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Do You Really Know What a Genre Is?

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

Every writer out there thinks he knows what a genre is. It’s insulting to insinuate otherwise, much less bluntly speak it out loud.

Much less write an entire blog post about it.

And, to be fair, the paragraphs below may or may not give you any stunning revelations or deeper insights. If you’re an absolute expert on everything literature, they might even be an abject waste of your time.

But before you close this window, consider that perhaps there’s still something to learn after all. Maybe not in this writing Definition, but perhaps in the Writing Challenge and Rule still to come this week.

Both are designed to make you as prepared as possible for the publishing process – well before you get to the publishing point.

It might seem a bit silly to think so far ahead: a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. Yet think of it this way…

You wouldn’t take out a business loan without having a plan to pay it back, right? Hopefully, the answer is an immediate and enthusiastic “No!”

When it comes to writing a fiction or nonfiction book, you might not be paying out anything initially. But you are spending a whole lot of your valuable time.

Don’t you want to make that time count for all it’s worth?

Again, this might not be groundbreaking news you’re about to read. However, it’s important to establish before we get to the “less insulting” information about how to handle your genre of choice.

So without further ado, let’s go back to grade school.

A genre is a literary category: a subset of the main (somewhat interchangeable) types of writing: fiction vs. nonfiction, and prose vs. poetry.
All four can be historical in nature, romantic, thrilling, introspective, inspirational or far-fetched, to name a few possibilities. Genres tidy up that long list of descriptions, letting readers know what to expect in focus, style, length and/or purpose. Is the piece predominantly meant to entertain or educate? Will it focus on faeries or facts? Designated genres help narrow those questions down.

This organizational system is designed not only for the reader’s benefit, but also for the writer’s. After all, authors are better able to connect with their audience base when their audience base is able to find them in the first place.

It’s grade-school logic... but still the kind of basic building blocks that can prove very useful later on.

Once upon a time, back when the printing press was first invented, genres may have been set in stone.

But we’ve moved a long way since then, with one upgrade following another throughout the centuries. The result has been that more and more people feel comfortable trying out this whole writing thing, adding their perspectives and interpretations and analyses as they do.

As such, we have a few more genres today than we did 70 years ago. We even have more solidly established genres today than we did 20 years ago.

On the traditional side, we have nonfiction favorites like historical nonfiction, science nonfiction, business nonfiction, Christian nonfiction and biographies. While the fiction sports its own takes on history and science, as well as horror, romance and mystery.

What about chick-lit though? I’m old enough to remember when that term first entered the mainstream.

And paranormal romance has only emerged as a well-established “subgenre” (something we’ll discuss on Friday) in the 21st century.

Even the stodgy nonfiction section has added segments to its shelves.

That’s one of the reasons why asking what a genre is isn’t as silly a question as it may seem. There’s a whole lot of nuance to work with and angles to explore, all to better get you ready to publish.

Editor’s Note: Read the next post on genre here.



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