EVERYTHING YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GENRES…But Were Afraid to Ask
By Jayne Ormerod
(Whispered conversation between two young ladies recently overheard in a library bathroom…)
“Do you know anything about, you know…what they’re talking about in there?”
“No. I’m pretty inexperience when it comes to that kind of stuff.”
“Is there some sort of book or something that would explain everything?”
“You mean like an illustrated how-to manual?”
“Not that I know of. But I’ve heard some of the older girls talking.”
“I think they’re talking like they know, but they really don’t know.”
“So how do you learn?”
“I guess you just learn by doing it…”
No, these young ladies were not talking about the facts of life. They were aspiring authors attending their first mystery writers’ meeting. Words like genre and sub-genre and novella had been bandied about like bits of gossip dropped at a high-society cocktail party, all followed by a knowing look and responded to with an I’ll-pretend-I-know-what-you’re-talking-about-even-though-I’m-clueless nod. It might surprise you to learn that these two seemingly unrelated topics do have a lot in common.
Think back to your sixth-grade sex-education class. Remember that old (keep in mind that age is relative) lady who stood at the front of the class and droned on in a clinical, unemotional, rather boring litany of how a baby is conceived? At the end, everyone had lots of questions but were too afraid to ask. Instead, they resorted to learning bout the real facts of life from their equally uniformed friends who had older sibling who had real life experiences—while fooling around under the stadium bleachers.
The topic of genres is as whispered abut in the writing world as sex is in middle school. Many new writers rely on crumbs of information dropped by those older and more experienced. This often leads to misinformation and confusion. As a professional writer, it’s important to know just where your historical thriller with romantic and paranormal undertones fits into the grand scheme of things. You’ll need to know this for when you query an agent, or when position your book in the self-publishing arena.
In an attempt to bring enlightenment to this taboo subject, I’ll be the Old Lady at the Front of the Classroom, sharing with you, in a clinical and unemotional way, the Facts of Genres
Novels (works of fiction in excess of 50,000 words) are broken down into two categories: literary and commercial/mainstream.
Literary novels are often character or emotional based, and called “serious fiction” because their style and technique are often as important as subject matter. Think Steinbeck, Hemingway, or the more contemporary Amy Tan.
Commercial books are so named for their broad appeal. They are typically predictable, often driven by a compelling plot, and are usually read solely for their entertainment value. Authors like Nora Roberts or Stephen King fall into this category.
Commercial novels are further broken down into (and you don’t have to whisper it…) genres. The clinical definition, according to Webster’s Dictionary is “a category of artistic, musical or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form or content.” The most recognized genres in literature are: romance, westerns, mysteries, horror, suspense/thriller, science fiction/fantasy.
Genres are further broken down into sub-genres. In the interest of time and space, we’ll limit our discussion on sub-genres of mysteries—a novel whose central theme is the solving of a puzzle. Mystery sub-genres include (but are in no way limited to): classic whodunit; courtroom drama, cozy; forensic; historical; medical; police procedural; or private detective.
It used to be easy to categorize a book based on its primary theme. No more, as the lines between the genres are blurring. Many popular fiction writers intertwine elements into one novel with the same subtlety of a chef might sweeten a pot of chili with a square of chocolate. It’s a main dish with underlying elements of dessert—two unrelated ingredients combined to create one satisfying entrée.
So, be you a sub-genre purist or one who likes a little chocolate stirred in, at least now you know everything about genres, but were afraid to ask.
Disclaimer: The proceeding information was compiled on the best authority from a friend of a friend as relayed by her older and more experience sister, who learned everything she knows via experience—under the stadium bleachers.
Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and they off they sailed to see the world. After fifteen moves she realized she needed a more transportable vocation, so turned to writing cozy mysteries. Her recent releases include two short stories, “Secrets” and “The Sniper Sisters,” in the anthology titled By the Bay: East Beach Stories. For more information on Jayne’s published works, please visit her website at www.JayneOrmerod.com.