Monday, June 06, 2005

Genre Issues

A while ago it got around the writing blogosphere that Tor is looking for erotica/romantica. For some reason this got me pondering whether or not The Masque and its universe would be considered in that category. It definitely has more sex and sexual themes than does your basic SF. But did that necessarily mean that it would fit more in the erotica genre than SF? I decided to pick up a couple of erotic novels by authors I respected from reading their blogs (Alison Kent being one, though I don't know if she writes romantica more than erotica, and I'm not sure where the boundaries of subgenres are within this genre or if there are any). Anyway, after reading these two books, I realized what I realized after reading a basic romance novel. I don't write either of those genres, nor do I really want to. Why? Formula.

Romance and mystery in particular are two genres that are slaves to a formula. It's the nature of the genres. In romance, the formula is as follows, and it is the primary focus of the novel. Step 1: Boy meets girl (or vice versa) and there is a Potent Attraction of some kind, which can manifest itself in everything from a look to a sexual encounter--the type of manifestation usually depends on the genre. Step 2: Something prevents boy and girl from being together. Step 3: Boy and girl overcome this obstacle. Step 4: Boy and girl finally get around to admitting to themselves and each other that they are in love. The only way you can play around with these steps is by changing subgenres within the genre. And then you encounter a much more specific formula. I'm shying away from romance novels right now because I'm sick of the formula.

It's the same with mysteries: mystery presents itself, clues are chased down in a particular fashion, mystery is solved. I stopped reading mysteries at some point in college because I kept seeing the formula instead of the story and was very, very annoyed. I've found that the way for me to enjoy mysteries despite the formula is to pick a series with some sort of intriguing element. For example, Nevada Barr writes mysteries set in National Parks. As I am a National Park junky, I love these books because I can get caught up in the setting whenever the formula starts to rear its head. Although this creates the Jessica Fletcher Syndrome. If you ever run into Jessica Fletcher anywhere in these United States, turn around and run because someone's gonna die. Similarly, if Anna Pigeon is a park ranger at the National Park you are visiting, make a hasty exit because a dead body ain't too far away. The only way to avoid this syndrome in mystery serials is to have your character be a cop or bounty hunter or in a setting where murders happen frequently. Smalltown Maine and National Parks aren't them.

Side note: I'm finding paranormal romance an excellent diversion from romance formulas. Cases in point: Lynn Viehl's If Angels Burn and Holly Lisle's Midnight Rain and Last Girl Dancing (reminder: check out the freebie chapters and pre-order; kickass paranormal/suspense premise).

Romance plays a heavy part in my novels, mystery less so. But I could never write in those genres because of the formula. I prefer SF and fantasy because there seems to be a distinct lack of formula in these genres, other than your basic storytelling plot arc: hero wants something, villain presents obstacles, hero overcomes obstacles and usually learns something in the process. All nice and vague--ample opportunity to play. I suppose that authors in romance and mystery must feel that same opportunity or somehow prefer the formula, otherwise they wouldn't be writing that genre.

All this is what made me realize that, while my books might stretch the boundaries of SF and fantasy because of their romantic elements, they are most definitely SF and fantasy. This might mean I'll run into the same issues that S.L. Viehl does with her StarDoc books, but oh well. They are the stories I want to tell. And that's what matters, not the genre label.

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