Genre angst

So a reader over at Marianne’s blog was curious about the predominance of third person point of view in romance, among other things. She wrote:

Why is romance the only genre mired in the tarpit of such pedantic rules? If the genre is to earn respect, shouldn’t it treat works as literature instead of mere commodity? Could you dedicate a blog day to this topic?

Poor Marianne cannot, at the moment, not with her novel coming out in mere days (stay tuned for the interview we’ll be doing here on Writing Wrongs, sure to go where no interview has gone before.)

But I have some oblique thoughts about this. I wouldn’t say romance is the only genre that plays to reader expectations. If a reader picks up a James Bond novel (by whoever is writing them these days), they don’t expect 007 to abandon the mission so he can go into therapy and find his inner child.

If a reader picks up a cozy cat mystery (by very famous cozy cat mystery author), they don’t expect knife-wielding kittens terrorizing the sleepy village of Meowville. (Oh, there’s an untapped LOLcat: I can has murderous rampage?)

And if a reader picks up a Harlequin Presents, they want (nay, demand) their Greek billionaires. Unless, of course, it’s an Italian playboy. In either case, the line plays into reader expectations, which also includes, for the most part, third person POV, most likely alternating heroine and the hero.

Oh, let’s put those all together, shall we?

James Bond, in his most dangerous mission ever. In the guise of a Greek billionaire playboy, 007 infiltrates KITTEN (Kittens in Tens Terrorize Every Nation), an organization bent on world domination using genetically altered kittens placed strategically in pet stores around the globe. On 007’s side? The beautiful and seductive virgin scientist, the only one with the known antidote, the only one with the key to his heart. Can they overcome his Oedipus complex and her cat allergy in time to save the world?

(Mine, people, this one’s all mine. Hands off. I’m pitching it at RWA national.)

See? No one wants to read that.

Such classifications aren’t necessarily evil. Readers want to find certain books at certain time. Bookstores (real and virtual) need a way to shelve/present their offerings. I suppose they could toss them all into one big room and have the salesclerks say: “Go for it, man. I’ll be over by the espresso machine, making myself a nonfat, extra hot, vanilla latte with a depth charge.”

If you look at one of Marianne’s publishers, The Wild Rose Press, you’ll see they have all their categories down the left hand side. And for whatever reason, publishers may be better at selling one type of story rather than another. So when a publisher says: No stories in first person, please, that reflects their business model.

Now, if they stop being good at selling what they do, or their readers’ tastes change, they either evolve or go out of business.

What happens next is writers turn these publisher guidelines and genre expectations into rules. If you do this … you’ll never be published. If you write for publication … you’ll never be original.

Then we all sit around and angst at each other. Someone ends up refusing to speak to all the rest. Someone goes home crying. Someone swears never to write another word ever again-seriously, people, I mean it this time.

And a good time was had by all.  

This is where it needs to stop. (Actually, it needs to stop before the all crying and wailing and gnashing of teeth.) If you’re feeling frustrated by a genre’s constraints, expand your reading selection. Read, and read widely. Subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace and watch the deals that go through.

Watch those deals. When someone says it can’t be done, and certainly not by a debut author, you’ll probably see a deal for it in the next months or so. Get firsthand information. Read what’s being published right now. Read about what’s being bought right now.  

One of the best things I ever did was stop listening to people who told me it couldn’t be done and started fully concentrating on the only thing I could control: the writing.

And that’s about all I have to say about that. Now, if someone could photoshop me a knife-wielding LOLcat, I would be eternally grateful.  

Edited to add: Judy found a knife-wielding LOLcat here.


Filed under Reading & Writing, Writing

4 responses to “Genre angst

  1. Then we all sit around and angst at each other.

    To angst.
    I am in awe.
    You are a master.

  2. LOL… Even had my brain not been otherwise occupied, I never would have said it quite this well and colorfully. And, I never, EVER would have thought up the James Bond, LOL cat angle.


    I lurve it. Thanks.

  3. Marianne told me to come read this and she was right… it was what I needed. Now to go find an LOLcat and knife…. I can never resist a challenge 🙂

  4. OMG… this was soooooooo funny! AND on target! You need to get a wider audience for this piece. You must! You must! Every aspiring writer needs to read it. Yesterday.

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