Thoughts on Genre

I’ve been thinking about genre recently. The genres I prefer to read…and the genres I choose to write.

I know the defining characteristics of genre. I can tell the difference between fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. I can even tell when they overlap (I’ve been reading a very good series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch which melds science fiction with mystery. If you haven’t met Retrieval Artist Miles Flint, I highly recommend you do so quickly 😀 ), but where in the story does genre reside?

Let’s look at the bare bones of a story: A character – in a setting – with a problem.

What part of that equation represents genre? I’m going to posit that genre resides in the setting.

The character has to be relatable to the reader, someone the reader can identify with and care about. Even if the character is an alien, s/he has to have enough “humanity” to allow the reader inside his/her skin. So, genre doesn’t reside in character.

The problem also has to be relatable. Something the reader understands and can identify with. So no matter the genre, the problem must be of a common enough nature to allow the reader to care whether or not the character solves it. Nope, the problem (plot) doesn’t represent genre.

Setting is where genre resides. Science fiction settings are vastly different from fantasy settings. Mysteries can take place in a sci-fi or fantasy setting, but then they aren’t classified as mysteries (unless the setting is so minimally sci-fi as to make it almost invisible – JD Robb’s “In Death” series fits this bill).

Romance is character-centric with the essential element residing in relationship, but romance also transcends all the genres. You name a genre, and there’s a romance sub-genre covering it.

So, setting, and how the character understands and interacts with the setting, is where genre resides.

In order to write science fiction, an author doesn’t have to be a scientist. S/he just needs to imagine a rich enough world (setting) for the reader to know that the characters don’t live on our planet / in our time / or within our current understanding of the physical universe.

Back to the bones of story:  A character the reader can identify with (thereby gaining access to the story) – in a setting (which determines the genre) – with a problem (which defines the plot).

What do you think?

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About Debbie Mumford

Debbie Mumford specializes in fantasy and paranormal romance. She loves mythology and is especially fond of Celtic and Native American lore. She writes about faeries, dragons, and other fantasy creatures for adults as herself and for tweens and young adults as Deb Logan. Visit debbiemumford.com to learn more about her currently available work.

Posted on July 14, 2014, in about writing, Authors - Debbie Mumford and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Fabulous, Debbie! You break it down like that and it all seems so simple. Fully agree- or at least, when the genre details do leak over into character and problem, it certainly makes it a more “hard core” example of that genre. And I fully agree that the genre “flavor” can be shaken into other books, like an adjective modifying a noun, a mysterious fantasy, a sci-fi thriller, and so on.
    One of the biggest determining factors in my opinion is whether the tale defaults to the Alleged Real World or not. So a pure mystery or thriller (set in the modern day) means the reader can already understand so much about the world- gravity, nuclear family, death and taxes- that you have the advantage of moving straight on into this particular plot, only bringing out the details when needed (like the way a stuck elevator is wired, or how a tracheotomy works).
    I’ve heard tell of a genre called magical realism, where the entire world is just like this one except for one thing. Another example of a flavoring to the basic “stock” of a tale.

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