Hildegard of Bingen's painting from her Scivias. Mysticism also has its own symbols, and it's a nonfiction parallel to genre fiction.

Hildegard of Bingen’s painting from her Scivias. Mysticism also has its own symbols, and it’s a nonfiction parallel to genre fiction.

I had a friend in seminary who once gave the most brilliant Bible study on apocalyptic literature I have ever heard, and she based it on romance novels. The hallmark of genre fiction is that all plots have the same basic Ur structure. My friend pointed out the ways that apocalyptic literature, with its common core of beasts, predictions of punishment for those in power, and promised redemption for the faithful, had the same level of predictability that romance novels share, with their wounded characters, thwarted attempts at true love, and final happy endings.

It’s important to know the genre structure in order to appreciate what you’re reading. I write in romance and women’s fiction, among other genres. Can’t Buy Me Love is classified by fellow romance writers as “Women’s Fiction with Strong Romantic Elements,” by reviewers as “contemporary romance,” and by women’s fiction and chick lit aficionados as chick lit or women’s fiction. Here’s my take on the genre differences:

Every single romance and women’s fiction novel follows this formula: Girl meets boy. They like each other. Looks like true love. Oh, no. Someone messed up big time. The one who did the dumb thing wins the other back. Now they have a happy ending. That’s the required plot for the genre. Women’s Fiction adds in friends and more focus on personal development in addition to the romance, so that the plot becomes: Girl feels lost. But she falls in love. That gives her more self knowledge. Friends and family help her solidify her future. Looking great with the love interest. Oh, no! Her past caught up to her. She’s going to use her newfound strengths to fix things. Hey, it worked! Happy ending for her and her love life.

The genres share the requirement of a happy ending, but they can be very different in tone and focus. Most romances stick to a tight, alternating he/she point of view. Women’s fiction often stays in the point of view of the heroine.

While I read a great deal of women’s fiction and a little romance, my preferred genre fiction to read is mysteries. They also follow a pattern, one with which more people are familiar. Detective has personality quirks. A crime or curiosity comes to his or her attention. He or she gathers clues. Danger ensues. The crime or problem is solved. [NB: I’m leaving out speculative fiction, because it has more fluid rules, though it is also a genre, of course.]

There is greater and less freedom in writing genre fiction. On the one hand, it’s fun to see how the basic plot arc is modified in each story. On the other, one must stick to the rules of the genre (happy ending, solved crime). What interests me about genre fiction, which far outsells other types of fiction, is that the pattern shapes the stories we tell ourselves. Genre fiction maintains a basically optimistic approach to life obstacles. I think genre fiction can be a buoy to hope because of that tendency.

What is your favorite genre to read or write?

Upcoming Dates to Note:

July 25th: Can’t Buy Me Love will be the Kindle Daily Deal in romance. Only 99¢ all day on the 25th! Buy copies as gifts for friends, or read it for yourself!

August 15: I’ll read and sign copies of Can’t Buy Me Love at the Barnes & Noble at Southpoint in Durham. 7:30pm