Is LDS fiction a genre label? If not, should it be? If so, what is the genre description?We, as humans, seem to like to categorize things. Categorizing simplifies things, it brings order and understanding, and it helps us navigate our world. Categories also save us a lot of time when trying to share our life experiences with others.
For example, if I ask you out to dinner, would you rather I say we're going for Italian food, or spend the next 30 minutes describing each dish on the menu? When I say Italian, you have a general idea of what to expect—pasta and spices. You would be shocked to find wantons or sushi on your plate.
So, categories can be a good thing.
In literature, we use the word "genre" to designate story categories. According to dictionary.com, a genre is "a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like: the genre of epic poetry."
Again, if you ask me what I like to read, would you rather I say fantasy, or describe the plot line of the last five books I've read?
Literary genres are a categorizing tool. They let bookstores and libraries know where to shelve the book. Genres are also a marketing tool. A genre label helps to very quickly target those readers who will most likely enjoy and/or purchase the book.
As a writer, it's important to know what genre your book falls in and to follow the expectations of the readers who enjoy that genre. For example, if you're writing a western, you don't want to spend a lot of time exploring the deep emotions of your protagonist. If you're writing a romance, emotions are the meat of your story.
That's not to say that you can't bend the genre rules a bit. Bending the rules gives readers something fresh and fun and new. Bending the rules can also create a new genre or sub-genre—chick lit, for example, is a relatively new sub-genre of women's fiction.
However, if you stray too far from the genre rules or if you mislabel your genre, you're going to have a more difficult time selling your book, both to a publisher and in the bookstores. You'll also find disgruntled and disappointed readers popping up all over the Internet. (ahem.)
So now that we understand what genre is and what it does, is "LDS fiction" a genre label? Does it bring with it its own rules and reader expectations? Based on the uproar over books like Angel Falling Softly, who market themselves as LDS fiction, I'm thinking LDS fiction has, indeed, become a literary genre.
Based on my experience in the industry, the majority of LDS readers who pick up a book marketed as LDS fiction, have the following expectations:
- that one or more of the characters in the story will be LDS
- that the content will deal with the LDS experience of life in some way
- that there will be minimal violence, physical intimacy, and/or profanity
- that if there is violence, intimacy, or profanity in the story, it will be necessary to the story and not gratuitous, and that it will not be descriptive and detailed
- that although there may be trials along the way, good will be blessed and bad will be punished
- that the basic tenets and beliefs of LDS doctrine will be affirmed and upheld
There have been successful books labeled as LDS Fiction that do not meet all of these expectations. As I said before, bending the rules can sometimes be a good thing. But it's a fine line and what one reader calls bending the rules, another reader calls stomping the rules to smithereens.
Perhaps what Angel Falling Softly and other books that have created an uproar or have been pulled from shelves in the past are telling us is that the LDS Fiction genre has grown to the point that we need a way to label and categorize the varied expectations of the LDS reader.
I don't know that sub-genre will work. What would we label them? Clean LDS? Edgy LDS? Perhaps a rating system like what is used in the movies? Or perhaps, word of mouth is good enough.
What do you think?