Genre schmenre

I had a conversation with Holly Black recently where we both admitted that every time we’re told that we can’t do some particular writing thing we are compelled to do it.

“Vampires are played out. There is no new take on vampires left!” someone will tells us.

“Right then,” we’ll think to ourselves. “Challenge! We’ll be writing a vampire story.”

“Avoid adverbs and adjectives,” someone will say.

We will immediately have an attack of the Angela Carters.

David Moles admitted to a similar reaction to definitions of genres. They make him want to write something entirely outside the limits of the genre being defined.1 Holly and me are the same,2 whenever we see a YA definition we find ourselves thinking of the exceptions and thinking of ways we can stretch those boundaries. How can we get away with writing books where the protags aren’t teens? Or have the kind of content everyone is so sure you can’t have in a YA? Or where the story does not have the immediacy everyone associates with the genre?

It’s probably very childish but there’s a level at which all writing rules (never head hop! avoid passive voice!)3 and genre definitions make my back straighten, my nostrils inflate, and leave me with an overwhelming urge to shout, “You are not the boss of me! I’ll write what I bloody well want to write!”

When I was chatting about it with Holly we decided it was a good thing. Definitions be damned!

  1. Well, okay, he said something kind of sort of like that but it’s my paraphrase and I’m sticking to it. []
  2. I also like to defy certain grammar rules: “Holly and me” sounds way better than “Holly and I” which always sounds to me like the British queen saying “My husband and I”. []
  3. Except for always add zombies. That writing rule you should all obey. []


  1. dragonfly on #

    are you really writing a vampire story? 😉

    and anyway, i agree…write whatever you want to write, however you want to write it!!

  2. Micole on #

    Now I will NEVER add zombies. In fact, I will subtract zombies. There will be zombie-shaped holes in all my zombie stories. They will be unzombies, anti-zombies, counter-zombies, un-undead.

    Serves you right.

    P.S. Vampires: still played out.

  3. Eric Luper on #

    I have a tendency to want to write something that I’ve never written before. It’s strange because after the great reviews I got with my edgy contemporary novel, I jumped right into historical fiction. My third novel is something completely different. This is trouble as far as a career goes because I won’t fit into any sort of tidy niche (for branding purposes), but I go where my heart tells me to go and I trust good things will result.

  4. Justine on #

    dragonfly: Secret. Not telling.

    Micole: Excellent! That’s exactly what I intended. Zombies are all mine!

    Eric: But they’re all YA, right? Surely that helps?

  5. Eric Luper on #

    Yes, they are all YA, for sure. And they are all gritty, but the big question is will a fan of BIG SLICK be attracted to BUG BOY simply because it’s by the same author? Time will tell!

  6. veejane on #

    …But what are your thoughts on elf-pirates?

  7. Justine on #

    Eric: They will follow!

    Veejane: I dunno. Are you telling me I have to write ’em or that I’m not allowed?

  8. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    You can’t tell through the computer, but I am raising my glass (well, okay, it’s a mug) to you in salute. Here here!!!


  9. Dess on #

    head hopping? correct me if i’m wrong, but that’s with multiple protags right? like in scott’s midnighters trilogy? personally, i love books like that if each character is distinct and believable.

  10. Tera Lynn Childs on #

    I had a similar experience the other day. A friend asked me about the YA market and I explained how amazing it is because there are no rules, really. You can write anything. She decided to tell me that you can’t write about sex in a YA.

    “Um, yes you can,” I said.

    “No, you can’t,” she insisted.

    The funniest part? She’s an adult urban fantasy author. So she obviously knows everything about YA!

    Great post!

  11. rebecca on #

    i get that bug sometimes, but mostly people don’t tell me what not to write b/c they’re too busy telling me what i should write.

    what usually happens to me is that i’ll be left feeling unfulfilled by something (book, movie, whatever), so i’ll go write a story that satisfies whatever the book/movie/whatev didn’t. i’m bothered by all the conventions and rules and when people say OMG THIS IS SUCH A GREAT SHOW or something, and then i watch it and think, “this is utter crap.” so maybe it’s kind of a similar thing.

  12. Sash on #

    my seven year old was doing his home reading last night and announced ‘this is SO wrong. you never start a sentence with AND.’ I told him it was okay, you just have to know that it’s wrong to start with AND, and then you can start with AND.

    i expect i will be in trouble with the grade three teacher at some stage.

  13. Justine on #

    Tera Lynn Childs: I hate to speak ill of your friend, but she full of it! There be sex in many of them there YA books. Why there’s some in books I writ myself. Not to mention Judy Blume, Holly Black, John Green, Melvin Burgess, Coe Booth, etc. etc. etc.

    Tell her to stick to speaking of that which she knows.

    Sash: And I think that it would be just and fair for you to be in trouble. Because starting sentence with “and” or “because” is evil and wrong.

  14. Tera Lynn Childs on #

    Thanks Justine! I actually pulled the Judy Blume card on her the other day and she threw it back in my face as “an example of the extreme.” Sigh. Suffice it to say she’s not that close of a friend. The world has enough narrow-minded people. No need to encourage more of them. =)

  15. Justine on #

    People who won’t let evidence get in the way of their wrong-headed notions are a wee bit of a problem . . .

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