Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Write Club -- Fiction Genres

Hey y'all.  So a while back I wrote up a list of fiction genres as a guide to other writers.  I didn't necessarily write this to merely describe the genres, but to describe the purpose of each genre and why a reader likes each one of them.  Having these sorts of ideas in your head can make it easier on you to decide on what your book should be.  Remember also that your book is a product.  Exactly who is your audience?  You must therefore know what the reader wants when he picks up your book so that you can cater to them.

This is how you know I'm a nerd -- I care way too much about details.  Anyway, here we go!

1. Fantasy - The readers of this genre have a longing for the old times, a longing for "magic" and the impossible.  They desire a reality different from the austerity of the normal.  This genre is tied to escapism, philosophy, and desires that are not yet reached or might never be reached.  Tends to have a tragic tinge for some reason, though that is not required.

4. Sci Fi - This is the "older brother" of fantasy.  The readers of this genre also desire things better than reality, though in this genre the journey is less magical and more humanistic.  This genre is heavily philosophical, as it deals with a focus on the future and human nature.  It either claims that humanity is great, for whatever reason, or that humanity is a plague.  Or both at the same time.  The readers here want new ideas and new scientific concepts.  Or, sometimes, they want to dispute other people using a "scientific basis" -- which is pretty odd considering that this is fiction and can neither prove nor disprove anything.

3. Japanese/Asian - Technically speaking, this can be any genre it wants, though most of which comes over here to America and such tends to be either science fiction or fantasy.  There are a few things which distinguish Japanese fiction from the other two, mainly their division between boy and girl fiction.

- Shojo (girl) - The readers of this want female heroes, particularly ones that are odd characters, usually by means of their innocence or their magical power, depending on how realistic or fantastic the plot is.  Romance is a must, especially with a darker or more serious male, to contrast with the main character.
- Shonen (boy) - This genre is very philosophical, and often graphic.  The readers here desire violence and tragedy, mixed in with spiritual philosophies that are ironic and even painful.  Moreover, while Shojo often generally makes its lead characters more innocent than human nature, Shonen prefers the opposite.  Can be very depressing to certain readers, "realistic" to others, when it speaks of human nature.

Both of these half-genres are tied together by eastern philosophies, including aspects of Confucianism and Buddhism, though often they will borrow heavily from western philosophies and religions.  For example, the comic Sailor Moon includes both Roman and Japanese mysticism about the planets of the solar system.  These philosophies may often appear randomly, such as in a cartoon of a "butt-biting bug" whose ancestors came from ancient Assyria.  Easily the most religious of all fictions genres.

4. Detective/Crime - Readers of this genre desire mystery, but more than that they want clues, to be able to figure out what is going to happen in the end before you say it.  Writers here must make a balance, enough clues to help the reader make some conclusions about what will happen (and even misleading clues to throw them off at points) and also not enough clues to make the reader know everything that will happen.  Readers either want to be gratified in their superior ability to figure out clues, or else just be surprised by how daringly convoluted the ending can get without being completely impossible.

5. Realistic: Modern - This genre is a bit more open, but stories here generally include coming of age stories, or just stories of people getting through ordinary life with difficult problems or moral questions.  The readers here want philosophy and counseling, almost in the sense that they are asking the advice of the author how to deal with the problems they face or are likely to face, or even want to face (like being pursued by two love interests at once).  Many authors cater to what the reader wants to hear rather than what is the best solution, e.g. the leading woman gets everything she wants despite hurting her parents to get it.

6. Realistic: Historical - In this genre, the writers is usually trying to give perspective to someone who has been in a great historical event, or at least lived through a difficult time like a war.  The reader wants this story to relate the problems of normal living to the circumstances of different ages, and how it would be different for a person to live then, especially in matters of love or work.  They want to get the sense that they too are living through historically important times, and want to know how people get through these; either by bravery, cowardice, or simply going numbly through.

7.  Superhero - This is modern day fantasy, one that emphasized the strength of the individual.  Readers want characters that resemble the best parts of themselves, or who they imagine themselves to be, and the best superhero stories make the characters have powers that resemble their personalities.  Readers here are often people who feel lonely and desire to not only be powerful in some strange and amazing way, but to also be a part of a team of people who are also amazing.  They desire greatness because they see none in their personal lives.

8. Romance - This one should be obvious.  Readers here want a fantastic account of how two people fall in love, and all the troubles that it takes for those tow people to get together and live happily ever after.  Too often readers of the genre view falling in love and/or getting married as the point of life and that no one is capable of living unattached for any amount of time.  The most escapist of all genres, and the most effective at changing women's perspectives.

9. Western/Cowboy - This one is a more manly genre, most of the time, and it is anti-modern.  It's against the "wussification" of man and gives very manly themes, such as being tough, survivalism, right vs. wrong, and the value of women.  Can be very depressing at times, what with the underdeveloped medical situation of the times, harsh winters , and the plight of Native Americans.  Readers want manly philosophy and also ways to survive in rough conditions.  This one, generally more so than most other fiction, requires specific research as it is closely related to nonfiction and you can't make up your own science and lifestyle as you would if you set your story on a different world or faraway planet.  Readers can get very iffy about writers playing around with facts or not doing their research.  Any flaws will quickly be pointed out by regular western readers.

10.  Nautical or Exploration - Here readers want a freedom from distraction, a story with a more singular focus on observation of a culture or cultures on a journey.  They want new, amazing worlds and character with the ability to understand or related to these worlds.  For example, in the story Out of the Silent Planet, the character Ransom studies languages, and so is able to figure out the language of the Hrossa of Mars with scientific clarity.  While at times characters will not understand or will endanger strange new peoples, this has to be balanced out with rational characters so that the reader has time to learn about the new lands and people before the noob/jerk/assuming person creates conflict.

11. Children's - This is certainly the easiest.  Readers here (parents) want simple stories with low conflict, good and honorable themes that will help children grow into normal adults, and not too many fancy words or complicated metaphors.  The irony here is that adults' stories often have sick and demented themes, as if it's okay to be disturbing when we grow up.

12.  Teen's - Let me be very clear: I am extremely biased when it comes to this genre.  Notedly, extremely biased against.  Perhaps many years ago Teen fiction was a good genre, but now...huh.  Readers of this genre want either relationship fantasy (the more fantastic half of teen fiction) or they want, um, "realistic" portrayals of the toughness of being a teenager and all the possible pitfalls a teen can fall into.  Or a combination of both, though generally most authors don't combine.  There's no reason why not, if you feel like...well, except for the reason I'm going to write below.

The trouble is, teen fiction as it is at the moment has gotten so depressingly unrealistic (remember, both optimism and pessimism in life are inaccurate), and instead of making it easier to get through the teen years, most teen fiction is sick, demented, and makes their readers have generally negative opinions about life.  It gives teens a bias away from those in life who should be on their side: parents, church leaders, and any authority figure in general that doesn't follow the values of modernism.  Life is also generally portrayed as hopeless, and you must cling to whoever you can to survive.  For this reason, I often call teen fiction "wrist-slitter" fiction (though there is other types of fiction that fit in this category).

Now sure, family and church people are as flawed as anyone and some are even huge jerks, but for the most part that's not the case.  There's no reason to distrust them unless they give us a reason.  Likewise, life itself is what you make of it.  If you tell a bunch of teens that life is hopeless, as they grow up, they'll make sure it's hopeless.  That's what they'll believe.  So please, for the love of teens, give your teen fiction the spirit of life, not death and hopelessness.  Give teens strength to face the harshness of the world -- don't cut their roots out from under them.  Or you're a scumbag.

13.  Horror - The readers here want to be frightened or disgusted out of their wits.  They want original monsters or monsters that act in original ways to somehow hurt or attack people for whatever reason.  The monsters can be human or otherwise. This genre, more than others, requires a lot of mystery, and oftentimes it is best not to give your audience a full explanation of all that has taken place, or all of the motives of the baddies.  The best horror endings are the ones where either the bad guy wins, the good guy's victory is bitter and painful, or the bad guy shows signs of life and returns even as the good guy is walking away, thinking that he won.

14. Thriller - This is the brother of horror, as its readers still want to be frightened or disgusted out of their wits.  The key difference is that readers here want their characters to be more competent, and the audience focuses more on actually stopping or getting the best of the bad guys or monsters that are after the heroes, rather than all of the disturbing things that the bad guys do.  The best thriller endings are ones that lead to the bad guy going down, even if there is still the sting of tragedy.  Many readers here want victory, and will be very disappointed with an ending where the bad guy wins or gets away, the in the story No Country for Old Men.

15. Action - This is another sibling of the thriller, though unlike thrillers, action works try to be more (but not entirely) realistic, and don't include things like supernatural monsters.  This, more so than horror and thriller, wants to focus on the good guy, and less on the bad guy.  Most of ten told from the lead characters perspective.  This story is one that wants to inspire people to be excited, feel pumped, an feel good about being a hero.  If the bad guy is crazy, the readers want a hero who is crazy enough to stop him.  Victory here is also a must, even if it is sad.

16.  Tragedy - More often than not, this appears as an element of other genres rather than a genre of its own. Readers here want a story that is both intriguing and sweet, with characters they can really connect with.  Here more than anywhere else you need to have endearing characters who the reader loves, because no one cares in a story when annoying characters die.  While many authors try to include philosophy, or unanswered philosophy questions, emotion is more important than they philosophy.  The best tragedies are the ones who end with some bitter happiness, like how in Romeo and Juliet their two families come together and meet peacefully because the the deaths of the lead characters.

17. Comedy - As a written genre, this doesn't really exist anymore.  It exists either as an element of other stories, bitter comedian biographies, or as a movie.  Or it lives on in the writings of amateurs on the internet.  Not that writing comedy makes you an amateur, it's just that people these days generally don't write fully comedic things.  I'm not entirely sure why, though notedly culture of late (post Sept 11) tends to take life way too seriously.  Just look at movies and music.  They've both gone really melodramatic.  Even as late as the nineties people could still enjoy goofiness, though nowadays the only real goofiness people have is those stupid "comedy" movies done by people like Adam Sandler and Jack Black.  People are dang uptight these days.

I'm writing this in mainly as a dare for someone to write a really good comedy.  Not in the Shakespearean "happy ending" version of comedy, but a really funny book that isn't bitter like what comedians these days write.  Seriously, most of the jokes those guys make are really just little laughs that thinly veil the bitterness they have about life in general.

18. Tribal/Ethnicity - This isn't a genre in the same way as the others are, as every ethnicity writes one or more of the above genres.  However, I include it here because it is something a reader wants.  They want stories of their own people groups to learn more about them and about how their ancestors affect themselves.  Usually this is written by a person of the same or similar ethnicity, but if you're attempt to write fiction of a different one, research is very much needed.

19.  The News - That's right, I went there.  Readers of this genre want a summary of the truth, so that they will be informed and feel that they are intelligent and competent members of society.  More so than any other genre, this one is created by editing, not by writing.  The material comes in, but how it comes out is how it's presented.

For example, some time ago a few imams (Islamic priests) were going on a flight to somewhere in America, but frightened passengers wanted them to leave the plane, which they eventually were.  ABC News reported this as intolerance, and coupled this news bit with a segment on breastfeeding in public.  As you can see, that's a very....logical combination.   However, when an interview on the radio was done with a person who had actually been on the plane at the time, the witness reported that the imams were acting strange.  They refused to speak to anyone, and when the witness directly tried to, she was rebuffed.  The imams also prayed very loudly and did what they could to create a disturbance, as if they wanted to attract attention to themselves.

While in every genre the order or arrangement of events has a huge impact on the overall result of the story, in this one editing plays a huge role.  By lessening or increasing a certain type of people who speak on an issue, whatever the issue might be, newscasters create a story which leaves an impression on the minds of people in general.  Therefore, they also are writers of what could potentially be fiction, not out of conspiracy, necessarily, but out of the very nature of their jobs.

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