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What Does It Mean When a Text Is Multi-Genre?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated: May 23, 2024

A text that is multi-genre contains conventions from a number of literary genres. A genre is a collection of stories, art, music or films that adhere to a fluid set of conventions. For example, science fiction (sci-fi) stories tend to contain a futuristic setting and ideas centered on the future of science; fantasy tends to ignore science and create a world where the laws of physics can be broken to allow things such as magic. A multi-genre text will contain ideas and styles familiar to at least two genres.

Genre theory is important in the approach to a multi-genre text. The fundamental idea question, when faced with a text filled with conventions from different genres, is whether genres exist at all. The idea of the genre is more important in Anglo-American or English literature than in that of other languages and cultures. The imposition of genre on texts has led to genre tyranny and the separation of literary and genre fiction. The student or academic, therefore, approaching such a diverse text should consider whether it has multiple genres or no genre at all.

Such texts create problems for the student because they lack a regular genre context to be compared against. When a text is readily viewable as sci-fi or horror or romance, there are sets of conventions for that text to be compared against. This makes the multi-genre text more unpredictable and it requires more background study on conventions.

There is a simple way to approach a multi-genre text and that is to keep an open mind. This means to remove expectations from studies of the text. This turns it into a normal text, so it can be approached for just its information without relying on a whole series of contexts. This, for example, is akin to studying a new Eric Brown novel without using H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke for context.

Instead of creating a checklist of conventions and then comparing the text to that checklist, individuals can read through the text and write down a list of conventions the text appears to make use of. From this data, it can be determined if the text was deliberately made to contain a number of genres or whether it used a single genre as a base and then added conventions from other genres to mask this. Such studies and text lead to ideas such as sub-genres, genre-blending and genre evolution.

It is also possible, when reading such a text, to realize that certain conventions are not limited to one single genre. For example, magical realism contains an inherent dosage of fantasy. The same can be said for horror and Gothic romance.

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