The genre system – is it good enough any more?

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digitalart, freedigitalphotos dot net

I’ve been browsing through the ‘Blogs I follow’, trying to keep up with all the discussions, concerns and new releases and I’ve been seeing a lot of posts where authors are grumbling (quite rightly IMHO) about the trouble they’re having with squeezing their novel into a genre category.

And it’s not surprising. For instance, on Wikipedia, there are currently 80 genres and sub-genres listed under fiction alone. Yikes! My own novel,  ‘A Construct of Angels’ would currently fit into the horror, romance, Urban fantasy, religious fantasy, thriller or mystery categories.

There are How-to-Write books on the market that happlily suggest that writers should choose a genre and write within its boundaries if they want to sell. But why should we have to work within such restrictions? We’re not aiming towards library shelves. Some of us aren’t even looking towards bookshops any more. The electronic age has changed all that.

In these days of indie eBook publishing, with sub-genres and even sub-sub-genres sprouting up, the whole idea of ‘genre’ feels overloaded and outdated. Of course, to declare that, an alternative is needed and here’s my (fledgling) idea;

Wouldn’t it benefit both readers and retailers if some sort of ‘tick box’ or a graphic system was introduced where the elements of the book can be highlighted (or illustrated) by a sliding colour scale such as we have with rated domestic applicances (in Europe at least)?

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energy rating

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I experimented with a few variations on this theme and didn’t find them to be flexible enough as I was still having to insert genre labels. It was colourful, but no better in terms of classification. Perhaps you could see a way to make it work.

So I tried a pie chart instead. This is a simple chart, created using ten subjects that are most relevant to my debut novel  ‘A Construct of Angels’;

CoA pie chart

Note that I said the ten most relevant subjects – there are others that I could justify adding in there, but ten is plenty. Perhaps ten is too many and five would suffice. Who knows? This is all hypothetical and open for discussion.

BTW, for you with your magnifying glasses against the screen, there’s only 0.5% sex in the story. :D

In an ideal world, the catergories would be listed from most relevant to least relevant, top to bottom, thus;

CoA pie chart sort

This arrangement should make it easier for the potential buyer to interpret. They would be free to scan the top two or three subjects and decide if the story is for them or not. They might still be swayed if their favourite genre was listed as number four or five – something which wouldn’t happen if the book had been listed under ‘Thriller’ when they prefer to read about religion- or horror-based stories.

I don’t think it would be too difficult for an algorithmist like Amazon to feed the percentages into their version of Deep Thought deep in the heart of Amazonia and begin to categorise the books in this way.

As I said, this is all hypothetical.

Do you think the time has come for the library shelf-based genre categories to be given a shake-up? Perhaps you have a fledgling idea that leaves my suggestion eating dust.

If so, please share! I would be happy to eat humble pie chart. :)

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keep calm plus author inside

OED – a very useful on-line resource

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myles detail

No, it’s not the Oxford English Dictionary, although the initials are an interesting coincidence. What I found was the Online Etymology Dictionary, a site that goes into extensive detail about the origins of words and phrases.

For fun have a look at the page I stumbled upon;

http://www.etymonline.com/baloney.php

I found this site whilst researching the origins of the word ‘shit.’ If I tell you this, then the page above will make more sense.

The reason I was searching? I needed to have a tenth-century mythological character (old Norse) swear correctly, without the danger of anachronism.

I DID find what I was looking for, but I think I have stumbled upon a very interesting site…interesting if you are writing historical fantasy or fiction.

Or if you just love words – which many writers do. :D

This site now joins my bookmarked sites listed under ‘Writer Resources.’

Enjoy!

signature plus n270

Are we all guilty of creating imaginary friends?

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My imaginary friend

Whilst idly browsing my WordPress stats, I noticed that someone had referenced my ongoing page ‘Characters that can write their own stories’ from Reddit.com.

The Reddit post was one of several that referred to something called (and this is a completely new word for me) Tulpae.

The page describes a Tulpa as; ‘…best described as an imaginary friend that has its own thoughts and emotions, and that you can interact with. You could think of them as hallucinations that can think and act on their own.’

The contributor opens the discussion with;

Are characters in a novel the Tulpae of the Author?

Very interesting question…

The post then goes on to say;

‘By talking and fleshing out something to your own subconscious for so long, you start to get answers from it. The answers align themselves with all these preconceived traits you’ve given them (for the most part). When you talk to your own mind for long enough, it will answer back: this is an accepted fact.

This sounds a lot like an author with a good enough character not deciding what the character will do, but the author knowing what the character would do because the character tells him or her.

I was told by a writing professor of mine that authors should strive for this level of character development, to the point where the character makes its own decisions.

anyone interested in discussing this?’

Read more of the discussion here.

I’d be interested to learn what everyone else’s thoughts are on the subject of characters becoming part of the creative process.

This got me thinking about the entire process of writing versus creating imaginary friends.

Sure, our reasons for creating are different from that of a child who creates friends out of a need for comfort, companionship or security.

We invent characters to fill a book, act out our story or even (in some cases) fulfill unfeasible fantasies.  When I was a child, barely into double figures, I was having such a miserable time of things, I began to write End-of-the World stories where only ‘nice’ people survived and subsequently found each other to begin civilisation over again  (Obviously, these early stories failed because I’d selectively eliminated all anatgonists!).

Years later, it occurred to me that I had been exercising (or even exorcising) mental control over the world as a form of comfort, rather like inventing imaginary friends to keep me safe.

Later stories, written during my teens, became less like a wish-list of how I (unconsciously) felt the world ought to be.  They even began to include bad guys!

image courtesy of svilen001 - Stock Xchng

But, looking back at them now, the stories still seemed to retain an element of control, a sanity and restraint that the real world lacked.  My current writing style has, I can see now, developed out of that evolutionary process, although I hope that it feels less controlled than those early works.

But do writers invent characters purely out of necessity – simply to act out a pre-planned story?  Or is there even a small element of ‘this character brings me comfort’?  Is there a hint of ‘I’m happy with this character because I’d like them if they were my real-life friend’?  Do we unconsciously develop characters (even anatgonists) that we are comfortable with?

Are writers the ultimate creators of  imaginary friends?

 

Write on!

Read outside your genre

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Strange how things work out.

Many of us tend to stick to the genre we know and appreciate (dare I say love?) during the early part of our lives, but this could be a grave mistake for the aspiring writer.

As a hardened sci-fi reader (I was a big fan of E.E.’Doc’ Smith, Heinlein and Clarke), being passed the complete ‘Sharpe’ series (British soldiers fighting in the Napoleonic era) made me shudder, but I quickly learned to appreciate the works – eventually going on to buy the entire televised series on DVD.

The fortunes – and misfortunes – of Richard Sharpe came to have a subtle influence upon the Marines in ‘Homeworld‘ – the WIP at the time  (Yes, it was hard sci-fi).

And when I shelved ‘Homeworld‘ and embarked upon the (Stephen Donaldson-inspired) fantasy saga that was to become ‘Elementals‘, the same benefactor who had introduced me to Richard Sharpe then revealed to me the wacky (Disc)world of Terry Pratchett.  Traces of those wandering wyrd-oes can be found within ‘Elementals‘, despite its serious nature.

Genre blindness can be a very sad thing.  Think of it as akin to literary inbreeding.  If an author restricts their reading solely to their pet genre,  that genre can only expand so far before it implodes for lack of new material.  A good writer (and I’m not counting myself among them) should look beyond his own works and read voraciously of other genres, to bring back new material and further the diversity of their own.

What I’m saying (without the pseudo-19th century english) is basically read, read, read and don’t restrict it to fantasy if you’re a fantasist, or sci-fi if you’re a futurist.  As I mentioned in my last post (Extra-genre readers), I was passed a book (Run for Home) that revolved around a 13 year-old girl who was kidnapped for the purposes of white slavery.  It’s a subject I would never, ever have chosen to read, but I read the book out of politeness, never realising that the feelings it invoked would stay with me for life (ok, 12 years to date).

These feelings, served me well they have, as I attempt my first (supernatural) romance novel.

Read well, my friends, and go on to write…um…weller?

Ahem.

So, what have you taken from books outside your genre?  What unlikely story has had an influence on your writing? 

Write on.

P.S. I make no apologies for the scattering of links within this post.  Not to everyone’s taste, they may yet stir your curiosity enough to explore them…

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