(forming a basis for constructing Venn diagrams for combining genres in a single story)
This is a topic I've been working on and pondering on and off for the last couple of years, growing out of my own experiences in classes on literary analysis, extensive work with the Library of Congress' genre terms, and on seeing the sorts of hyphenated terms and genre-bending mixes that crop up in friends' fanfic descriptions. It may be nothing new to English lit folks or may be simply stating the obvious, but it's a method of approach to the concept of "genre" that wasn't obvious to me, that I haven't seen put forth before, and that has helped me put my thoughts in order when analyzing fiction.
I consider this to be work in process rather than a well-polished piece, but I think it's done enough to put out there and see what other people think.
- Genre is not itself a literary element. Instead, each major genre is rooted in and emphasizes one of the major literary elements. (Characterization, Point of View, Setting, Plot, Tone, Theme, and Style)
- Genres from two or more different categories can generally be easily combined.
- Genres from the same category are generally very difficult to combine successfully, because they tend to leech strength or focus from each other or compete for coverage space and thereby distract the reader, causing the story to feel weak or disjointed.
- Genres that seem to successfully draw equally from two or more of the major literary elements (or are otherwise difficult to categorize by literary element) may already be combinations of other genres.
Most of the time, when two genres from the same category are successfully combined, one will be the primary genre and will tend to drastically overshadow the other; whereas when two from different categories are combined, it is possible for them to be equally primary and build on each other into a synthesis that is both similar two and distinct from either original genre.
For example: Space westerns typically include enough elements of science fiction to be recognizable, but at heart they're either all western (Firefly) or all science fiction (Star Wars)--or end up being not so good because they come off as neither fish nor fowl. On the other hand, romantic suspense fiction usually meshes the two into a "new" subgenre that is on a par with either of its "parents". ("New" in that it is simultaneously both & neither, rather than "new" as in "hasn't been done before".) In general, a writer can pick almost any genre from one literary element and any genre from any other literary element and have a workable foundation for a story.
Some of the major literary elements do not easily lend themselves to building genres (e.g. Point of view, Style); others tend to be quite limited (e.g. Characterization).
Some genres from separate literary elements sometimes combine so easily that they form natural combinations that come about almost by default and thus may even be more common than "pure" examples of either genre. For example, fantasy + adventure, mystery + suspense, romance + realism, science fiction + utopia/dystopia. However, with the glut of authors now in the business or trying their hand at writing and trying to find something to make their stories stand out from the crowd, other combinations have been successfully used together more often than in past decades, leading to less reliance on the classic "standards", to the point where a relatively standard/classic take on a genre may actually cause a story to stand out from the crowd.
What follows is my initial attempt to categorize most of the more common "major" or "base" genres one finds in fiction. As such, it can be a starting point for analyzing genre in existing stories. (If nothing else, it makes for a quick way to fill up a half-page or so of a book report.) It could be used in a mix-and-match fashion as a sort of idea mill for story-writing (for example, what sort of story would I get if I combine Military fiction + Romance? Memoir fiction + Horror? Western + Diary fiction?)
Point of View
Crime fiction/Legal fiction
Roman à clef
Novels in verse
Feudalism: Serf & Turf