genre element the author chooses. A fascinating take on it all.

Edited: Apr 14, 2010, 2:38 pm

>81 WillCampbell: Self-promo - indiespot interview.

Nice, and unusually long for interviews. I agree with printing out each chapter for editing and review. In fact, we would have family reading nights - since I wrote the book at my daughter's request. Not only visually seeing it on paper, but reading it out loud puts a different perspective ones writing. Not to mention the reactions it generates and learning if you really get your point, meaning or scene across to the audience.

Edited: Apr 14, 2010, 3:12 pm

--> 83

Thanks for having a look. We had some of those family reading nights as well, though it's been some time, and funny, it was my daughter as well who most enjoyed "editing" me (or should I say ripping my paragraphs to shreds). In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about having an "Ideal Reader." My daughter became my IR, and remains so to this day.

Apr 14, 2010, 7:38 pm

On the romance side -- I've never been much of a romance reader. I have been annoyed, though, at stories in other genres that should have been listed as romance but hide behind a different genre listing. They're the tales where (in an over-the-top pretend example), the story is listed as science fiction and it has all the trappings, but the important part of the story isn't how they deal with the invading aliens, but rather how long it takes the ship's captain and the pretty ambassador to get into bed together.

I don't mind a romantic sub-plot. Those can be fun. I just dislike the stories where it's obvious you could take the main romance plot and replace all the rest of the story with any other setting and have the same tale.

Apr 14, 2010, 7:48 pm

The problem with Koontz idea of abandoning genre labels for 'mainstream fiction' is two-fold:

1. The publisher generally picks what genre they are going to put the book under.

2. Some of us are fond of certain genres and look in those sections of a store for the books we want to read. I don't look at mainstream fiction, but I do head straight to the science fiction and fantasy sections, and then on to mystery.

So there will always be a problem with genres and being tagged as a certain type of writer, I fear. Genre labels do serve the purpose of letting readers find the types of books they like without having to search through thousands of titles on shelves. I think that is important.

Apr 15, 2010, 2:00 am

The last B&N I was in had Jasper Fforde in the main fiction section. Not where I would have put him. What do you think?

Apr 15, 2010, 2:48 am

>87 MerryMary:
File under "Reading" (or Swindon...)???

Apr 15, 2010, 5:08 am

#87 where would youhave put him? It's where I expect to see his works now. I think the firs time I was looking for his books I looked in Fantasy though.

Finding an author new to you when everything is just 'fiction' is very difficult - being in a genre section makes you a bigger fish, in admittedly a smaller pond.

Apr 15, 2010, 7:56 am

> 86 said: 1. The publisher generally picks what genre they are going to put the book under.

That can pose a problem for the author when the intended audience is different then where the publisher places the book. Like I said earlier, I wrote for my fantasy for ages 14 & older, but my publishers put it as Juvenile ages 9-12 rather than teen to adult. Granted, the middle school kids have been wildly enthusiastic and accepting, but they were not who I wrote for in depth, style or sophistication.

So how many 'other' readers are going to pick up a book that says Juvenile 9-12 or even go to the juvenile section for fantasy? My designation would have put it in Teen Fiction or even fantasy, not juvenile. Now, I'm stuck until word of mouth can branch it out from the publisher's designation.

Apr 15, 2010, 8:32 am

WillCampbell (@81) said: "And readers (correct me if my assumption is wrong) through a pattern of past success (good reads) and past failure (bad reads) in their choices of books to read, associate those successes and failures with genre and grow to prefer a particular, very narrowly focused genre and are less apt to "try something new.""

Your statement fits my experience. My preferred 'narrowly focused genre' is historical fiction.

One way I've dipped my toes into other genres is by plucking reads from my childrens' shelves; I had determined to read one book from each. From one, I tried a Tom Clancy; it held my attention, but wasn't something I would seek out again. From another, I tried several science fiction books, but couldn't make it past the first chapters. Trying again from his shelves, I found Michael Crichton's Timeline which I enjoyed very much (probably because it ~does~ have that historical fiction element to it). From my Asia-obsessed reader, I enjoyed Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, but again - it turned out to be historical fiction (if a setting as late as the 1940s falls into that category). From my paranormal reader's shelves, I subjected myself to half a dozen different books, trying to find something worthwhile, but finally gave up on that genre without finishing a single book. From my youngest, I enjoyed a Gary Paulsen. From a relative's house, who said she was a romance reader, I read what turned out to be a bodice-ripper, but hated it even though it did have a historical fiction setting.

I now tend to ignore anything with a science fiction, paranormal, or romance tag. Your conclusion, at least in my case, is perfectly true: I ~do~ "associate those successes and failures with genre".

Apr 15, 2010, 12:05 pm

82> I like the sound of 'mainstream fiction' for my next book. Then they can always use subcategories, if they wish.