Wednesday, December 24, 2008


genre promise--the set of expectations a reader has when selecting a work from a particular category of dramatic narrative; the circumstances and arrangement of plot devices a reader anticipates (and a writer delivers) when choosing a particular story. Thus a reader embarking on a romance expects to root for a youngish woman who is often not aware of how attractive she is, rushing to an appointment of some consequence to her, when she is literally bowled over by a man who seems to be rude and unthinking. Thus a reader embarking on a mystery expects to be confronted with a corpse or threat of death, followed by investigation, pursuit, clues, and unraveling of the motives leading to the corpse and/or threat of death. Thus a reader of fantasy will expect a narrative tale in which magic, quests or chores to be performed, and the possibility of a portal through which characters from another time or place may enter will provide major structural moments. Thus science fiction promises the reader an extrapolation on an already established scientific principal to provide a quest, contest, or dramatic struggle. Science fiction may also promise extrapolations or variations on such "soft" or social sciences as anthropology, political science, psychology, and sociology. Thus do young adult and younger reader genres confront individuals of a particular age with moral, ethical, and physical challenges, the resolutions of which lead them to an understanding of how to cope with adult life. Thus do readers of horror fiction expect to be led on a fearful journey, where they are frequently confronted with such scary events as persons, places, phenomena, and thing. Thus do readers of historical fiction expect immediate and evocative transportation to an historical time and place where the details, politics, and social atmosphere play integral parts in the development and resolution of the story.

Genre promise in the twenty-first century has gone fusion, at least to the point where historical fiction has merged with such other genera as romance, mystery, suspense, Gothic, horror,YA, young reader; other doors remain open, limited only by the collective imagination of the writing community.

To instill one's self with the sense of reader expectations in a particular genre, read at least five of the first generation works in that field, verifiable from virtual reference librarians or that quintessentially knowledgeable reference librarian, Google. Then read another twenty published since 2005, focusing where possible on prolific authors. Clue: The verso of the title page of a book is called The Card Page or Author's Card Page, listing previous works from the same author. Additional Clue: The writer's mantra is "Never take the reader where the reader wants to go," which means to keep the genre promise in mind but deliver it later rather than sooner. If the young woman in a romance realizes immediately that the rude sort who bumped into her was Mr. Right, the story would be over. The late delivery of a pizza may cause the pizza to lose some of its warmth but the lateness will enhance the hunger for it. If the delivery is late because of some misadventure or whim on the part of the delivery person, story becomes another ingredient from the dramatic menu.

roman a clef--a novel in which the reader assumes the characters to represent actual, historical persons. Somerset Maugham, a well-known employer of romans a clef, is universally regarded to have intended his character, Charles Strickland, in The Moon and Six Pence, serve as a substitute for the painter, Paul Gauguin. Not so well known was Maugham's work, Cakes and Ale, which is thought to be a roman a clef take-off on the widow of the nineteenth century novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, and her subsequent liaison with Horace Walpole, a writer who was the Tom Clancy of his day. Not true, said Maugham of the accusations, although there was also a character named Ashenden, a name Maugham used later in a novel. Indeed, Ashenden was a former doctor, as was Maugham, walked with a limp, as did Maugham,

A roman a clef provides a tingle of excitement for those given to seeking and recognizing the real life counterpart of the characters and situations portrayed. The character of Mark Rampion in Aldous Huxley's novel, Point Counter Point, could easily have been D. H. Lawrence; the character Jem in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird is thought to have been Truman Capote, and Robert Penn Warren's novel, All the King's Men, is a fanciful-but-plausible substitution of the character Willie Stark for the noted Louisiana political figure, Huey Long.

Romans a clef provide the opportunity to satirize persons, places, things, customs, thus Pride and Prejudice. One of the ironies resident in the use of the roman a clef is the belief that it is more truthful in its depiction of character and event than a nonfiction rendition.

1 comment:

D.M. McGowan said...

Yes, mixing up the genre has been difficult for many readers but has opened new entertainment sources to others.
Personally, I think the primary component should be entertainment. If history, science, romance, etc. can be included with the entertainmnet, that's great.