Essay–Genre Bashing

Download Now


Horny housewife novels.  Senseless slaughter fests.  Space operas.  Braindead action.  Tolkien ripoffs.  Genre bashing.

Yeah, you heard me, genre bashing.  I don’t care what kind of genre is your favorite, I guarantee you you’ve bought into the stereotypes of certain kinds of literature and movies.  God knows I have.

I was talking with Michelle Bekemeyer this morning about genre bashing.  When I told her I was holding back from bashing her genre of Romance, she gave the FiendMaster a rather friendly warning.  In other words, she didn’t snarl at me, but certainly thought about it.

Now why on earth would I have something against romance novels?  Well, hmm…why would I?  Oh, yeah.  Jackie Collins.  Danielle Steele.  Whatever horny housewife novel of the week is currently making its way to Lifetime.  Formula, my fiendlings, is the death of anything.

There are books out there, no shit, check’em out, in every “writing” section of every bookstore that can teach you the formula for writing horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, or romance.  Or you can just look at the most popular pulp books, read them, and instantly know what you have to do to make a brain-dead audience buy them.

Unfortunately, many of the presses out there want exactly this.  It may be a mediocre written book, but if it follows the formula to a tee, then they’ll push it.  Why?  Because it’s been successful.  This is one of the major problems I see with the publishing industry in general.  I also think it’s one of the many reasons they’re dying.

So back to genre bashing.  I haven’t read Twilight.  Any of the books.  There are a large number of reasons for this. First and foremost, I am fucking sick to death of vampire fiction that brings nothing new to the table.  I am fucking sick to death of yet another teenage coming of age tale.  Just sick of it.  It’s tired plotting, no matter how great the writing might be.  Just fucking tired of it.  But I’ve also read enough reviews from people who’ve read it or seen the flicks, and I, well, I have no interest in mysoginism obscured by urban fantasy.

Well, how’s that for genre bashing?  Regardless of what you think of Twilight or the fact I’m making judgements without having experienced it, the media buzz around the series has killed any objective opinion I might form.  I got into Harry Potter (the books) because a friend of mine told me it was a very fun, fast read.  I read it.  A fucking Scholastics book at 30 years old.  And I loved it.  Every single word of it.

And I went on to read the entire rest of the series, even though the first three books followed the exact same formula.  Seriously, they were all the same story. And then, as the books were aimed at older audiences, the plots became more complex, the emotions more serious, and the backdrop much darker.  Perhaps this is why I don’t re-read the first three books, and instead start with “Goblet of Fire” and work my way through.  Those books hold a reflection up to our world instead of just trying to create the same old fantasy horseshit.

I’ve no doubt someone will argue with me about the Twilight series and say I’m not giving it a fair shake.  My wife hasn’t read them and she tells me to quit bashing the series until I’ve tried it.  Sigh.  At some point I’ll have to go to the library, check out the book, and hurt my mind with it.  Or, who knows, maybe I’ll find mysoginism fun.  It could happen (NOT).

Let’s move on.  So @michbek writes romance.  She’s combining literary sensibilities, a la Jane Austen, into her romance.  Fantastic.  I’ve read several Jane Austen’s books.  Hate to say it, folks, but The FiendMaster liked ’em.  They are great tales (even without zombies).  So yeah, it can be done, and done in a refreshing new way that people can enjoy them.  Re-invigorate the genre, I say.  There is no shame in this.  None at all.

But how do we move past our prejudices?  I don’t want to read anymore about dwarves, elves, wizards, and etc set in some epic fantasy world.  I’m done with it.  For the most part it’s always the same old shit.  Everyone feeding off everyone else.  Epic fantasy died for me with Terry Brooks, and good riddance to it.  I have great respect for the writers that write it, but it’s very seldom I find anything new in the genre.  And worse, epic fantasy tends to try and wow you with the world rather than with writing and characters.  That kind of shit drives me nuts.

I don’t care how great the universe a book has if the characters are wooden stereotypes.  Oh, he does this because that’s what elves do.  Or he does that because that’s what dwarves do.  So?  Break the goddamned stereotype.  Make it interesting.  Have your elves be cannibals.  Have your dwarves be massive sex perverts.  For god’s sake, do something new and cool with it.  Alas, that’s not what the market wants.

Horror has a lot of the same problems.  The idea I have to come up with a really cool killer that’s different from everything else out there is obscene.  I don’t come up with killers.  I come up with characters.  If they happen to be monsters, that’s great, if they happen to be serial killers, that’s cool too.  But I’m more interested in who they are than what they do.  I just am.  I guess that means I might be forever relegated to the back-shelves and never see the light of day in the traditional publishing world, but those are the kinds of stories that interest me.

I love, simply love, the Dresden Chronicles.  Yes, the novels tend to follow the same formula, but Harry is such a fantastic character, the plot is secondary.  I’m much more interested in how he reacts to the world around him.  He’s a great character because he’s still trying to figure out who he is and what he cares about.  He’s the gray walking the line between polar opposites.  That excites me about characters.  That makes stories and series interesting.

Science fiction, like fantasy, suffers the same world building malaise.  Without characters, these stories mean nothing to me.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning genres here.  I love science fiction, when it’s done well.  I love fantasy, horror, thrillers, etc, when they’re done well.  But for me, I rarely find much written these days that interests me.  At least on the bookshelves.  I find the podiofiction that my compatriots write so much more fascinating than the dribble coming out of the publishing houses.  Perhaps that’s because we’re allowed to really experiment and commit ourselves to some rather unconventional tales.

So, genre bashing.  It’s not fair, but we all do it.  We all engage in bashing genres because of their stereotypes.  While this is a horrible travesty to commit against some very good stories out there, it is inevitable.  Too many cliches, too many of the same movie or book being made, too many of the same television show, leave all of us with some sort of expectation that’s difficult to live up to or live down.

I’m not a hypocrite.  I engage in it as much as the next person.  But before we commit ourselves to hating on a genre for the sole purpose of hating on it, perhaps we should consider that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s what we want to read or see.  Experiment.  Take a chance on something new, something that may not be as popular.  You might very well find a story that surpasses not only your expectations, but elevates itself beyond its own genre.

This has been a presentation of, written and read by Paul Elard Cooley, and is copyright 2010 by Paul Elard Cooley and licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribute, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives 3.5 license.

Music provided by Nine Inch Nails from their ghosts production.  Please visit their site.

For free horror and urban fantasy fiction, essays, and reviews, please visit where we don’t believe in happy endings.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.