Questions About Genre

Those of you who read genre fiction know that there are two general approaches for a writer interacting with the genre: hewing closely to the tropes and messing with them, doing the unexpected. Of course, in practice, most writers do some of both.

If you read genre fiction, I’d love your input on two questions. First, are you more likely to pick up a genre book or story if you can tell from the cover and description that it’s more true to the genre or less? Second, which kind of story are you more likely to interact with, to discuss, to recommend friends read or avoid, etc.?

Questions About Genre

13 thoughts on “Questions About Genre

  1. 1

    Good questions!I don't really have answers, except that I recommend books that I think are well-written, entertaining, and engaging regardless of whatever genre they are supposed to fit in to. I like the idea of transcending genre, whenever possible, as a reader. There are some outstandingly written, character-driven sci-fi, romance, or mysteries, etc., published in mass trade paperback– which should not be ignored just because 40 million copies hit the shelves. On the other hand, there are some real diggers out there that also fit into these genres. I don't mind if an author sticks to the tropes of their genre, or if they stray, as long as I care about their characters. Michael Chabon discusses this very thing in his book Maps and Lengends: Reading and Writing from The Borderlands. I think he feels that some established genres are just a way to market for publishers or book shops, and do more harm than good.

  2. 2

    I don't think I'm going to be very useful on this. It's been well over a decade since I last picked up a fiction piece based on cover or description. Though I do buy fiction almost exclusively in genre I don't think that how close something runs to genre enters into the calculation for me. The reasons I buy books fall out thusly.1) writer is on my buy list because of previous reads. 2) the book or series is something that I have become aware of for research purposes related to my own writing.3) writer is a friend or colleague.4) someone whose judgment I trust has told me I must read something.

  3. 3

    Like Kelly, I tend to read anything by an author I know I already like, whom I know or has been highly recommended to me by someone I trust.For me to discover a new writer on my own I do rely on cover art to snare my attention. I've been reading genre fiction for over 30 years now so I am more likely to try someone who's messing with the tropes I know so well. Part of the pleasure for me is in the deconstruction of how s/he did it.

  4. 4

    When I look at a cover, I admit I look at art and what it likely reflects about the book. I am not sure how ot explain that without pictures in hand, but there is a lot you can guess at by the illustration style. That, I suppose is a way that publishers indicate sub-genre, or writing style. If a books clearly twists to the point of unrealistic and unbelievable, I am not interested. Otherwise, I am more interested in plot, chatacter, and occasionally wittiness. I am also much more likely to read a book by someone I have enjoyed in the past, but that is a different question, no?For me the decision is not about whether a book sticks closely to genre or not, but how it is written. If it is overly formulaic, I am not likely to want to read it. If it is well written and has good character depth (more important to me than plot depth), I am more likely to enjoy it. There are books I liked that could easily have been classified in a different genre, and books that stick closely. There are books I hated that stick closely to genre, and those that stray far away.I do not read the same books as very many of my friends, so the books I am likely to DICSCUSS are books that make a person think. If a books has a different viewpoint from what I see most and it is well presented, or when a book steps out of genre by having modern political depth, I am lkely to talk about it. The example I am thinking of is a romance author who has addressed gays in the military and law enforecement, women in the military, female genitalia mutilation, WWII horrors, and all sorts of other things in her action/adventure love stories (not all in the same story). Not the fluff that romance usually brings to mind, but done in a way to add to the character and setting depth, not lecture, gross out or scare. What I am more likely to READ (rather than discuss or recommend) does not have to be nearly as serious or deep. I have to admit that I like light-hearted fluff.

  5. 5

    Why do I get the feeling that this questoin is somehow related to people being wrong/wronged on the Internet?Anyway, I can't answer this question (other than to say what Kelly said) but I can comment. I have found the off-genre examples to be both among the better and not so better products in the area of mainstream genre fiction. Tony Hillerman wrote Navajo books that as an anthropologist I read and more or less enjoyed. Then he wrote a totally off-genra book that was 5 times better than the other books. That's not a good example because he was really writing in a different genra altogether, but it is an example of an author leaving the game and trying something totally new, and I think that can have interesting effects.

  6. 6

    Let me answer with an analogy from film. Back when "True Lies" came out, I found it highly entertaining. It was comedy, adventure/spy, and romance all rolled up in one. The critics hated it because they couldn't peg it. That's exactly why I liked it. There wasn't enough there in any single genre to make a good movie, but in combination it had much more. OK, not great, but….When you write, you stay in genre but throw in that added twist that makes reading your stuff a delight. It's never dependable. Great! It turns sudden corners, and even when it might wind up darker than I might have wanted it to, it's the corner-turning that drags me along in spite of myself.You don't weave a tapestry with a single color thread.

  7. 8

    Thank you to everyone who's answered so far, here and in other venues. Don't worry about whether you think your answer is helpful. I deliberately asked somewhat vague questions because I didn't want to narrow responses. These are very helpful.

  8. 9

    I read mostly science fiction. The first book I thought of as off-genre was Zodiac by Neal Stephenson. Described on the cover as an eco-thriller, it just careens from one scene to the next. I re-read it about once a year and have lent out copies I've had to then replace. I think as time goes on, I'm more likely to buy an off-genre book. Except for Star Wars novels. They are my comfort food, what I read when I'm unsure about my life.

  9. ERV

    I like science fiction, but Ive accidentally found books in other genres because they were crossovers– Recently I thought I was buying an urban fantasy, but it ended up being a really fun romance! That might have been a 'disappointment' to some people, but I just liked the book, regardless of the genre.

  10. 12

    Sturgeon's Revelation probably has more impact on our opinions than anything else.A good crossover is good, some of my favorites are crossovers. So are some of my bottom-of-the-shitlist titles. Too many crossovers involve an author who knows one genre and blunders into another without bothering to actually, like, learn it enough to avoid the Thou Shalt Nots. Gag.The question isn't genre, it's quality.

  11. 13

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