“Genre” publishing is what they often call it. The business side of the business has created all these boxes to fit books into, whether responding to reader expectations or creating them.
There’s my favorite box—Westerns. And there are mysteries, science fiction, fantasies, romances, thrillers, “chick lit,” and on and on. And each classification often includes sub-genres, such as Action Westerns, Historical Westerns, Western Romances, Western Mysteries, and Adult Westerns, for instance.
All this categorization is fine. Many readers want to know what they’re in for. The problem is, giving readers what they expect often gets carried to extremes, resulting in formulaic sameness and stagnation. Sometimes it gets downright mechanical and methodical—someone has to get kissed by page such and such, there must be a gunfight every thus-and-so many pages, there must be at least two-point-five incidents of some-such every so often, and that sort of thing. I have even heard of authors and editors creating graphs to chart expected events and adjusting the story to fit.
All well and good.
Except one would be hard pressed to find a widely recognized and highly acclaimed novel that adheres to any formula.
Lonesome Dove doesn’t conform to anyone’s expectations. Blood Meridian breaks all the rules when it comes to Western novels. Elmer Kelton traveled his own trail more often than not. I once heard him say that rather than being “six-foot-two and bullet proof” as expected in a heroic Western character, his were more likely to be “five-foot-seven and nervous.”
There are, of course, many other examples of successful novels in every genre that do not follow the formula.
So, when you have a story to tell, don’t turn it into ingredients for someone else’s recipe—tell it the way it wants to be told.