Friday, June 10, 2016

To Label Is Human

So file this photo into a single genre.

Is it a sunset shot? A wildlife shot? A nature picture? Clouds? Or is it all of those things? If you were looking for a shot of a seagull in profile at sunset, how would you begin searching for it? Likely, you'd start with the keyword 'sunset' but you'd end up with millions of results. Some over mountains or cityscapes or forests or fields. Some with people. Some with animals. But you really, really want that bird for the cover of your special interest mag "Sea Bird Quarterly". So you have to add 'bird' to your sunset search to narrow the results. You get eagles, herons, song birds and vultures. This makes you switch 'bird' to 'sea bird' or 'seagull' and presto. You've found your cover.

This is the power of labels. Genres are nothing more than labels. They're labels meant to make it easy for readers to find what they want to read. Whether or not those labels are accurate or not is another rant. But like anything, genre labels can be used for good or for evil. (Good - you find your next favorite read on your lunch hour and still have enough lunch time left over to actually start your book. Bad - you get stuck inside the box you've been reading in and never entertain anything else.)

What's amusing to me is the notion that I get to pick which genre a story will be. Maybe there are people in this world who can do that. I certainly don't get to. The stories dictate what they will be. I go along for the ride or I give up writing altogether. Because they are adamant. So. This story wants to be in the past, a fictional past at that, with gadgets and improbable hideouts, magic and spies? Why the hell not? Sounds like fun. I have no idea what genre to call it. Historical Fantasy? Steam Fantasy? But yeah, write a story that's one thing? Probably not in my nature. It's at the juncture of genres that I find the things that interest me. There's likely some telling psychological issue there. I'll claim it's just fun.

Are you old enough to remember the commercials: "You got chocolate in my peanut butter! You got peanut butter on my chocolate!" Yeah. Genre blending all the way, because two flavors go great together.