Do you have a question about your fantasy novel, short story, or spot of flash fiction that’s burning for an answer (or even just a question about writing or the column in general)? If so, please email in your questions to: me "at" susanjmorris "dot" com.
Here’s my question: how important is it to write in a genre?
Thanks for the question! And what a simple seeming, and yet really complicated topic. You’d think genre would be one of the blander topics out there, when in reality, it’s actually quite the hotbed of animated and emotional debates. So, instead of just answering your question simply, I’m going to turn this into a bit of a broader discussion of what genre is, what it’s good for, and how I’d recommend interacting with it, when it comes to your own writing. I hope this answers your question!
What Is Genre, Exactly?
It can be tempting to think of genre writing as derivative—almost as a kind of fan fiction, all swirling around “the Greats” like Tolkien who first inspire us to turn our thoughts to elves and orcs. But at its heart, “genre” is just a fancy word for a category of fiction—and while, yes, the influence of the heavy hitters is definitely felt in genre fiction, the heavy hitters of life are felt equally strongly, well, pretty damn well everywhere. What can we say? We’re human! When we see something we just love—or even something that makes us shudder with revulsion—it affects us, in ways big and small.
What’s It Good For, Anyway?
So, what, exactly, does genre have to offer? Because, you know, this wouldn’t even be a question if it didn’t have something to offer. I think genre has a lot to offer, but one of the most obvious things is a “consistent reading experience”—in that, if you pick up a fantasy book, you can expect that it will, for the most part, have more similarities to other fantasy books than to, say, science fiction or autobiographical books. That it will have a certain feel, and satisfy certain needs (not so much that it will have magic wands instead of laser guns—the trappings mean far less than the filling).