*And once more, like a champion, I wrote this last night and scheduled it for six PM. ARGH.*
Okay, I’m going to shock you. Are you sitting down? Yes? Good because I bring shocking news: Different genres have different structures. They also have different expectations, different “reader cookies” and different just about different everything else.
This seems like a tautology, but it is not immediately obvious to many people.
The number of times people say things like “Romance is not very good.” Or perhaps “cozy mysteries are not very good.” Or “Space opera is not very good.” (Or my absolute favorite recently, which is the notion that the only real science fiction is hard science fiction where everything gravitates around science, and what’s more “known science.” Which would leave logical extrapolations of the future and future science without a home. Never mind. Pet peeve.)
When people say things like this what they’re really saying is “I don’t read very widely and confuse my taste with “quality.” Other people have this problem, most notably literary writers who confuse the markers of their own subgenre with “quality.” This is a confusion fostered by schools, since “literary” is a genre created by following the markers that schools attach onto and pound into students’ heads.
However, almost everyone pounds on Romance, for instance, and because it was the last genre I ever started to read. For various reasons, I didn’t read Romance till my late thirties/early forties, and because Romance’s structure lacks some of the elements that other genres have, and when first reading the genre (let alone writing it) you can find yourself going “this is book about nothing” and “why should I read this.”
Also, since we have been taught from a materialistic and socialistic, or at least collectivist perspective, which has been considered virtuous for most of the last century, it’s easy to sneer at a genre which revolves around the idea of a couple finding a very individual happiness.
But if you read a lot of different genres, and if you aspire to writing in more than one, you’re going to have to put those prejudices aside.
For the purpose of studying the structure of different genres, what you need to do is look at quality from a different angle. Quality is not a specific genre or a specific set of messages.
Quality is separate from genre. Or rather, it can exist in each genre. In each genre you can (and should) write the best you know how. In each genre you should play with reader’s emotions (remember your art is to make the reader live through the story) in the way expected for that particular genre.
The differences between genres are many. Often they are dictated by the need to tell the type of story that readers are looking for. Other bits of structure and reader cookies are part of the history of the genre and are designed to increase the cool factor for readers of that genre.
More importantly, once you understand the structure of various genres, you can borrow from one genre to serve the others. You can put just a pinch of thriller into your science fiction or your romance, to heighten the tension of your book. Or you can use romance structure to give a back-bone of predictability and emotional interest to your thriller or your urban fantasy or even your science fiction.
So, let’s look at structure. If you get a chance, read your favorite thriller over the week. Next week: Thrill me. How to structure a thriller.