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Expectations Within Genres

Because of an upcoming Q&A with kick ass author Courtney Summers for YA Highway, as well as a review of her newest novel THIS IS NOT A TEST, I recently went into Goodreads to see what people were saying about her equally kick ass book. I'm one of those people who logs into her Goodreads account very occasionally, if that, but there was a definite trend in what people were saying about the book that caught my eye.

"Even if you don't like zombie novels," they said, "You'll love this book. The zombies are more of a side dish, and the awesome characters will remind you that it is indeed a Summers novel. Worth the read!"

Other comments said things like, "This isn't really like a zombie novel because the gore is so minimal. Plus, there's just so much going on in the story that isn't about zombies!"

The most eye-catching comments, though, were the ones where people went as far to say that they don't even consider the book a zombie novel at all. Um, of course it's a zombie novel!

While I am *really* happy that the awesome character development Summers is a master of has drawn in people who don't usually read horror, I couldn't help but wonder why there seemed to have been some sort of unspoken rule that because THIS IS NOT A TEST was a zombie novel, the fact that it had fleshed out characters and compelling side stories was some sort of surprise.

Of course a zombie novel will include terror and some level of gore, whether subtle or no holds barred. But the expectation that any zombie novel, or horror for that matter, will lack any seriously in-depth characters or side stories worth discussing outside of the initial Big Scary Thing, is a little disheartening. I won't lie, this is most likely because I am an aspiring horror writer, but I still couldn't help noticing the trend of comments.

And I'm sure these types of expectations branch out far beyond just horror. Paranormal books are often times expected to center around a super mushy romance, and dystopians, more and more, are expected to feature a genuinely kick-ass heroine who doesn't enjoy following the rules. Etc, etc, etc.

I'm curious as to why these expectations are set into place. Is it because past works in the genre haven't branched far beyond them, or maybe because the ones that end up doing really well showcase them? It's an interesting thought, and I'd really love to hear what you guys have to say.

Amy Lukavics

Amy lurks within the forested mountains of Arizona. When she isn't reading or writing creepy stories, she enjoys cooking, crafting, and playing games across many platforms. She is the author of Daughters Unto Devils (Harlequin Teen 2015) and The Women In The Walls (Harlequin Teen 2016).

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  1. I thought this same thing about Carrie Ryan's books. The zombies were part of the tension, conflict, etc. They represented the desperation and hopelessness that the MC's were up against. However, what impressed upon me was that there was so much more to the stories. I'm not a typical horror reader. I've read some Stephen King and I just finished Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers (not sure if this is thriller rather than horror). I think the books that become more than just "horror" are like finding treasure. I'm not sure where that impression has come from. Perhaps from the movies?

    1. Ah Carrie Ryan, another great example. I think you have a point that movies may have an influence on what people expect from horror, especially with the recent lack of super creative plots and characters within them.

      Which, speaking of, everybody who is a horror fan needs to see The Cabin in the Woods! :D

  2. Great post, Amy!

    I do think there are a lot of prejudices against certain genres, for one reason or another. It's very frustrating to me as a reader, because sometimes I find myself caught in those misconceptions or pre-conceived notions and passing up reading books that are genuinely awesome.

    I think you made such great points, and it's something people should think about in the future when they read - just because a book falls into one genre or another doesn't mean it's going to be good or bad. Genre is just genre, it doesn't define the heart of the book.

  3. As someone whose own book is getting criticism for "not being a zombie book", I totally relate to this post. My publisher has marketed my book as something that will appeal to fans of A FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, and though there are certainly walking corpses in the book, readers are expecting an all-out zombie apocalypse...and finding instead that the book is more of a historical paranormal with some necromancy thrown in. I have no control over HarperTeen's marketing or what readers expect, but I *do* know it hurts me personally to know people feel "let down" when the story ≠ flap copy. I think reader expectations--with regards to zombies--have been set up after years of viral-brains-gore zombies in TV, movies, video games, and books. Would anyone consider SABRIEL a zombie book? Nope, but it has plenty of walking dead. And alas, that leaves me in a sad position of disappointing readers.

    1. That's really interesting Susan. I definitely think there's a set black and white standard of what a zombie book will/should include, which is totally understandable- but in cases like this, when readers end up disappointed because of pre-conceived notions, it is unfortunate.

  4. I think Phoebe has talked about this before, but I definitely see this sort of thing (though not the same thing) happening with sci-fi. For some sci-fi fans, the genre label seems to be a measure of quality instead of just that-- a genre label. So, if a sci-fi book is poorly done or not very good, it's "not even sci-fi," even if it's about space or aliens. It's a little strange how, when we don't like something, we can't stand to put it in the same category with things that we like. Or, alternately, if we love something, we can't stand to put it in a category with something we generally don't like, which I suspect is what sometimes happens with zombie books. I wish we could just think of categories as strictly informational, rather than somehow associated with quality.

    That said, I do understand why that doesn't always work. Because someone who generally doesn't enjoy zombie-related things might still love This Is Not a Test, for example, and the genre distinction might be off-putting even if the book itself is not. I guess this means we should all be waaaaaay more adventurous? :-)

  5. I am avid fan of all horror movies and books. For me it is not matter who is the author, the most important they give satisfaction on what i read.

  6. It sounds like people focus too much on the 'brand-name' example of each genre ("Twilight" for vampire novels, "The Hunger Games" for dystopians, etc etc.) to the point where every novel that comes after it has to prove that it's NOT like its predecessor in most ways, if at all. I'm not too familiar with the horror genre in general, so I suppose if a zombie novel had a good plot/origin story, above average characters and dialogue, and did something smart and/or unexpected: perhaps making a statement on an aspect of 21st century life, or using a historically accurate event to unleash the zombie apocalypse (Salem Witch trials? Chernobyl? something with Abraham Lincoln? lol) I would consider that unique enough to break the mold.

  7. Really interesting post. I'm a huge horror movie fan and am starting to read horror novels as well (even currently writing one!). The horror genre has gotten a really bad reputation over the past few decades because there are so many hundreds of thousands of REALLY bad movies being churned out. Many of them are remakes or reboots, which are looked down even more because the writers are seen as too lazy to come up with their own idea (even though the "original" movies are often just as bad).

    Horror is a really easy genre for aspiring filmmakers to get into because you can make a really good movie without spending a lot of money. Movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity both had very low budgets and went on to gross more than double what they cost to make. There are tons of knock-offs of those movies as well as other low budget slashers like Halloween that fail to capture an audience the way their predecessors did. I think people expect fluff and not much depth from horror because such a large percentage of the horror movies/novels out there are just that-- fluff. Not that every horror movie has to be super complex -- there are plenty of great slashers out there that don't have a lot of depth but are still very entertaining. (The Cabin in the Woods is a great recent example of this). But even they have characterization and a good story.


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Item Reviewed: Expectations Within Genres Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amy Lukavics