If it looks like a duck…

You know that old Douglas Adams line ‘If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.’ Let’s apply that to GENRE today shall we? A more apt quote I couldn’t find as Adams himself described the book that line came from (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, if you really want to know) as  a “detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic”.

Today’s post was inspired by a rather frustrating half hour spent trying to find a book online and having to wade through a veritable plethora of genre and subgenre to find the book I wanted, which, in the end, was nowhere close to where a reader would think to look for it.

Back in the day it was simple, you had your tragedies, romances and fairy tales. Simple. Over time more genres appeared, now there were thrillers, mysteries, westerns, scifi and fantasy. Brilliant, that makes it easier to find stuff. But no, why stop there when you can have a sub genre for EVERYTHING!

In theory a subgenre should make it easier to find a book, for instance in the romance  it makes complete sense to have ‘historical’ ‘contemporary’ etc, but why stop there when you can have ‘historical time-travel hard-boiled transrealism cyberpunk romance’ ?

My point today is not that subgenres are a bad thing, because they aren’t. But some writers get so caught up in them that they can’t see the wood for the trees, so to speak.

I recently had a conversation with a writer friend about her latest book that went as such:

Her: ‘It’s a sort of adventure coming-of-age frontier history cowboy western sort of thing.’

Me: ‘So it’s a western?’

Her: (pouting) I suppose.’

Honestly, she looked liked I’d just kicked her puppy.

And this is the point I’m trying to make – it’s very easy to get bogged down trying to find the perfect subsubsub genre for your novel, but sometimes you need to remember to think in broader strokes and not get too tied down in microgenres.

It’s a strange urge that human beings have, this desire to be able to put things in a virtual box, labelled and classified. We don’t like to think in big pictures, instead we have a need to over analyse and inspect and dissect.

At the end of the day bookshops tend to be quite broad in how they classify and display books, and last time I checked there wasn’t an ”adventure coming-of-age frontier history cowboy western” section.

So here’s Claire’s thought for the day – don’t worry about trying to put your work in a box, just write the damn thing.

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