Genre Bending (See what I did there?)


There’s been a lot of news lately about gender issues (brava to Caitlyn Jenner, right?), and I’ve also seen (thanks to an FB friend posting an article) some discussion on genre bending. 

Specifically, the article was an interview between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro where they discuss genres, what it means to have a book categorized in a particular genre, and what it’s like to have your book’s genre “class” debated.

What struck me as interesting was that Ishiguro did not see his latest book, The Buried Giant, as fantasy. In his mind, the book was literary fiction, despite having magic, fable, and ogres. He was (it seems) genuinely surprised at his book being labeled fantasy.

Writers are always asked what genre their book is. It’s important to know, not only for following “the rules,” for marketing, and for sales. Anyone who follows Amazon categories knows the genre classification is a big deal when it comes to rankings. 

But it can be confusing!

Sometimes books fit in multiple genres.

For example, the book I just finished reading yesterday, The Book of Laney by Myfanwy Collins, is, accurately, labeled as young adult. The protagonist is (almost) sixteen. The book is contemporary, meaning it deals with real life issues. No magic, fantastical creatures, or paranormalness allowed. And then the protagonist starts having visions. It sort of made me do a double take. Was this paranormal after all? Was this foreshadowing of a mental breakdown? Was this an example of magic realism? 

Even after finishing the book I am not sure.

Perhaps, genres, like genders, should be seen as more fluid creatures. They both can certainly be complicated, and what one person sees as a certain genre or gender, can be seen differently by another. Maybe genres and genders can’t always be classified by such concrete, rigid terms.

Hmmm, perhaps I’m blending too much together here, but I dunno, it’s just how my mind works.

How about you? How do you see genres?

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This entry was posted in Writing.

4 comments on “Genre Bending (See what I did there?)

  1. landragraf says:

    I’ve run into similar issues with my own writing lately. I wrote a book and while it’s a romance the sub-genre is quite confusing. I honestly spent several weeks trying to determine how to classify it. I knew how I wanted to and at the same time knew that I couldn’t in the way I wished. So I settled for a happy medium. Will readers feel the same way? I have no clue.

  2. Ramla Zareen says:

    Hi, thanks for writing on such an interesting topic 🙂 I can definitely relate!

    My Goodreads group HAPPILY EVER AFTER has separate topic folders for each genre of “Romance” and there are times when I get confused about where exactly to put a specific book, and can’t distinguish between even simple sub-genres like “Contemporary Romance”, “Romantic Comedy” and “Chick-Lit”, even though as a group moderator, it’s one of my responsibilities to know such things!

    Then I have a blog on “Golden-Age and Cozy Mysteries”. According to the official definition, protagonists in “Cozies” are supposed to be amateur sleuths, yet certain series in which the main characters are members of law enforcing agencies also seem to me to be “Cozies” instead of “Police Procedurals”.

    In any case, my experience as a group moderator, blogger, and a reader, has led me to conclude that not only a single book can contain elements of more than one genre, but also that categorizing books into specific genres is more a matter of personal perceptions than hard and fast rules.

    Of course, I can imagine that this issue must be more difficult to resolve for authors and publishers and they have more at stake too, as it would be important for them that they be able to advertise the books to the appropriate target market.

    Well anyway, thanks again, for such an interesting and well-written post 🙂

    All the best,
    –Ramla Zareen

  3. I agree. It can be confusing! It’s even made me question if I’ve categorized my manuscripts properly. And then you throw in all the sub-genres…. #sighs I think this is just another aspect of the industry that is changing. In some cases – aka Amazon, Goodreads, etc – it’s rigid. In other cases, not so much. It’s hard to balance it all.

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