IT'S A TRAP: The "Multitude-of-Genres" Novel

| Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Today's Tune: Le Disko

Halloween's coming up soon... you should write a SCARY 130-CHARACTER TWEET and then post it along with the hashtag #hallowfic. Yes, I'm going to keep pushing this until Halloween. MOAR SCARY STORIES :D

I've met a lot of writers in the past couple of years. A lot. Of writers. And most of us are awesome, dedicated, sensitive, artistic people, and I love that. There are a few duds in the bunch (mostly haughty buttheads who think they are THE MOST AMAZING THING IN THE WORLD), but you'll get those in any group of people.

Every once in a while, though, I'll meet someone who is genuine and really believes in what they write, but they'll do this thing. It's a thing that makes me feel kind of uncomfortable. Like I want to be supportive, because they are a cool person, but I also think they are maybe kind of a little bit delusional.

I'm referring to this infamous comment: "Well, there's not really a genre for what I write. I'm multi-genre. My novel is like, thirteen different genres. I've never seen or heard of anything like what I'm writing."

And I admit that this puts me off. The "thirteen different genres" thing isn't an exaggeration, btw. I actually had a person say this to me once. I'm sure they were being hyperbolic, but still. I hope they were being hyperbolic. Oh boy, what if they weren't?

Anyway. The reason this puts me off is actually threefold.

1.) I am not opposed to cross-genre fiction. It can be supremely awesome. But multitudes of genres? I don't know. It's probably very likely that what you think is this revolutionary new "undefinable" novel actually DOES fit into a genre that currently exists. There are a lot of them. And if your novel genuinely does pull from 4-10 different genres? It's probably going to be a little... scattered. Chaotic. And not in an artful, literary way. In a "this makes no sense" kind of way.

2.) The thing about "undefinable" novels? They don't really... work. Most of the time. There are always exceptions, of course, but we really can't bank on the bookstore/library making a brand new section for our book. And if it can't be placed in a bookstore/library, well... uh oh. If your new "genre" has never been done before, there might be a reason. Sometimes "I'm multi-genre" is code for "I'm not sure what I want to write yet."

3.) I can very much relate to the desire to be unique and special among the rest of the crowd. To have my work stand out. But sometimes I think authors desire that uniqueness so much that they're determined to prove how special their work can be. As much as we like to believe that there is absolutely nothing out there like that thing that's inside our brain, similar stuff DOES exist. I mean, there has been no book about teenage cyborgs in Edwardian Chicago THAT I KNOW OF SO FAR, but there have certainly been books about teenagers and cyborgs and Edwardian Chicago. I'm not that special.

So, I blathered about that for a while. Yeesh. I want to be clear that I'm not discounting true creativity or trying to tell people that they're not special. Well, yeah, okay, I'm kind of trying to tell people that they aren't that special. But that doesn't mean we non-specials aren't capable of breaking the rules and writing THE BIG BREAKOUT FICTION NOVEL THAT NO ONE EVER CONSIDERED BEFORE.

All I'm really saying is: consider not viewing your novel as a BRAND NEW GENRE or a MULTITUDE OF CROSS-GENRE BRILLIANCE. Don't stretch too hard for uniqueness. Just write a novel that works.

And it is late and I'm writing this to post in the morning and I am VERY TIRED so I'm going to bed now. SEE YOU FRIDAY.



{ Simon C. Larter } at: October 27, 2010 at 8:27 AM said...

Yes. What you said. I'm pretty sure that kind of novel is fairly unfocused, and I prefer a tad bit of coherence in my reading, thanks very much.




{ j.leigh.bailey } at: October 27, 2010 at 8:36 AM said...

Hear, hear!I figure if you can't define it in one (or even two) specific genres, I won't be able to find it on the shelf and therefore I will not read it. So, even if the book incorporates a gazillion different genres, pick one!

{ Claudie A. } at: October 27, 2010 at 8:42 AM said...

I have one of these weird cross genre-ish novels at the moment. I'm -not- happy about it.

I like to fit in a categories. I don't think categories remove the uniqueness from a work. They just help define some of its essence, and that is good, because it helps the reader know part of your work and can bring him in if he typically likes these 'parts'.

My problem is that while I know which three genres I'm the closest to, I can tell why it's not quite those genres either. So my novel is...
- fantasy without the magic?
- steampunk without the victorian?
- science-fiction, but no space and only one advanced technology?

I try to keep an eye out for a genre that'll properly describe my novel. For now, I just go with "steampunk... ish" when I'm asked (except that won't work in a query, I guess).

Great post, by the way!

{ Old Kitty } at: October 27, 2010 at 12:12 PM said...

Awwww!! I hope you got to sleep and had a good rest!!

This is a great post thank you!

I think as an aspiring first time novelist I don't do myself any favours by not submitting to a genre. The market and publishing world is tough enough without me having to faff about what target audience I'm aiming for. Once I am totally published and famous then yes of course I have licence to experiment but for now, now when I am one faceless wannabe writer in the great big massive crowd of wannabe writers - I just cannot afford to distill my chances even further by not having a clear vision of just where my book will fit in the bookshelves of Waterstones. :-) I think anyway!

Take care

{ Lisa Potts } at: October 28, 2010 at 8:06 AM said...

Wait, my novel is going to be a cross-genre work of brilliance. Stop laughing and pointing at me! IT IS!

Seriously, I wonder sometimes why people worry so much about writing something so complicated that it can't fit into a specific genre.

There's a reason genres exist. It's because millions of readers have decided after umpteen years of reading that they know what they want.

{ Tiger } at: October 30, 2010 at 7:53 PM said...

I think a lot of silly comments from aspiring writers like the ones you talk about here come about precisely because of your first point especially. I don't think a lot of people realize that genre means something specific in the business.

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