Musings from a Genre Author

Everything important I learned about genres, I learned from Shakespeare.

Okay, I'm fudging that a bit. Shakespeare combined romance and comedy. This may be why I have always thought that sex is inherently funny. The third Shakespearean genre was history.

Histories are the oldest type of story, going back to when the first proto-human told his family what happened during the hunt. When a headsman commissioned a good storyteller to spread word of his prowess, the bardic tradition. Bards are the direct ancestor of the journalist, propagandist and novelist.

The difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is that genre fiction has to fulfilled a defined expectation as well as tell a good story well.

In a Science Fiction story, there must be some scientific speculation that shapes the story's setting, plot and/or characters. In Fantasy, the change in the setting or characters can be magical, but, like Science Fiction, once the rules are set, the author has to follow them.

In a Mystery, there must be a mystery to be solved. In an Adventure, there has to be a quest to fulfill. A Thriller must keep you at the edge of your seat. A Cozy, not so much. It's all about avoiding the uncomfortable aspects of life like graphic violence and sex in favour of concentrating on the puzzle being solved.

A Cozy can't be a Thriller, but it can be Science Fiction or Fantasy as well as being a Mystery. A Horror novel might be a Mystery and a Thriller as well or Science Fiction or Fantasy. Lots of genre-mashing is possible. I know. I've mashed them. I've got a Western Historical Romance that's also a Cozy Mystery (complete with small town and limited suspects): Under A Texas Star. Then there's my Near-future Detective/PI Mystery with elements of a Cozy and Procedural: Deadly Legacy.

You can mash but you can't change the nature of the key ingredients.

A Romance is not a Romance if there is no Happily Ever After for the main characters. It might be a literary/historical love story, like Gone with the Wind, or a tragic love story like Romeo and Juliette, but it isn't a Romance. Sweeney Todd's daughter gets a happy ending, but the story, as told through the musical Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is a tragedy with a basically decent man descending to murderous revenge.

Fashions change. Fifty years ago a Cozy almost guaranteed a village full of picturesque cottages and eccentric characters. Now you can expect a) a hobby; b) recipes; c) a pet who helps solve the mystery; or d) all of the above. What is considered graphic violence and/or sex has changed. The basic constraints on a Cozy remain the same.

Romance may be same sex or cross-species (if Science Fiction or Fantasy). I think you could even make a good argument for including the Bromance in the genre. But the protagonists always get a HEA. That's what makes a romance a Romance.