This was originally going to be a serious post. Unfortunately, this topic is so much more complicated than I can research on my own. I started. And I had about 1000 words of just notes answering the first question before I realized this was completely out of my scope.
However, I think this post fits as it is. Everyone knows what a genre is, yet everyone also has different ideas about what different genres mean. There is a level of “I know it when I see it” at play when it comes to defining different genres.
Here are some questions I wanted to answer when I was trying to play this serious:
What is a Genre?
A genre is a tool that we use to describe things, in this particular case books. Genres group like things with like. Not everyone always agrees that something fits within one genre, so new genres are created or books belong to multiple genres at once. The beautiful thing about genres is that everyone is always right.
How do you decide which genre to place a work in?
You place a work in whatever genre will piss off the least amount of people.
What is a subgenre?
Typically, a subgenre is a group of works in a larger genre that decided they were similar enough to exist together, but not coexist with the whole.
How is a subgenre formed?
A. When enough people get angry that a certain type of book isn’t what they were expecting, the books spawn a new subgenre out of self-defence. Books need to belong to large groups in order to feel safe.
B. When a mommy subgenre and a daddy subgenre come together, their spawn has a high chance at being distinct enough that no one is pleased so they have to cast the book out of the herd for the safety of all. This new book often goes on to create a new herd.
How do you know what subgenre a book is?
A book is whatever subgenre you prefer it to be, especially when it could also belong to a subgenre you don’t particularly like. When others think you’re wrong, they’ll tell you. However this is a game where everyone is always right.
Can a subgenre be a genre? Can a genre be a subgenre?
Yes! There is no end to what a genre and subgenre can be. People mix and match all the time. Sometimes subgenres even become big enough to act in the place of genres, including spawning their own sub-subgenres. Genres also like to play hide and seek within books, so always look out for when they show up!
Are you wrong if you think a book is a certain genre but you can’t find proof?
No. Especially for newer subgenres and older books. Rarely does the collective go back and relabel things. In fact, certain subgenres got ideas as they got older, and the old and the new barely resemble each other. It is also common that two people think of the same subgenre very differently, leading to lots of uncertainty.
Okay that’s all well and good, but what about AO3 tags? Shouldn’t they replace genres?
Replace? No. Supplement? Yes, with a caveat. AO3 tags are an absolute great when used to supplement – if they make sense, which they don’t always do. There is an argument that they can be used to spoil the story – which doesn’t have a good answer yet.
Why is it that two almost identical things appear in different genres but rarely the same?
Reader expectations. The one that comes to mind is psychic powers versus magic powers. Both are almost the same, but not always, yet the term used matters a lot. In general, you’ll find ‘psychic’ powers is sci-fi, but ‘magic’ powers in fantasy. Yet that isn’t a hard rule because there is so much overlap between all four things!
So what does this have to do with Spec Fic like fantasy?
Nothing in specific. In the next two posts, I’m hoping to cover both Fantasy and Sci-fi, but in greater detail. And hopefully with more actual data and a serious tone.
How is this post helpful?
Where do we go from here?
I have a series of scifi and fantasy related genre topics that I want to talk about every month for at least the next two years. The schedule is filled in through Dec 2021, but I reserve the right to change things. For the rest of the year, I’ll be trying to define fantasy and sci-fi. A lot of topics have two or more parts, such as distinguishing between low fantasy and high fantasy or covering the similarities and differences between dark fantasy and grimdark. With these posts, I’m looking to explore the topics and see what makes certain topics what they are.
I’m still going to be doing my Trope Time posts – I absolutely adore doing those, and I have so many topics I want to cover! Too many topics, I don’t know how I’m going to ever cover them all!
In addition, I’m going to be covering different subgenres, starting next week. With the subgenre posts, I look to try and define what they mean, cover common tropes, establish what makes them unique, and give examples, among other topics that apply to certain subgenres or others. I would love to use these posts as a method to have people explore subgenres they don’t read as much or don’t like, and give people who love a lesser known subgenre to have a place to shine.