Why Genres Matter (But Also They Don’t)
Genres Serve A Different Function Than Expected
For those that don’t know, genre functions mostly as a marketing vehicle. It’s there to help sell it to the right customer base. That’s not to diminish your favorite genre, or any genre: that’s simply their base function. No story is only one genre. Star Wars is science fantasy, meaning it’s a blend of two genres. Deadpool is superhero fiction, science fiction, and comedy (and romance). A lot of zombie movies could be considered a drama, on top of all their other aspects. The genre they are predominately labeled with is for finding it in a crowd of media. That’s why we bother to name genres. It’s ancient SEO for stories.
But it’s also a reference point. A signifier of likely content to help decide what to watch. This very website is devoted to science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and we know what those are because we know what they hold. Those tropes are essentially why we like them. You can get a rag-tag band of heroes defeating a villain in many, many genres, but if you want them to use spaceships to do it, there’s only one genre for it. It also can be more nebulous appealing characteristics, like robust worldbuilding or large casts. Technically, any genre can have those things, but you get the “flavor” stronger from High Fantasy. You’re unlikely to get a Middle Earth anywhere else.
Think Of Genres Like You Might A Specific Spice
But here’s where I somewhat undermine myself because it’s ultimately trappings and focuses that define a genre, not the core stories. Stories essentially have no genre. Not to go all Creative Writing 101, but there’s a reason we’ve successfully codified the basic backbone of huge swathes of narratives. It’s got a lot of variations, and wiggle room, but it’s applicable no matter the label. A lot of stories are about normal people having to become something greater to overcome a challenge. Sometimes it’s about a kid defeating self-doubt to become a football star, and sometimes a lowly stable hand needs to believe in themselves to master magic spells. They both have roughly the same series of moments, if not the same esthetic and level of bombast.
And this is a good thing, by the way. It doesn’t make things inherently rote or boring. It makes it possible to explore the cool things about the genre. With the plot machinations codified and set, we get to focus on the ships, the magic, the monsters. The three-act structure is inherently satisfying, even after hundreds of times—so it handles that necessity without further issue. Every car doesn’t require a unique design of wheel and engine to be cool—it’s what’s built atop it, around it. Most cakes are the same. It’s the frosting and the fillings that make it someone’s preference.
Stories Are Very Often All Made Of The Same Core
And, on the creative side, it puts a few optional guardrails to help guide newer writers and directors towards proven markets, established audiences, and masters to study.
So, as this article’s title so deliberately controversially says, genre does and doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t exist beyond stating it does. We could segment all stories by how often people swear, or what the predominant smell mentioned or visualized is, but we don’t. We chose to use genre. It’s a structure made for our convenience, and always expanding to allow more coherency. LitRPG, Analog Horror, Lynchian, Lovecraftian, Cozy, and “Enemies to Lovers,” are all subgenres, tropes, styles, or categories that make it easier to find what you want to experience. They inform and spawn genres.
If it has a name, it has a fandom. If it has a fandom, it will develop a name. If something you enjoy seeing in stories has happened at least twice in different places, it will get all the focus somewhere. New genres attract existing creators, inspire new ones, and make art even more expansive and interesting. It’s a wonderfully, beautifully real thing, regardless of whether it exists.
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