Genre derives from the French around 1770 referring to independent style. It is useful when looking for similar types of literary work, but it can be very limiting. In Science Fiction alone there are 10 sub-genres listed in Wikipedia plus one for other, which covers a lot of ground left untouched. Then there’s mixing genres, like fantasy and science fiction or romance and horror, referred to as paranormal romance. Romance is very popular in most genres it seems and there is even a new sub-genre for science fiction called Science Fiction Romance.
I understand the desire to be able to pigeon-hole a story into a neat little genre so the retailers know how to market the novel. I also understand that people tend to read in one or two genres and tend not to drift too much from their favorites, and being able to label something as a specific genre helps the reader knows where to look.
Genre can be a good thing for an author if they fit neatly into one; their readers know right where to find them. But it can be an albatross as well, if a writer wants to write in a different genre. I’ve heard stories of writers being shunned because they wrote a book in another genre. Personally I think that just plain sucks. Writers should be able to write whatever they want. I know several that write comfortably in more than one and I think it helps keep the creative juices flowing.
What if your story doesn’t fit neatly into a well-defined genre? The current work-in-progress crosses several genres and I’m not sure how I am going to market it. Even coming up with a good tag line for it is difficult. It’s parts Space Opera, Military SF, and Paranormal Romance. I’m not even sure which one would garner the most traffic. No matter which way I go I’m bound to turn off someone. Some people don’t like vampires or romance or science fiction. I guess I am looking for people just like me, but I haven’t met very many that share the same likes and dislikes exactly like mine. I don’t want to be stuck writing the same stuff over and over either. I like fantasy. I like adventure stories. I like historical fiction. Maybe I want to write in all of those areas. I guess that is another check in the plus column for self-publishing. But, I’m still undecided on that front.
What do you think?
When I started planning the current WIP, I didn’t have any romance in mind at all. It was going to be straight up Military SF. I don’t think I even had any major female characters. As the ideas percolated I changed the sex of one of my major characters to a female, and then hit on the idea for my MC as a vampire and the entire scope of the book changed completely as did the POV. I had in mind to do a first person story from the vampires POV.
A lot of time passed in the real world while all these gyrations were going on and in the midst of it my wife started reading again. When I say she started reading again I mean she started reading voraciously. It all happened more or less simultaneously with me trying to develop my story arc. She started really getting into the paranormal romance books.
Twilight started it all. It was like an entry level drug, which leads to stronger stuff. Then she got me to read some of the stuff she was reading and I found that I actually enjoyed a lot of it. I’m particularly fond of Patty Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books, and Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, and I even read most of the Archeron books by Sherrilyn Kenyon. At some point in there I realized that if I could develop a story arc with some romance in it the appeal would widen and it would also allow me to bring in an entirely new POV that would let me explore more of the universe I was creating. That was when the current outline materialized.
I have two main characters, one male and one female. I had the idea of a Y shaped story arc, chasing both POVs until they intermingle to form a single plot line, allowing me to bring in some romantic elements and defining the course of my sequels. I had never written a female perspective before so it was challenging to make her feminine but not a caricature. I really started studying the personalities of some of the woman I work with. I work with female pilots and my female lead is a pilot. What I discovered over the course of the last couple of years is that men and women can have similar personalities and similar interests. I can find a woman that if I just described her likes and dislikes you might think it was a guy. I have also met men that were the opposite. This was a bit of a relief, but on the other hand I have to keep the reader in mind and what their expectation might be. It’s not completely defining, if I write her well enough I should be able to sell her regardless of the things she’s interested in, but it freed me to take her some places I might not have otherwise.
Doing the romance part and not rushing it is not as easy as you might think. I think most of us can remember those first moments when we knew we liked someone or the big moments like when we got engaged or married, but how well do you remember all the intervening steps. It’s like a dance and you need to draw it out and make it last a bit, tantalizing the reader and delaying the gratification as much as you dare. I’m still in the middle of that part and I’m working hard to get it right. The nice part is I think about my wife a lot, since I know I did some things right in our courtship.
Think about your significant other this week and try to do something special to remind them how much they mean to you. I hope you all have a great Valentine’s Day!