Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pin the Genre on the Story

© by Gerald So | | 4:00 A.M.

Writers of literary fiction have long clashed with writers of genre fiction. Literary writers want genre writers' popularity; genre writers want literary writers' respect. As I see it, "literary" is itself a genre. Genre labels came up in Short Mystery Fiction Society discussion with the recent release of The Anthology of Cozy Noir, whose publisher is an SMFS member.

Cozy and noir, if strictly defined, appear quite different: Cozies typically have polite settings and little if any onstage violence; noir typically presents hopeless settings and the characters they shape. One wouldn't think noir could be cozy or cozy could be noir, but stopping there leaves no room for creativity. And don't we read fiction to see writers' creativity in action?

Genre labels frustrate writers because they seldom pinpoint a story the way noun, verb, adjective, etc. denote parts of speech. Writers and readers, in their enthusiasm, are quick to assert that a story is more what any particular genre label brings to mind, that it "transcends the genre".

Yet genres exist because they are the simplest way for reference and sales people to organize their stock. Giving stories the rare label "cozy noir" invites readers to think of them in a new light.

There will always be argument over stylistic labels because they are open to interpretation. Even if it were possible, I doubt many writers would like being exactly pinned down.

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