Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Kill a Genre with your Bare Hands

Question for today: Do we choose our genre or does it choose us?

Nathan Bransford polled his readers the other day, asking them to vote for the genre they work in. If you’re wondering what genre is under-represented, it’s middle grade and nonfiction.

Contemporary realistic YA, the genre I write, earned 6% of the vote, which got me wondering why we write what we write. Sure, I read a lot of contemporary YA, but lately I’ve been reading a lot of paranormal YA. Do I write contemporary YA because it’s what I do best, what I love best? I’ll be honest with you; I have no idea.

More importantly, do I have to stick with it? Should I ever publish my novel, am I condemning myself to a lifetime of single-genre writing? The commitment-phobe in me shudders at the thought.

There are genre-rebels, you know.

Take Elizabeth Scott. She goes around writing perfectly wonderful YA like Something, Maybe and Bloom, books where young girls deal with boys and sex and what have you. Then she sneaks Living Dead Girl under my nose, and I’m all whoa, Elizabeth Who?

Walt Whitman, my literary forefather said:
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

In other words, break the rules. Screw the very elements that make us think we need rules. Change.

We write in the age of Tribes and niche marketing and specialization, and I’m praising variety and range.

Farmers switch up their crops every few years to keep the soil healthy. I'm thinking of tilling my mental soil. I’ve been toying with the paranormal. But here’s the thing—you can’t hold me there. I won’t stay. I write for adults and young people and freaks and geeks and even normal people. I am non-genre-girl, defender of the label-less.

As a reader I enjoy all sorts of genres. Reading different genres makes reading more fun. I don’t get so used to conventions that I lose the enjoyment and surprise of reading. Would this transfer to writing? Might we escape falling into ruts by writing a romance or a mystery, something completely different from what we are expected (even by ourselves) to write?

Why do we choose a genre and stay with it?


  1. I don't think I could stick with one genre (writing or reading) and definitely not one subgenre. There are so many great ideas and concepts, we should be having some fun with it!

  2. After completing my paranormal YA, I purposely jumped genres to clear my head a bit. So, I started an adult contemporary romance. I've enjoyed writing both immensely, so I think genre-jumping can be good. I write what I like and I like a lot of things!

  3. Thought-provoking post, as always, Marie. Love that line about tilling your mental soil.

    I'm a Children's Bookseller, so I read only kids' books (except when I'm on vacation). But within that category, I tend to read all over the map. I can enjoy Joan Bauer and in the next week devour Forest of Hands and Teeth. And a few days after that, I'll read a realistic MG by Gordon Korman or Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Then the latest vampire romance. And then I'll discover a chapter book like Clementine. So as a fledgling writer, I find I'm doing the same thing. I'm writing all over the map, too. I think it's great practice.

  4. In the famous words of Kris Kross "Jump! Jump!" Meaning try a bunch of genres. Jump Around! (House of Pain) Only writing one genre is like only listening to one kind of music. How boring. I say be a Jumper (Third Eye Blind.) Gosh, I'm a dork.