Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Order and Chaos In Genre

Genre fiction relies on order and chaos in many ways to define itself.

All mystery is about restoring order after chaos. Any variation of that moves away from the form to the point of failing the audience.

Horror often moves from order toward or into chaos. Schlock and camp horror even celebrates the chaos.

SF is about lecturing each other in detail how imaginary order works.

Fantasy is about escaping strict order to imaginary realms where emotional and mental elbow room can be found. Taken to extremes, fantasy has so much mental room that it becomes inadvertently chaotic.

A hero ventures forth from order to fight threats to that order, usually monsters. To do this the hero will die, be reborn, vanquish the threat, and thus redeem or save the order he can never then return to. He becomes an outsider as a sacrifice to the order he defends. A hero does all this selflessly and often reluctantly.

A villain threatens order, or undermines it for his own ends.

Genre fiction succeeds or fails to the extent a given story varies from established pattern. Fulfilling a pattern in a clever way earns accolades, thwarting a pattern, even in a clever way, risks audience rejection. Maintaining a pattern's order helps a story succeed in genre terms.

Order and chaos also apply to tone. The more orderly narrative, the more a genre audience likes it. Add any level of chaos and genre readers will either be confused by it and put it down as amateurish, or see it as literary and reject it bitterly.

Too much narrative chaos strikes genre audience as abstraction, which makes a genre reader feel as if something is being put past them, and this riles anger and resentment.

However, if you can make order look chaotic on the surface, and manage not to lose the order required to fulfill a given genre, it is possible, rarely, to prevail as "brilliant" or "a genius". Examples of this are Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man and the Zen influenced mysteries of Janwillem van der Wetering.

Strict attention to order and chaos defines genre and helps a story fulfill expectations and thus succeed in the market.

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