A Guest Post by Scott Bury

Genres have definite rules. Some make sense: Gothic horror tales need a haunted house, and that house has to be big and dark with lots of scary-looking places for horrors to hide in and spring out at you. Romances have to have beautiful protagonists, because let’s face it, no one wants to fall madly in love with an ugly person. Science fiction has to be based on real science or the fans get mad, fast. Sure, there has to be something scientifically impossible, like time travel, or faster-than-light drives, but there has to be other rigorous science surrounding those things.

There are so many other rules, conventions and downright clichés that have a definite cultural aspect in fiction: Italian gangsters, Hungarian vampires, French supermodels, cheeky, fresh-faced Midwest girls applying for jobs at big-city newspapers.

Fantasy has its rules, too. Some of them are stated, some are not. And one of the biggest groups of unstated rules will make a lot of people uncomfortable: a cultural bias. It’s probably unintentional, probably innocuous. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing, but if you’re honest, you’ll notice in most fantasy on the shelves (electronic or physical) an English or at least British trend. Even imaginary settings feel definitely British, with English- or Celtic-sounding names for places, things and characters.

I recently read a blog post from a so-far unpublished writer despairing that she’s been told that her “voice is too modern for historical fiction.” I thought “What qualifies the person who said that to make such a judgement?”

Does it really make sense to have all your characters “speak” like this:

I studied her face and demeanor, not sure how to approach this sudden change in the lady I had known for years. Perhaps she was in financial straights herself and was bolstering herself up to demand rent or worse, evict me.

Sorry, it doesn’t make your fiction more believable just to use words that people rarely use today, like “demeanor” and “financial straights.”

I think trying to write in a style that you imagine that people spoke like hundreds of years ago in a different country is hopeless. Face it: every writer translates as some point. Doesn’t it make more sense to write in a way that your audience will understand? To use cultural and social clues that have meaning for your readers, instead of your imaginary characters?


Crossing genres

Who said that historical fiction has to be written a certain way? And what qualifies these self-appointed arbiters to judge what fits into a particular genre? I understand that writers want to sell their work, and take cues from successful writers. The problem is that emulating a style or a voice makes the boundaries more restrictive. The genre gets narrower and narrower.

On the other hand (which they may have bitten off), the zombies seem to be leading the charge across genre boundaries, with novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter. They’re comic, and maybe just novelties, but they cross that divide between historical fiction and the current zombie craze.

Crossing genre boundaries has led to other exciting new forms, such as the marriage of historical fiction and science fiction, which gave birth to steampunk.

Why not more? I’ve been promoting my book, The Bones of the Earth, as breaking all the rules. In writing it, I set out to cross several genre boundaries: historical fiction, fantasy and magic realism primarily. I also added elements of horror, action-adventure and romance. You gotta have a love story, right? Just don’t expect any of those plot threads to follow the path taken by others.

Look at the market. Readers love books that do something different. Sure, Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer scored big and keep repeating themselves. But books like The Hunger Games are breakout hits because they do something different, something not done before.

To all you writers who have been discouraged by comments that your work “doesn’t fit” a genre, or a style, or that it is not following conventions: keep going. That’s what the literary world needs.

Want me to put my money where my mouth is? Fine: I’ll give a free copy in the electronic format of your choice of The Bones of the Earth, if you can identify two rules of fantasy that I break. One is about the hero of the story, the main character, Javor. Check out the excerpt on this blog, as well as the free first chapter, Mystery and Ecstasy, available on my blog.

Good luck!

Scott Bury is author of The Bones of the Earth, a novel that doesn’t fit well into any genre or category. He is a writer, journalist and editor based in Ottawa, Canada.

Link to my sample on my blog: http://scottswrittenwords.blogspot.ca/p/sample-bones-of-earth.html

My blog’s main page: http://scottswrittenwords.blogspot.ca

Link to excerpt from FAGBTR: http://findagoodbooktoread.com/featured-books---excerpts.php