Thursday, February 10, 2011

Romancing the Genres

Current Project: Blindsight, Romantic Suspense
Status: 85% First Draft

As writers of popular fiction, we have a plethora of genres and subgenres in which to tell our stories. What does that mean for us as writers? How does our genre or subgenre choice affect our writing?

Let’s agree on a few things right up front:

• The primary aim of genre fiction is entertainment.

• All genre (popular, commercial, mass market) fiction involves telling a story through a plot that has a beginning, middle, and an end.

• These stories must have well-defined characters, including a protagonist (whose choices and actions in pursuit of a goal propel him through the setting) and an antagonist (who opposes the protagonist.)

• A setting, or story world, challenges the protagonist and, together with the antagonist, forces him to emerge either triumphant or defeated.

• A theme unifies the story and the characters’ growth arcs (or lack thereof.)

What sets a genre apart?

Specific conventions such as:
• Plot events
• Settings
• Character types
• Focus (Ex. Romantic suspense or mystery? Which plot is the strongest, takes up more pages, etc.—the romance or the mystery?)
• Styles of writing (Pacing, POVs, etc.)

Other factors may come into play, such as:
• Intended audience (Mainly young adults, men, or women?)
• Feelings the story evokes in the audience—especially the feeling the reader experiences at the close of the book. (Think thriller or horror or romance.)

So what sets a subgenre apart?

These are the ideas I came up with:
• Different aesthetics (Ex. Besides the setting, a Regency historical has a certain unique ‘feel’. The optimism inherent in a true steampunk reflects the Victorian aesthetic.)
• Different Tone (Ex. A light paranormal vs. a dark paranormal, a sweet contemporary vs. a chick lit)
• An unusual setting for the genre as a whole (Ex. A Czech historical, an ancient Greek paranormal) or an imposed setting restriction in a genre (Ex. urban fantasy, Scottish historical)
• A blending of major features of two or more genres or subgenres (Ex. A western steampunk romance, a paranormal thriller)

Can you think of any other factors that may set subgenres apart?


Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Sarah! You seem to have a solid perspective on something I don't: labels.

I can appreciate broad labels such as romance, horror or western to give readers a starting point when they are trying to decide which one of thousands of books to read. However, when it gets down into subgenres of subgenres, my eyes glaze over! LOL!

I want a good story and happy ending. Beyond that, I don't really consider what separates the genres and subgenres. However, I think we are fortunate that writers seem to be exploring so many different settings and worlds. It gives readers many more choices.

Many thanks to you for sharing your wisdom!

Paty Jager said...

Sarah, This is a great boiled down "this is what genres" are post.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thanks for commenting, Genene! I agree that the most important thing is to write a good story. But I think that in today's publishing world, niche marketing (read 'subgenre')is an effective way to focus your promotional dollars. Labels are all about marketing and reader expectations.

It's a choice between shooting for 'little fish in a humongous pond' or 'big fish in a not-as-big pond.' With a potential worldwide subgenre audience, I'm not sure little ponds exist any more.

Sarah Raplee said...

Paty, What can I say? I'm cursed with an analytical mind! I want to take things apart to see how they work. LOL!