Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thoughts On Genre 3: Some Things I Like About Genre

Come on, it's an Allosaurus fragilis. Everybody loves Allosaurus!

This next may be taken as a statement of purpose or a pathetic confession.

I write for a number of reasons and if I fail in any of them I don't like what I've written. I write to express myself, to make my weirdo perspective on life intelligible to others. I write with the intent of conveying a moral or ethical position. I write in order to develop and display some degree of craftsmanship -- for the sake of making something and making it well.

And I write to entertain. This is what I love about genre fiction -- for the most part it is unabashed entertainment. If you study genre fiction it can teach you how to take your audience for a ride.

It's been said that all stories are mysteries. I don't buy that -- but the pursuit of a secret and the aftermath of its revelation are at the heart of mystery fiction. And a hell of a lot of other fiction as well. If you read mysteries you'll be able to learn how to control the flow of information to a reader in order to maximize the effectiveness of the fictive experience.

And mysteries provide a perfect form for the exploration of an unfamiliar setting. The investigative mode allows the writer to convincingly engage a wide variety of characters, to move around the world of the story in a way that helps to explain that world.

Other genres like thrillers and horror and romance are focused on particular emotions -- emotions that have their place in fiction of all kinds. This is a limited approach, of course, but you can learn a lot about evoking those emotions by studying the genres devoted to them.

One aspect of writing that I am absolutely fixated on is the visionary. To be able to show a reader things that they would never see otherwise. Science fiction and fantasy at their best give you revelatory glimpses of other worlds -- and this expansion of imagination is one of the greatest gifts an author can give to his readers.

This can come at a cost, of course. Much of my favorite SF plunges you into those new worlds without warning or preparation and forces you to figure out what's going on from context. This is a pleasure specific to this kind of fiction and those who haven't learned to appreciate it -- and this kind of extrapolation is a learned skill -- find this approach to fiction alienating, even angering.

The audiences that support genre fiction frequently have more of a sense of the history of their reading than mainstream audiences do. It's more likely for a classic work of genre fiction to be reprinted and read than for a comparable work of mainstream fiction -- and this tendency seems to be growing stronger.

Right now the tropes and forms of genre fiction are spreading out of the genres. Look at the bestseller lists. Look at the movies that have made top dollar. Even more tellingly, look at the growing acceptance and appreciation of genre fiction in some academic and literary circles.

This is great. But if you're going to use these tropes and forms it's a damned good idea to read widely enough to know something of the history of those forms and what others have done with them. It's a matter not just of respect but of craftsmanship.

And I guess I've said all I need to on this subject for now.