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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Write First, Think Of What Genre It Is Later


Among science fiction writers, readers and editors, there are two black holes which suck them in... and trap them forever in futile, endless debates.

The first black hole is called "How Do You Define What Is Science Fiction?"
(Abandon all hope ye who enter it!)


The second black hole is called "Why Don't We Get No Respect?"
(Any such debate inevitably degenerates into a hell-pit of self-pity, paranoia, resentment, despair and chip-on-the-shoulder superiority.)

Now, I write stories and books which can of course be labeled according to genre: science fiction, horror, adventure, satire, what-have-you. I sometimes visit "science fiction" conventions because I want to talk to other writers and meet my readers (or potential readers).

But you know what? To me, the label on what I write isn't important. Not anymore. I realized some time ago, that I write the kind of stories I want to write.

If, at some point in time, I decided: "Now I will write a story about a poor coca-farmer in Bolivia," or "Now I'd like to write a non-fiction book about a practical dieting lifestyle"... then what good is a label?

"You can't write that stuff, you're supposed to be a science fiction writer!"

If a genre label is riddled with prejudice and negative associations (Sci-Fi=juvenile crap on TV and in movies), then what good is it for me? Should I care to protect it?

If I were black, why would I call myself a "n*gg*r"? If I were gay, would I call myself a "f*gg*t"?

But that is what so many genre fans do. It's as if they so desperately need to make their taste an identity -- the way a religious fanatic defines himself primarily by his religion, not his personality or character -- it rules out any discussion. "If it has 'our' genre label, then it must be defended and I must force myself to be interested."

It's as if I, just because I watch ONE detective show on TV, have to watch (and defend) ALL detective shows on TV. It's impractical, unrealistic and quite frankly stupid.

The only practical reason I should use genre labels on my fiction is as a search function -- for the sake of easy Googling.

You, writer... when you sit down to write a new story, which is your first thought:
A) "I want to tell a story about people who..."
or
B) "I want to tell a detective/science fiction/romance/horror/thriller story"
?

If you choose B), then you have trapped and limited your imagination from the start. You should have ignored genre constraints in the first place.

Say after me: "I write what I want because I want, and it doesn't matter what they want to label it."

ADDENDUM: A debate about the SF genre has arisen and is quite interesting:
Steven Grant on How SF Ruined the Future (scroll down column)
Charles Stross comments, and much debate follows.
Lou Anders weighs in, here and here.

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