Did you ever stand in an art gallery, look at a painting and think,” it’s a girl squatting beside a bird’s nest.” Then the guy next to you says, “It’s a man walking a dog.” The two of you step closer to see who’s right, and the illusion dissolves into brushstrokes.
Books are like that. Why should a bunch of letters crawling across a page evoke so much emotion? “I loved that book. It changed my life.” Or “I couldn’t stand it.”
The reason? A novel is a partnership between the writer and the reader. The writer tosses out a few details, a dicey situation and a compelling character. The reader fills in enough to suspend their disbelief and accept what they’re reading as real. How they feel about a character depends on what their imagination has added to the words on the page. Every reader brings to the table all their biases, good and bad, to create a story uniquely their own. That’s why no two readers’ perception of a book is the same.
So why genres? Genres give us a convenient tag to place on a story, a marker that tells us whether the partnership is likely to work or not. They help readers find what they want.
Does that mean we should be restricted to our chosen genres? Not at all. In fact, many best sellers are read far beyond their selected devotees. A Publisher’s Weekly survey recently found that 55% of YA books are bought by adults.
YA Fantasy? How many of us have caught Grandpa George with his nose in Harry Potter? Teens in a burnt out dystopia, scrabbling for food? How many of us have seen Great Aunt Agnes reading The Hunger Games?
Why? Because any genre will evoke powerful emotions if the characters are well drawn and believable, the writing strong, the premise and plot compelling. And if these are wrapped in universal themes, the book will grab your heart.
Fans of dystopian fiction like a story about a world gone awry where a character fights to survive. But what if the author adds to that character the longing to be loved or accepted as he or she struggles to find the line between right and wrong? And what if through all their pain, they learn that some things are worth dying for?
Then you have a good story, well told. And that will always transcend genre.