Genre is simple. It’s a convention that lets readers know what to expect before they start reading a book. (Or watching a movie. Or playing a video game. You name it.)
Whenever I think of “Genre”, I remember being a kid, walking up and down the Blockbuster aisles looking for VHS tapes to rent. As soon as I walked in the store, I’d head straight to the Action / Adventure aisle. I didn’t screw around with horror or drama or comedy. I wanted to see Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, or Sean Connery on the cover, usually with a car explosion in the background.
Thank god for the convention of genre. Otherwise I would've had to roam the entire Blockbuster store before I found what I was looking for, and even then I might not be happy with what I found. Genres are time-savers. Like any set of rules, genres are begging to be broken. But overall they are helpful.
I think that the convention of “Genre” speaks to an even higher global truth - a human truth - which is that, “the key to happiness is managing expectations.”
The rule made sense to me as the manager of a company, it makes sense to me as a husband, and it makes sense when I look at the book industry.
If a customer is upset, it’s because they had an expectation that went unfulfilled. Either 1) the expectation was incorrect in the first place, or 2) the product did not align with the expectation.
In researching “genre”, I recently stumbled across this idea from Robert McKee, author os “Story: Structure, Substance, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting”, that I really liked. McKee laid out 5 main categories that genre can be broken into. These categories involve the certain types of expectations that a reader brings into a work:
- How long the story will last.
- How far we’ll need to suspend our disbelief.
- What is the style, and the particular experience of the story
- How the story will be structured
- What the general content of the story will be
Right now my interest is in the fantasy genre. So now that I have this nice framework from McKee to work with, I’ll be researching more in depth how the fantasy genre answers these questions for readers.