Friday, February 25, 2011

SUB SUB SUB GENRES (a twitter-sourced topic)

By Russel D McLean

I have a thing against the phrase “tartan noir”. Truly, it rankles with me even if I have occasionally used it in my “other” job as shorthand, I think it’s a pretty odd description to use for a genre that is far more than noir - - in fact, Scottish crime may include some of the maost varied writers and styles to ever be gathered from one particular country (running the gamut from MC Beaton through to, yes, Irvine Welsh who has strayed into the crime genre whether he wants to admit it or not).

So when Audrey (also known as Oddmonstr, for reasons I couldn’t possibly tell you) asked me on twitter to write about,

The new sub-sub-sub-genre splitting of noir: geographic noir, discount noir, cat noir, dog noir...

My thoughts turned to how I feel about the tartan noir tag and how sometimes I think we can get caught up in trying to compartmentalise writing when really, we should just be enjoying it. After all, I think its useful to distinguish genre to a certain degree and within genre there are always going to be subset genres because, well, that’s the way it works and the way the human brain naturally tries to rationalise the world. But sometimes we can go too far so that things become ridiculous. Especially when much of the time we have trouble enough defining the larger edges of a genre. Noir is a particularly good example because no two writers – even those considered noir writers – can agree on what exactly noir is (often other than defining what its not*).

It’s a very personal thing and that just makes any sub genre splitting even more insane.
That said much of the splitting is done in the name of marketing. Akashic’s “geographic” noir is a great hook for a fine series of anthologies**and of course I’m proud to have contributed to the second volume of Geezer noir in Damn Near Dead 2 – an anthology you must and shall read right now. Simply by adding X noir to a title you get an immediate feel for what a piece of work should be like.

That said, I think it can all get a bit much and pretty soon we’re going to get round to a suggestion I once heard from the author John Rickards of “Toff Noir”*** Which leads me to wonder whether all this sub sub sub splitting of a genre can lead to the impact of the genre’s overall tag being somehow diminished.

And in the end, as we struggle to categorise and contain a story with a genre, a sub genre, a sub sub genre and so forth, I have to wonder if we being to lose sight of what is important in the first place:

The story.

Because I don’t care about your genre. I don’t care about your sub genre. I just care if you sweep me away, make me care, make me feel, make me believe in your story.

This week's post was written at the suggestion of a follower on twitter. It was fun to think about something unexpected. So tell you what, let's do this again for next week. If you're on twitter, tweet your suggested topic/question for next week's column @russeldmclean with the hashtag #surprisefriday and I'll get one of my fellow DSDers to pick the winner out of a hat before I write the next column.

*I can’t stop thinking of my favourite ever definition of “cat” as being “not a dog.” Which I’m pretty sure is a Blackadder gag but feel free to correct me if its not.

**although one can still make the argument for exactly how many of the stories are actually “noir”.

***I say, Jeeves, that fellow’s skull just exploded when I blasted him at point blank range with the blunderbuss!


Dana King said...

"although one can still make the argument for exactly how many of the stories are actually “noir”

I agree with you, but over the full spectrum of crime fiction. Noir seems to be drifting toward being interchangeable with "crime fiction." That's fine, I guess, if one cares about such things. (Which I used to, but not so much anymore.) There is no cat noir, unless the protag dies by having a tail shoved down his throat until he suffocates. Cat stories are cozies, with extremely rare exceptions. If the cat participates in solving the crime, than it's not just a cozy, but it's--how can I put this delicately?--stupid.

Whatever they call it, it ain't noir.

John McFetridge said...

I like sub-sub-genres, the more the better. I didn't use to but then I started writing books that didn't fit into the main genres; not police procedural, not private eye, not hiest - hell, not even "catch the bad guy in the end," books.

A few days ago on Declan Burke's blog he quoted a review for one of his novels: "WORST book i have ever read. Period." Of course, like all writers who get a review like that he looked up the reviewer and found that her favourite books were things like, "I GAVE YOU MY HEART BUT YOU SOLD IT ONLINE," and it seems clear that what the reviewer didn't like was type of book that The Big O is, not the book itself.

I get a lot of negative reviews like this, too. People start reading my books expecting police detectives to solve murders, don't get that, and write reviews about what a crappy book it is (which it may very well be, but not because the detective didn't catch the murderer).

So, having more sub-genres to give people a better idea of what they're getting themselves into can be good. Because not all readers are so open-minded to say, "Just give me a good story." Lots of people have very specific things that make a story good for them and a few sub-genre categorizations might help.

Ben said...

I agree that the story must pass first, but once it's done, you have to label what you did. I'm with John on this, the more the better. It doesn't matter the subgenre, because the stories create it, and not the opposite.

Proliferation of subgenres is a proliferation of creative stories.