What is Genre?

What is Genre?


Part 5 of The Genre of Silence, an essay.

A genre is a set of conventions. A convention is, by its nature, subjective and something that is agreed upon. What we consider genres are patterns that have been calibrated. We know that a poem does certain things. A poem is poetic. But is prose poetic? Does prose have to operate in opposition to poetry?

Two clearly opposing genres are nonfiction and fiction, since nonfiction is the negation of the qualities of fiction. Fiction is a lie. When someone tells you a story that is a fiction, you know that everything they are telling you could be made up. This results, in the audience always wondering why that detail? Why did that thing happen? A compelling fiction is supported by an interior logic that alleviates these questions, and you might think then that the principle trick of a work of fiction is to create a compelling enough interior logic that the lies which have been strung together, hold together, in a way that resembles a reality. But, when it comes to the material of fiction, the house may not exist at that address, and that address may not even be real, and that red couch is red because of the things that happen on that red couch. It is so much more fictionally logical for those things that occur on that couch to occur on a red couch rather than a white couch.

Nonfiction, on the other hand, is not a lie. If fiction is a lie, then nonfiction must be a non-lie, but does that mean it is true? Nonfiction is typically constrained by the materially verifiable. That house is actually located at that address. There is a photo–so that couch was red.

If we were to create a massive School of Rock style diagram of all genres, the far edge would have newly coined fragments of subgenres such as slipstream, steampunk, Star Wars fan fiction, Reddit ghost stories, and so on. At the very center of the map–the roots of this massive tree–you would have fiction, nonfiction, pictograms, poetry, essays, letters, and silence.

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Written by mattbriggs

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