Genre vs. Traditional Fiction

Yesterday I wrote about traditional stories, the kind of untagged, unlabeled, uncategorized and ungenrefied fiction we grew up on. There used to be certain sections for genres in libraries and bookstores, but most books were shelved alphabetically under “fiction.” I read all types of books without discrimination, but I found the most satisfying books not with the genre stories, but in with the general fiction. And that’s the kind of book I tried to write.

I don’t know why genre became the core of the book business rather than the peripheral it once was, but it’s probably because of marketing — as one editor who rejected Light Bringer told me, “I loved the story, and your writing is excellent, but I don’t know how to sell it. It doesn’t have enough science fiction elements to be science fiction, and it has too much science fiction to be anything else.” (The truth is, Light Bringer was never meant to be science fiction. It a traditional story based on both modern conspiracy theory and the Sumerian cosmology, though I admit, it does have elements that are construed as science fiction. Luckily, I eventually found a publisher who publishes traditional fiction as well as genre.)

I don’t know what came first — readers’ need to buy books that fit into certain categories or book marketers’ need to funnel readers into those categories, but it doesn’t really matter. Either way, this genreization of the book business makes me an outsider, both as a reader and a writer. I have a hard time sorting through the 130,000,000 million books available to find ones I want to read, and I have a hard time fitting my books into the available genres. (When I have to give a category, I say “conspiracy fiction.” That’s not a genre, or at least I don’t think it is, but it gives me a pithy and realistic way of labeling my books.)

The hardest of my books to categorize, besides Light Bringer, is More Deaths Than One. It has many of the elements of a thriller, but the story is not about what happened to the main character (Bob) but who is he and how he reacts to what happened to him. In a thriller, there should be some sort of showdown between the hero and villain, but in More Deaths Than One, that showdown is given to an offscreen character, and Bob hears of it second hand. Some readers think the scene is a cheat. Even I think it’s a cheat, or rather I would think so if More Deaths Than One was a thriller. The hero should always be the one who performs the decisive action in the story, but in this case, the decisive action is not the discovery of the truth, but how Bob and Kerry (the woman he loves) deal with that truth.

I could have had the showdown and then Bob and Kerry’s scene afterward, but then their scene becomes anti-climactic. I could have had the two scenes concurrent — the showdown and their reactions, but there is no way Bob would have opened up to her with a dangerous creature in the room. And most of all, he would never have brought her to the attention of the villain since he would have wanted to protect her at all costs.

You’d think that with the emphasis on the two characters that More Deaths Than One is romantic suspense, but it is far more than that (and far less. Those who have read it for romantic suspense don’t like it because the romance isn’t forefront. Nor is the conflict a romantic one — Bob and Kerry get along from the beginning). More Deaths Than One is traditional fiction — a story that demanded to be written in a certain way, regardless of any genre conventions.

As Mickey Hoffman, author of School of Lies and Deadly Traffic, said, “What are you waiting for? Read this book. Now. More Deaths Than One is much better than any ‘bestseller’ out there. The plot is constantly surprising and intricate, the characters draw you into the tale and the overall writing is top notch.”


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

3 Responses to “Genre vs. Traditional Fiction”

  1. lvgaudet Says:

    I think that like so many other things, it’s what the marketing department tells the consumer they are supposed to like.

    Why does anything make it big, become *the* thing to have?


    The DaVinci Code series (just one of many possible examples) made a smash hit in both book sales and movie. Why? Because it was marketed in a way to get people talking about it.

    50 Shades of Gray is a smashing success and has a movie deal. Why? Hype. Everyon was talking about it (though it seems to have already faded as a past fad).

    Conumers as a mass jump on what they are told they want. That includes what kind of books they read.

    Writers are the tag alongs. If they want to be published, they have to follow and try to predict the trens the marketing department will think of next.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I have always thought of genre as having more to do with book shops and on what shelves books need to be placed in order to get sales rather than the business of writing. Nowadays we can talk about on-line book shops as well.

    Growing up, I read a great variety of books. I was a keen fan of Mitchener without having any real idea of where he should fit into this scheme of things. Did he write historic novels? Well, I would probably put Hawaii into that category but maybe not everything he wrote.

    Me? I sit down to write a story I think people will enjoy. I don’t worry too much about genre up until I have completed a couple of drafts. Then I have to think about who it might appeal to and how to get it to their attention.

    Me? I don’t understand hype and how it works. I think if I as a male wrote 50 Shades of Gray or something like it I would have found myself in trouble with female readers. Born in Blood was written a decade before the Da Vinci Code and for my money is a better read but never got enough hype.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t understand hype, either. Don’t understand why one book makes it and a better one goes unnoticed. Don’t understand why truly awful books are sometimes revered.

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