Genre is how various categories of writing are recognised. Genre is a marketing tool, and a useful method for hunting down books you might enjoy, and it is used in judging books for awards. When you go into a book shop, usually the books are separated by genre: Cook Books, Humour, Reference Books, etc. These are very basic categories, often covering an enormous variation in the types of books lumped together. This is often why very original books, like Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’, may end up in the children’s fiction area of a bookshop. No one knows what genre it should go into, because it covers so many genres.
Genre can be broad…Fantasy. Or it can get very specific, like Victorian-era, London-set, Steampunk fantasy aimed at a twelve year old audience. Every genre has its own rules and traditions, such as sword and sorcery genre books should have swordmen/swordwomen and wild magic as basic plot elements. Does that sound straight forward? It isn’t, as many genres overlap, and new genres are forming all the time.
For a writer, genre can be both restrictive and wonderful. Big Picture: I write Fantasy, and I dabble in horror and Science Fiction. I don’t think I will ever write a war-based novel or a Western. However, my fantasies tend to be adult fairytales in an urban setting. Little Picture: You might call it Urban Fantasy, or Magic Realism, or Feminist Fairytales. I wouldn’t.
I don’t like to be pigeonholed, as it restricts what I can or can’t do. However, if I was going to market such a book to a publisher, I would pick one of those genres so that the publisher has some idea of my style. And booksellers will know to put it in the Fantasy bookcases in their stores.
But what if I wanted to write a science fact book, when I am known as a fantasy author? If I am a popular fantasy writer, publishers may reject this out-of-genre book, as my fan base might be unhappy. Ditto if I write young adult, and then I write a book aimed at an older audience. Of course, I can change to another pen name…but why should any author be so restricted creatively?
Recently, I helped judge an award. A lot of the stories were put into the wrong categories. No matter how great a story is, it can’t win if it doesn’t fit into the genre of its nominated category. So some good stories might have missed out on recognition (or would have, it they hadn’t been nudged into the right genre categories). But I couldn’t help wondering if the authors were confused about what genre is.
There are any number of good books that can help with an understanding of genre. This essay is just a starting point, to get you thinking.
Usually I post observation journalpages chronologically, which is why I’m still working through last year. These three pages, however, are very current. (I’ll scan them eventually).
I am editing a draft of a story this month. This means I am confronted by words I regularly overuse. Sometimes this is simply because I think they’re neat, or get in a habit. But some words I use because I like them and they mean something to me. When I use the word “green” it’s less about description than about trying to invoke some nebulous, numinous green-ness.
So I finally sat down to work out what I actually *mean* when I use some of my most overused words.
Here is “green”:
This approach is a work-in-progress, but it has already been useful both for edits and for clarifying my thoughts on a story.
For example: Is this person wearing a green…
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Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me
You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away
From ‘Words’ by The Bee Gees
I have previously written about different types of symbolism of mourning jewellery, how pearls represented tears; and ivy represented fidelity; locks of hair from the deceased were incorporated into jewellery; painted miniatures of single eye surrounded by clouds and tears were symbols of a lost love; and – of course – there was jet carved into glittering brooches and beads for mourning jewellery. I haven’t even touched on the meanings of urns, angels, anchors and acorns (another day, perhaps). However, not every piece of mourning jewellery had to have a masked meaning. Some came right out…
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Turquoise and diamonds in the form of two hands clasping, circa 1835
In the Victorian era, jewellery was worn not just for ornamentation, it was often worn because it meant something to both the wearer and/or the people who saw her wearing the piece. Hands were a popular symbol. They could be clasped in love or friendship, or clasping items with their own symbology.
The ring below is an early Victorian-era Betrothal Ring, circa 1840. The Clasped Hands, which have a male and female cuff, open to reveal a gold heart on the central band.
Flowers had a whole range of meanings, depending on the the types of flowers.
Ivory hand clasping roses – symbols of love – and forget-me-nots.
Ivory earrings clasping roses and forget-me-nots.
Snakes represented eternal love or wisdom.
Coral and gold pin
A hand grasping a rod was seeking guidance or comfort in time of need.
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In 2014, I wrote a post about writing titles, based on a Facebook post I had written five years earlier. I think it’s time I did an update, as fashions in titles for genre novels has changed.
Longish titles are back in fashion. This isn’t to say that one word titles have disappeared. However, the longer titles are no longer as rare. Last year, among the most acclaimed speculative fiction genre novels were How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang; When No One Is Watching: A Thriller by Alyssa Cole; and The Southern Book Clubs Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. As you can see, a long title is no longer an outlier on the bookstore shelves. Feel free to give your own stories detailed titles.
I said in my previous post: ‘What a writer wants from a title is a cluster of words that are memorable. Something that encompasses the theme of the work, without giving too much away.’ These longer titles may give away a smidge more of the story, but still are memorable and distinctive. And that’s what a good title should be – something that makes it easy for your audience to remember when they are looking to talk about it or recommend it to friends.
It used to be the Victorians who favoured long titles for their fiction. Not any more. Everything old is new again.
I will be parting ways from Iron Bridge Publishing on the 16th of November.
Looking for a Christmas gift for the reader in your family? ‘Tribute’ is an anthology inspired by the brilliant, late Aiki Flinthart, and edited by the incredible Jan Henderson. It will be available from the 15th of October, but it’s available for preorder from Amazon AU, Booktopia, and Angus & Robertson Online. I have a story in this book, but I am the least among the other contributers to this anthology.