The Right Slot
Okay, so, we’ve been talking about genre, and what genre to allocate your work to, and I realized that some of you are very confused about what defines genre.
I’m going to give you a handy dandy table of reference, and then we’re going to talk about things like structure and feel too. Some of you seem to think that these “cue” genre and they don’t. They can help you find the audience and give them the right cookies, or they can make your intended audience scratch their heads and go “uh” but they have nothing to do with the main compartment you place your novel in.
Kris Rusch says genre started as a marketing ploy; a way for booksellers to know where to shelve books, so people who like similar books would find them. Because of this, at least seven years ago, she thought genre would be irrelevant in an electronic market place.
I don’t always agree with Kris, particularly on careers and trends, but I rarely say what I’m going to say right now: she was wrong. Completely and irrevocably wrong. I attribute this to the fact that seven years ago we were all very new to the new e-marketplace, and also possible to the fact that though, like me, she reads across genres, she might read DIFFERENTLY across genres. I.e. they might be irrelevant to her. To me, they’re not.
When I’m shopping for a book, I usually have a genre and often a subgenre in mind, as what I “need” right then and there. And I get very upset when i get the wrong thing.
Think of it as though I eat roast beef and chocolate, I’d be very upset if I bit into my roast and it tasted like chocolate.
Most people are worse than I honestly. Mystery readers in particular tend to get very upset by unnanounced supernatural in their mystery. Romance readers are perhaps the most eclectic, but again, unless clearly marked as supernatural romance, some of your readers are going to get VERY upset if your historical romance suddenly and without explanation has wizards or vampires in it.
I have found myself horrified when the answer to an historical mystery was “demons” (because it violated the “this is a puzzle, and logical” mystery rule.) I’ve returned half read a “mystery” which turned out to biography of Kit Marlowe (and for those who know me, yeah, that is weird, since it was well written and biography of Kit Marlowe is RIGHT up my alley. But I wanted a mystery. Etc.
The SUBJECT determines genre. A non exhaustive list of genres and subgenres and subjects (this is off the top of my head and I’ll miss some. If you guys want an exhaustive list it will take a long time.)
Fantasy – Anything that is technically impossible in our reality, by our physical rules, including but not limited to supernatural beings, all the creatures of Tolkien, etc. Often draws on the myths and legends of mankind.
High Fantasy – Tolkien-like. Also often known as heroic fantasy.
Alternate history – usually where magic works, but still related to our world.
Urban fantasy, which might of might not be a subgenre of alternate history. It’s not just “fantasy in a city.” Although both F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack and Larry Correia’s monster hunters are technically urban fantasy, as is my Shifter series, it would be more honest to call it “contemporary fantasy.”
Urban fantasy has a structure added to the theme and location, and that often involves a young woman with powers, a love interest on the dark side, etc. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Paranormal Romance – Like Urban Fantasy but way more in the romance and sex side. In fact, it’s more a subgenre of romance, really.
Science Fiction – Deals in the realm of the theoretical possible. And before you start yammering about FTL being fantasy, pfui. With a side of pfui. If you go far enough into the future, you CAN logically posit humans finding a way around that. Even if we now think of it as impossible. Think of a caveman looking at an airplane.
Hard SF – there goes your FTL. You pretty much run by the close extrapolation of what we know today.
Space Opera- We make looser with the extrapolation and yes, I can have antigrav wands called brooms, and laser/antigrav (want to fight about it?) guns called burners. Because. That’s why.
The rest should still make some kind of sense. Humans still behave like humans. Laws of economics, etc. still apply. Laws of physics still apply, or you’d better do your handwavium faster than a fan dancer in a whirlwind.
Time Travel – it involves someone going back in time, or someone changing time, or. Enough said.
Alternate history- pick a point in history, go differently from there. There you have it.
There are subgenres to the subgenres, but for now, we’ll leave it at that.
Historical (as a genre)
Usually novels set around a person or even in the past. Sometimes hard to distinguish from popular non fiction written as a novel. (Usually the lack of footnotes gives it away.)
Mystery – There is a murder or theft or other crime, and the characters are solving it.
No, you cannot get away with “there is a death/murder” and no one is trying to solve it. There is a series currently on Amazon calling itself mysteries, which is like this. I think it was under this heading that someone shoved a biography of Kit Marlowe under mystery. This is bullshit. No, seriously. You can get away with it in short stories, simply because the classical mystery structure works very badly for short stories. BUT in novels, the crime is at the center of the novel, and it must be solved.
It has genres:
Cozy – think Agatha Christie (no, don’t care her descendants don’t like the term. Also pfui) – the point of the murder is why it occurred and the relationships of the people around it, NOT the nitty gritty of blood splatter and how the murder happened, physically.
Has subgenre – craft mysteries – which came about when the main publishing houses decided cozies were not really mysteries and they weren’t going to buy them anymore. Because it was a top down decision and many people still wanted them, cozies made a comeback as “craft mysteries.” The early ones were (don’t argue, I read them) appallingly written, but now there’s some fun stuff there. The idea is knowledge of the craft either brings detective in contact with murder or allows him/her to solve murder.
Noir – puts the emphasis on the things that cozy ignores. Blood, guts, the world is a dark place and the detective is the one man of honor, etc.
Hardboiled – same with more shooting and less fatalism
Procedural – by the book mystery solving, often by police, think CSI.
Historical – Mysteries in the past, often solved by historical figures.
Not really a subgenre, but more of a side-spur – thrillers. there is someone in peril and the bad guys have to be stopped and the clock is ticking. Usually present day or near future.
Romance has so many subgenres I REALLY am not going to attempt to define them. Keep in mind two things: not all romances are about the sex. In fact some don’t have any sex. Those are published as traditional/clean/sweet romances and have an audience, too.
What you have to remember when writing romance is that while you can have mystery, fantasy or even science fiction as additional “genres” on your romance, you should be concentrating on the ROMANCE. If you’re paying more attention to the murder or the whatever, you’re not writing romance. And I don’t care if your characters fall in love.
Erotica- It’s all about the sex. You can have sex in any of the above, but that doesn’t make it erotica (in fact some of you would be surprised how much sex there is in all other genres. It’s still not erotica.) In erotica the sex drives the plot and the plot itself is a thin (and probably transparent veil.)
Now, on structure: I don’t have time to give all the structures for every genre here. If you’d like me to, I’ll go into it step by step later.
Suffice it to say that Larry Correia in MHI has a classical Urban Fantasy structure, with all the right beats…. disqualified because genre reversed. BUT if you reverse genres you’ll see it’s classical.
Darkship Thieves has a classical urban fantasy plot, too. It’s still science fiction/space opera on account of the lack of supernatural, and tons of spaceships and stuff.
So, don’t tell me “there’s no supernatural in my fantasy, but it’s supernatural because of structure/feel.” Not enough. It might make your historical read more like fantasy, but it’s not fantasy unless there’s supernatural in it. And if you publish it as such, you’re going to piss off a lot of readers. (Of course, the real middle ages had prophecies and miracles, and if you work those in, it will feel like fantasy.)
This woefully inadequate explanation will have to do.
I realized years ago I started a series on structure, going genre (and subgenre) by subgenre, but then squirrel and I forgot. Would you like me to resume that?