So you think you know what Story Genre is, huh? It can be best understood as a story’s designation of setting, style, and audience. Other definitions include form, content, and technique. What needs to be keyed in on here is that Story Genre moves the READER through the story, or the author’s means of connecting the reader to the story. Don’t confuse this with Story Genotype, which I’ll talk about next time, which moves the MAIN CHARACTERS through the story, or is the author’s way of connecting the main characters to the story. What do I mean? In genre, setting and style are most important. The characters are unaffected by this, it is the reader that bears the impact.
For instance, consider setting. A Western is characterized by a “cowboy” type setting, usually mid to late 1800’s. The characters are unaffected because it’s simply a reflection of their normal world. This setting designation is used to connect the reader to that world.
Consider audience. YA or mature designations are to reflect the suggested audience level for that book. Again, this is about connecting the reader to the story and not the characters, who may or may not be of YA age or care who’s reading about them.
Consider style and technique. This is a reflection of how the author puts the words on paper, whether it is literary or commercial, lyrical or narrative, first or third person, ect. It becomes a reflection of the interface that connects the reader to the words on the page. Characters don’t care what kinds of words describe them.
Other genre designations reflect the emotional impact on the reader, such as horror and romance. Although, arguably both horror and romance can also be included as Story Genotype because the emotional impact is meant both for reader and character.
A single story need not be of one single Genre, and may be a cross section of several. Let’s now look at a few common broadly defined genres and discuss a little about how they work, how they connect the reader to the story, and about some of the common things you can expect to see from each.
Historical: Historical genres are stories set in some actual historical setting. It is not limited to specific time periods. Careful attention to historic accuracy is taken, and the story will usually bare some connection to a marked historical event. As such, the historical event becomes a factor in the development of the story. Historical is often paired with Romance. It connects the reader to the story by transporting them into a historical event and making them feel a part of it.
Western: A typical Western is set in the mid to late 1800’s. As such, it bares some characteristics of the Historical genre. One big thing to expect from a Western is the clear black and white separation between good and evil. It’s the old black hat, white hat trick, developing some ultimate show down between the villain and the hero. If a Western doesn’t do this sort of thing or centers around an actual historic event, then it generally slides into the Historical category. However, even though it may technically be Historical instead of Western, because of the “cowboy” time period publishers may still call it a Western. It connects the reader to the story by transporting them into a historical setting, but also demonstrating the outlaw justice society of the Old West.
Romance: As a genre, Romance shows the reader some unfolding relationship between a man and woman (usually). But an unfolding relationship is not what makes a Romance, per se. That feeling of romantic interaction must be transferred to the reader. If it’s only about the characters, then it’s Romance Genotype (see next article.) To be a Romance Genre, it must involve the reader emotionally. Even more than that, the Romance aspect of the story must be a central tenant that helps to drive the development of the story. If it’s merely an aside, then it cannot be counted as genre. The Romance must be primary and must transfer to the reader in order to qualify as Genre. Romances as Genre have certain characteristics, such as “forbidden love,” “bad boy vs. good girl,” “love triangle,” “love to hate them,” “learning to love again,” and other such story devices.
Contemporary: Contemporary Genre is a story set in modern time and is about modern topics. This is not to be confused with a Contemporary Setting, which simply means the story takes place in the same time period it is written. Contemporary Genre usually focuses on social issues, such as teen pregnancy, drugs, sex, ect. Contemporary is meant to be a reflection of the state of society in the time it was written. Even if it is old, it differs from Historical, because Historical is not written during it’s current time. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote Contemporary, not Historical. Contemporary connects to the reader by making them ponder about the state of the society they live in. It is often paired with Literary Style, not Commercial Style.
Fantasy: Though Fantasy is most often rendered in a medieval setting, that’s not precisely what makes a Fantasy. Fantasy is about changing the rules. Things that are not supposed to be possible in our world, are possible in a Fantasy world. It makes what is impossible, possible. Fantasy generally takes two tracks: 1) Medieval: with elves, dragons, magic, other fairy tales creatures, swords, horses, castles, grand landscapes, ect. 2) Modern: taking our rules of normalcy and redefining them with impossible circumstances. Lord of the Rings and Willow are medieval style fantasies. Stranger Than Fiction or Journey to the Center of the Earth are more modern fantasies. It connects the reader by showing them impossibilities as they might look if they had actually existed. Many times someone is trying to take over the world.
Sci-Fi: Sci-Fi tends to get paired with Fantasy as a sibling genre. The reason is this: Fantasy deals with making the impossible possible. Sci-Fi deals with making what might be possible into a reality. Essentially they get at the same thing, showing things that are impossible in this world as we know it as being something that is real in another world. Since Sci-Fi deals with things that might be possible, it often looks into the future and speculates on technology. Speculative technology is generally a marker of Sci-Fi, even if it’s not really a futuristic setting. It connects the reader by giving them a glimpse into what the human race might expect in the near to far future. Many times, the fate of the human race is at stake.
Thriller/Horror: About half of this genre employs a contemporary setting, but should not be considered Contemporary Genre. Thriller/Horror is not limited in setting, though. It is similar to the Romance Genre in that it is employing an emotional connection to the reader. If the Thriller/Horror aspect is meant for the characters only and doesn’t transfer, or if it’s merely an aside to the primary story, then it should be considered as Genotype (see next article.) To qualify as Genre, it must be primary to the story and must transfer emotionally to the reader. Intense writing, story misdirection, mystery, shocking and blunt descriptions, and some gore are to be expected.
This is not an exhaustive attempt to discuss all possible genres, so please don’t feel slighted that I did not include yours. What I’m attempting to show is that each genre has a different way of connecting the reader to the story, and each genre has certain characteristics which the reader generally expects, whether they know they do or not.
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