Lesson 5: Genre
Genre is a way of categorising literature (or other media) by means of stylistic conventions.
Different genres have different conventions or 'rules' and it is advisable for any writer to know and understand these rules.
So why is genre important?
Genre is a means of classification. There are literally thousands of books published in the UK each month and from a purely practical point of view, classifying these books is an essential way to help organise these many titles.
This is important for:
Of course, genre isn't static.
Different genres come and go as tastes change, the conventions evolve (compare a Victorian bodice-ripper to 50 Shades of Grey) and genres sub-divide and recombine (think romantic comedy or Sci-Fi detective thriller or Steam-Punk).
Nevertheless a knowledge of these conventions is essential, both to fulfil reader's expectations and to allow a writer to play with them. Simon Pegg's hilarious Rom-Zom-Com 'Shaun of the Dead' is a wonderful send-up of romantic comedies and zombie movies. However, to write it he needed a thorough understanding of both rom-coms and zombie movies. The film is littered with cliches and homages to the most important zombie movies and it's clear how much research he did.
To illustrate the way in which genres can be subdivided and recombined, I used the example of the 'crime genre'. The powerpoint includes a gloriously messy slide showing just how crime fiction can be divided and sub-divided and recombined into dozens of different sub-genres - and I've barely scratched the surface.
Students were asked to take their favourite genre and write down the 'rules'.
Pieces of paper with different objects were placed in a cup and students chose one at random (see attached spreadsheet for suggestions or use your own). They were then asked to write a short piece about that object.
As always, the results were fascinating.
Students were then asked to choose a second piece of paper, from the 'genre' cup, and to write another piece about their object, but this time in the style of that genre. I kept the genre's fairly straight-forward, but emphasised that they could write in a sub-genre eg if they picked romance, then they could write a romantic comedy. Again there are suggestions on the accompanying spreadsheet. As an extra challenge, could the student rewrite their first piece in the new style?
This activity was a lot of fun, because it inevitably lifted some students out of their comfort zone. A modification that would ensure that every student is writing against type would be to have a discussion early in the lesson listing favourite and least favourite genres - then insist that your students pick a genre of the second list to write in - it depends how mean you are feeling!
As always, feel free to download and use the resources, but please leave my email address and twitter on the first slide.
Any comments/suggestions/improvements appreciated, please use the box below.
Free for non-commercial use.
(c) Paul Gitsham 2013
Thomas Leo Clancy
April 12, 1947 – October 1, 2013
The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.
Four years ago, I finally got around to trying a Tom Clancy - and I've never looked back. Over the next few years, I hoovered up his Jack Ryan series as well as all his self-authored stand-alones. Clancy's novels are not for the faint-hearted. 800-1000 pages apiece they've even shrunk the font to squeeze more in! In a time when publishers are often strict about word-length, Clancy bucked the trend.
For sure, his prose was not the most pretty -business-like rather than literary, but he could certainly tell a story. He wore his politics proudly, yet you didn't feel he was ramming them down your throat. Jack Ryan, his most famous protagonist, was - by the standards of American politics - decidedly centrist.
And then there was the detail. .. submarines were his first love and despite having no military experience, his ability to place you at the heart of those mighty vessels was a masterclass in immersion. Despite the sometimes overwhelming use of jargon and acronyms, his stories were pacy, exciting and epic.
Any good novel needs strong characters and Clancy's were expertly written. His primary protagonists grow believably over the course of a novel or even a series. If you want to start reading his Jack Ryan series I would urge you to read them in order. The middle-aged Jack Ryan in the middle books is not the same man as the young Ryan we meet in the first book or the older, wiser we see in latest. He has grown and evolved, whilst remaining true to the ideals set out in that first story.
And lest you think he may have neglected his secondary characters, fear not. I just finished reading the stand-alone cold-war thriller Red Storm Rising. The book is mid-eighties WW3 paranoia at its finest. Yet the Soviet leads are as nuanced and 3-dimensional as the Western allies. Sure, there are a few bits of cringe-worthy dialogue from the Brits (something he got better at over the years), nevertheless you felt these were real characters, with real histories, not just a cardboard cut-out doing the boring bits whilst the primary characters had all the fun.
So farewell to a wonderful writer. It's been a blast and in tribute, your latest bed-side table crusher has moved to the top of the to-read pile. Shouldn't take more than a couple of months to plough through...
Welcome to the musings of Paul Gitsham, creator of DCI Warren Jones.
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