Editor’s note: this post was first published in 2010.
Have you ever read The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky? If you ever read it you’ll probably be as surprised as I was to find that its part family drama, part comedy, part romantic story, part thriller, part mystery and part courtroom drama. I was amazed at how many varied genres were successfully attempted in one novel.
Could such a work be pulled off today? I doubt it. It’s rarely attempted in the mainstream. But when it is attempted, and when genre-less creations make it to the populace, they are incredibly popular and, yes, timeless. (Love it or hate it, Titanic was a chick-flick/action/thriller/romance/historical-boat-biopic that made lots of money.) Is this a coincidence?
I’m not sure it is. Shakespeare was the same way. The difference between comedy and tragedy in Shakespeare’s time was only determined by the head count on stage by the end of the play. Other than that, each of Shakespeare’s plays had more ingredients than a mole poblano: slapstick comedy, tragedy, thriller, action, suspense, horror, fantasy, family drama, musical numbers and even drag shows. (On second thought, I guess every Shakespeare play was one big drag show.) Shakespeare utilize all these genres and more. (Sometimes, all in one play.) And I don’t need to tell you what going genre-less did for him.
Is Your Story Trapped In A Genre?
I’m a big fan of looking beyond genre, because I think genre kills. Genre imprisons creatives into little boxes that creative people were designed to break in the first place. Genre kills because life isn’t lived in genres. Our lives have elements of every genre, so why shouldn’t the stories we tell be the same?
At least when we begin a work, we should not think in terms of Genre. That’s like deciding what career a child should pursue right at their birth. It’s unfair to the “child” (a.k.a: our story) to do so.
In these beginning stages of my novel, I’m trying not to think of genre, even though I say it’s a “fantasy” to those who ask.
At the start, I think we have to allow the work to take paths no other work has taken. We must be willing to take a path that maybe other writers have not taken either. We might end up taking many paths that go beyond Genre. I really do think that’s our duty as writers to let that happen.
Only when the work is finished, that’s when someone will stamp a Genre on it. But really, I don’t think we should do it to ourselves, and most definitely not at the beginning.
Why? Because genre kills.