The Purpose of Genre

Writing is an act of creation. When we put pen to the page (or fingers on keys), we created worlds of characters and give them a meaningful plot to propel their lives. They can fall in love, discover treasure, fight a mummy, fly to far off worlds, or all of the above. With writing, we’re really only ever limited by our imagination.

Then it’s time to publish.

I have said it before and I will say it again: publishing is a very different animal from writing. Whereas writing is a passion, publishing is a business. It operates on rules and logic. In a publisher’s eyes, the best writing is the world is worthless unless people read it. It is from this desire to connect writing to readers that we get genre.

Genre is essentially the characterization of narrative. It is the neat boxes that our wild writing is driven into. While this sounds restrictive, it is actually very helpful to the writer. Writing can be unwieldy. If we write with only passion then we will have stories that shoot wildly in many directions. Genre, and the logic behind it, helps focus our narratives on a desired goal. In writing a romance, the main drive of the plot has to be the protagonist’s relationship. In writing science-fiction, the writer must fully explore their idea of a non-existent technology and its impact on society.

book genres
There are many many many genres in literature. The above does not even list all of them.

The writer who tells you “I have a story for everyone” in fact has a tale for no one (at least that’s how agents and publishers see it). To date, not a single work has been written that has been liked by the entire population. As of 2014, The Holy Quran had sold over three billion copies but I’m willing to bet that we could find people who don’t like it (even if they’ve never read it). Every work of art has a finite audience and genre is an excellent tool in this regard.

That said, I would not get too caught up on genre while writing. For one thing, there are many layers. At the broadest is Fiction and Non-Fiction – simply put, is this a true story or not? Then there’s tone, romantic or realistic? Am I seeing any heroes this time around? Next is form – am I reading a novel or a short story, or is this a graphic novel? What age group is this for?

I asked all those questions without getting to “genre” as most people think of it. When writing, it is best to remain as out of your head as possible so these are not questions I would concern myself with too much. Most of them answer themselves as the process unfolds.

Hobbit genre
Yes The Hobbit is fantasy. It is also a romantic children’s comedy novel. Isn’t genre fun?

When I would think of genre, however, is when I encountered writer’s block. If my story was struggling and I didn’t know where to go next, then examining its main idea makes sense. If I’m writing a horror story but my last couple chapters have done nothing to build dread then I’ve gone off topic. A solution to my writer’s block may be to backtrack several chapters and rewrite in a new direction, one that keeps my hopeful genre in mind. Genre can be a guidance system that helps the writer see through their process.

This is the first of many blog posts that I’ll have on genre, in large part since it is my primary topic in this year’s South Shore Writing Initiative class schedule. I’ll be diving deeper into genre in future posts, looking at specific categories and their definitions. I will also provide the same writing exercises that I give my class.

Genre is a part of publication but it is still a writer’s friend. Being aware of genre can help a lot in regards to the writing process. Genre is a pathway to the audience. Use it to frame a narrative, play tricks with audience expectations, or help keep focus. It is far more a tool than a hindrance.

How to Survive a Horror Scenario

When entering a horror scenario, odds are you (and hopefully your friends) will be going up against one of the following:

1) Someone who has meticulously planned an evening of horrific rampage.

2) A supernatural force that does not need to bother with trifles like plans.

3) Both.

There are few things worse than an evil mastermind who refuses to die.
There are few things worse than an evil mastermind who refuses to die.

Hopefully it will not be scenario three. While the situation is dire in any case, there are ways to prepare for the literal fight for your life. After watching a multitude of horror films, as well as spending significant time outdoors – this is the official definitive Red Rings guide for surviving the worst night of your life.

1) Weapon Choice

Here is where many people falter. Ask anyone what they’d like to have and you will receive answers like: a machete, a sword, a gun, a chainsaw. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. WRONG. Machetes and swords get stuck when dull and can be easily broken if they aren’t made well. While the gun is the logical choice for someone trained to use firearms, the average person is not a murderer and will not be able to easily shoot a moving, attacking foe in the head or other lethal point. And chainsaws… I don’t know how Leatherface does it. Anyone who has actually used a chainsaw will tell you that it involves slow, meticulous strokes to inflict any real damage. Also it runs off an external power source. In short: chainsaws suck worse than anything else.

Sorry Ash, it's not groovy.
Sorry Ash, it’s not groovy.

What you will need will depend largely on what you’re facing. That said, there is one weapon choice that will work very well in most scenarios:

14348135-origpic-ba9d6fNot flashy, not dependent on a finite external power source. Does not matter if it is sharp or pointed or anything like that. Nothing spells offense like a long, easy-to-use piece of solid metal. The odds of this thing breaking are very slim and it is tough to imagine it getting stuck. Added bonus: most people can travel freely with a metal baseball bat without raising suspicion or prompting the local authorities to take action. This is the perfect weapon for most scenarios. Even if you are fighting a supernatural force, this bat may at least slow it down. That said, you will need more against beings from another world. One thing in particular… but it isn’t pretty.

2) The Supernatural Conduit

Things like demons do not just appear on our plane of existence for no reason. There is always a conduit, something binding the supernatural force to this world. You need to find it and destroy it. The downside is that it can be anything. That said, there are usually some physical indicators that a certain object may be more than what it seems. A book does not raise red flags. A book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood does. Also, look for something recently touched. If you’re out in an isolated setting: odds are that someone disturbed something. No one is going to blame you for unwittingly opening up a demon portal… as long as you own up to it quickly.

Opening Pandora's box happens. Just be sure you know where it is so you can break it.
Opening Pandora’s box happens. Just be sure you know where it is so you can break it.

3) Tools

You’re going to need two types: tools for survival and tools for destroying the supernatural conduit. Fortunately, these can overlap. First things first – you will need a dependable source of fire. Fire is great for so many reasons. It can keep your warm, signal for help, or burn and destroy whatever is attacking you. Dependability means having back ups.

Overall, I feel that this is superior to the traditional lighter. It is easier to keep a steady flame going and it holds more fuel. Bring two of these and matches. That is being safe.
Overall, I feel that this is superior to the traditional lighter. It is easier to keep a steady flame going and it holds more fuel. Bring two of these and matches. That is being safe.

Other traditional tools involve things like knives and bug spray. I should not need to explain how knives can be useful. Bug spray however, keeps away mosquitoes… and is a can of propelled flammable poison. The more toxic, the better in this case. Other useful tools involve a compass, a map, salt (useful for adding flavor and making anti-demon rings), batteries, flashlights, and basically anything else you can think would be good to have if you were stranded alone in the woods – because that might be your situation by night’s end.

Supernatural tools are a little different. You really don’t want to have too many of these because odds are that most of them will not work and they will just be dead weight. Silver comes to mind as a definite. Silver is a material that has long been believed to have special properties against evil. Salt also, has already been mentioned. I would recommend also a symbol of YOUR particular faith. A cross is not going to do much without belief behind it. Also: most holy symbols are easy to make with sticks, so it is not essential to bring these. If you bring one, you better believe in the power behind it.

4) Communication

Cell phones may have been the single greatest invention of our time. The ability to talk with others from virtually anywhere is a much-needed defense against horror scenarios. That said, cell phones are only great if they have two things: power and a signal. If you’re venturing far from the dominion of civilization, that signal might be hard to come by, so bring a satellite phone. They’re expensive but they don’t need to be bought, just rented. Phone companies agree that “during emergency or disaster recovery situations, satellite phones also prove to be the most reliable method of communication, making them an ideal crisis management communication solution.

If it's good enough for Sam Neil on an island full of dinosaurs, it is good enough for you.
If it’s good enough for Sam Neil on an island full of dinosaurs, it is good enough for you.

Enough said. Make sure you have one and a reliable power supply for it.

5) Allies

Sure, you can call them “friends” but in a war for survival, such a term becomes trivial. Regardless of which scenario, the singular you is at a disadvantage. Nothing levels the playing field like numbers of dependable human beings. Do not think “how am I going to survive this,” think “how are we going to survive this.” Those people who think only of themselves – how many horror movies has that type of jackass survived to the end? Make a plan, strategize, communicate, and above all: stick together!

Do not be like those people.

6) Your brain

Assume that you are dealing with an intelligent adversary who is likely stronger than you are. You are not going to be able to work up sufficient muscle mass to tip the scale in one night – I don’t care how much you lift, bro. This is going to be a battle won by intelligence. Again, the allies help a lot here. The more minds, the easier it is to overcome whatever nightmare scenario your opponent has dreamed up.

Use common sense, do not break off to investigate noises or pick up that one thing you left behind. Identify which threat you are dealing with and respond accordingly. If you can do this, you may just survive the worst night of your life.

I feel like things like nudity and drug use are overblown. Really, the only question you need to worry about is: are you being an idiot right now? If yes, your odds of death really just skyrocketed.
I feel like things like nudity and drug use are overblown. Really, the only question you need to worry about is: are you being an idiot right now? If yes, your odds of death really just skyrocketed.

 

This post prompted courtesy of Man Crates! Everything a man needs is only a crowbar away (crowbars are also excellent weapons in this situation, just saying).