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Genre theory and the practice of genre fiction : a tightrope in the dark

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:46 authored by Burch, LT
I set out to understand genre by reading from the theory, but ultimately this project came to demonstrate the synergies between practice and theory, and the necessity for a writer to be conscious of those synergies. My interest in genre arose from the simple fact that I am a writer of genre-driven fiction, and faced by a marketplace destabilized by new publishing and distribution technologies, I wanted to understand what it meant to engage with the genres of my choice. Reading genre theory alone proved insufficient to describe genre as it is understood in the popular fiction community. A more complete description of genre was obtained by invoking reader/reception theory and interpretive communities, and by examining texts in sociology and post-modernism which considered the implications of genre as a commercial concept. The breadth of theory necessary to encompass the idea of genre in popular fiction suggests that the writing of such fiction is not a simple exercise. Evidence points to the need for a writer to have an individual and highly detailed theory of pastiche derived from, and closely aligned with, their chosen genre. This theory must incorporate not only elements of style and tropes from the genre, but must reflect a knowledge of the aesthetic, political, and ethical regimes of value that are reflected in the work and the institutional and industrial contexts within which a given genre or sub-genre is produced, consumed, and critiqued. This understanding of pastiche led directly to the development of the creative piece associated with this research. I chose to work within the steampunk genre, and wrote a poem that is a pastiche of Byronic poetry, designed to add complexity, depth and backstory to a forthcoming steampunk novel. The poem, following the theory explored in the exegesis, is a genre-guided pastiche designed to illustrate the way in which a theoretical understanding of genre can both shape a work for its intended audience, and extend the boundaries of the genre itself. Synopsis -- The Queen of Bedlam The Queen of Bedlam is a narrative poem in ottava rima, a form made famous by George Gordon Byron in Don Juan. The use of ottava rima is a nod to Byron who appears pseudonymously in The Queen of Bedlam in the role of the character Harold.‚ÄövÑvp The poem tells the story of Maeve, the last Fairy Queen and her decades-long imprisonment inside the walls of Bethlem Hospital under three generations of Doctors Monro ‚Äö- men who, in the role of Chief Physician, did much to build the reputation that made Bethlem a byword for cruelty and madness. Trapped by dark magic, Maeve contrives to hide herself and to be forgotten by the outside world until she can find someone to take her place ‚Äö- a young man of Fairy blood. Unfortunately, young Harold is beguiled by the discovery of his Fairy power, and instead of freeing Maeve he strives to return England to its former, magical state. Meanwhile, the last Doctor Monro ‚Äö- Thomas, the Iron Doctor ‚Äö- discovers Maeve, and sets about destroying the Bedlam Court to capture her and study her powers. Harold intervenes to defend her, but he is overpowered and saved only by Queen Maeve herself who is killed by the Iron Doctor's machines, banishing fairy magic from earth for all time. The Queen of Bedlam is intended to serve as an adjunct to a steampunk novel of the same name. It utilises a range of common steampunk tropes including romance and arcane science, and calls on a number of themes important to the steampunk genre including questions of female social roles, industrialization, and personal honour. It is furthermore a deliberate pastiche of Byron, acknowledged as such, thus underscoring the issue of pastiche which is central to the theoretical underpinnings of this study. While the poem is intended to be broken up and distributed through the novel as chapter-headers, it nevertheless stands on its own, offering readers of steampunk both a unique challenge, and an additional path to the desired qualities of suspension of disbelief and narrative immersion.

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