Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's in a Genre?

I received an interesting question from a reader (thanks, Nicole!):

"The genre thing is so confusing at times. The differences in classifications are often a confounded puzzle. Women's fiction as opposed to Romance? Mystery vs. Cozy Mystery vs. Suspense. Category Romance vs. Traditional Romance vs. non-traditional romance focused on relationship (between man and woman and man/woman and God).

Anything you can do to clarify these and other new and old genre classifications would be very helpful."

Okay, I'll take a shot.

Women's fiction as opposed to Romance. Actually, we started using the term women's fiction a number of years ago to signify fiction written primarily for women but that wasn't romance. Which, I've come to realize, is any most fiction. I mean, duh! The primary fiction reader in the CBA is a woman, so any of the fiction we write is, technically, women's fiction. So I think that's a genre that's mislabeled. However, since the category is still used, I think it's safe to say women's fiction is any fiction written primarily for women that isn't a straight romance.

So what's a straight romance? When I first started in publishing, I learned the following "golden rules" for romance novels:

  1. The hero and heroine meet early on, preferably on the first page.
  2. The body of the story is focused on working out the romantic relationship between the heroine and hero.
  3. There's a happy ending.
I realize those seem a bit simplistic nowadays, but in my experience they still apply.

Mystery vs. Cozy Mystery vs. Suspense. This is easier. A mystery is a story in which the protagonist doesn't know who the bad guy is; in suspense, you know who the bad guy is. That's the primary difference. As for cozy mystery, those are books in which the protagonists, who are solving the mystery, aren't involved in law enforcement or detective work of any kind. So stories where a novel writer (can you say Jessica Fletcher?) ends up solving mysteries is a cozy. They also tend to be a bit "softer" than some mysteries, with less intense murder and mayhem.
Here's an interesting place to check out the differences between mystery and suspense.
I don't agree with all of the points, but most seem on target to me.

Category Romance vs. Traditional Romance vs. non-traditional romance. Generally speaking, category romances are those identified by a line name, such as Harlequin Presents (which I read like crazy when I was young. LOVED Ann Mather and Ann Hampson...). Then there are mainstream romances, which are longer, standalone novels usually identified by the author (Debbie Macomber, for example.) But that's far from all there is. There are a host of other kinds of romances. Too many to go into here, but you can find some helpful descriptions on this page.

Wikipedia has a couple of interesting pages on genre fiction and genres in general.

So there you have it. Feel free to share your thoughts, explanations, or arguements. I'm always interested to hear what others have to say on these topics.



Nicole said...

Thanks, Karen. Great references. Shame on me for asking you to do my homework--but I really appreciate it. :)

Karen B. said...

Hey, no worries. I'm a novelist. I love research!

Lori Benton said...


I'm not an avid reader of mysteries, although there are a handful of general market mystery series I do read faithfully. One of those, the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, I'd categorize as cozy mysteries. In fact, I'm not sure there's even a murder to solve in all of them. They're just as much slice of life stories, or women's fiction, as they are mysteries, although they're marketed as mysteries, IIRC. But as I was saying to Linda C. last Tuesday, they "give you the warm fuzzies" when you read them. LOL. Guess there's even some fuzzing of the genre lines between mystery and cozy mystery, since Mma Ramotzwa (however you spell her name) is set up as a professional detective. She usually not looking into murders, and she uses her keen people skills to fix all sorts of relational problems. Usually "men behaving badly." *s*

C.J. Darlington said...

Yes, that whole women's fiction category has confused me on more than one occasion! Interesting to hear your thoughts on it, Karen. Though I wonder if those statistics are still true about most of the readers in CBA being women. Kinda feel bad for the guys if it is ... :)

Rel said...

Okey dokey - you learn something new everyday! I've been reading all those genres for a long time but had never bothered to sort them out! Thanks, Karen!

BTW here is the link to my Jamie Carie interview - thought you would enjoy it!

Thx also for your encouragement :)

Christina Berry said...

How did I not know you were blogging?!? No matter how infrequently you manage to post, I'll be excited to read it. :-)