Genre is a vital concept in literature, music, and art. Understanding it is crucial for both writers and readers.
This article will explore what genre means, why it’s important, and how it sometimes becomes a parody of itself.
What is Genre?
Genre is a category used to place a work of literature based on its style, content, and form. It serves as a tool for organizing and classifying works.
For example, we classify “Harry Potter” as a fantasy because it includes elements like magic, wizards, and mythical creatures.
Why is Genre Relevant to Storytelling?
Genre is important because it sets expectations for the reader. Knowing a book’s genre can give you a good idea of what the story might involve. For writers, genre provides a set of guidelines or a framework to build their story.
Take a mystery novel; readers expect it to include a detective, clues, and a final reveal. Writers use these elements to craft a compelling narrative.
Ways of Classifying Stories into Genres
There are many ways to classify stories. Some common genres include Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mystery, and Historical Fiction. It’s also possible for stories to belong to more than one genre at a time.
For example, “The Hunger Games” is both a dystopian and an adventure story.
What are Subgenres?
A subgenre is a specific category within a broader genre. Subgenres allow for more detailed classification.
“Hard Science Fiction,” for instance, is a subgenre of Science Fiction. It focuses on scientific accuracy and detail, making it different from other types of science fiction like “space opera,” which emphasizes drama and adventure over scientific realism.
Rules of Genre
Genres have rules or conventions. These aren’t strict laws but rather guidelines that most stories in the genre follow. In a romance novel, you often find a “happily ever after” ending where the main characters end up together. These conventions help both writers and readers understand what to expect from a story.
What are Genre Beats?
Genre beats are specific moments or events commonly found in a particular genre. Knowing these beats aids writers in constructing their narratives and helps readers analyze stories.
For instance, in the hero’s journey genre, the protagonist often initially refuses the call to adventure but finally accepts it.
How do Genres Become Rigid — And How Do Stories Escape the Rigidity?
Sometimes, genres can become too predictable because writers overuse the rules. When this happens, the genre may feel stale or repetitive.
However, some stories break free from these norms. “Watchmen,” a graphic novel, deconstructed the superhero genre. It presented flawed and morally ambiguous heroes, offering a fresh perspective and rejuvenating the genre.
How do Genres Become Parodies of Themselves?
Genres can become self-parodies when they overemphasize their own rules or elements. This happens when these defining elements become exaggerated to the point of becoming cliche.
The film “Scary Movie,” for example, takes the conventions of the horror genre and exaggerates them to create comedy. Here, the genre is essentially making fun of itself.
How do Parodies of Genres Expose the Stale Conventions of Genre?
Parody serves a purpose beyond humor; it exposes the overused elements in a genre. When a parody successfully pokes fun at these elements, it prompts a re-evaluation of the genre.
“Spaceballs,” a film by Mel Brooks, parodies the sci-fi genre, especially “Star Wars.” It highlights the overused tropes and leads to a fresh look at how the genre can evolve.
Understanding genre is crucial for anyone engaged in the act of storytelling or in the consumption of stories. Genres come with their own sets of rules and conventions, but these are not set in stone. Writers often push the boundaries, sometimes even making the genre a parody of itself.
But even in parody, there is an opportunity for genres to evolve and remain engaging for new generations of readers and writers.
- Abrams, M. H., and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. “A Glossary of Literary Terms.” Cengage, 11th Edition, 2014.
- Booker, Christopher. “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.” Continuum, 2004.
- Hutcheon, Linda. “A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms.” University of Illinois Press, 2000.
- Moore, Alan, and Dave Gibbons. “Watchmen.” DC Comics, 1987.