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Thread: Aunt Cathy's Lecture Series - 1: Genres

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    Ooo! Shiny new cover! Absolute Sage Cathy C's Avatar
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    Aunt Cathy's Lecture Series - 1: Genres

    Hi, all!

    The Mods have given your new Moderator (Me! ) permission to give all you romance writers a nice bonus! I just got done teaching a workshop about how to identify your romance subgenre and market it to the right publisher. They said that I could post my lectures over here! Yay!

    So, for the next couple of weeks, keep a watch out for new threads in this series. At the end of the series, I'll sticky them so future newbies can find them. Here we go...


    By: Cathy Clamp

    LECTURE #1A - What is a genre?

    Welcome, everyone!

    I’m very flattered and pleased that so many of you have decided to attend my workshop on genres, sub-genres and marketing in romance fiction. But before we get started on any assignments, we need to think about the concept of genres. What IS a genre?

    Simply put, a genre is where in a bookstore a shopkeeper is going to shelve a book. History and market research has taught booksellers that readers prefer to find books on the same topic in the same location of the store every time they visit. So booksellers asked publishers to tell them what sort of books they were selling. Publishers responded to the booksellers’ wishes by including the genre of the book on the spine, or as a line in the catalogue of new releases. Booksellers could buy with confidence and place similar titles together for the readers to find. For example, you couldn’t walk into the horror section and expect to find a book by Nora Roberts. But you can find offerings by Stephen King.

    Now, before we can talk about the SUB-genre of romance, we need to first decide "what is a romance?" No, we’re not going to start a topic about the RWA definition debate.

    For our purposes and until further notice, we will use the tried and true definition that the publishers use. A romance is a book where the primary plot centers around people falling in love and remaining together at the end. This is known as a "Happily Ever After" or "HEA". Since it is a unique definition among genres (it’s not an element of horror, or western or suspense, for example), it will do until we hear otherwise.

    Okay, so we know what a romance is. In order to add elements that make a book a SUB-genre, we need to know the definition of other genres. The following is a list of other genres that you will see on the shelves in bookstores. I’ve used popular movies to give an example of the definitions.

    Action: The plot must contain problem-solving by the H/h (Hero or heroine) a threat of danger to third parties, and constant movement toward the stated goal. An example would be the Die Hard movies.

    Adventure: The plot must contain physical hazards to the H/h, travel to other, sometimes exotic locales for the H/h, a threat of danger to third parties AND to the H/h, plus the stated goal (or an undiscovered-at-the-opening secondary goal) must be achieved. Raiders of the Lost Ark is an example of an adventure.

    Chick-Lit: This is a relatively new addition to genre books. It contains a combination of romance and feminist styles with humor. It usually has an urban setting and comedic situations about real life and love. A chick-lit would The First Wives' Club. However, the term chick-lit is starting to turn into a negative, because it's gotten stereotyped. Try calling a book fitting these guidelines a "humorous romance" or "romantic comedy." You'll do better.

    Children's. Children's books are broken down into groups which include picture books that have illustrations to tell the story, early reader geared toward ages 4-8 with short sentences, early chapter books geared toward children of 7-9, middle grade books from 9-12. They have situations that include overcoming loneliness, working together as a team, friendship adventure where there is no actual risk of loss of life, and if death is included at all, it’s handled briefly with a satisfactory ending (Charlotte’s Web or Babe) There may also be moral values, light romance and humor. There are often talking animals in fantasy settings.

    Contemporary/Commercial: This isn't quite a category or genre. You can have commercial or contemporary horror, contemporary paranormal, contemporary mysteries, etc. Mostly, this is a "here and now" description that means that the setting of the book is on this earth, in this time, and usually (but not always) in an urban setting.

    Erotic: As a category, erotica is considered romance, but there is no requirement that there be a HEA, or that the H/h have sex only with each other. Third parties may flow through the plot, but normally the language is rated R or above. Red Shoe Diaries is an example of erotic.

    Experimental: Sometimes called "speculative", this is edgy writing either in style or content (think ee cummings, who seldom used capital letters or punctuation. In his time, he was considered experimental.) This type of writing can be annoying to some because one of the primary goals is to shock the consciousness. Examples would be Pulp Fiction or Mulholland Drive.

    Fantasy: A key requirement of a fantasy world is "world-building". Usually action based, it should be set on another world, or in a reality not like our existing reality. The rules must make sense for the created reality, but do not have to apply Earth physics. The Chronicles of Riddick or the Lord of the Rings are examples of fantasy (even though Riddick has science-fiction elements).

    Feminist: The plot must contain a device which allows a female to move from a subjugated position to one of authority. Some might consider 9 to 5 or She-Devil to be feminist stories, in addition to comedy.

    General: General fiction is sort of the dropping grounds of anything that is not genre fiction. It usually requires internal conflict (dealing with feelings created by real-life health or emotional situations) and learning lessons about life and death. On Golden Pond is an example of general fiction.

    Horror: The plot must contain earthly or otherworldly threats to the H/h that end in death or torture of third parties and continual threat of death to the H/h. This need not have a HEA. In other words, in horror, the H/h may die and the bad guys win. An example of this would be Stephen King's The Shining. Several key characters don't make it out alive.

    Humor. Also called Comedy, this style of book has the main goal to make the reader laugh. It’s often combined with romance, action or science fiction/fantasy to achieve the humor vehicle of outrageous actions. Austin Powers and Men In Black are examples of humor.

    Inspirational: The plot must contain elements of faith in a higher power, depending on the religion involved. The faith should actually have a part in driving the plot, because the characters consider their faith in making decisions about their life. In past years, the genre was loosely defined as primarily Christian-based stories, but more books are being written from the Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu points of view.

    Literary: The plot must contain vivid descriptions of setting and expansive plots and characters where the problems solved are often internal, rather than external. The goal of a literary work is to entrance the reader's senses by the use of fluid and moving language. An example of this would be Out of Africa.

    Mainstream: Again, mainstream is more a description of "type." Most hardback and paperback books are mainstream fiction, from comedy to action to thrillers.

    Mystery: The plot must include the solving of a single problem (usually involving murder, but not required). Other problems may also be inserted and solved, but the one problem (i.e., finding the killer) must be resolved. Murder on the Orient Express is an example of a mystery.

    Niche: Like mainstream, a niche book is one that will appeal to a particular user, but not a wide range of readers. For example, a novel about Brazilian llamas with no other elements will have a niche market of those who like llamas and/or people who like Brazil.

    Paranormal: A paranormal novel includes elements of legend, whether shapeshifters, vampires, mummies, etc. They often include horror elements or romantic elements based on existing folklore or legends, but they are always set in our current reality, whether past or present, and use creatures that are rumored to exist or existed in the past based on handed-down legends. American Werewolf in London and Dracula are examples of paranormal (but are often shelved in horror or fantasy.)

    Science-Fiction: The key elements of science-fiction, whether hard science or soft science is the requirement that the science be Earth-based and at least "possible". Usually the key elements include either a future time or a brilliant inventor in a past time, or even time-travel. Examples would be 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Star Trek. Even War of the Worlds would qualify, because the science, although from a distant planet, was understandable to the human mind. A science-fiction book generally requires that science actually be part of the plot, and the USE of science be part of the solution.

    Suspense: Thrillers differ from suspense in the level of action. Suspense novels generally have less movement involved, but they still include the threat of harm to the main characters. Rear Window is a classic suspense.

    Thriller: The plot may be intellectual or physical in nature, but the *threat* of world domination, world destruction or some other major catastrophe that involves people beyond the H/h or their friends/family must be a primary plot device. An example of this would be Enemy of the State.

    Urban Fiction: (This definition provided by member Gigi Sagi. Thanks! ) Urban Fiction is often described as a voice from the street, similar in language and subject as gangsta rap music. Urban Fiction generally depicts gritty coming-of-age stories that serve as cautionary tales to readers. Urban Fiction’s high-charged language is direct, filled with slang, profanity, frequent use of the N-word; and features graphic violence and sexually explicit content. The stories revolve around the drug trade, prostitution, gang life, prison life, and the strife and struggle of everyday living in impoverished inner city ghettos. The need/desire for fast (easy) money and willingness to do anything to get it, often prove the protagonist’s downfall. The best known authors of the genre are: Donald Goines, Walter Dean Myers, Ann Petry, Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck, Chester Himes, Sister Souljah, Teri Woods, Vickie M. Stringer, Solomon Jones, Danielle Santiago, Eric Jerome Dickey, Omar Tyree, and Nikki Turner.

    Western: There are two sub-categories of westerns. Historicals include anything pre-1910, anywhere in the world. True westerns are set from the period of 1830-1900 in the western United States. A Historical would be Wuthering Heights (again, often considered a romance, but a key element is missing - an HEA). An example of a Western is The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

    Women's: Again, this contains many different sub-genre, but usually it entails family oriented stories that span one, two or three generations and usually contain internal problem solving and familial relationships. Fried Green Tomatoes is an example.

    Young Adult: Young Adult books are targeted to children aged 12-18. They can include any other genre, from westerns to fantasy, but the H/h are typically the same age as the reader and the situations don't generally include sexual romance. An example is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

    Go to Lecture #1 - Genres
    Go to Lecture #2 - Romance Subgenres
    Go to Lecture #3 - What's Love Got To Do With It?
    Go to Lecture #4 - Master & Servant
    Go to Lecture #5 - Lord & Overlords
    Last edited by Cathy C; 05-13-2009 at 06:42 PM. Reason: Added Urban Fiction
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    Cathy Clamp
    USA Today bestselling author
    ILLICIT, coming 7/16!
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    "An entertaining (and occasionally very dark) mystery." -- Locus

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    "Cathy Clamp is a visionary author, creating new worlds that are both strong and vividly drawn. Adventure and excitement at its best." -- Yasmine Galenorn, New York Times Bestselling Author

    "A struggling community under attack, compelling action, characters struggling with dark secrets ... FORBIDDEN hit all my favorite notes, and I love the rich world of the Sazi!" - Rachel Caine, New York Times Bestselling Author

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