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How to Create Your Own Genre

October 10, 2013
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Mary Shelley may not have created the horror genre, but her Frankenstein helped mainstream it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This isn’t meant to be a tribute to a recently deceased author.  Other writers are way better than I am at doing that kind of thing.  In fact, when Tom Clancy passed last week, I wasn’t going to write anything about him.  I don’t mean any disrespect, but I don’t usually mention stuff like that on Dysfunctional Literacy because (attempted) humor is my thing, and I don’t want to be seen as trying to find humor in the passing of famous people. 

However, a couple tributes that I read mentioned something that I hadn’t thought of before, that Tom Clancy mainstreamed a new subgenre, the techno-military thriller.  He might not have invented the subgenre, but he was the first to get a bunch of them on bestsellers lists. 

Tom Clancy may have had some flaws in his writing.  Some of his novels were way too long.  His dialogue was often brutal.  It was tough (for me) to follow so many characters from book-to-book.  But he created his own subgenre, and I respect that.  Not only did he create it, he wrote the heck out of it too. 

Now there are a bunch of authors who write techno-military thrillers, like Vince Flynn (who also has recently passed, and W.E.B. Griffin).  And without Tom Clancy, these authors might not have ever gotten their books on bestsellers lists (or maybe not even have gotten published), but that’s speculation. 

Now that I think about it, I’d like to create my own genre (or even a subgenre), but it’s probably not that easy.  You’d think it would be easy.  All you have to do is think of a genre nobody has tried before and write about it.  See?  That’s all you need to do!

Creating a new genre might not be enough though.  I would have to mainstream it too.  If I  created a new genre but nobody bought my books in that new genre, then creating the new genre wouldn’t have done me any good.  Even worse, if I created a new genre and somebody else mainstreamed it and then made tons of money off my new genre, I’d kind of be ticked off.  That would be worse than being one of the publishers who rejected JK Rowling. 

Creating a new genre (or subgenre) doesn’t happen often, but you could make the case that it’s happened several times recently (depending on how you define “recently”).

Anne Rice mainstreamed the romantic vampire genre with Interview with the Vampire.  That eventually led to the Twilight series and a bunch of other vampire knockoffs that I really don’t want to mention. 

Suzanne Collins mainstreamed the teen dystopian subgenre with The Hunger Games.  Now we have series like Divergent and a bunch of other teen dystopian books. 

JK Rowling mainstreamed the teen fantasy novel with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Now we have Percy Jackson and a bunch of other teen fantasy heroes (and heroines). 

Maybe EL James has mainstreamed the poorly-written erotic genre, but we’ll have to see if a bunch of other authors can write similar bestsellers. 

If I were to create a subgenre, right now it would be called literacy fiction (NOT literary fiction).  My ebook The Writing Prompt is about a story that I wrote in high school that ALMOST made me popular (so I guess it’s literacy nonfiction).  My current serial “The Literary Girlfriend” (which will eventually be an ebook as well) is about a hot chick who pretends to read literary fiction to make herself look smarter.  The next serial that I have planned will also be reading/writing related.  So maybe, just maybe, I can write a bunch of stories related to reading/writing and call it “literacy fiction.” 

Yeah, that might be a really bad idea, but sometimes bad ideas are all I have. 

What other subgenres have been created recently?  What kind of subgenre would you like to create?  And if you could be any kind of tree, what kind…?  Uh… never mind; that was for a different blog.

12 Comments
  1. I’ve created my own genre. I don’t have a good name for it, right now I’m calling it “Neo-New Wave”, which sounds dumb, but fits better than anything else I’ve tried.

    • Great! Did you come up with the name of your genre first, or did your stories fit a pattern to create your genre? Does my question even make sense?

      • I just came up with that name recently, as a way of trying to describe what I write. I considered it just “Science Fiction”, but I kept running across people who had a very specific idea of what “Science Fiction” meant, and my work doesn’t fit that stereotype. It’s not set in the future, it doesn’t have starships or blasters or cute robots.

        My main influences are writers like Phillip Dick, George Alec Effinger, Samuel Delany, Kate Wilhelm–writers who in the 1960’s and 1970’s were called “New Wave” Science Fiction. Hence, “Neo-New Wave”.

  2. I’m not really a fan of vampire romance, so I can’t comment on that, but I think Clockwork Orange is an earlier example of teen dystopian story, and Narnia is an earlier example of teen fantasy.

  3. Today’s entire staff development was on teaching different genres to second graders. Now you say there are subgenres?!? My mind…blown. I can’t keep track of what we’ve already got!

    • What genres do you teach to 2nd graders? I don’t even remember when I learned what a genre was. I think when I was in 2nd grade, the genres were comic books, books with pictures, and books without pictures.

      • Education has come a long way since we were in 2nd grade. For better or worse.

  4. Could you say there are a finite number of genres? If we say genre is defined by readers, as a work showing a series of thematic and plot characteristics that we accept as part of that genre, could you say that people will always define a new work in terms of pre-existing genres, like you calling Harry Potter a ‘teen fantasy’ novel, instead of coming up with an entirely new term for it?

  5. I think sub-genres (perhaps genres, too), are dependent on the time in which they’re conceived. Frankenstein, arguably the foundational text of science fiction, couldn’t have existed without the scientific progress from the seventeenth century forward (and the anxiety it provoked). Likewise cyberpunk: There first had to be something “cyber” for it to describe or speculate about. So, too, with steampunk, biopunk, etc., etc…

  6. I was going to say that it’s easier to create (or popularize) a subgenre if you’re knowledgeable about that area, like Tom Clancy and military stuff. But I don’t know how much Stephanie Myers had to know about vampires to write Twilight. Personally, I’d like to write my own brand of quirky, semi-fantasy that’s so successful they just call the subgenre Stewartian fiction. We all need dreams, right?

  7. At this point, none of the current example of science fiction really describe my work: the closest it comes to is the classical idea of Cyberpunk, prior to Neuromancer. But the term is so obfuscated I’m now having to repurpose a term generally limited to actual technology rather than as a genre of fiction.

    Bleeding Edge, not to be confused with the Thomas Pynchon novel, but the catagory of technology.

    I write stories about early technological advancement in a limited area that is prone to software bugs and not widely released, created by those that adapt to their society becoming increasingly dystopic. It’s not dystopic, but learning how to overcome those limitations.

    I emphasize adapt to, as Dystopian in and of itself went the way of Cyberpunk–being essentially rendered meaningless as everyone has their own spin on it.

    I like bleeding edge handled in a Magical Realistic fashion: things otherwise considered bleeding edge are simply taken for granted by their makers.

    But not sure if I’ve come up with a new genre. Not that it matters I guess.

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  1. Peter Winkler: Famous Writers Who Self-Published: Busting a Self-Publishing Myth

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