Do I Have To Choose A Genre?

“Genre fiction is a strange place to live as a writer. Genres in general are unfortunate inventions that limit creativity and put ceilings on innovation for the sake of easy organization.”

My book is a weird one. It straddles the lines between a lot of different genres, markets, and audiences, and everyone seems to have a hard time figuring out how to categorize it.

Zombies Are Us - "Warm Bodies"

It has zombies, so it must be horror. Or maybe comedy. Horror comedy. But it also has romance, so it must be a ROMANTIC comedy…right? But it’s not really all that jokey, and its love story eventually takes a back seat to an epic conflict for the fate of the world…so what is it? An epic romantic horror dramedy?

Also, many of its major characters are in their teens or early twenties, so it must be a Young Adult book, right? But it also has sex and violence and “adult themes” like death and religion and the Meaning of Life.

What to do? What shelf to put it on?

This confusion has been part of my daily life ever since I started writing “Warm Bodies”. I know exactly what the book is to me, but it’s very hard to communicate it to other people without sounding really defensive and/or really pretentious.

Every time I meet someone, sooner or later they ask me what I do for a living. I say “I’m a writer” and flinch, waiting for the inevitable “What’s your book about?” Then I blush and sweat and clear my throat and try to condense the sloppy genre stew I described above into one or two sentences that can be understood over the noise of a party.

“It’s about an existentially tormented zombie who falls in love with a human girl and then tries to save his post-apocalyptic world from his fellow zombies…?”

“It’s about a zombie who wants to be alive…?”

“It’s…about zombies.”

I’ve been slowly whittling it down over the years as I start to care less and less about what people think. It doesn’t usually matter, because once they hear the word “zombie” most people either write me off as a trend-hopping hack, or their eyes go big and they yell, “DUDE. I LOVE ZOMBIES!” And then I stare at them awkwardly, wondering what it means to love a specific mythological creature unconditionally, no matter what kind of story it appears in.

There aren’t many equivalents to this in pop culture, are there? I mean, I’ve never heard someone yell, “DUDE. I LOVE MUMMIES!”

Genre fiction is a strange place to live as a writer. Especially if you don’t really think what you’re writing IS genre fiction. Genres in general are unfortunate inventions that limit creativity and put ceilings on innovation for the sake of easy organization.

But once I was a few pages into writing “Warm Bodies”, I had to accept that no matter what lofty literary aspirations I had, I was now going to write a Zombie Novel, and had better get used to the idea. So now I’m off to Comic Con, where I will debate the medical plausibility of magical walking corpses with people who have covered themselves in red gunk that’s probably fake blood but possibly ketchup stains, and try my best not to upset anybody.

“Warm Bodies” is my first published novel and it’s taken me on a thrilling ride, but I can’t wait to write something that doesn’t have to play all these silly games. If only I could make myself write one of those multi-generation family sagas where old people gaze at their grandchildren and flash back to picking apples in war-torn Poland or something…


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LK Watts says: July 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I loved reading this because I am in exactly the same position. I have just released my first ebook about my time spent travelling Australia and New Zealand. But I haven’t classed it as travel. Instead it’s a mixture of a memoir, humour, and erotica.
My editor said this might be a problem with marketing the book but I just decided to put it out there to see how it did. As long as you tag it with the appropriate words, then I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. And I have just passed my target I set for the first 12 months in the space of JUST 3 months! I wish you every success with your book. Please don’t stress too much over it.

Jacqueline Hopkins says: July 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm

This is an excellent post and one I can relate to. My first book I labeled as contemporary romance, since it was patterned specifically for that genre when I wrote it, but the other ideas I have and started don’t specifically fit into a genre and that’s when I use ‘fictional mainstream.’ I may be wrong on using that one for what I like to describe as a book that doesn’t really fit into any genre of today, but a multitude of them fit into ‘fictional mainstream’ combined genre.

Love your cover and good luck with whatever genre you write in.

Mark Cantrell says: July 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Great article. I can certainly relate to what you’re saying here. It’s just tragic that a culture has developed that demands writers and readers pick a genre and rigidly conform to the narrowest of expectations. Thou shalt not stray across genre borders…

Isaac Guest posts on says: July 21, 2011 at 12:25 am

[…] Marion did a guest post on YAMINATODAY.COM. You can read an excerpt below.. It has zombies, so it must be horror. Or maybe comedy. Horror […]