Is the Time Ripe for Multi-Genre Fiction?
Today we hear from Steve Janss, who’s Dead in a Red Dress can be classified as a dramatic, suspenseful thrilling political spy novel, and more. Steve shares with us the facts of genres and multi-genres, today and in classical literature. In addition to working on his second novel, Steve leads the CS Writers group in Colorado Springs. You can find out more about CS Writers at the end of this post.
What Genre is Your Novel?
“What genre is my novel? Why, it’s a multi-genre techno-thriller! No wait… Let me explain…”
If this resembles a conversation you’ve had, I might not be alone. Have you ever been told, ” ‘Multi-‘ is not a genre — you have to focus your work into a specific genre, or agents and publishers won’t know what to do with you.” In an age when most movies and TV shows cross genre lines at will, combining science fiction, suspense/thriller, and action-adventure onto the latest silver and LED screens, I had to ask myself, “Why is the multi-genre approach still not respected in literary fiction?”
Although puritanical gatekeepers will burn you at the stake for crossing genres in fiction, we writers desire to combine elements of multiple genres in our fiction the same as we see being done in other media. Doing so provides a rich increase to our creative pallets, and if we like it, our readers might like it, too.
Genre, Subgenre, Microgenre, NanoGenre…?
Classic lists of literary genres typically include comedy, drama, horror, fantasy, realism, romance, satire, tragedy, and mythology. Naturally, as do all good things which have been analyzed to death, these break down into about 21.3 billion genres, subgenres microgenres, etc., so one must be very careful as to whether or not their protagonist’s brown plaid jacket seams were hand-sewn in Surrey using a blanket stitch or in neighboring Berkshire with a wrapped backstitch. While the truth isn’t quite that bad, I recently discovered my first novel, Dead in a Red Dress, isn’t the murder-mystery I had envisioned after all, but rather, a multi-genre novel with the following taxonomy:
- Subgenre: Suspense Fiction
- Microgenre: Crime
- Microgenre: Detective
- Subgenre: Thriller
- Microgenre: Political
- Nanogenre: Spy Fiction
- Microgenre: Political
Thus, it looks like it’s still of just one genre, albeit of multiple subgenres.
Taxonomies of literary genres have grown increasing complex, numbering a couple dozen or so in the middle of the 20th Century to more than 300 today. If you think that level of hyperfocus is a bit too constraining, you’re not alone. Even so, many writers and most books on writing continue reiterating the same thing: “Pick a genre and stick with it.” With so many genres out there, however, it’s nearly impossible to write a novel that stays in its lane.
Multi-Genre Fiction is Not New
Fortunately, articles such as Considering Alternatives: Multi-genre Literature and Multi-genre Writing (Scully, 2008) remind us that award-winning multi-genre fiction isn’t exactly new. Robert A. Heinlein, for example, has won the Hugo five times, with eleven nominations, even though most of his novels are a mix of science fiction, romance, political, thriller, and even western genres.
So, do you want to allow yourself to be stuffed into a nice, tidy label, or do you want to write about that for which the masses are hungry? I prefer the latter, and I hope you do, as well. Even so, we still live in the real world, and if we want to be published, we need to adhere to at least a few standards, including those involving genres. This doesn’t mean that you can’t write a book that fits into multiple genres. You can, and public demand has long been dragging the publishing industry in the multi-genre direction. Readers like it because it’s fun, and people everywhere are usually willing to pay for fun, so until someone crafts a non-purist reason for always coloring within one’s genre lines, be creative and pass the popcorn.
CSWriters meets for camaraderie, study, and critiques at 6:00 PM every Friday night at Agia Sophia Coffee Shop. Guest Speaker Jeff Gerke will be joining us to discuss his “Hack Your Reader’s Mind,” October 27th. Find CS Writers on Facebook or at CSWriters.com to learn more.
Steve Janss went to high school and college in Virginia before serving our nation in the Air Force. He holds advanced degrees in management and business administration, and has been running CSWriters for nearly three years. He is currently writing Body on a Cold Beach, the second of five novels in a series.