Imagine If Book Genres Were Like Theatrical Genres

When I think of book genres, I think of things like sci fi, fantasy, mystery, western, romance, and horror; when I think of theatrical genres, I think of things like comedy, tragedy, comedy of manners, musicals, dramas, and histories. The book genres tend to be named after the plot’s focus (magic, something scary, a love story, etc.). With theatrical genres, that doesn’t seem to be enough.

For example, a man and woman fall in love, but her father objects and forbids the marriage. The rest of the story is about the conflicts they encounter in their efforts to be together.

In a book, it would be a romance. In a play? I don’t know. How does it end? If one or more of the couple dies, or they end up parted forever, it’s a tragedy. If they marry and get rich, it’s a comedy. If there’s a lot of witty dialogue and mix-ups that lead to them marrying other people but living happily by having an affair, it’s probably a comedy of manners. If they sing and dance, it’s a musical.

This could go on for a while…

Honestly, theatrical genres are alternately vague and oddly specific. With some, it’s all about the ending. Others are more like book genres, and they’re about the focus of the plot. Yet others are defined by how the play is performed.

Can you imagine if books were like that?

I’m picturing a man going up to the librarian for help finding a book. He doesn’t know the author or the title, but he knows it’s in a magical world with dragons. The librarian frowns and ask, “how does it end?” The man frowns back and says he thinks it ends badly for all involved. The librarian leads him to the left side of the library, saying, “It’s in here somewhere. Don’t look on the right side. That’s the comedy section.”

Yeah, I know. No librarian would have a tragedy section without a fantasy tragedy subsection. But it’s a funny image (or not. My humor’s warped). On a more serious note (and partly due to flashbacks of trying to find plays in the library), maybe, we should be more grateful for fiction genres. As a general rule, they’re much better for browsing than theatrical ones.

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