Is Genre a Handicap for Writers?

[This is just preliminary ramblings, as my mind flits around the subject]

What’s the point of genre, from a writer’s perspective? Are they just a marketing thing, only relevant to bookshops and the publishing industry? Not if you’re an independent author, who has to consider such things. And if you’re writing for the market, it’s good to know the expectations of the genre you’ll be placed in, so that customers will be satisfied with your book.

Part of the problem for me is that genre seems to be a mashup of different factors from stories, all treated as being the same.

Breakdown

Fantasy, science fiction. These are mainly to do with Setting elements. There are certain types of story more commonly associated with them, but those titles alone don’t necessarily define what will happen in the story. Not until you get deeper into subcategorization, at least.

Detective story, romance. These are the Engines of the story, defining the shape of what events are likely to occur, and what can be expected of the ending (a detective story or mystery would have a reveal, a romance would have a happy ending). It’s possible to not deliver the expected ending, but you know you risk disappointing some readers.

Thriller, suspense. These are more to do with the Pacing. They don’t really suggest any type of ending other than in terms of it needing to live up to the build-up they provide. Maybe literary is also in this category, at the opposite end (nothing much happens, and it may not even have an actual ending).
So that’s Setting, Engine, and Pacing. Are there any other kind of categories they can be broken down into? Let’s look at some random genres.

Caper – This is an Engine. It suggests shape of the story, rather than anything to do with the Setting.

Comedy – This makes me think I should rename Setting as Flavour. Or just question why this is considered a genre.

Crime – Hard to be sure. I’d say the Engine, although crime covers a range of types of story. Then again, the Crime genre is generally interpreted as contemporary, so while a crime might be the Engine of a story, what we think of as the Crime genre is a combination of Setting and Engine, or even more weighted toward Setting.

Dystopian – Again I think what it’s come to mean is too specific. At heart it’s someone (usually a teen) stuck in a broken society, trying to survive, and/or fix the world. While generally associated with science fiction, the Engine of the story could be applied to other settings. But by now the word has such a specific meaning in terms of genre that we’d need another if talking about the underlying Engine.

Epic – While generally associated with fantasy – so epic fantasy has a particular meaning and set of tropes – I think Epic is more to do with Pacing. It also touches on scale and breadth of the story, so maybe Pacing isn’t the best term. It’s about the shape and structure of the story though, rather than the Setting or the Engine driving the plot forward.

Espionage – This feels like a wide Engine definition. There are certain elements of spy stories that could be attributed to Setting, and maybe some elements that could fit a different Engine. So I’m not sure it isn’t actually a Setting, with certain types of Espionage stories being the Engines.

 

There are also genre mashups to consider. I think overall a story can only have one Engine and Pacing pattern, but multiple Setting elements. (Maybe Flavour would be a better title. Or Ingredients. In which case Engine feels kind of wrong).

With that small selection I’ve decided I’ve misnamed two of the three categories I decided upon not far above. That’s some progress, isn’t it?
I probably need to think about it some more.

 

Should I Care? Can I?

Personally, I don’t pay much attention to genre. Even if I consider it, and realise a story isn’t going to easily fit in any, or won’t fit in a popular one, it isn’t likely to affect me. I write what tells me it wants to be written.

Which may be one of the many reasons I don’t sell much, but by this point I’m not sure there’s much chance of me changing.