The Importance of Genres

Sometimes people say things that make no sense. Like comparing the work of two authors who have no business being compared. I think it’s a little ridiculous to say that genres limit creativity by placing labels on one’s work.

No one is saying that certain genres need very specific stories or characters. I mean, just look at young adult. Sure we have an expectation of what to expect when starting a new young adult book, but that doesn’t mean every book is the same. Which goes for every genre.

The fact is (to me) that we need genres. Let me make a comparison here. Imagine if we didn’t have genres in music. Then we wouldn’t have radio stations genre-specific. And maybe that’d be interesting to some, but not to me. Imagine a Madonna song followed by Kendrick Lamar and then Blake Shelton. It would be odd.

Now let’s get back to books. Imagine going into a bookstore and there is not a single label or sign anywhere in the store to tell you which section you’re in. Why? No genres. So the entire store is alphabetized by author. The store is one big blob of books. Business books. Young adult. Mystery. History. Art. All shelved together with no “label”.

Think about this. How many times have you read a book, series, or author and immediately wondered what to read next? I haven’t done it much recently, but I have done it. So you play around on Amazon or Google or maybe even on the author’s website trying to find similar works. That’s what genres help with. I once randomly grabbed a book at Barnes and Noble by Robert B. Parker. I’d never read any detective fiction before. In subsequent years I found Spenser, Elvis Cole, Alex McKnight, Charlie Hood, Alex Cross, and Harry Bosch. These characters are not the same and they’re not directly influential of one another, but they do fall under the same umbrella of detective fiction.

There’s nothing limiting about genres. If you want to write something that blends several different genres together in the pages of a single book, then go ahead. But newsflash, it’s already been done plenty before you and those books are all categorized somewhere.

Do you think genres are important? Or are they just stupid labels to you?

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8 thoughts on “The Importance of Genres

  1. I tend to think that genres actually help grow an audience, which is the goal towards which every writer should work simply through the similarities inherent in each genre (as you put it, a reader comes to a genre work with a certain expectation). And within those genres are deeply nuanced sub-genres. Writing science fiction? That’s great: space opera, dystopian future, time travel, robots…or what? Crime fiction? Fantastic: police procedural, hardboiled detective, proper mystery (per Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle), criminal’s perspective noir, or something different? Genres are only limiting to a limited imagination.

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  2. I think I was reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files at the time, but I was looking for a new fantasy story that wasn’t 10+ books long. Something I could read and complete within a reasonable amount of time. A guy at Barnes & Noble suggested The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, which became my all-time favorite series, and author. Genres are important, because they provide a focus to our explorations. We’ll be more confident in trying something new when we know it has some element we already like. If I just had to dive into a mountain of unlabelled books, it’d take entirely too long to find something of interest, I’d be thoroughly exhausted before even cracking it open.

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  3. Genres are incredibly important. To me, a genre is not a restrictive set of rules but rather an audience that is most likely to appreciate your work.

    Also, I like things to be categorized and the mere IDEA of going into a bookstore with no categorization made my anxiety flare up a bit, lol.

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  4. One thing I’ve learned from attending author/reader events is that there are so many genres and sub-genres and each have their loyal fan base. If you want to write zombie space post-apocalyptic westerns, there are people that will read them. You just have to search them out or help them find you.

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