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What Is Genre Studies?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Genre studies typically refer to processes by which someone approaches the study of literature, film, or another medium of storytelling through categorization of story types. This means that stories are often categorized according to a number of established genres to make comparison and differentiation between these stories easier or more precise. Other methods can still be used to analyze various aspects of a story, such as considerations of characterization and story structure. Genre studies simply provide a greater context in which these other considerations can be utilized, allowing someone to more easily create a “shorthand” method for recognizing certain themes and ideas common among certain types of stories.

The basic approach to genre studies typically begins with considerations of different types of stories, to find common themes and ideas in those stories that allow them to be categorized as effectively as possible. These categories are referred to as “genres” and typically indicate that the stories within a particular genre have certain themes, images, and other details in common. There are many different types of genres utilized in genre studies, such as fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and western. Within these basic genres, there are also sub-genres, such as futuristic science fiction, historical science fiction, and cyberpunk science fiction.

Once these genres are established for use in genre studies, then other concepts of literary studies can be utilized. Within a particular genre, certain types of characters may be common and characterization may be easier for a story once the genre is established. In science fiction, for example, common character types can include space soldiers, “starfighter” pilots, and computer hackers. Using concepts within genre studies, someone can identify that a story belongs within a particular genre, and then use that information to more easily sort characters within a story into different archetypes that are common for that genre.

An overall understanding of genre studies can greatly enhance the experience of a reader or viewer to a particular story, as well, since it provides the audience with a stronger background for the story itself. Many times, storytellers can use common archetypes, themes, or genre conventions to facilitate the overall process of storytelling. Someone familiar with genre studies, for example, might understand that within fantasy storytelling the convention of an old wizard or magician is quite common. This can then allow that person to have a better understanding of a story in which this convention is used in an uncommon way, such as having the wizard be young rather than old, or in which the convention is reinforced as a form of storytelling shorthand.

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Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Jan 31, 2014

@Fa5t3r - That's only one form of fantasy though. There are many different kinds of every genre. That's not even getting into literary, versus commercial distinctions. I like Eddings as well, but his was definitely commercial. But you could argue that Neil Gaiman, for example, writes literary fantasy novels.

Then there are the more recent genres, like steampunk. Genre is actually really complex and fascinating.

By Fa5t3r — On Jan 30, 2014

@irontoenail - Tropes can be a very cool thing in the hands of a master. David Eddings, for example, deliberately wrote his first series to be almost a textbook fantasy novel, with a quest and a wizard and a band of characters and a magical object.

He realized that kind of story structure worked well and he dressed it up with his own takes on each character type, as well as throwing in a lot of humor.

His books aren't exactly ground breaking, but they are a lot of fun. In fact, if anyone was doing genre studies of fantasy I would start with those novels, because Mr. Eddings knew his stuff.

By irontoenail — On Jan 29, 2014

It's so important for people to research their own genre before trying to write in it. I've known a lot of writers who think they have an original take on an idea for, say, a fantasy story, only to find that it's been done a dozen times before in a similar way.

Then there are those people who say they are going to break conventions and be completely different, even though they don't really understand the genre either. If the lovers don't end up together at the end, that's not a surprise ending, that's a deal breaker for romance novels. Romance is basically defined by the "happily ever after" ending.

I mean, sure, write that story, but understand that it isn't romance. Genre is mostly about marketing, in the end, and the conventions are there for a reason. Tropes aren't automatically a bad thing.

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