Ordinary or Extraordinary — what’s the difference?

As a weed, the common dandelion – Taraxacum officinale – is the bane of most gardeners’ existence. We yank it out, dig it up, spray it, and grumble. But still it persists. The cheery yellow flower is pretty, but its puffball of flyaway fruit allows seed to be transported on the wind, and it multiplies in places where it isn’t wanted, because, after all, it’s an ordinary weed.

The regal and fragrant lily, on the other hand – Lilium longiflorum – with its creamy white trumpet-shaped flowers, has become a symbol of Easter and graces many churches at this special season. As flowers go, it’s decidedly extraordinary.


But the thing is… both flowers are beautiful, aren’t they? Just in different ways and for different reasons.

That’s also true of fiction. I read in different genres, but I wouldn’t normally choose to read science fiction or paranormal novels, for instance, even if they’re acclaimed as best sellers. I know from their reputations many of them are as well written as any of my usual choices, but what I pick up from libraries and bookstores is determined by my personal preferences.

As a young girl I started reading The Bobbsey Twins series, and later it was Albert Payson Terhune’s dog stories. Through passing years I’ve gone on kicks of reading a favourite author or a favourite theme, reading everything available before moving on to another. I’m still a little like that today. I’m passionate about some authors and topics, and will read those books to the exclusion of all else.

I realize I miss a lot of good books that way, but there’s a limit to the amount of time I have for pleasure reading. My TBR* pile keeps getting taller and when I have to make choices, I reach for what I know from experience will be a guaranteed good read. I choose what for me will be an extraordinary reading experience, rather than risk an ordinary one.

Excluding books on the craft of writing or what you read for research, what genres do you read for pleasure? Do you read in multiple genres? What governs your reading choices?  Do you think by limiting the choice of genres a reader is being deprived of a valuable reading experience? I’d love to hear your opinion.

(* to be read)

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Variations on the Romance Genre

Monday’s post was my contribution to a blogfest… a circle of blogs related to a single theme with links to facilitate movement between them. Its theme was “Romance… or not so much” and after reading all the different posts I couldn’t help marvel at how many different relationships have a romantic flavour.

A year ago I would have denied my novels were romances and, while they were written from my Christian worldview they certainly weren’t Christian fiction. For years I said I wrote light suspense or cosy-style mysteries although they weren’t really cosies. Trying to identify a sub-genre in mysteries was impossible. I’m still not sure they are genuine romances either, and yet I’ve mellowed.  There’s romance hiding amidst suspense. Sometimes, as in our blogfest, it’s the “not so much” kind, but there’s enough caring and personal connection to qualify.

The Romance Writers of America’s website says, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.” That gives writers a lot of latitude, but at the same time it was here that I found the inkling of an explanation as to where my stories best fit.

Among their Sub-genre descriptions I discovered:

  • Romantic Suspense — Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.
  • Inspirational Romance — Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are a major part of the romantic relationship.

Suddenly my last two novels fell into place as “Inspirational Romantic Suspense”… not one sub-genre, but a combination of two.  An earlier one is “Contemporary Women’s Fiction” but there are seeds of romance and suspense in it, too. Who’d a thunk it? The self-professed critic of romances and Christian fiction is now writing a version of both.

What genres were your earliest writings and what genre are you writing in now? If there has been a change, what influenced the evolution?


What’s the Word on Genres?

Depending on where you look for the information, genre is defined as “a literary species or form,” “a distinctive type or category, especially of literary composition,” and “a style of literary, musical or artistic work.”

“All of the arts consist of genres. To name some of the outstanding types: in painting, there are the landscape, the still life, the portrait; in music there are the sonata, the symphony, the song; in film we have the domestic comedy, the horror/thriller, the Western.”* Did you notice this excerpt doesn’t attempt to break down literary genre? It isn’t easy. I have several lists detailing the components of various genres, no two of them identical. Even if we could create a comprehensive list, many of us would probably be hard pressed to figure out exactly where our novels fit, anyway.

Wordle: Genre

For purposes of entering their Genesis Contest the American Christian Fiction Writers website breaks fiction down to these categories:

  • Contemporary Fiction
  • Contemporary Romance (includes romantic comedy)
  • Historical Fiction (not romance)
  • Historical Romance
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Speculative Fiction
  • Women’s Fiction
  • Young Adult

A description of each category is on the ACFW website FAQ page, item #19.

Lucienne Diver is an agent at The Knight Agency. Over on her Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings blog way back in January 2009 she blogged about “Genres and Subgenres and Memes, Oh My!” The post doesn’t include non-fiction but is a detailed look at the breakdown of most major adult fiction genres (excluding YA).

These are just two places offering information to demystify genres. I know there are many others. My point is, we need to know where our writing fits in, if for no other reason than to correctly identify the right agent to represent it, the right place to market it, and in which bookstore section it will be located once buyers begin to look for it.

Have you identified your book’s appropriate genre? What will you do if it crosses two or more genres?


*A Guide to the Study of Literature: A Companion Text for Core Studies 6, Landmarks of Literature, English Department, Brooklyn College.
** Word Cloud designed at Wordle.net