There was a wonderful discussion on an online forum I’m a member of recently, based on an article on Book Riot, asking if romance should always have a happy ending. This set up an interesting debate on genre and expectations, which got me thinking: what is it that readers are after when they gravitate towards a particular genre?
Those of you that follow this blog know that I’m not the biggest fan of genre pigeonholing. I enjoy reading a wide variety of books and prefer to read based on mood: uplifting, thought-provoking, mystery-solving (be it crime or social (in the vein of Kate Morton’s ‘The Forgotten Garden’)) or emotional turmoil. Unfortunately, there is no retailer (including publisher websites) that class based on type – it’s always genre. If the story involves a crime being solved and some romance between the protagonists, it’s crime (not uplifting or pacy or anything else).
But, before I get sidetracked on a genre rant (yes, I know: too late), back to the original question: do readers pick up a book in a particular genre because they genuinely want to read the genre, or because they use genre as a proxy for what they want? I think its often (although, of course, not always) the latter. If the former was the case, then why are genres being constantly refined and narrowed? For example, if readers really cared about genre, then why didn’t genre stay at coming-of-age? Why did we get young adult and, more recently, new adult?
Which explains why readers picking up a romance novel and getting a dead heroine weren’t too happy with the book. Now, if there was a tick-box that said HEA and they had ticked it, this particular book wouldn’t have featured in their pick. I’m not saying that those particular readers would want to know the conclusion of the book before they even started reading, but they might have wanted something that suited their particular general mood. And to them, romance comes with a HEA. And crime with a solution. And… you get the point.
So, if you could have tick boxes, what would you have? Here are mine (along with an ‘I don’t care – surprise me!’ in each section):
- Uplifting/ Not necessarily uplifting/ Tough themes
- Happy ever after/ Not necessarily HEA
- Fast-paced/ Steady/ Gentle
- Twisty plot/ Not necessarily twisty
- Includes romantic elements/ Ugh – no romance at all, thanks
- Includes mystery-solving/ I like it obvious
- Not fussed about profanity/ Some swearwords/ Bleached clean
- Grisly scenes/ Some blood but not too gory/ Fairly bloodless/ Bleached clean
- Explicit sex/ Sex/ Implied sex but nothing overt/ Bleached clean
- Strong female characters/ Strong disabled characters/ Strong diverse characters/ Strong characters/ No particularly strong characters
- Death integral to the plot/ Some death but not to central characters/ Death implied but not central to the plot/ No death
- Everything tied up in bows/ I don’t mind an open ending
- Realism/ Some fantasy or paranormal elements are fine/ Full-blown fantastical worlds please
Fab post. I question these areas all the time.
I read on mood, too, not the genre as such. Blurbs are really important for this reason. I’m guilty of browsing titles that catch my imagination, then I remove the book and the cover might catch my eye, and finally, finding a blurb that satisfies, confirming my thoughts on the first two thought processes. All three are deciding factors. Reviews are great but are very personal to the taste of the reader. I’ll read them, but make up my own mind from reviewers likes/dislikes, either can sway me to purchase a book. ;o)
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Rosie Amber said:
A very individual subject, lots of people read to escape their own lives which are all very varied, so I think everyone will have a different answer, it also depends on their moods and desires at the time, I will pick up all sorts of genre types to read at different times and I like a wide variation in how the author takes the story forward or uses the characters, I don’t want predictable, I want excitement when I read.
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Very true. Characterisation and character use affects so much of the reading experience. It’s so hard to categorise books, isn’t it?
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Reblogged this on Alison Williams Writing and commented:
A really interesting post on the issue of genre.
Good question. I agree that for me the mood of a book trumps the genre. As a reader I know what I don’t like (thrillers and paranormal)… but that leaves everything else and it would be a very long list. As a writer I remain confused (though I classify as contemporary fiction – apart from the non-fiction due out June). I know I would be better off with greater specificity, but when I tried to classify the readers I know about (who liked the books), they were 20 to 90 and both sexes. Sigh!
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Tough, isn’t it?