Charlie Jane Anders on genres and what can be done with them

Posted: January 4, 2013 in Genre
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

☞ Anders’ observations on the importance of genres: that they do not merely serve a boring taxonomic function, and that they could be interesting, even exciting. They are virtually inescapable, and good knowledge of them is needed if one wants to break them. Every story builds up a generic expectation or expectations. The genre of a narrative is not always determinate at the start. Generic possibilities could be triggered by playing with genres and what they entail during the course of a narrative.

✽ “Genres don’t have to be comfortable old pairs of socks. Genre storytelling can be thrilling and unexpected — and one major way to seize the element of surprise is to burst out of genre boundaries, like a rocket sled crashing through the walls of dreamland. Drop some nanotech into that literary story. Nuke the fairy kingdom. Or screw mash-ups — just create something that nobody can taxonomize.”

✽ “Every story makes assumptions and builds on ideas that you’re not supposed to think about or notice. This is just as true for big, genre-defining works as it is for everything else — maybe even more so. Sometimes, authors are aware they’re making certain unwarranted assumptions, sometimes they’re not. But either way, if you want to find a fresh take on a type of story that you love, try and find the thing you’re not supposed to be looking at, and stare at it.”

✽ “A murder mystery is just like any other type of story, until someone is murdered. An erotic story is just like any other, until it gets overtly sexy. You can play with expectations by teasing that something is going to happen that will cast your story in a particular genre mold — and then not having it happen, or having it happen in a very different way than people expect.”

✽ “Have a detective wandering around, even if nobody gets murdered. Have a cyborg randomly show up, even if your story isn’t about cybernetics. This might sound like a gimmick — but these characters will have a very different perspective on the events in your story than other people would, and that can add an extra dimension. And sometimes the easiest way to do a genre mash-up is to bring together characters who belong in different types of stories.”

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