Lovers, Warlocks, and Fighters: Talking about Writing in Genres


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Feelings:

Writing in Genres was originally challenging because I felt out of depth when it came to writing in the module’s chosen genres. I had previously thought that crime-writing and writing romance was not ‘my thing’. Over the course of the module, I changed my opinion when it came to crime writing because of my positive interaction with ‘The Hollow Man’ (Harris, 2019). I liked the unconventionality of his novel’s setting as both reader and writer. I feel like my new open mindedness is evident by my new interest in crime writing. Fearing that I could stray too far from the genre’s conventions, I decided to spend the 21/22 September redesigning Into the White Mist’s plot.

The creative process for this project was influenced by the innate predilection to want my works to be taken seriously, as genre is often maligned by literary fiction. This is a sentiment that I do not like, as, based on my own experience of reading crime fiction, genre fiction can touch upon important and deep, ‘real-world’ topics.


Evaluation:

At first, the module was a negative experience because I had no experience writing Crime and Romance fiction. While studying Writing in Genres, my experience turned positive because the reading list contained texts with which I could engage—challenging my previous assumption. Unfortunately, I cannot see myself returning to Romance fiction, which can be attributed to my negative experience of writing romance in this unit. On reflection, this is attributed to the reason that writing romance is not for me, and I preferred my experience writing fantasy and crime. This may be attributed to the personal fact that I was going through a rough patch in my own love-life, so romance was the last thing I wanted to write!

The dilemma of being compared, and seen as inferior, to literary fiction affected my experience negatively. This was due to the undue pressure of making the product of my writing experience on the same ‘level’ as literary fiction. This was accentuated after reading the assessment criteria; I learned that defying writing tradition too much would mean I will not be able to demonstrate my “ability to deploy structural, stylistic and imaginative features of the chosen form or genre”.

However, the joy I found in writing within this module, neutered the negative effects of the restrictions and stresses of my writing experience. I was really motivated to carry on writing from the great experience I had during the feedback workshops. Having other writers give me reassurance with positive comments, and criticism that was always constructive, transformed my whole writing experience into a productive one. The feedback workshop formed a vital link in my writing experience, where edits would be suggested and later implemented, creating an improved piece that would also be evaluated by my peers. 


Analysis:

On reflection, I know that previous reads like ‘Da Vinci Code’ (Brown, 2003) impressed an improper understanding of genre writing, dissuading me from engaging with them.  Fortunately, this module’s texts were better at demonstrating the positive attributes of genre. For example, Harris’ (2019) ‘The Hollow Man’ shaped my perspective by its defiance of some detective-thriller conventionalities. ‘The Hollow Man’ possesses this through how Harris “squeezes out stories from fascinating places” (Harris, 2020)—such as the criminality beneath “Hampstead’s wealth” in all its “high-security tastelessness” (Harris, 2019: 1,7).

Genre writers face the dilemma of being compared, and branded inferior, to literary fiction. I was inspired by Val McDermid’s article Genre readers have less empathy? I’m not feeling that (McDermid, 2016), who argues that the distinction between literary fiction and genre is “outdated and misguided” (McDermid, 2016). This is because the distinction fails to consider that genre fiction—even those based in total fantasy—can touch upon deep and important issues around race, gender, etc. From my own reading, one example is ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ (Mills, 2019)—a comic book series by 2000AD—which comments on religious hypocrisy and racial bigotry through Torquemada, who’s “catchphrase “Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!” [has become] so well known it ended up as graffiti on the Berlin Wall” (Mills, 2019). As I learn through this module, my preference for genre fiction is “a matter of certain books appealing to one’s socialised libido and capacities and thus being paired in perception with a greater or lesser sense of interest and desire” (Atkinson, 2016 p.260). In other words, as someone with working-class roots, genre fiction is more accessible to my reading abilities and taste, than the middle-class academic world of literary fiction—that often requires the cultural and social capital of said class, to be understood (Bourdieu, 1984).

Originally, I wanted to a bitter tone to the re-imposition of order through a ‘no-win’ conclusion. This was influenced by Sicario (Dir. Villeneuve, 2015), which explores the absurdity of America’s dream to win the ‘War on Drugs’. Villeneuve’s opinion that America has remained stagnant for 20 years before the film’s release in its War on Drugs (Rotella, 2015), adds an interesting spin in crime stories. In most crime thrillers, order’s reimposed by the good guys winning (Bishop and Bunting, 2010), which Sicario subverts by having Alejandro killing the cartel boss alongside his entire family—which did not bring the War on Drugs to any conclusion. The revelation that solving a crime has not made the world better, was so striking that I want to do something as powerful, hence the desire for a ‘no-win’ conclusion. While the word limit prevents from doing this, my current idea is for Into the White Mist to conclude after a trial—where homophobia allows the National Front murderers to receive a lenient sentence. Whether this will lead to vigilantism in my story, I am not quite sure, though the impression that nothing has changed will be tangible.

Two Parts Halved began with a letter—inspired by the recurring element of ‘love letters’ in romance stories, like those between Marianne and Willoughby in ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (Austen, 2012). While removed from the final edition, as its emotional description overlapped with those of the narration, the letter (see Appendix 2) was a valuable way to get into the emotions of the piece. Upon analysis, Two Parts Halved demonstrates the importance of having second opinions in the re-drafting process. Overall, the piece became a stronger example of my romance writing skills because of the feedback workshops. They motivated me to gravitate more towards romantic conventions, inspiring things such as the usage of flowers to symbolise character traits and foreshadow later points. For example, the male protagonist’s name—Cypress—symbolises mourning, representing his own mourning over the loss of his ex in Two Parts Halved. Showing Cypress and Aster’s fondness for botany adds tenderness to the characters, which goes hand-in-hand with romance novels and their focus on the emotions of their characters.


Action Plan:

I have learned the importance of open-mindedness with new genres. This healthier thinking habit will benefit my future writing career by improving my receptiveness towards writing differently. My positive experience writing Into the White Mist has motivated me to further develop two other crime fiction ideas I currently have. I have also taken the opportunity to send Into the White Mist to Alex Cane, author of ‘The Angels’. Into the White Mist will be the first chapter of one crime novel, where Clancy will travel to Manchester and Canal Street to unravel the mystery around the murders—battling a territorial police system and homophobia to find justice.

One good practice I will use in similar projects was world building, which I did for The Good Tommy (see Appendix 1). It was successful because it eased me into writing fantasy, which I struggled with on account of trying to make the extraordinary seem ordinary. Like the Characters of Tolkien (Day, 2001), I intend on writing a supplement that compiles the lore surrounding ‘The Long War’, building up interest for my book series set in the same world. I plan on expanding The Good Tommy’s universe over a few years, adding enough backstory to give the book’s settings a lived-in atmosphere. The Good Tommy is not the beginning of the first novel in my series—but rather a ‘taster’ of what to expect—just how Black Library’s novels contain micro fictions that complement the main story in a novel. So, The Good Tommy will be placed before the main story of the debut novel. This is the first short story set in ‘The Long War’.

If I decide to expand Two Parts Halved, then this romance piece will serve as the first chapter of a romance novel. Plot-wise, Two Parts Halved will continue with the male character as the protagonist—finding new love and completing part two of his letter. Ultimately, it will follow the typical beats of romance writing, with everything from ‘Meet-Cutes’ to a ‘happy ever after’ (Bunting, n.d). Also, I will try to re-write the first half of the extract with first-person narration— better fitting into the conventions of the romance genre. Again, this is if I choose to go back into romance writing.


Conclusion:

Upon reflection, I know that bad examples from each genre impressed an improper understanding of what these genres were about, dissuading me from engaging with them. In hindsight, this reluctance stemmed from exposure to absorbing unappealing content from these genres, particularly Brown’s (2003) ‘The Da Vinci Code’. His detective-thriller dissuaded me from the crime genre, because of its complicated web of interconnected conspiracies—making a difficult read. Wrongly, I concluded that crime plots span across numerous, tenuously connected sub-plots, which was not appealing as a reader.


Bibliography:

Atkinson, W. (2016) ‘The structure of literary taste: Class, gender and reading in the UK.’ Cultural sociology, 10(2) pp. 247–266

Austen, J. (2012) Sense and Sensibility. Bollinger, M. (ed.). London: Sovereign.

BBC (2007) ‘Efforts to protect red squirrels.’ [Accessed on 12 October 2021] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cumbria/7135345.stm.

Bishop, N. and Bunting, K. (2010) ‘Interview – Dr Nicola Bishop on the history of crime and detective fiction, genre expectations and the ten commandments of crime, “fridging” and the problem of gender in crime.’ Manchester Metropolitan University. [Online] [Accessed 13/10/2021] https://moodle.mmu.ac.uk/mod/kalvidres/view.php?id=3051085

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction. London: Routledge

Brown, D. (2003) DA Vinci code, the (us ed): A novel. New York, NY, USA: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group.

Bunting, K. (n.d.) ‘Romance Arcs Plot Beats Lecture.’ Manchester Metropolitan University. [Online] [Accessed 26/10/2021] https://moodle.mmu.ac.uk/mod/kalvidres/view.php?id=3051076

Day, D. (2001) Characters of Tolkien. London: Bounty Books.

Gibbs, G. (1988) Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle: Feel the benefit of experiential learning (2021) Makingbusinessmatter.co.uk. [Online] [Accessed on 12 October 2021] https://www.makingbusinessmatter.co.uk/gibbs-reflective-cycle/.

Harris, O. (2019) The Hollow Man. London: Abacus: 1,7

Kaltura Capture recording – September 25th 2020, 5:14:03 pm (2020) Directed by O. Harris. [Film] United Kingdom: Manchester Metropolitan University.

McDermid, V. (2016) ‘Genre readers have less empathy? I’m not feeling that.’ The guardian. [Online] 24th August. [Accessed on 12 October 2021] http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/aug/24/genre-readers-have-less-empathy-feeling-val-mcdermid.

Mills, P. (2019) The complete nemesis the warlock: Bk. 1. 5th ed., Oxford: 2000 AD Graphic Novels.

RAF Spadeadam (n.d.) Mod.uk. [Online] [Accessed on 12 October 2021] https://www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisation/stations/raf-spadeadam/.

Rotella, S. (2015) Sicario’s Dirty War on Mexican Cartels is Not Yet Reality. Sicario. [Online] [Accessed on 13 October 2021] https://www.propublica.org/article/sicarios-dirty-war-on-mexican-cartels-is-not-yet-reality.

Sicario (2015) Directed by D. Villeneuve. [Film] United States: Black Label Media, Thunder Road.

Urbandoned (2021) Mission to an abandoned military aircraft graveyard. Youtube. [Online] [Accessed on 13 October 2021] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zfnrlv0rPE.


What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, or by liking and sharing! Don’t be afraid to share your opinion!

© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021

(@_3lectrify_)

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