Once again I’m wrestling with figuring out the genre of my novel. Anyone else who’s run into this particular problem, raise your hand. Yes, I see you all. Seriously, do we really care which category each book falls into, so that we can have it come up under a category search or shelve it in a bookstore or organize our own libraries by subject? Apparently we do.
They say there are only five different plot lines in the world. Or is it six? Or seven? Even 36? (Try Googling this, people have been hard at work on this vexing question for years and years.) Apparently, we just repeat the same stories over and over. Everyone who thinks her or his novel is its own special snowflake, different from all the others, is—Eh, no. That snowflake thing was found to be untrue. There are 35 different snowflake shapes and people are even wasting time grouping and labeling bits of snow. So there have to be duplicate stories. We’re just all re-imagining Twilight into 50 Shades of Grey and Emma into Clueless. Not really, right? I mean, is 50 Shades of Grey the same as Twilight? Let’s face it, it’s not. Because of, well, certain details. Like one has vampires and the other doesn’t. (Gonna keep this post G-rated, people.)
Why is it that we have to categorize everything? Wait, I’m sure there’s some super interesting psychological reason that humans need to put everything in carefully-labeled boxes and have all the same things together. Who remembers being told (in song) to choose which “one of these things is not like the other” on the kids’ TV show Sesame Street? You don’t need to raise your hands for that one. I mean, I really don’t know what all this sorting things into the groups of the same things is about. Hold on while I finish my Solitaire game, just need to move this six of hearts on top of the seven of hearts so that all of the hearts will be together and satisfyingly complete.
Anyway, none of this is helping me choose a genre for a novel that’s part fantasy, part romance, and part war story. Even looking at some of these so-called universal story forms isn’t helping. Okay, I didn’t really think it would help. I mean, I can’t very well write in a query letter that my story is a combo of “man in a hole” and “boy gets girl.” (All of you true literati will recognize those as two of Kurt Vonnegut’s story “shapes,” yeah? He also had graphs.) Though it might be worth it to try that angle in the next iteration of my query letter. Will the great Kurt Vonnegut’s name in a query get my novel noticed? An experiment for another blog, for sure.
Are there conclusions to be drawn from any of this? Let’s see. People like to categorize things. Novels, like snowflakes, can sometimes be the same enough to be placed in groups together. So can people. Some of us, and our books, may have fallen through different atmospheric conditions and air temperatures and collected more or less water vapor on the way down, changing us in intricate and complex ways. Okay, that’s the snowflakes again. But you get the idea. Thing is, within our groupings and categories are such worlds of difference and diversity. Or, there’s infinite diversity in infinite combinations. (Which happens to be a major tenet of the Vulcan philosophy. Star Trek alert!) We should recognize our similarities while celebrating our differences. My book is unique. But it’s also a lot like many other books. I can live with that. Now I only need to find some comps . . .