Saturday, March 3, 2012

Guest Post: On genre in fiction and why it's not very important


So what's a nice literary fiction gal like me doing blogging at a dangerous place like Boychik Lit?  Am I at the wrong party? No, I don't think so.  The way I look at it, good writing is good writing and when it's happening, a genre label is probably little more than something publishers use for marketing purposes and readers use to make sure that the book they're about to read isn't going to bore, bother, upset, or irritate them.  When a novel is superbly written, and the characters are distincitive and 'true', then the reader won't get bored, bothered, upset or irritated no matter whether you call the book chik (or boychik) lit, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, or literary fiction.  Here are two reasons why I don't believe genre really matters:

Few novels stick perfectly well to genre conventions, especially when they're employing the elements of good fiction writing, such as the character arc, a powerful setting (whether that setting is Stavromula Beta or, as in my new novel Black Cow, a remote farmhouse in Tasmania), an exciting dramatic plot, a rich theme, and a unique concept. In fact, the only time that genre conventions are crystal clear and 100% conformed to are when stereotypes are in play and the overall result is clich√© laden. I've never written a story or novel that didn't have elements of romance, horror, historical fiction, and even sci fi.  It's all part of the complex spectrum of human experience. Yes the overall tenets of genre may apply and give the story it's distinctive feel, category, set of parameters, and these can add important flavour, but if the story is good, I'll enjoy reading it no matter what the genre, and especially if there is no obvious discernable genre but rather a blend of elements that make up different genres. 

Even the notion of genre is a moveable feast.  Have you heard of "medical-romance"? "Airport fiction?", "beach reads", "steampunk", "squid-lit"? They're all relatively new genres coined by marketers to try and attract a particular audience, based on broad but sometimes (when everything is working well) nebulous criteria.  How about the distinction between "Young Adult (YA)" and "Adult" fiction?  One of my favourite novels The Life of Pi is sold as YA in the US and adult fiction in Australia.  The same goes for The Book Thief.  Sometimes parents use the genre "YA" as a means for ensuring themselves that the book will be suitable for their teenagers.  But some of the best, most sophisticated (and disturbing) adult novels I've read have been tagged as YA.


The best novelists don't get too caught up in genre unless they're writing to a very clear specific spec - and that may well hold true for Harlequin staff writers, but most of us just get on with the writing.  Maybe when it's all done, some canny soul in the marketing department (or the author under duress) will decide that it fits into one or more genre categories. Maybe the cover will hint at a certain type of escapism which will appeal to a certain type of reader.  If these things open new markets to the work, then everyone wins. 

Magdalena Ball is the author of the newly released genre free novel Black Cow (actually some people have called it "Recession-lit", "contemporary fiction", and "literary fiction". If any of those appeal to you - go with them!). Grab a a free mini flip book here:  http://www.bewritebooks.com/mb/BlackCow/BlackCow.html
Check out Gerald's review of Black Cow right here at the blog. Or dive straight over to Amazon now for some instant gratification. 
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