The Constraints of Genre
Have you ever, like me, thought of an idea you’re sure would make a great dystopian novel (for example), only to sit down and discover that all of a sudden the characters are cliché, or the themes of the story have been done one too many times already? If so, you may be suffering from what I like to call ‘Perfect Genre Syndrome’: a condition that will have you striving towards certain images to fit in with what’s gone before.
The problem with this syndrome is that all writers have probably faced it at one point or another, but it’s rarely spoken about. Over the past few years of writing seriously, I’ve found myself questioning where my novel will sit on a shelf. Will it be beside Stephen King? Tolkien? Or perhaps George Orwell? It’s nice to imagine yourself beside such giants but doing so is actually quite damaging. Genres are so defined that if you sit down to write, say, a sci-fi story, you’re already thinking about flying ships, a far, far away galaxy and a whole cast of wonderfully strange-looking people and creatures. See the problem? The pre-conditions of genre make it difficult to write something new. There is a plethora of stories already out there, and purposely trying to fit in with them creates worn-out narratives.
It’s best, when faced with a great story that’s turned stale at the hands of Perfect Genre Syndrome, to remember the wise words of Toni Morrison: “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
Leave your worries about genre behind – the writing will find its own classification!