Monday, October 20, 2008

What's in a Genre?

Current Reading: Sad Cypress, by Agatha Christie

Inspirational Quote: "The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes." -- Agatha Christie

I've been thinking about genre.

I write the same stories everyone else writes: a character has problem, sets out to solve problem, struggles against antagonistic person or situation, and succeeds or fails. At their core, all stories are like that. Characters change, and problems, possible solutions, antagonists and resolutions; the details change, but the story stays the same.

One of those details is the mold in which the story is cast. What settings and situations surround the story, what expectations the reader ought to bring to their reading, depend on the trappings with which the writer feels most comfortable. I write those stories in a Science Fiction and Fantasy setting because those are the tropes with which I'm most familiar. I enjoy writing with them. They're fun.

But genres can be confusing. How do you label a work when you're really not sure what all those labels mean?

So I found myself thinking about genre and, because this is the way my brain works, the boardgame Clue (according to Wikipedia, it's actually called Cluedo outside of NA. Who knew?). This is the result:

Mystery: Who did it in the Library with a Rope?

Cozy Mystery: Mrs. White takes time out from her obsessive crocheting to figure out who did it in the Library with a Rope.

Thriller: There's a bomb in the house. Colonel Mustard has one hour to figure out who's responsible and where they've put it.

Techno-Thriller: As above, but Colonel Mustard now has access to the full high-tech arsenal of the USAF.

Spy Thriller: replace bomb with microchip schematics of a nuclear weapon, make meek Professor Plum the undercover protagonist and Miss Scarlet a wily assassin working against national interests.

Suspense: Someone's taken out Professor Plum in the Library with a candlestick. Colonel Mustard is next unless he can figure out who's responsible. A knife is missing from the Kitchen, and the Colonel is being led inexorably toward the Lounge.

Science Fiction: Colonel Mustard and his crew of Space Marines must discover who killed Mrs. White, the alien's ambassador on Earth, with a laser blaster in their starship's Library.

Comic Book: Evil Colonel Mustard uses his ability to spontaneously generate rope in order to kill Miss Scarlet, whose psychic powers can't protect her in the shielded Conservatory. To prevent Mustard's ascension to World Ruler, Professor Plum drinks his super-professor serum and becomes the Iron-Clad Avenger.

CyberPunk: Mr. Green is dead, victim of a viral Wrench to the head of his avatar in the on-line Library. Professor Plum, fired from his tenured university position for hacking corporate systems and now reduced to living in the seedy underbelly of a futuristic society, has to figure out who's responsible before he becomes the next victim.

SteamPunk: Professor Plum is killed in his Conservatory with a knife. Miss Scarlet, his assistant, must prevent Colonel Mustard, the half-man, half-clockwork dictator of London, from recovering the professor's research and discovering the secret of the Music of the Spheres.

Fantasy: The half-fey Miss Scarlet dies in the arms of mortal Mr. Green, the victim of an enchanted Candlestick in the Study, Green has to enter the fey realm and obtain water from the magic fountain to restore her before evil Mrs. White takes over the realm.

Epic Fantasy: There is only one way to kill Mrs. White, the witch queen who rules the land, and that is to destroy the enchanted Candlestick that is key to her power. Quiet, comfort-loving Mr. Green, accompanied by his friends Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum, must make their way across the land to Mrs. White's Hall, where they must throw it into the magic fountain where it was created. To get there, they must face the hordes of Orcs and Trolls commanded by Miss Scarlet and Mrs. Peacock.

Urban Fantasy: Nobody in downtown Detroit notices Mr. Green's death by Knife in his Hall except Mrs. White, the local witch. Mr. Green was guarding the seven gateways to the fey realm, and now Miss Scarlet, the elf queen, is free to invade the ghetto.

Horror: Mr. Green killed Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with a Revolver, but the good Colonel won't stay dead...

Cthulhu Mythos: Professor Plum's investigation into the murder of Miss Scarlet in the Dining Room uncovers an unholy cult of degenerate, mad New-England cannibals who worship an uncanny idol.

Romance: Miss Scarlet and Mr. Green, separated years ago by circumstances, are brought together by the stabbing death of Mrs. White in the Conservatory.

Period Romance: Miss Scarlet, lady in waiting to Lady White, harbors a forbidden love for Duke Green. When the Duchess is stabbed in the Conservatory by a courtly rival, she finds the mourning Duke finally opening himself to the possibility of love beneath his station.

Erotica: Miss Scarlet does everyone in the Ballroom.

...If there's a genre I missed, let me know.


gabrielle said...

I followed your link over here from your amusing genre summary on Nathan Bransford's post. Well done there, and well done here!

If you're looking for more genres, how about historical fiction, children's fiction, and self help? :)

Ulysses said...

Things I hadn't considered.
I wonder if "self help" is a good fit for fiction genres?

I'm afraid it might be.