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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Using a Genre; Straight, Satire, or Deconstruction - Part 1

In this series of blog posts, the first in some time due to a variety of factors, I've decided to focus on the three major ways people use genres in general; playing them straight, satirising them, and deconstructing them. Each has merits, and none are set in stone. That's what lovely about them!

Playing it straight is something every author that has ever existed has done at some point. Whether it's through practice writing, or their published work on any scale, they will take a particular genre and use the straight approach for its portrayal. To be clear, this doesn't mean that someone has to play this completely seriously, or just focus on a narrative. There's a difference between satirising or deconstructing a genre and using it to communicate a particular theme or point. You can do one without doing the other, as many authors have proved. All genres are subject to this, but some show the distinction more than others.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the most notable pieces of fantasy fiction that is played straight. As old readers will know, my feelings on Tolkien are somewhat mixed. But even I'm going to admit that his work is more than impressive. It has scope, intrigue, drama, and a story that has inspired generations of writers following him for good or ill. He includes elements of comedy in the first book, but otherwise the story is serious, portraying the terrible events and troubles facing all sides defying Sauron's bid for global power, much simplified but still more than evident in the movie adaptation.

Many works of science fiction also play things straight, with those who adhere to scientific principals in most of their works being clearer examples than most. Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Azimov both create set worlds which often feature rigidly realistic rules (for their time) when it comes to space travel, scientific advancement, and artificial intelligence. The Robot novels by Asimov not only focus on complicated - or at least unconventional - murder mysteries, but also look hard at the social and technological differences between Earth and colonies on other worlds, and in later books how colonial planets such as Solaria and Aurora differ from each other.

Romances on all levels can involve any amount of raucous comedy or social commentary. Jane Austin's books are full of both witty dialogue and sharp criticism of the culture of her time, the class-driven society of Georgian England when what can be recognised as the prototype middle classes were emerging. Romantic elements are also added to a large number of stories, whether it's straight or LGBT, without it going into the realms of satire or deconstruction. Agatha Christie - while principally a writer of mystery - is somewhat notorious regard to romance, sprinkling in romantic interest and occasionally making improbably, questionable or even wince-worthy matches between surviving characters.

As with any form of fiction, movies, television and video games also share the differing takes on genres, and consequently have stories that play genre conventions straight. The majority of film noir such as The Maltese Falcon, Double Jeopardy and The Big Sleep are played straight and portray a depressing reality our detective (or in some cases murderer) protagonists negotiate during their journey. Video games can end up being criticised for taking themselves to seriously with their subject matter (many Call of Duty games and their competitors/clones are tripped up by this), while in other cases such as Fire Emblem and indeed most RPGs this seriousness is taken as a genre standard.

As with most subjects people write about, there are just too many to list within a single piece or even a series of pieces on the subject. So I think we'll leave it here for now. Next week, we'll be looking at approaching a genre from the angle of satire.

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