Box? What box? We don’t need to think outside no box…!

On genres and tropes and gender roles and HEAs and HFNs and all the other neat little boxes some people still think we need to use….

For those who don’t know what a trope is, it’s a metaphor or literary device. I’ve seen the word used most often in regards to romance and erotica writing, where the ‘trope’ is the semi-requirement that all the heroes be tall and good-looking and every novel has to end Happily Ever After (HEA). Or, in the case of erotic romance sometimes just Happily For Now (HFN). Just recently I was dinged on this (dinged being my word for the sound made when someone whacks you upside the head) by a reader of one of my books. She said she liked the book overall but that it ‘couldn’t be a romance because it didn’t have an HEA’ and gave me one star.  Well… we won’t mention (often) that the book in question is a thriller, not particularly a romance – although it does have a romance in it – and the ending was pretty much telegraphed from the beginning, because I understand. Most of us who aren’t watching Game of Thrones want our happy endings. But as G.R.R. Martin has proven, we don’t always get them, not even in novels. *grins* I’ve also gotten dinged by a reader because I had the Queen from one of my novels go to defend the stairs so the King and their son could escape. She wanted to know why the Queen went instead of the King (even thought it was explained in the next paragraph). Primarily though, it’s because I don’t do gender roles.

That’s one of the great things about being an Indie writer and an Indie reader. Genres can be squished together. Writers don’t have to stick to tropes and gender roles. That thriller is also a historical romance where the heroine is pretty bad-ass but doesn’t act like a man, and she doesn’t wear leather (although I do have one heroine who does). Another reader wrote in a review that she was so glad that the heroine of one of my romances – and it is a romance – didn’t have your typical romance novel type job (owns a garden shop/bridal shop/antique or gift shop).

Readers will benefit even more as we stretch the boundaries. I’m a pretty eclectic reader. One of my exes once said I’d read cereal boxes and skywriting and he wasn’t far off. My tastes range from Robert Crais and Lee Child to Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb to G.R.R Martin and Mercedes Lackey, and my writing reflects that. Many of the readers I know are pretty eclectic, too. For the longest time we’ve been talking about the ‘gatekeepers’ at the big publishing houses, but it sometimes seems that we’re still trying to conform to their old rules. Writers must write in only one genre, and use a pen name for the others. PSSHHHT. No they don’t. (For the record, I do use a pen name for my erotic romances, but that’s more about language and content than separating one type of fiction from another.) While we still need the guidelines of genre – and most retailers want that – there’s no reason writers have to restrict themselves to that. You’ve got room in that description for saying  ‘this is a work of Steampunk/Historical/Romantic fiction’ or whatever it is, if you want to give readers a better idea of what you’ve written. And readers can get to read some truly fantastic innovative fiction.

Writers…just be prepared for a few dings if you do… *grins*


19 thoughts on “Box? What box? We don’t need to think outside no box…!”

  1. I still cherish the hope that the further we get from having to put a book on one and only shelf in a physical store, genre will continue to matter less and less.

    Of course whenever I say that, I always see a reader commenting "I only like Paranormal YA Romance with werewolves with red hair set in London." 😉

  2. My books don't fit neatly into a genre or category either. But the industry demands that you choose one and readers look for books by their favourite genre. In one way I hope Ed is right, but I also worry that when it no loner matters readers will not know how to find us. It's a catch 22. Just the same, I don't much like boxes. 🙂

    1. I do think that genre is some form or another is here to stay, readers do need a way to find us. I'm kind of hoping that Amazon and some of the others will open up to making more categories available. You can choose some additional ones through Shelfari, but it would be easier if you could do it at the point of uploading.

  3. Genres PFFFFT! I don't need no stinkin' genres!

    *pulls out machine gun*


    I suppose my stories don't really fit into one specific genre, though for shelving purposes I suppose they're going to have too one way or the other.

    I think genres are a tool to be used to help people find what they're looking for. Sort of like the Dewey Decimal system. Only not as awesome.

    I'm hoping that genre blending will be looked on as a great way for readers to experience something new, rather than turning their collective noses up and remarking "ew" before putting the book down and going to something they know or at least recognise.

    As with everything else in this crazy publishing upheaval, it'll be interesting to see what happens.

  4. Why did the queen go to defend the stairs instead of the king? Grrrr… I'm offended by that question, and I'm not even the author.

    1. Whenever I'm faced with that, I always remember Joss Whedon's response when asked in an interview years ago why he writes these strong female characters, he simply responded “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

      It just still amazes me that WOMEN are still asking it…

  5. Valerie: Great article. As another writer who doesn't restrict himself to a single genre (I read more than one, so why can't I also write more than one) and who doesn't use a pen name for the different categories (I only have one birth certificate), I find the efforts to force writers to 'play by the rules' not only offensive but annoying – so I do what I do with most things that annoy me, I ignore them. I think the queen who went to defend the stairs so the king and his son could get away was a righteous woman who probably believes in 'kick ass and check ID cards later.' Keep it up.

  6. I wouldn't mind genres at all if only I knew what half of them were. I honestly didn't know what cyberpunk and steam punk were until I went to bookcountry and played around with their nifty little interactive org. chart thingie.

    I discovered that my favourite authors [and books] pretty much cover every category of SF and a big chunk of fantasy as well. And then there are the thrillers and the crime novels, comedy etc so I'm not really sure how useful genres are. Except!… when it comes to romance and horror. Those two I do try to stay away from simply because of the boredom factor.

    Maybe all genres books should be colour coded with a sliding scale to indicate fusion between genres. Maybe pink shading through to deep crimson for romance and erotica, shades of black for horror, a really nice purple for SF shading through to lavender for fantasy…

    1. There's a few lists of genres floating around – there's one in the Indie Author Group if you're a member there. There's one in Wikipedia too that's actually pretty comprehensive. And horror books are boring? *grins*

      1. -grin- thank you, I'll look up those references 🙂 Re horror : I read a couple of Stephen Kings books, plus some Koontz and just couldn't get into the whole 'evil' thing. SF is my addiction of perference 😉

  7. Heroes don't have to be chiselled and honed and gorgeous and hunky and desirable and…oh, sorry, getting carried away. I read a manuscript for an author once and the hero was definitely not wouldn't-throw-you-out-of-bed material – he had a big nose, was tall and thin and was as miserable as a wet weekend. But, you know what, I rather liked him – his normal traits made him real.

    1. I've always like non-standard heroes… but it's actually in the manual for my trad publisher (yes there was a manual) that the heroes had to be hunky. He could be scarred or tattooed, whatever, but he had to be tall, he had to be handsome and he had to be muscular.

      I've noticed though, that many of the biggest 'heroes' don't always look like the 'typical' hero – cops, soldiers, etc.

  8. I submitted my romance novella to Harlequin and they said that I had to have sex within X number of pages, the main characters had to look just so, and I could only do certain things with my storyline. I wasn't in the mood to conform, so I opted to self publish. I'm glad I did. Now I can say I'm a bestselling author. HAH on you, HQ!!

    All fun and games aside, not all of my stuff fits into any one genre. There are blends of many in each story, and I think that's what makes Indies unique- we can let our minds flow with the story (or is it the other way around?) We don't have boundaries or too many rules to live by.

    And I write erotica too, but I only use one name for all my writing–yes, it has raised a few eyebrows in the "Bible belt" where I live. Oh, well, read it of you want, otherwise, find something else of mine that appeals to you. I know some authors also write children's books, so they must protect their secret identity. I'm just lazy about trying to convince my bank who I am!

    Great article, let's bend some more genres!

  9. My dad often reads my stories and says, "I liked it, but you should make a happier ending." He's into Westerns, so I guess I understand now! =)

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