Genre: Why Does it Matter?
Written by Camryn Flowers
Writing is like making a quilt—both are equally difficult crafts that take practice to perfect. Both also follow patterns. Where a quilting pattern is physical and requires assembly with pins and a sewing machine (or by hand, if you’re a masochist), writing is more of a figurative pattern.
Each genre (and the respective sub-genres) has a set pattern that authors follow. The pattern for mystery is nothing like the pattern for science fiction. Granted, you can take these patterns and mix and match them to create something unique, but the basis remains the same. science fiction is usually science-related and mystery usually has some sort of . . . well mystery that needs solving.
For example, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien is strictly fantasy (high fantasy, if you want to get technical). It has Elves, Dwarves, and a plan to destroy an evil magic ring right under the nose of some dude in a giant eyeball tower. Did I mention that the eyeball is made of fire? Yep, all fantasy.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is detective fiction that falls under the mystery umbrella. There’s a murder and Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, starts an investigation. Often in Mystery, many of the characters are shady to create red herrings, causing the reader to try and figure out “whodunit”.
But Death and Taxes: An Urban Fantasy Mystery by J. Zachary Pike is both! As the title itself states, it’s both fantasy and mystery. The detective investigating paranormal phenomena also happens to run a bakery.
And just like in a quilt, the colors don’t have to match the pattern if you don’t like them. You can change out fabric patterns to suit your needs, just as you can change out aspects of a novel to fit a mixed genre. But even though you’re mixing and matching, you still have to follow the base elements of the genres chosen.
Even though I’ve stressed the importance of the pattern, I want to also stress that following it too closely can spell disaster. Remember how I said you can change the colors of your fabric when quilting? Do that with your budding novel. Spice it up! Make the Elves speak with country accents! Maybe the murderer is a goose! Your checkerboard quilt doesn’t have to be black and white—it can be blue and purple!
So why is the (mismatched) pattern important?
Well, it helps readers understand what’s happening in your book and gives them a general idea of what to expect. A fantasy and sci-fi reader is going to be much more open to chapters of world-building, but a romance reader is going to want the focus to be on the characters and their relationships, with the world around them being secondary.
It also helps authors discover what’s popular. Lots of people can recall that after Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games’ release, there was a surge in dystopian YA science fiction. Divergent by Veronica Roth, Legend by Marie Lu, and The Maze Runner by James Dashner are all books that were popular at the time as the “dystopian” genre was the biggest at the time.
Knowing what the genre market is like when you write or publish your book is an element of success. And knowing how to market within your genre is vital. Science fiction writers don’t market their books under the #mystery tag on Twitter. A non-fiction writer isn’t going to comic-con to market their book on the invention of aglets (the ends of a shoelace).
How you arrange your quilt, I mean your novel, is up to you, but remember to research your audience, what others are publishing, and the structure of your chosen genre to give yourself a leg up.