Sunday, 29 April 2012

Genre boundaries

I came across a new genre definition the other day - 'hysterical realism'. I was doing a bit of research into The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and I was surprised to find this genre pop up when I had been expecting to see 'magical realism' mentioned. I had read the novel thinking about how it related to the magical realism genre, and I started to wonder, 'have I read it wrong? Should I read it again and re-evaluate?' (and then, of course, 'but I won't have time before we look at it at uni next week!')

We've been looking at genre more broadly in relation to horror films as well, and one of the questions that has arisen is whether or not genre is of any use as a tool for analysis. Boundaries are constantly being blurred; for example, horror films incorporate the gothic, thriller, murder mystery, some romance...I've even heard the word 'goreno' mentioned....

We have 'genre fiction', which isn't considered especially literary. But then works considered highly literary contain elements of genre fiction. I would argue that a great literary work like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is a work of magical realism, which I believe contains elements of fantasy. And the list could go on, along with the arguments.

I used to tell myself, 'I want to write a novel in X genre because it is better, and I won't touch X genre with a ten foot barge pole.' But classification is messy, and boundaries become blurred, and some of the best works aren't afraid to mix it up a bit.
We all interpret stories differently. Actually, we all interpret all sorts of things differently, so the idea of a one-size-fits-all classification system seems frankly laughable. Sure, it may help when used as guidance rather than rule, but I think if you have a story that you want to tell, just tell it without worrying about sticking to particular genre conventions. Sticking to convention means you're not offering anything new, and your story will have been heard a thousand times before. Conversely, if you end up with a story that has been heard a thousand times before, maybe then look at different genres to add a bit of spice and sparkle...

My attitude towards genre as a writer is different to when I'm considering it from the reader perspective, and I imagine that could be true more broadly. But I stand by the belief that anything can be used to your advantage if you approach it with the right attitude!

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