Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quote of the Day: Conventions and Genre

Today's quote is from filmmaker David Cronenberg:  "Working in any genre has the same problem," says Cronenberg, whose work includes such twists on science fiction as The Fly and eXistenZ. "You gain great strength from the genre, great power, because the audience instantly knows where you are. They've seen that; they get it; you don't have to waste time establishing the conventions. But then the conventions can come back to kill you because, if you follow them absolutely, you will be boring and predictable. So you have to overturn them, even as you use them."

This quote really resonates with me, because I'm struggling now to tell my own stories within the more rigid framework of a particular line of books.  In order to do that, I need to understand what the audience is expecting from those books, and be sure I give it to them, while still being true to my own voice, and not being predictable.

I'm struggling right now with the idea of being aware of the genre conventions, but finding a way not to bore people with a predictable story.  During our discussion at the last chapter meeting someone said she gets tired of stories that are so obviously leading to a happy ending.  I think the problem isn't the happy ending per se; I think it's that you really don't believe in the reality of the characters--you don't think they really have such strong conflicts and such deep motivations that they have any question about getting together.  Nothing is surprising, or new, and it's boring.

I'm not saying that clearly.  I think it's like reading a mystery:  you know what the mystery is.  You know it will be solved.  You know the villain will get his/her comeuppance.  But that doesn't make a mystery boring.  You read to figure out how and why all these things will happen, and a good mystery author can have you questioning just how the story can possibly get to the resolution--because it's not predictable.

In a romance, you know the two characters will end up together.  The question is, how can people with such deep conflicts, with so much standing in their way, end up happy together?  If you don't believe in the characters, feel they're real and that they have pasts and wounds and beliefs and opinions of their own, you won't care about how they get to their happy ending.  If you believe in them, if you are rooting for them, then it's like watching someone you care about falling in love--you are filled with joy that they finally got the happy ending they so richly deserve.

Now all I have to do is make that happen in my books....


Alice Sharpe said...

Barb -- I agree with that quote 100% It's always a struggle and coming up with new ways to tweak familiar ground is always tricky.

Since there are certain caveats within every genre, it would seem to me that if someone is tried, for instance, of knowing a story is headed toward a happy ending that they may be suffering GRB (Genre Reading Burnout). I've seen this happen -- and really, how could it not? Not every writer is brilliant and not every brilliant writer writes brilliantly every time!

Plus, like any experience one repeats often, as a reader you can become too savvy for that particular genre while a new to the genre reader can be fascinated. It's impossible to delight and surprise every single reader.

But we can try...
Neat post. Got me thinking.

Genene Valleau said...

As a reader, I'm guilty of this double standard. I demand a happy ending, but don't give me the same old stuff on the way to that happily-ever-after. :)

I'm not writing rigid genre books right now, but I can sympathize with authors who do. Not only do you have to find a balance that pleases the reader, you have to please an agent, an editor, a committee or whoever gives final approval--before your book even gets to readers. Talk about a challenge!

And I'm so glad authors are willing to take on this challenge, because genre books introduced me to romances and I've enjoyed some of the most beautiful stories in genre books. So thanks to all of you who are walking this balance with style, grace, and surprises!

Paty Jager said...

Barb, I know what you're saying. I think that's why the last few adventures I took away from my series have been more mystery oriented. We know the H/H are going to get together and we like to be along for the ride of emotions but the mystery/suspense in the sub plots have grown stronger in my latest books. Something else to make the reader keep reading to the end since they already know the boy will get the girl.

But I understand where you're coming from with the book that has to be the right formula. I wrote a short story recently like that and am waiting to hear back on it.

Sarah Raplee said...

Barb, That's an AMAZING, spot-on quotation, and I agree whole-heartedly with you and the commenters before me.

Gotta remind ourselves: If this was easy, everyone would do it! LOL