Is Your Story Trapped In A Genre?

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.

much love,

Ollin

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5 comments on “Is Your Story Trapped In A Genre?

  1. Katie says:

    I love the fact that you’re not thinking of a genre as you begin writing your novel. I think labels and categories, in pretty much every aspect of life, are more of a liability than an asset. They only choke us. Being open minded to where your pen will take you is sort of the most beautiful part. (:

  2. Genre is kind of a story-killer. I don’t even think that genre writers necessarily think themselves as that. Steven King, who saw one of his childhood friends get killed from being hit by a train and claimed to not remember the event after it took place, is one of those people. I think that guy just has a creepy factor to him that won’t really go away, you know? I don’t think King set out to be a horror writer, I think that is just the sort of work he ended up creating.

    For a long time, I didn’t know what sort of work I would turn out, but I find that being open to different possibilities heightens my creative ability. If I want to write about robots, I will. If I want to do romance, sure why not. Zombies? I’ll give it a try. You never know. All of our writing is filled with possibilities!

  3. RD Meyer says:

    I think you tell a story and don’t worry about its genre. Ten years ago that would’ve been more difficult to market, but with the options out there now, it’s mch easier to get it into people’s hands. And once they enjoy it, the ride is on!

  4. […] Is Your Story Trapped in a Genre? By Ollin Morales at Courage 2 Create […]

  5. R. Coots says:

    When it come to romance, action, thriller, or whatever, I don’t know that I’m really stuck. But since it’s set on an alien planet being invaded by other aliens (and there’s magic in there somewhere), it’s not gonna matter in the long run. Sci-fi/Fantasy section, here I come. 😛

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