Sunday, January 20, 2013

Genre/Labels__Should We Stick??

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This article is especially for those who belong to the world of art, writing in specific. At least you should have an idea of how books are created and what magnitude of labour goes into the production of them.

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Beauty is inexplicable and it serves better if one leaves it to be so. But often we encounter trends that might suggest a different truth. From movies to fashion, from literature to social activism, there exist patterns to which each individual belonging to these activities tries to cling to. Or else, doom might befall them. It is truth.

This can be illustrated with some simple examples. If one needs to look beautiful, and wears mud on one’s face, that would not guarantee admiration, but quite the opposite. This is true with movies or writing too.

In politics too one finds no different story.

In politics, we have all been granted unusual amounts of rants and promises over the years and still find ourselves betrayed at the end of five years or ten years each…or whatever it takes to end one government and start the other. At the start of another government, we all look for more to expect and at the end find it disappointing. Anything out of this way is deemed not normal or clearly looked at with some suspicion. Yes, that is true; it is suspicion that is born out of any attempt to be generous or to do things out of the way.

Saddam Husain, when he was alive, seemed to have a good reputation with his natives. People have been talking about the generosity of the dictator. But the West looked at it with suspicion. Of course, there was no other way either. How would you feel if a political leader comes to your home and gives you one billion rupees, just for nothing in return?

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How could one understand anything that one doesn’t know about previously, let alone enjoying? For example, the news of a UFO sighting might thrill us; an alien contact might shrill us; and a close encounter might kill us. What we see here, is a close reading of how one reacts to the unknown. There is zero amount of aesthetic entertainment in the real event of a close encounter. A book is not like that, it should have an aesthetic dimension too.

Often, some writers shun this step, to give a name to what they do. This is mostly due to two reasons; the first one—it’s not an easy job for any writer to understand the magnitude of what he or she does. To label means to be judgmental. How can a parent be judgmental towards their children? This is the same with artists and writers too. A painting, a book, a piece of music, all plays that role of children in their lives and they are bound by the laws of love.  

The second reason why some writers avoid labels is the fear of carrying over the genre titles upon themselves. Once tagged with a label, always known by that label. As an instance these days, writers of what was once celebrated as “Horror” fiction try to assert themselves as writers of “Thrillers” or better with no labels at all. The Horror Writers Association’s website shows the reason: “Instead of "evolving, ever-changing," horror became defined—typecast if you will—forced to conform to a certain method and a certain manner. Publishers flooded the market with books that matched this formula, giving readers more and more of what they demanded.” And “Horror's originality, its vital essence, had been stolen right before our eyes.”
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Such writers as Dean Koontz take a cautious stand as well. The website goes on saying, “Dean Koontz's books are filled with the strange and fantastic, yet he vehemently argues against being labeled a horror writer, despite being the first president of this very organization….As the horror boom of the eighties turned into the drought of the nineties, horror went underground.”

For a beginner, there is always some crush for what the masters do. When this happens and starts taking hold of the beginner’s writing life, a void between practicability and idealism starts developing. This results into clashes within oneself, not in the productivity of literary works. The majority of time and efforts are burned up by this confusion: whether to stay uninfluenced by genres or to establish oneself in any one category within the specific form of art. In such circumstances, some writers tend to lose whatever little audience they have by trying “differences” or divergent writing. Breaking laws sounds extremely appealing when there is no status at all being part of a society that breeds those laws. It’s a beginner’s syndrome. Sometimes, the writer’s creative train even slips off the track. To stay in the game, one has to follow the rules of the game too.   

The priority of a writer is not to write a “different” kind of book. One’s sincere and genuine attempt to create artistic expressions makes the book different and great. This means, there is no need to deny the possibilities of writing literatures ‘genre-specific’. This helps in narrowing down the perspective horizons of the reader and helps the writer gain a crucial grounding in the mind of the reader. Those books that appear with the label ‘fiction’ on their back cover sure give the readers the apprehension that they will satiate his or her thirst for a novel. While buying books, this is a significant help anyone can get.

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So if “YA” appears on the label no reader would attempt to expect a horror story involving two old people. This gives a preface to the book. Books speak through its label even before a page is turned.

I mentioned it elsewhere as well. “Labels have a paradoxical binary role to play. Within a label a writer may find himself adapted and indulge in a more focused production. However, sometimes, this very focus backfires and provides no options for the writer to work on something apart from the routine, even if he or she wants to go beyond what is their usual way of writing. This is much like the misery of the character Paul Sheldon from the novel Misery, by Stephen King. Obviously, it is market that creates such labels and governs the very system of professional writing.” (Book Review: Caught-a novel by Harlan Coben)

A writer’s pursuit is to understand and at the same time to be understood. If a label like a mystery or a thriller or a YA can add to the understanding of what you do, in the world, then why don’t? 

Courtesy: Horror Writers Association 

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