In this question, I expressed the opinion that there are few hard and fast rules to identifying genre. You can choose the genre you want to claim for your story based on the aspects of the story you consider to be the most important.

This was the accepted answer, but the poster then went on to ask another "What Genre is This" question.

Personally, I feel that this type of question is not useful and should be closed.

  • It's subjective. There are no concrete definitions of genre.
  • It adds little value to the site, as it is highly specific to the original poster's story and unlikely to help anyone else decide what genre their story is. This only encourages a proliferation of these questions, identical except for the specific story.

What does everyone else think? Close as subjective/argumentative, or do these questions have value?


4 Answers 4

As more and more writers start to go the route of self-publishing, I believe this question becomes more relevant and on-topic. As a writer trying to promote your own work, it would be useful to get feedback from your peers to see if they agree on where you are most likely to find your intended audience. Furthermore, there are an increasing number of cross-over books that address material in different genres. For example, contemporary fantasy and romance. Is it a fantasy, or is it romance? The lines are getting blurred!

You make a good point. But I am still concerned about how to handle such a question. As Ralph Gallagher points out, you would need a plot summary/overview of the book. I doubt that many people will provide one. –  John Smithers Jul 24 '11 at 13:59
lol - you'd be surprised! I am part of a very active writer's group that has over 300 self-published e-book authors. We see this question all the same, and most of these people are very good at providing enough information in a very succinct manner to allow others to chime in with their recommendations. –  Steven Drennon Jul 24 '11 at 14:59

I have to agree. Genre classifications are very subjective, and for the most part, aren't useful to a writer. It's going to be up to the publisher and booksellers how they classify a novel, not the author. And, IMO, if a person can't look at the major genre classifications (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, etc.) and give their work a broad classification, then something is most likely wrong with the piece.

And it's near impossible to tell a book's genre from the bare bones info the asker is giving. To determine a genre, some kind of plot summary or overview is needed.


I disagree.

Reader expectations are set (in part) by genre. Helping writers understand those expectations helps them understand their readers. Understanding the implications of a genre can be achieved by exploring many examples and counter examples. If you're going to dash reader expectations, it's best to do so knowingly.

Understanding genres is as important as understanding the structure of mythic hero quests, folk tales, fairy tales, three-act screenplays, five-act plays, expository essays, etc. Those all seem fair game for this stack exchange site.

Some brief skimming suggests that the what's-my-genre questions generate significant views, responses, and votes, which seems to indicate that a fair share of people here find the questions interesting, useful, or both.

I think my opinion has softened somewhat since I originally posted this. Writers.SE is a more subjective SE site than I'm used to, and I've come to better accept that. If such a question received multiple high quality answers - offering a genre and the reasoning behind it - I would be inclined to leave them open. However, they're still unlikely to be useful to the next person who wonders "what's my story's genre?" Perhaps it would be more useful to ask questions like "what are common properties of genre X" that would teach people to identify their genre for themselves? –  sjohnston Feb 11 '11 at 22:47
Also, we shouldn't rely on traffic stats to indicate the quality of a particular question type. Game recommendation questions on Gaming.SE also garnered lots of views, responses and votes, but were ultimately deemed bad for the community and banned. –  sjohnston Feb 11 '11 at 22:49
I don't understand the argument against looking at data on how the community responds to a certain type of question. (I don't know the backstory on the Gaming decision.) If a category of question is getting community interest and involvement, that seems like strong evidence that the community wants it. Over-constraining the topics is stifling and can lead to stagnation. If a category isn't somebody's cup of tea, they're certainly welcome to ignore those questions. I'd prefer to have a minimal number of "banned" topics and let the community decide organically. –  Adrian McCarthy Feb 12 '11 at 21:38

Note: My opinion on this has changed. Please see my edit below.

Subjective questions in of themselves aren't a problem, as long as they meet at least some of the criteria in the SE blog post Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. While it's debatable, I don't think these particular questions really meet more than one or two of these.

I'm also not seeing the value in having a list of genres on this site.

Edit, with a changed opinion:

I still think this question isn't the best question, but I no longer think we should close it. We should edit it.

Asking "what genre is this story" is a very localized question that's unlikely to help future readers. Very good, but future readers could still be informed by seeing the process of assigning a genre to a story.

Think of how many sites treat shopping questions: Rather than say "buy X", show the asker what they need to look for. This process helps the asker and helps future visitors. If their situation isn't identical, they can at least learn from the process - which is now more visible.

So, rather than ask "what genre is this?" it would be better to ask how to assign a genre to this story, and ask what the advantages are to different genres.

One can also just answer these questions by telling the question author what the advantages of various genres would be, and indicate how their story fits into the big picture. (That last was actually done in one of the answers.)


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