Saturday, February 17, 2018

'Genre' Versus 'Genre Fiction'

The term ‘genre’ can be confusing, for it is used to mean two different things in writing and publishing. In one sense, the broad sense, all writing fits into one or more (usually more) genres. These divisions are a part of the critical understanding of a written work, ways to better analyze it.

Genre tells one what the work is about, explores its themes. ‘Genre fiction,’ on the other hand, is more about publishing categories than critical statemens. Romance is one of the latter, or the Western. There are pretty strict expectations about what these would include as works of fiction. Were I to write a novel set in the Old West, it would certainly fit the genre of Historical Fiction but would be most unlikely to be a genre fiction Western.

To some degree, I see this as similar to what exists in music and the music industry. We have true genres, such as the blues or jazz, and we have ‘formats,’ like Americana or Easy Listening. Literary Fiction or Young Adult are essentially formats, not genres. The name tells who they are written for, not what they are about.

Many of the classics that would be lumped with Literary Fiction these days were written as popular entertainments. They can also be readily assigned to true genres. ‘War and Peace’ is certainly Historical Fiction, among many other things. The authors of not so long ago were concerned simply with writing good stories, books people would read, not with fitting some publishing niche.

The bulk of my own work (not all, by any means) could broadly be termed Fantasy. Is it of literary worth? Might I call it ‘Literary Fantasy?’ Yes, there is such term, such a publishing niche, and some would see it as a ‘genre.’ Works that fit such a category would certainly include Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ or any of the work of James Branch Cabell or Lord Dunsany. I would not be willing to self-describe my writing as such but recognize that some would. I simply try to write good stories, with at least a few actual ideas tucked into them, and well-polished language.

Entertaining my audience is important, but is not my only goal. That, I think, is what sets genre fiction apart — it is primarily escapist, intended first and foremost to entertain, not to communicate anything. I myself would not write if I had nothing to say.

So you will see many of my novels marketed as ‘fantasy’ or ‘fantasy adventure,’ and some listed as ‘crime’ or some related term. That’s okay. Place them in whatever genre you wish — but do read them first!

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