1. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why do we need categories?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by WriterDude, Jun 12, 2011.

    This is someting that has bothered me for a long time. Why are people so obsessed about categories? If you want to make a fantasy story, that's fine. But does that mean you have to stick to the "rules" and only include things that's "legal" in fantasy? If you are writing a horror novel, is it wrong to include comedy? I have been to several forums over the years, and people on every single writer's forum I've been to ask the same questions: "What cateogry is my book?" or "What category should I write?" Every time. And every time, I end up saying the same thing. "Does it matter?"

    If you think about it, a category like horror, romance, fantasy, sci-fi etc is meant to be a good thing as it can be easier for the reader to find a book he/she wants, but to writers, it only holds us back. As a great example, think about Frank Herbert's Dune. Back when it was written, sci-fi were nothing but spaceships, laserguns, aliens and all that. Not many took it seriously, and many said it wasn't supposed to be serious. But when Dune was relesaed, it changed sci-fi forever and was rated as good as Dostojevski and those guys. The fun thing is Dune isn't a sci-fi novel at all. True, it takes place on another world in a fictional universe with sci-fi technology and all that, so it had a lot of sci-fi elements. But the core story isn't sci-fi at all, but a character based drama worthy of Dostojevski and Shakespear.

    And that's the point. If you want to write a story, write the story. It doesn't matter what category or genre it is. If it doesn't fit into one, it might fit into another. But if it doesn't fit into either, you have created a third one and given the rest of us a new category to place our books in. It might seem stupid, but Dan Brown helped kickstart the "historical mystery" books with "Angels and demons" and "The DaVinci Code", though people like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) did a much better job. These days Dan Brown is just a sidenote in the big picture, with countless better writers writing in the same genre as him. The same goes for Twilight. How many teen-vampire-romance novels did you know before Twilight, and how many do you know now? So in a way, teen-vampire-romance is now a category on it's own alongside romance, drama, horror and all that, and it keeps evolving all the time into other categories. Teen-werewolf-romance, for instance.

    My point is don't worry too much about a category. A category is just so the reader know what to look for. Nothing more, nothing less. And breaking barriers and thinking outside the box is actually helping with that. The more categories we have, the easier it is to narrow it down to the one we want. Ir just create a new one. ;)
     
  2. Wes
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    Wes Member

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    Well said. Just because something is 'labeled' one thing doesn't mean it can't fall into another. I mean how many sci-fi books lean toward horror? Just because it has a 3-eyed, 8-legged, thingy from mars it's sci-fi. Replace that with some dude in a hockey mask, horror. So I agree, just write, forget the label (until the publisher calls) and just have fun. I mean that's the point of what you're doing, right?
     
  3. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exactly. If you have a great story you want to write, write it. Categories only hold us back when writing. If that 3-eyes, 8-legged thingy from Mars is trying to kill the MC, it's horror. If it is aa friend, it's drama. If it's making jokes, it's comedy. So what if it wants to be your friend, makes jokes and then tries to kill you? :D
     
  4. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    I love fantasy, but can't stand orcs and elves. But that's okay, because there are fantasy stories out there without either.

    Fantasy's actually a very flexible genre, if not the most flexible.
     
  5. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends on what kinda of fantasy you mean. High fantasy? Low fantasy? Dark fantasy? Urban fantasy? Heroic fantasy? Historical fantasy? Comic fantasy? Faerytale fantasy? Steampunk fantasy? You get the idea- ;)
     
  6. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Personally I don't mind categories so much, since I guess because I'm a little OCD so I like everything neat and orderly. HOwever, I do have a bit of a hassle when I'm describing one of my project's genres. So someone asks - what genre is it?

    My first answer would be "fantasy". Except that it's not. There's no magic, no dragons, no pseudo-medieval world (or at least no more... that was 2000 years ago).

    Then I'll be like, "it's steampunk...ish". Except people get images of people in fancy clothing walking around with gears and goggles and airships or something, which isn't exactly right.

    So I end up saying something like "it's a fantasy world with very light steampunk elements that more closely resembles a mash up between different historical eras in our real world, most particularly the Victorian Era but other eras as well". And, well, that's a crapload of words to say.

    Long story short, fantasy is a pretty big category and can really mean anything and also easily overlaps with sci-fi at times. The unfortunate thing, I think, is not so much categories (at least for fantasy) but that certain people automatically assume that fantasy is so-and-so genre, although so far in the definition of it (something that takes place in a world that's not ours or something like that) there's technically no need for magic or dragons or pseudo-medieval settings.
     
  7. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    Touché, m'lord.
     
  8. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some people are on a mission to reach as many people as possible - so they want to write in the most popular genre so they can make their voices heard easily. Others just want to find the fastest route to get rich and famous. These types of people would want to know what genre they should write in.

    As for those who ask what category their book falls into, this is most likely because they want to seek out an agent or a publisher once they are finished. It is going to be easier for them if they know what sort of person they should be looking for when seeking representation.

    Categories are important - but some people put too much of an emphasis on it before they're finished with the manuscript. Personally, I write novels in whatever genre I feel like at the time; meanwhile my short stories are written with the restrictions the publisher has set in mind. Although writing should be about expression and freedom it is also a business filled with rules and limits.
     
  9. AltonReed
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    AltonReed Active Member

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    And I think Sci-Fi is basically the same as fantasy, but with an explanation.
     
  10. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    And I'd tell you how horribly mistaken you are. Sci-fi is based in fact whereas fantasy is exactly that, purely fantasy. You have to have a very sound understanding of current scientific knowledge and theory as well as an idea of what the future may hold because of our current understanding. Fantasy just makes stuff up.

    This isn't to talk down about fantasy. I love fantasy. It just really irks me when someone says the two genres are pretty much the same. :mad:
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you plan to publish, you need to at least consider how to categorize your story, because it will determine the publishers you will approach. Even within a publisher, you may need to specify the genre so it ends up on the desk of the right submissions editor.

    The categories exist because the publishers created them to identify market opportunities and sales potential. Genre specialiste within each publishing house keep their fingers on the pulse of what will and will not sell to the target audience.
     
  12. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing in the most popular category to make yourself heard more easily sounds like a good idea, but the problem is it's the most popular for a reason. If you have 100 vampire romance novels already, why would you want to write another one? If you did some changes and wrote more like Buffy the vampire slayer, you might be competing with only half of them. You can still be easily heard by a publisher, but you will also attract fans more easily as you have less competition. Not to mention people's taste go in cycles, so if a category is popular now, it can change completely over a few years. It wasn't that long since Harry Potter was the most popular, yet now no one remembers him anymore other than in the movies. Fantasy wasn't popular at all until the Lord of the Rings movies, but after those it got really popular.

    The point is I think we should focus first and all on writing the best stories possible. If they fit in a category, that's great. If not, why does it matter? Oh, sure, it helps the publishers and agents know where to put it and what people to aim for. But can't they do that if they combine two or three categories? If I were to write a vampire story kinda like Lost Boys, it wouldn't fit into neither the horror nor Twilight-categories. But it would still be an awesome story.
     

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