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Choosing Your Genre

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Aug. 1, 2020

For better or for worse, we are creatures of categorizations. We love to label things, and to sort them into neat little boxes so that we are absolutely certain we know what to expect when dealing with each one. It is that sense of familiarity that we are looking for, so that we can relax and enjoy, or bolster and brace and prepare.

That goes especially for art of all kinds. It's no accident that when walking into a bookstore (or clicking into one) you look at the categories of the books before you go browse titles.

Which brings artists, authors, and creative teams alike in a weird pickle: it's very rarely that a story can fit neatly into a single genre. And usually when it does, it's not very good. There are elements of many genres within a story: it can be dramatic, but also romance. It can be political, but also fantasy. It can be noir and steampunk. It can be historical and a whoddunit. And many more thinkgs.

So how do you choose your genre, when embarking on creating a story, be if for comics or for novels or for the movies or TV?

There is no right or wrong way to do it.

Some creators never choose their genre. They simply wish to tell a story, and the story is the one that determines the genre after the fact. Others choose the genre, and then build around it, creating their story to meet at least a minimum set of criteria.

But what does it mean to have a genre when there are so many elements that will inadvertedly exist within any story and which will be belonging to other genres than the one the story is categorized in?

It's all about which set of elements is the most dominant. Where will the story be focusing more, what style will imbue it more than the others, to the point that the others become secondary to it?

That's the movie's, the comic's , the novel's genre.

One could also say that the genre is in the A plot: If the A plot is the romance between two people, then even if the B plot is solving crimes, the story will be sorted into Romance. If, on the other hand, the A plot is solving crimes and the B plot is romance between the main characters, then the story will be sorted into Crime/Mystery.

Often, there are descriptions combining genres- a fantasy buddy cop movie, or a noir comedy, etc. But still, the general rule of thumb applies.

How do you go about choosing your genre at all? Often creators will describe it as simply alluring, attractive to them. The plot elements, tone, style, and mood, one would expect within the genre are the ones the creators prefer to write the most!

Sometimes it's the genre that is in fashion, too. But don't succumb to that unless you just happen to really like the genre and you'd write in it even if it weren't popular. Otherwise, you will be miserable, and so will your readers.

There is no one plot (story, if you like( that can't be packaged to perfectly suit a genre. So really, there is no limitation to what you can write within a genre. But whatever it is, the genre will be the environment you use to let your characters out and play.

Don't make them play somewhere they don't fit just because it's the new hot thing that will last for maybe five years or so before something new comes along, or before the audience has had it with the innumerable spinoffs.

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PaulEberhardt at 3:35AM, Aug. 2, 2020

The whole thing is even more complicated by the fact that no two authorities seem to define genres the same way. Some insist that dystopias and utopias are distinct genres apart from science-fiction, which in their opinion focuses on the technologies. If you think this definition is fundamentally wrong and impractical at that, welcome to the club: so do I. Still, that's what I was supposed to teach in school last year. And where's the line between scifi and fantasy, actually, and where does horror come in? Let's not go into that here; it's a huge controversy in itself (several, actually). My rule of thumb: the more the story deals with things unknown to us IRL the harder the genre becomes to define. That's why my genre of choice is "whatever"... Ok, just kidding. But I do think that us authors shouldn't bother with formal categorisations and just use the genre label as a hint as to how we'd like people to interpret the yarn (and think of the labels they attach as hints of how they do).

Hapoppo at 5:32PM, Aug. 1, 2020

I definitely fall into the "never choose the genre" category, Punk-Pink! was basically steampunk/pirates/fantasy/scifi/buddy comedy/whatever else I thought was cool in the moment. As far as classifying it, I just took the most noticeable genres it had (In this case, steampunk-ish setting and fantasy), and hoped nobody would notice those were just a few of the larger pieces in a jumbled bag. It can work though, just look at He-Man - basically a barbarian/fantasy/dystopian cyberpunk/vanilla scifi.

Banes at 7:20AM, Aug. 1, 2020

Well said, and an always-compelling topic to me!

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