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Unless you were born and raised on a deserted island, you’ve been exposed to fiction your entire life and have an innate understanding of genre; the classification of fiction based on shared form, style and subject matter.
I’ve been working on a breakdown of genre conventions in the primary genres I work in. This article is going to expand on the essence of recognizing and defining genre for your work and serve as a prelude to that material.
If we traveled back in time to the creation of the first “story,” it would be void of genre. Even if it dealt with goblins, trolls, knights, dragons, wizards, and fantastic realms, it would not be classified as “fantasy.” It would simply be the story, as there would be no other pieces of fiction to compare it to.
Genre emerges only through the collective view of numerous works.
Through this collective view and categorization of fiction, genre gives rise to conventions and obligatory scenes; traditional, typical, and expected expressions. For this reason it’s important to recognize your genre(s); in order to satisfy readers by both delivering and subverting what is expected.
You can recognize genre before you write, using it as a guide in your discovery process, or, you can assess genre after you’ve written, using it as a guide in your editing process… either approach can be successful (though perhaps the most effective technique is to employ both).
The Parent Genre: Drama
To some extent all stories are a drama. That is to say, all (well-crafted) stories are more than a mere sequence of events, but a dramatization of those events, with specific narrative purpose.
Drama is the all encompassing genre, with the flexibility to contain and explore all human emotion.
Drama as a genre by itself is more serious in tone, focusing on character arc development and theme. Drama as a genre digs deep into the humanity behind the story.
Similarly, any genre of fiction can push more toward the dramatic, focusing more on character arc development and theme than the other elements that define its underlying genre.
While all fiction will have dramatic moments, don’t label your story the drama genre if the humanity and character interaction are overshadowed by other genre elements.
Because drama as a genre will so often be paired with other genres, clients often hear me refer to the stand alone drama work of fiction as the “straight drama.”
By moving from the general Drama to focus on a more specific emotion, the first base levels of genre begin to take shape. Notice that the emotion is the specific and guiding force here.
The Six Base Genres
Regardless of genre, all good fiction delivers a complete experience and expresses a wide range of human emotion. However, the base genres (as I refer to them) have a more intimate relationship with one specific emotion. I define the six base genres as follows;