What Is Genre? A Reflection
I am often asked what genre I write. In response I either give a simple and not very useful answer or I turn to the emotional direction of my writing. I honestly believe that genre, if it exists at all, lies in the characters’ central emotions.
For me, a story begins not with a plot but with a quandary. There is a character in a situation, perhaps one he is sharing with another or perhaps a moment of isolation. In that moment the character experiences an emotion and that inevitable question, “What must I do about this feeling?” Perhaps it is a moment of hope, of attraction, or of terror. The list goes on.
Unlike you or I, that is when a character is created, not in passion and sexuality, not in physical arousal, not in parental coitus, but in the predicament.
The author’s job is to share the intense emotion of that moment with the reader, to make it come alive. As the writing process goes forward, that quandary may not be the starting place of the written story, but is always the starting place of its creation.
If the emotion of that moment is terror, the author is writing horror. If it is love, the author is writing romance. If it is a feeling of greed, we have crime, a desire to break the rules. And on…
Once that initial moment is set, there have to be others. After all, one instance will not sustain an entire book. Still it is the defining moment, and as such, it — not some rules of writing — defines the book’s genre.
Most of the protagonists in my books start with intense feelings of aloneness. They struggle to find themselves in the world. The genre that produces is what I call literary fiction. If you have ever felt different, lonely, un-connected — and who has not? — this is a genre that will speak to you.
Struggling to find themselves, these isolated characters are then opened to a gamut of emotions and reactions. Love is certainly one such feeling. Anger may be another. Sometimes a character can delight in that separation and cling to their isolation. Whatever the reaction, it provides the momentum to the plot. But always, the story starts with that character and that emotional quandary.
In my latest book Broody New Englander I set three stories in Maine, the area of the world where I was raised. In it, I move the reader through three genres.
The first of the these pieces is a novella, The Stylite. Putnam Williams is a would-be writer who thinks of himself as independent and un-needful of others. It is his self-obsessed loneliness that provides the force of what has been described by one critic as “virtuoso writing.” The novella asks quite simply, “Can there be real love, or is it all just deceit? Can there be real romance or is love illusion?” The genre, literary fiction.
The second piece is a long short story, Mothers’ Teat, which takes us inside the smoldering rage of a dysfunctional family. The starting emotion is not loneliness but fury, the kind of anger that leads to crime, perhaps to murder. The story ends not with resolution but rather with that rage hanging over the characters and the reader, leaving us all to wonder what darkness will come.
Finally, Hansom Dove is a short story which expresses that ultimate darkness. It is a story that moves us towards the protagonists defining sense of terror and thus into horror. His editor sends a lonely writer to an inn situated off the Maine coast — ostensibly to work on his novel. There he discovers the woman of his dreams. We must leave the summary there since you certainly won’t want any spoilers before entering that strange place.
Sometimes Ken Weene writes to exorcise demons. Sometimes he writes because the characters in his head demand to be heard. Sometimes he writes because he thinks what he have to say might amuse or even on occasion inform. Mostly, however, he writes because it is a cheaper addiction than drugs, an easier exercise than going to the gym, and a more sociable outlet than sitting at McDonald's drinking coffee with other old farts: in brief because it keeps him just a bit younger and more alive.
Ken’s stories and poetry have appeared in numerous publications including Sol, Spirits, Palo Verde Pages, Vox Poetica, Clutching at Straws, The Word Place, Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Daily Flashes of Erotica Quarterly, Bewildering Stories, A Word With You Press, Mirror Dance, The Aurorean, Stymie, Empirical, Pirene’s Fountain, and ConNotations.
Three of Ken’s novels, Widow’s Walk, Memoirs From the Asylum, and Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, are published by All Things That Matter Press. His new book, Broody New Englander is through Red Chameleon. In 2015 ATTMPress will be bringing out Times to Try the Soul of Man.