Why Genre is Like Root Beer

When my sister and I were little, whenever we went out to a restaurant where you could get your own soda, we would mix a variety of them together.  Sometimes it tasted good, sometimes it tasted horrific, but what remained true, no matter what, was that if you added root beer, the whole thing would taste like root beer.  It didn’t matter how many other kinds you put in, or how little root beer was actually added, it was root beer.

(I swear this is not totally random.  I had root beer with lunch.)

Genre is like root beer.  I think we can all agree that most genre stories are not wholly a single genre.  Romance subplots are found all over the place.  A story can have a murder or a car chase without being a mystery or a thriller.  Something can be set in the past without necessarily being historical.  Heck, even speculative fiction elements like ghosts crossover into other stories.

Last year, I read Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie and Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters within a few weeks of each other.  Fast Women was categorized as a romance, and Crocodile on the Sandbank was a mystery, but if anything, I would have reversed the two.  Both stories have a female protagonist, a main mystery plotline, and a strong romance subplot.  So what pushed one into romance and one into mystery?

Every story has a root beer – a genre, that once it’s added, no matter what other elements are also included, overrides everything else to be That Genre.  I think sometimes it’s arbitrary.  Sometimes, perhaps it is a marketing decision. 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what the root beer is.  We’ve got dozens of sub and cross genres popping up these days, but they’ve still got to be shelved somewhere.  I think we can all agree that a story with elves would have a hard time marketing itself as anything other than fantasy, no matter how small a part they play.  Something with aliens is going to be slotted as science fiction.  But what do you do with a story that’s based in the real world, with love and mystery and a hint of the supernatural?  Where’s the root beer in that?

I’m currently working on a story where I’ve yet to identify my root beer.  I’m calling it a scifi mystery in my head.  Yeah, I know.  Good luck pitching that when the time comes.  What do you consider an Absolute when it comes to determining genre?  What do you think about sub/cross genre specifications?

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Chris H. on 2011/02/10 at 2:07 AM

    I want to see a Steampunk Space Opera. You should get on that. I don’t even need credit for the idea, just a little shout-out in the acknowledgments will do.

    Reply

  2. […] on in this blog’s life, I wrote a post about how genre is like root beer. Long story short, it seems like every story has some element that stuffs it into a genre, no […]

    Reply

  3. […] on in this blog’s life, I wrote a post about how genre is like root beer. Long story short, it seems like every story has some element that stuffs it into a genre, no […]

    Reply

  4. I hate genre. It’s too freaking hard to figure out.

    Reply

  5. […] run into this in other places as well, particularly between cozy mysteries and romance. A lot of it seems to come down to […]

    Reply

  6. […] run into this in other places as well, particularly between cozy mysteries and romance. A lot of it seems to come down to […]

    Reply

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