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
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