I’ve probably mentioned this subject before, but I thought that I’d talk about time-specific genres of fiction, comics, games etc… today and how they can be used in imaginative ways.
Although the major genres of fiction (eg: horror, comedy, tragedy, romance etc…) are pretty much timeless, there are usually sub-genres that become popular for a few years, before either fading into obscurity or becoming a ordinary part of the whole genre.
To use an example that I’ve given before (I can’t remember exactly when), splatterpunk horror fiction isn’t really a thing any more – for the simple reason that the splatterpunk genre allowed “mainstream” horror fiction to become more gruesome. There aren’t many “splatterpunk” novels written today, because a story that would have been considered “splatterpunk fiction” in the 1980s or 1990s is now just considered “horror fiction”.
The same thing is true, to a lesser extent, with the cyberpunk genre and mainstream science fiction. Even so, something that is clearly within one of these old sub-genres is inextricably linked to the time when that genre was popular – even if it’s made years or decades later.
This happens for several reasons – the first is that new sub-genres tend to reflect the attitudes and the zeitgeist of the time that they were created. The second reason is that, when people create new things in these “old” sub-genres, they tend to be inspired by things that were originally made when these sub-genres were still new.
What this means is that, if you make something if one of these old sub-genres, it will have the rather peculiar quality of seeming both new and old at the same time. For example, there’s something strangely uncanny about seeing a B&W “film noir”-style film where all of the characters use mobile phones.
But, one of the potential problems with taking this approach is that your story or comic can seem somewhat contrived – although this can be both a good and a bad thing.
For example, quite a while ago, I read an extract from a modern 1980s-style cyberpunk description of someone surfing the internet in the present day. It sounds really cool until you realise that, for the most part, it’s just a fancy description of something slightly mundane. But it still sounds really cool and, for a split second, it makes you think about the internet in a very slightly different way.
When done well, telling a new story in an old genre can make us see the world around us in a slightly different way. It’s kind of a similar thing to when I saw “Avatar” at the cinema quite a few years ago. This film is a modern 1990s-style ecological sci-fi/ fantasy movie (I mean, the genre and atmosphere of the film is quite 1990s-like, even if it uses modern CGI graphics). It seemed a bit random and slightly contrived when I was actually watching it but, the instant I stepped out of the cinema, the world around me seemed a lot more lush, green and verdant than it usually did.
Once the audience gets over the slightly contrived nature of telling a modern story through the lens of an “old” genre, then it can shape the way that they view the world in all sorts of subtle ways. Of course, this effect is only temporary – but it can still do something that more “realistic” stories can’t do.
Not only that, there’s also something to be said for “contrivance” itself. It’s imaginative. These days, stories are respected more if they’re “realistic” and, although modern realism might be interesting in a few decades’ time, it’s still kind of “ordinary”. In my opinion, the whole point of fiction is that it should be something more than real life. It should be something that takes the audience to interesting places, shows them things from a unique perspective and gives them the building blocks to tell similar stories inside their own imaginations.
Doing the slightly “contrived” thing of telling a story, even a realistic one, in an old genre puts a little bit of distance between the story and the reader. It proudly declares the story to be a work of imaginative fiction and it invites the reader to actually use their own imagination too.
Not to mention that there’s just something incredibly cool about seeing old genres brought back to life. If you’re a fan of an old genre (eg: cyberpunk, splatterpunk, Lovecraftian horror etc..) then there’s just something awesome about seeing new things appear in it.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂