How does one Define a Genre?


Writers are always being asked what genre their book falls into.

Let us start by defining a genre. A genre is a category of books that usually follow a common theme and are usually written to certain specifications.

For example: A romance is not simply a story of boy meets girl, and they fall in love. Sure, you can not sell a romance unless there is love and kisses. You don’t need sex, but often it helps make a better story. Often the sex is exaggerated, excessive or gratuitous, but many good romances have no sex at all, only illusions to sex off stage or in the future. Some of the classic romances such as Jane Ayre are done with little beyond a few kisses. Some even do not describe the kissing.

If you submit a romantic short story to an editor, it will probably be rejected unless it fits the following specifications: A romance must be written first person from the point of view of the heroine. The heroine must meet the hero early in the story and be attracted to him, but there must be a barrier that comes between hero and heroine shortly after they meet. The real challenge of writing a romance is to create this barrier early in the story and then somehow resolve the barrier so that by the end hero and heroine are not only enjoying a mutual attraction but have entered into some fulfilling relationship. Marriage or impending marriage used to be the desired outcome of a romance, but these days, any kind of fulfilling and potentially stable relationship is accepted.  The guy does not always get the girl, but the story resolves in a way that both parties are satisfied with the outcome.

As a beginning author, you have to follow the specifications or no one reads to the end of your manuscript. Accomplished authors can bend the specifications a little, and best selling authors can pretty well do what they want as long as the heroine and hero eventually become a pair in spite of early barriers to their relationship. Thus to the reader, distinctions between genre often become blurred when their favorite author violates the specifications of the genre. For example, your favorite author may write from the point of view of the hero, and what reader cares as long as the story keeps you up turning pages?

Well, the editors care. Authors are always being asked to identify the genre of their work.

In my correspondence with other authors, the question frequently comes up, “What genre is my book?” You see, the typical book usually has elements of several genre. Usually there is a romantic interest between male and female characters. but would you call the manuscript a romance? There may be action. Does that make it a thriller? Someone may solve a crime. Does that make it a mystery? A nerd like me may throw a lot of science, perhaps even some high tech futurism, into a story. Is it automatically a Sci-fi? A story about successful women is not necessarily chick lit. My thesis is that many books are enjoyable because they borrow from many genre.

Remember now, in addition to the theme or themes of a story, each genre, in theory, requires certain specifications. It is impossible to write a manuscript that follows the specifications of all genre. Many genre have specifications that are mutually exclusive.

My question to you, the reader, is what book have you recently read that does not easily fall into what you understand a genre to be? Send me a comment with the name of the book, what genre you think it falls into, and why.

Or you can send me a comment telling me your favorite genre and why.

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About Reynold Conger

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist, engineer and teacher. Now writing fiction. His books are CHASED ACROSS AUSTRALIA, MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR and REDUCING MEDICAL COSTS (AT THE COST OF HEALTH). He has also started a series of novelas called THE RICHARD TRACY SERIES. Residence: New Mexico, USA Hobbies: gardening, animals and running. website www.ReynoldConger.com
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