Today, we're pleased to have an excerpt from Michael Arnzen's "Genre Unleashed" from Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction:
We are lucky to have genres, because they give writers an avenue toward finding an audience -- and they point readers in our direction, as well. But they can be dangerous roads, too, because once we start identifying things by their type, we begin to categorize and label them, separating one kind from another, often based on superficial judgments. If a reader doesn't like a genre, they'll pre-judge your book without even looking at the cover. This feels unfair, so some writers avoid genre altogether, hoping to maximize a potential audience and avoid the constraints of their conventions…avoiding the pigeonholes of genre, but never finding a place to roost, and fading into obscurity. Others make the opposite mistake, getting too hung up on trying to control their fate, and play it safe, follow the "rules" of their genre so closely that their work becomes indistinguishable from any other book on the shelf. Uncertain about how to "fit in," they err on the side of imitation, and produce work too derivate to excite an editor who is looking for a unique sales hook for next year's catalog.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that genres are reductive. They reduce an entire body of literature down to one word in order to "index" it -- but in the process they oversimplify it, too. Because genres are labels, they fool us into thinking that genres are less meaningful, less creative, and less complicated than they really are. This is also why they get a bad rap by the literati, who categorically judge them as lowbrow pap. The real truth -- one which successful genre writers and devoted genre fans only know -- is that genres liberate writers, giving them a focus, relieving them of some burdens, and allowing them to play to their strengths and interests. A genre can unleash your creativity, once you get a clear sense of how it empowers you.
Michael A. Arnzen (gorelets.com) is a college teacher by day and a horror writer by night. He has been educating novelists since 1999 as faculty in the Writing Popular Fiction graduate program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, where he is currently Chair of the Humanities. Arnzen's energetic workshops on genre fiction writing have been popular at Odyssey, Alpha, World Horror Convention, Context, Pennwriters and the Horror Writers Association's annual Stoker Weekend event. His often funny, always disturbing horror stories have won four Bram Stoker Awards, an International Horror Guild award, and several "Year's Best" accolades.