What Am I Even Writing?

What Am I Even Writing?

When I first decided that I wanted to write creative fiction, I struggled tremendously with putting words (that made sense) on the page. My favorite genre to read had always been fantasy, so I figured that writing it would come naturally to me. Boy, was I wrong. . . Somewhere along the line, people collectively had decided certain elements were required in the writing to make it a fantasy text, and I was missing quite a few of them. I began to research fantasy, and I realized that my writing didn’t fit the generic form I was writing for. I thought “certainly, I don’t have to stick to the rules for fantasy that someone else has set.” Then it dawned on me; if I didn’t adhere to the established form for the fantasy genre, would readers recognize my writing as fantasy?

Well, what exactly is genre?

Bill Hart-Davidson’s asserts that “Genres are constructions of groups, over time, usually with the implicit or explicit sanction of organizational or institutional power” (1328). This take on genre speaks to the reality that genres are created by grouping like things together for the sake of establishing structure. By creating genres, writers and readers were able to identify commonality in writing and make informed choices based on those features. Hart-Davidson describes these choices as “the visible effects of human action, routinized to the point of habit in specific cultural conditions” (1320). By looking at the habits of writers and the way in which those habits affect the world around them, people were able to group like with like to create specific genres.

According to Charles Bazerman, “It is through genre that we recognize the kinds of messages a document may contain, the kind of situation it is part of and it might migrate to, the kinds of roles and relations of writers and readers, and the kinds of actions realized in the document” (1259). As a writer, if I didn’t understand the genre I was writing in and write toward that genre, how would my readers be able to understand what I was writing or why? Moreover, how would they understand their role as the reader? If they were looking to read fantasy based on the conventions they’ve accepted as fantasy, and my writing wasn’t that, why were they reading my writing?

You see, that’s the important thing about genre in writing. It allows the writer to signal to the reader what rhetorical situation they are about to encounter. In her article “The Genre Effect: Exploring the Unfamiliar,” Heather Bastian proposes that “the relationship between genre and rhetorical situation is reciprocal, so the two are interrelated – one can look to a genre to understand elements of the rhetorical situation and one can look to the rhetorical situation to understand elements of the genre” (30). Understanding that the situation and the genre feed into each other allows the writer to select the appropriate genre for the situation they wish to convey. It also helps to guarantee that the situation is appropriate for the genre. This gives the reader the ability to place themselves in the correct frame of mind for the reading. It also gives the reader the choice not to read at all.

Ultimately, by understanding the way genre speaks to situations, I was able to embrace the idea that knowing the elements integral to my genre was important. It’s not just to provide me with a set of rules for writing that genre; it ensures that my writing fits the situation so my readers (known and unknown) are able to identify what I’m writing and receive the intended message.

Bastian, Heather. “The Genre Effect: Exploring the Unfamiliar.” Composition Studies, vol. 38, no. 1, 2010, pp. 29-51,158. ProQuest, https://login.ezproxy.auctr.edu:2050/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.auctr.edu/docview/610782706?accountid=8422.

Bazerman, Charles. “Writing Speaks to Situations Through Recognizable Forms.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, Kindle ed., Utah State University Press, 2016.

Hart-Davidson, Bill. “Genres Are Enacted by Writers and Readers.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, Kindle ed., Utah State University Press, 2016.

6 Comments

  1. Peyton

    “I began to research fantasy, and I realized that my writing didn’t fit the generic form I was writing for. I thought “certainly, I don’t have to stick to the rules for fantasy that someone else has set.” Then it dawned on me; if I didn’t adhere to the established form for fantasy writing, would readers recognize my writing as fantasy?”
    Will, if your aim is to write a fantasy piece and you are pleased with the outcome, does it matter if it does not conform to all the ideal aspects of fantasy? I feel like if the writing is just for you/”for fun,” then it doesn’t need to fit perfectly into a genre mold.
    With these being said, it is important to understand what they are writing for so they can write in the most appropriate genre. How will you you implement this in your classroom?

    1. W. Lawson

      I agree that my writing doesn’t have to fit genre molds perfectly, but, in order to break the rules for fantasy, I have to know them. Also, my writing is for the purpose of consumption, so I definitely need to make sure the readers can identify what it is.

  2. Willie,
    I think the most interesting ideas you bring up are those of understanding genre and meeting reader expectations of genre. For fantasy, there are definitely tropes and reoccurring themes. I agree, to fit in the world of fantasy, you as a writer have to at least be knowledgeable of those expectations. I’m curious as to how you play with those expectations and if you ever plan on breaking those rules.

  3. Ah the eternal question of genre! As a fellow creative writer, this comes up a lot in writing conversations. Most people want to eschew genre conventions altogether in the name of freedom, but I think you make a compelling argument for why this is important. I work with the philosophy, “know the rule before you cheat the rule” so if you wanna break genre conventions you have to know them first! I may use this in some of my own arguments, so thanks for this!

  4. Hi Will,
    This is getting kinda scary. You and I both wrote on the same subject again. I did enjoy your post, and your perspective on genre writing. In answer to Peyton’s post, yes, a writer can write anything they wish in any form they wish, and call it whatever genre they wish. However, when it comes to marketing and selling work, it is extremely important for the work to be listed in the correct genre. If I purchased a book that was marketed as a mystery, and when I read it, it was actually written in science fiction, I would be driving right back to the store, asking for my money back.

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