Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What the %$#! is 'genre' anyway?

I'm taking part in a fun writing exercise with independent author and all round fantastic woman, Maria Savva. She's the author of Second Chances and, clearly, from our project, she's one prolific writer.

We're over at and getting a number of hits from people following along as we build a story together. It's been a blast: on a whim, Darcia Helle (another talented scribe) suggested we write a story about a nasty book reviewer who gets what's coming to him by way of the authors tarnished by his powerful, widely-read reviews.

Maria and I took up the challenge and have been writing for a little over a week. An interesting point to note is that we have had only had a handful of conversations via email and none of them are about the story. We didn't make a pact or anything but I think we're both having fun just getting out of the way when the other gets a turn.

The story has come through some interesting twists to where it is today. The pattern emerged that Maria would write a chapter and leave it open and then I would return when I had some time and write the next chapter. Sometimes we try to stump the other but, so far, no one has dropped the ball on any of the twists or surprises.  Visitors and members seem to be enjoying it and that's a great feeling for anyone who produces anything meant to be shared.

Another interesting thing (among many) comes from the fact that Maria and I are much different writers. You can tell from the different way we approach this story that we probably read different kinds of books and, therefore, are pulled to different characters, events and styles. One of us might write a very exciting scene where the characters are doing all kinds of scheming and then the other might change gears entirely and throw some sad and poignant backstory at the reader to mix it up. It's not unlike the manic right-and-left brain battles one writer will have on his own project, but it's so extreme here because there's more than one mind doing the heavy lifting.

I think one of the most telling things is if you look at our story in terms of genre. There's some romance, some noir, doses of black comedy, crime drama, some interesting dramatic tension, some harsh reality, and (lately!) some almost bizarro comic stuff.

What surfaces is an interesting melting pot. We move from genre to genre in what appears to be a smooth fashion, but really, it's likely that only our subconscious writing instincts are guiding us -- it should be noted that we are not editing as we go. This is entirely first draft stuff. I've headed back in to change two or three glaring type-os but other than that we are not skating backwards. Only forwards, towards the net.

It starts me thinking that the idea of genre really is getting blurred, particularly among the independent e-book authors out there. Why would any of us strive to have our stories in one genre when it is so accessible to borrow from everything?


  1. I am loving the story that you and Maria are creating! It's amazing how well the two of you fell in together. Though your styles are different, your scenes blend seamlessly.

    You're right about genres. Mainstream publishing has always put tight constraints on what they publish and where it fits in. Everything needed to be neatly labeled. With indie fiction, we can break those boundaries and go where the mood takes us. You and Maria are proving how much fun that can be, both for the authors and the readers.

  2. I completely agree, Darcia! And what's more, I think this trend has been in the works for years.

    Many mainstream authors have been genre-bending for a while, almost as though they were setting us up for this revolution. I only look at genre labels as a starting point for what to read. I never expect good writers, indie or not, to completely fall into the confines of any specific kind of story.

  3. "It starts me thinking that the idea of genre really is getting blurred, particularly among the independent e-book authors out there. Why would any of us strive to have our stories in one genre when it is so accessible to borrow from everything? "

    I can think of a reason: connecting with the market. Genres are pigeonholes, and they can be limiting and constricting, but they can also be useful. When a bored reader says "I want to read some new SF/fantasy/mysteries/thrillers/romance/whatever...", they'll go looking for stuff in those genres. If your work straddles genres and is not easily classified, it may slip through the cracks.

    How much this matters depends on who you are and what your goals are. If you are an established writer with a following who buys your work because your name is on the cover, you might not care. If you are a new writer struggling to build an audience, you might care a lot.

    If you just love to write, are happy if a few people discover and like your work, and don't plan to quit your day job, it may not be an issue for you. If you are trying to reach a point of making any significant amount of money writing, and making your living or a reasonable fraction of it from published work, you may need to be conscious of genres and make a point of staying within the confines in at least some work.

  4. Certainly a good point about how the big six still categorize the work. However, with indie and e, your point about listing nine categories ("SF/fantasy/mysteries/thrillers/romance/whatever") also rings true with what I'm saying.

    Pretty soon, you'll be able to type that exact phrase into a search engine and get an indie book (or even a "published" one) that has been tagged by readers and the author with *all* of those genres. Try another one: "quirky, space aliens, milk, black comedy, romantic, crime fiction." Pretty ridiculous list, but someone might actually write a story that hits on those things and tag it as such. Down the road, maybe even within five years, I might be having a nutty moment and do a hunt for that exact cocktail, I'd be liable to find it. The genre bending will continue and it will be aided by the tech we're using as that tech itself get more savvy and more specific.

    In the meantime, I think you're dead on. Many writers are already experimenting with genre, but if they're trying to market and gain an audience, they're most likely classifying their work in a genre that *most* suits their material, even though it probably breaks traditional rules for that genre and allows nine others to creep in for the sake of interest. I know I am!

    Thanks for stopping in, Dennis!

    j. //

  5. I understand the point you are making Dennis, but I feel that genre classification restricts creativity. I won't write for a certain genre and if that means I'll never get a publishing contract with a major publisher, then it's their loss not mine. I'd rather produce fresh, exciting and interesting work that pushes the boundaries rather than have a bestseller where I've just rewritten someone else's book. Indie books are infinitely more original than those on the mainstream publishers' lists. I just can't wait until the general public begin to realise that. Then maybe we underdogs will finally get the success we deserve.

  6. Here Here!

    I also think that, as time progresses and e becomes the new norm (possibly over years and years, possibly shorter) the readers themselves will come to expect this extreme form of genre-bending. I believe they will learn to crave it and actively seek out material that meets their particular desires, whether it crosses romance with cannibalism or auto racing with autoerotic asphyxiation ( ?! )


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