Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Attack of the Genre Fiction...

So I'm taking a creative writing class this semester at college. I've always wanted to take one and it fulfills one of my needed credits, so I'm happy as a clam right now.

My first class was the typical "run-down of the syllabus/icebreaker session" that all first classes are, and my professor said that we wouldn't be getting to genre fiction until the end and until then we would be focused just on the craft of writing. This got me thinking about genre fiction in general.

I would say that I have typically written within in a particular genre. I tend to put my writing under the labels of "fantasy" or "sci-fi", with some "action/adventure" perhaps thrown in. However, I wouldn't necessarily say that I am a "genre writer".

I like genres. They give me an idea of what I am in for in a novel/story. It's the reason "general/other" fiction daunts me so much, because there is so much that could encompass. I've done some forays into that idea of "general" fiction, but I'll admit to clinging a bit to the comfort of genres.

However, when I write, I tend to use the genre more as a framing device than as a definition of my story. It's part of the reason my NaNo novel of '08 is tentatively classified as "fantasy", with more emphasis on "action/adventure" or something. I mean, it has no fantastical elements beyond being set in a world entirely of my own creation. I wouldn't say it follows a typical "fantasy" storyline at all, being more about the trials and tribulations of two characters in a rather fantastical setting.

There are probably certainly exceptions to everything I am saying, but it seems like many genres tend to follow a particular formula. If you read any "how-to" book on a particular genre, there will be certain things that they tell you to do that "define" the genre. They work a certain way. Sure, you can play with them a bit, but ultimately, they don't get stretched all that far. It's why something that really shakes things up is so recognized and hailed as revolutionary. Thing is, that becomes the norm and then we are back to a status quo within genres.

I have trouble with genres in my own writing for this reason. I mean, sure, I once wrote a "typical" fantasy story when I was younger (complete with "girl going to magic world", "mysterious swordsman" and "artifact of doom"), but nowadays, I (hopefully) deal more with characters than plots. I wanna write stories that might fall within a particular genre, but sort of blur lines with "real life" stories in how I handle my characters. I want them to have to deal with the little things too, as much as they have to deal with saving the world/stopping the big bad/finding true love. I want genuine character interaction beyond "I am your father/I'm in love with you/You betrayed me". I like using a genre as just sort of a playground, to put a reader on familiar ground, then to get into more meaningful interaction that just escapism.

Now, I'm definitely not original in this idea and I've read some great fiction that reads like this (trying to remember the title, but the one that immediately jumps to mind was a mystery novel that was more of a story about a character with brain cancer and how his life was affected... the mystery just happened to happen in the middle of it).

I'm probably being super-general and unfair to a lot of fabulous novels. I do actually enjoy the conventions of genre writing sometimes. I'm just trying to figure out my own style and how I can try to break conventions a bit.

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