Writers know very well that the style in which they write may not be sweet to every reader. Every piece of writing is defined by a genre, sub-genre, category, sub-category… and the list goes on. Some readers enjoy broad genres, such as fiction or non-fiction, while others prefer more specific categorization, like historical fiction or sci-fi.
Unfortunately, whether we will it or not, whatever we write inevitably falls into a class that defines it. This offers both positive and negative side-effects. The positives being that we can reach our readers more readily, and skip those who wouldn’t be interested in the first place. The negatives being that others who have written within our genre may have helped to create stereotypes that automatically cause readers to avoid our predetermined classification.
Of course, every genre can have romance, or humor, or history. However, the small details are not taken into account when vendors and publishers choose which heading to set above a book. To me, this is, in many ways, tragic. Separating books so clearly gives readers the ability to be as picky about books as they are about food. It’s just as easy to say, “I don’t read fantasy” as it is to say “I despise onions”. But onions always have the same flavor. Books do not.
One fantasy story could be found to be long and dull, while another could be enthralling and captivating. Not every fantasy has dragons, just as not every romance is about some young girl falling in love for the first time. It’s simple to say that you do not like one food or another, but the flavors of writing are more intricate and less defined. You could easily class one book in the sci-fi genre as an onion (or other despised food of your choice), and another as a slice of the most delectable cheesecake (or other delicious dish of your choosing).
The spark behind this post was an article that I saw about how GRRM has seemingly “revolutionised how people think about the fantasy genre“. And, although I love his books, and will be watching the season premiere devotedly this evening, I have to disagree.
The reason why his books have become popular is because they got picked up by the right place at the right time. They have been thrust into the public eye, and, I suppose, in that way, they have made people think about fantasy differently.
But, there have been countless authors who have written quality fantasy over the years that have received much praise, and likely even more that have remained under the radar for whatever reason. I have no doubt that there are hundreds of high-quality fantasies out there that I have never even heard of. And part of that is because of the stereotype surrounding the genre as a whole.
GRRM was lucky. But even his books were a near miss. He started the series a long time ago, and it has only reached popularity in recent years. I have a plethora of books on my shelf that I would define as equal in quality to A Song of Ice and Fire, both in terms of writing ability and strength of story. Are all of them as wildly popular as GOT? No. Not even close. Should they be? Probably. If they had been given a chance.
So, next time you avoid a genre simply because it hasn’t suited your tastes in the past, remember that books are not as easily classified as onions (I just assume everyone else abhors them, because I believe they are the absolute worst). Remember that just because a book is classed within a genre that you don’t often sample, that doesn’t mean that it is anything like the last one that you tasted.
Books within the same genre are as vast in flavor and texture as a hundred course meal served at a banquet. Some are light, some are sweet, others are heavy and thick. Some are bitter and some are as smooth as cream. Some will leave you asking for seconds, while others will congeal on the side of your plate after an unpleasant sample.
Let your palate for books be much more tested and open than that of your tongue.
Have you ever been surprised by a book in a certain genre? Is there a genre that you avoid altogether? Do you think that GRRM had a direct impact on fantasy because of the quality or because of the timing of his books?
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