Worldbuilding with Bonsart: What is a Genre?

What is a genre? I have often defined Steampunk as a subgenre of Science Fiction. But, what is (sub)genre? Before we get started, I'll be discussing two things. First, how genres are perceived by the public. This, however, will mostly be a rant for your amusement. In the second part, we'll discuss how genres are useful to the writer.

Public Perception

We all have a vague idea of what a genre is. Lets say the Super-hero genre, which we associate with stories related to spandex-clad super-powered people fighting evil geniuses or alien invasions.

Things got a bit more complicated when we mention Fantasy. Wikipedia alone mentions over 30 subgenres (including Dieselpunk for some reason).

I think it's fair to say that Lord of the Rings is the definitive example of (General) Fantasy, although there are probably a few readers out there going to tell me it's this or that subgenre. Leaving that aside. The tropes of fantasy include fantastical races, magic, anthropomorphic trees or mountains, and other worlds created by gods. Powerful heroes going on journies of self-discovery. You get the idea.

But then there are the many, many flavors. My favorite series are Berserk, Elfquest, and the earlier seasons of the Games of Thrones TV show. I like them because they are grounded. Conceptual in a sense. Tales that are as much about the world itself as it is about the characters. And they don't have every imaginable race like D&D.

This is a bit of a tenant, but I never liked D&D. It's just everything. I get it. It's a game. Game masters make up new shit all the time, and that's get reflected in the world. But there is no sense of mystery. Characters come across a monster or some hidden race. Oh, look. Another race. It's all treated as mundane and there little sense of discovery. And that is not what these are supposed to be. They tend to be about ass-kickers kicking-ass riding dragons to music by Glory Hammer.

This is all subjective, right. Point is, that we accept instinctively there are such things as subgenres because some types of fantasy are not like the others. Now, I think there are too many. Too many in the sense that many labels are so similar there really is no point in them existing. And I'm sure the writers among you have met 'the one' that proclaims his/her work will be so unique it will start a whole new genre the world has NEVER SEEN BEFORE! Only it either never finished or that bad- Anyway.

Here is the thing about all labels and genres. Mostly these are used for marketing reasons. This book is X-Punk. And the reader goes, "Oh, I like X-punk." You get the idea.

The other is, that authors, want to appear unique by inventing new labels. Not a good reason, but understandable. Now...


Too often, genres are used as descriptors of individual works of fiction rather than a collection of works that share a common source of inspiration. This is fine from the consumer's point of view, I suppose. But the public and critics alike ignore the creative process that leads to the final product.

Bioshock is a great example of this. People just assume that the video game and setting look the way they do because it's a whatever-punk. Seriously, pick a 'punk' and you'll find Bioshock has been called that. Steampunk, Dieselpunk, Decopunk, Teslapunk, Biopunk, Oceanpunk, Hydropunk, Aquapunk, Wrenchpunk (!) and Retro-futurism. Was kinda surprised to see Retro-futurism in this list. But what do any of these labels mean? Are there any other examples of Wrench Punk? It's one of the reasons I just gave up on making sense of all these subgenres. Anyway...

The problem here is that labeling any story as Something-punk omits how a work of fiction, or a game, becomes a finished product. Bioshock was put together to create a credible world for the players to immerse themselves in. Some elements are there because the developers needed a solution. Others because they came across things in the real world that inspired them. Most creative projects didn't end up as intended. For example, no one starts with the idea of making a terrible movie. Great cinema can be thwarted by faith. Actors dying during production, natural disasters destroying priceless sets, equipment malfunction, or just sheer incompetence.

The same goes for brilliant scenes in cinema. Iconic moments can come together by chance, which I will demonstrate. But first, let's discuss the meaning of the word 'iconic'.

There is this belief that creators can make something 'iconic' by design. Iconic is a popular phrase used by marketers and self-promoting creatives. For example, arguably the Associates of Ishtar look iconic with their masks and timeless aesthetic. Some would consider Anwin to be a mascot of the series. I mean look at her. She's adorable!

And maybe, in the context of the series and its community, it is. But is not Iconic in the way that the Android of Metropolis is, or the Big Daddies from Bioshock. Iconic means there is a deeper meaning there that goes beyond its franchise. Metropolis was a milestone in scifi movies. The Big Daddy represents environmental storytelling and immersive gameplay. Thor's Ham