Two Things To Do When You Find An Obscure Genre (Other Than Internet Searches)

Well, I thought that I’d write about obscure genres today. In particular, what to do when you find something in an interesting obscure genre – but don’t know what else is in it or what makes it so distinctive. Although this has happened to me a couple of times (and I’ve probably written at least one article about it before), the thing that reminded me of it this time was listening to a song by The Beatles called “For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”.

It’s this wonderfully weird vaudevillian circus-themed song that has a really distinctive atmosphere that is both creepy and amusing at the same time. It suddenly made me think about the “evil circus” genre (I think this is what it’s called) and I started trying to think of other examples of it for a list-based article about the genre. But, I could only think of about three or four other things that came close to fitting into this genre (eg: Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes“, a few parts of the movie “Paprika”, a level from “Blood” and two segments from “Silent Hill 3).

Noticing that this list was probably fairly incomplete and/or partial, I thought that it would probably be better to come up with a more general list of things to do if you find something interesting in a random or obscure genre that you don’t know much about.

I’ll also focus on non-internet ways to do this because, when I tried to talk about internet searches in the first draft of this article, it sounded really patronising and obvious. Plus, although the constantly increasing amount of stuff being put on the internet means that we live in an age when finding something cool and then thinking “How do I find anything else like it?” isn’t as much of a problem as it was even a decade or two ago, it also means that you don’t really get any of the fringe benefits of the “old school” methods I’ll be talking about in this article.

1) Passive searching: This is more useful if you’re looking for something that is hard to define, if you aren’t in a rush and/or if internet searches aren’t helpful. In short, just carry on enjoying lots of different creative works that interest you until something similar shows up again. If you’re the sort of person who reads, listens to music, plays games etc… regularly, then it will probably happen at some point. But, don’t expect it to happen that quickly. Still, it is really cool when everything just falls into place.

For example, in late 2008, I read “Lost Souls” and “Drawing Blood” by Poppy Z. Brite. The lush, poetic and vivid writing style in these novels really amazed me, but I had no way of giving this style of narration a name.

A little under a decade later, I was going through a “1990s films” phase and ended up watching the film “Practical Magic” . I learnt that it was based on a book by Alice Hoffman. Out of curiosity, I found one of Hoffman’s other novels and was amazed that it used a vaguely similar writing style to the two novels I mentioned earlier. Since all of the novels I’d seen this style in were from 1990s America, I thought of this writing style as a “1990s America” thing, which helped me to think of it in terms of time and place.

In a totally unrelated comment on this site, someone recommended Ray Bradbury’s 1960s novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” to me. Eventually, I got round to actually reading it and – to my delight – I suddenly realised that it was probably the inspiration for this “1990s America” writing style I’d been trying to learn more about. Bradbury’s writing style was like the ones I’d seen before, but turned up to eleven. Suddenly the pieces fell into place and I had a much better definition of what this writing style was. Not only was it inspired by Bradbury, but it was also a slightly more understated 1990s version of the psychedelic 1960s too.

And all of this came from just knowing what interested me and/or looking for creative works that I thought I’d enjoy. It took a decade, but I gained the knowledge I’d been seeking. So, if you found something in an interesting obscure genre, then you’ll probably find out more about it if you just keep looking for things that interest you. It might not happen for years, but it’ll probably happen. Just enjoy the journey. In the meantime, you can always do some…

2) Study and creativity:
In short, if you can’t find anything else in an obscure genre that interests you, then make it yourself. Even if you’re fairly inexperienced at creating stuff, then it’s still worth having a go at this.

Begin by carefully and closely studying the creative work you’ve found and find a way to break it down into it’s most basic and generic elements (which can be described in just 1-3 words and aren’t specific to the thing you’re looking at). Be sure look for things like over-arching themes, prominent colour palettes, unusual techniques, emotional elements etc… too whilst you are studying. Then write a list of all of this stuff.

For example, if you’re interested in Sherlock Holmes, then your list of basic elements might include things like: “solving puzzles”, “complex crimes”, “genius and sidekick”, “eccentric detective”, “scientific study”, “formal narration”, “sidekick narrator” etc…

When you’ve got your list of generic elements, try to make something different that includes all of these things. Don’t write “fan fiction” or make “fan art”, make something different and original that also includes the basic elements you’ve found in the thing that interests you. Yes, it probably won’t be as good and – depending on your skills – you might even have to work in a completely different creative medium, but the experience will teach you a lot. It’ll also mean that your next attempt at making something will be a little bit better because you’ve had some practice.

Not only will this lead to you actually adding something to an obscure genre but, if you’re doing it right, then you’ll probably “fill in the gaps” by taking inspiration from other things and/or using your own creative sensibilities. This will result in better work than just simple “fan fiction” or “fan art”, because you’ll actually make something that is your own distinctive interpretation of the genre. You’ll also bring in new things from outside the genre that will make it more interesting. It’ll be something that, if you’ve had enough practice, might even inspire other people – and this is also how new genres also get started too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to learn more about fascinating (but slightly obscure) genres of fiction, comics, art, games etc.. This is mostly because, a few years ago, I knew relatively little about the cyberpunk genre. Yes, I’d seen and read a couple of famous things in the genre – but I was eager to learn a lot more about it.

But, whilst I’m not an expert on it now, I know significantly more about the genre than I used to (to the point where it turns up in a lot of my art, and some of my fiction). In fact, it’s probably one of my largest creative inspirations.

But, how can you do this with obscure genres that fascinate you? Here are a few tips:

1) Look at the main genre: Generally speaking, more obscure genres tend to be an offshoot of larger and more well-known genres. If an obscure genre is slightly old (and had a “heyday” in the past), then there’s a good chance that more of it can be found hiding in more modern stuff from the “main” version of the genre in question.

This is mostly because things that are obscure today are often only obscure for the simple reason that they’ve been absorbed into the mainstream version of the genre. Likewise, people can only take inspiration from things that have been made in the past.

To give you an example, “splatterpunk” fiction was a sub-genre of horror fiction that was very popular during the 1970s-90s. At the time, this sub-genre was groundbreaking due to it’s nihilistic attitude and willingness to describe horrific events in high levels of gory detail. This was a far cry from the more subtle horror fiction of past decades that left a lot to the audience’s imaginations. Yet, although some classic splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker still return to the genre occasionally, there aren’t really that many “new” splatterpunk novels out there.

However, if you’ve read a few splatterpunk novels, then the mainstream horror genre might not be as unfamiliar as you think. Leaving aside stories about ghosts and modern vampire romances, one of the major effects of the splatterpunk genre (and one reason it doesn’t really exist any more) was to show horror authors that horror fiction can be gruesome.

These days, no fan of horror fiction bats an eyelid at highly-detailed gruesome descriptions, since such things can be found in “mainstream” horror fiction. Yet, a couple of decades earlier, they would be labelled “splatterpunk”.

In other words, one way to get to know a slightly old and obscure genre better is to look for things that were produced after it. Sometimes, these things will contain some elements of the genre that you are looking for (another good example is the film I reviewed yesterday. This is a modern sci-fi/action/comedy film from 2014, yet the set design is heavily influenced by old cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner” . Likewise, the modern TV series “Humans” has a lot of cyberpunk themes, even if the setting isn’t cyberpunk.).

2) Look at other mediums: Although I’ve only seen relatively few cyberpunk films and read relatively few cyberpunk novels, most of what I’ve learnt about the cyberpunk genre has come from other mediums. In particular, television, comics and computer games.

Often, if an obscure genre made a bit of an impact during it’s heyday, people working in other mediums will probably want to do stuff with it too. So, if you widen your search slightly, then you’ll find lots of extra stuff in this genre in places that you might not have expected.

To give you an example, the film noir genre was most popular in the 1930s-50s. These days, there aren’t many (if any) new classic noir-style films released by major film studios. Yet, the genre has had a fairly large influence on television, prose fiction, comics and computer/video games. So, if you’re looking for film noir these days, you probably won’t find it at the cinema.

3) Look for commonalities: Of course, if you want to learn more about an obscure genre, you’ve probably already done your fair share of internet research. You’ve probably, time and budget allowing, tried to track down as many things in this genre as you can. But, how do you learn from what you’ve found?

Simple, you look for what these things have in common. You study them carefully for general elements (eg: themes, visual elements, character types etc..) that appear often.

For example, one common visual element in many things in the cyberpunk genre is high-contrast lighting (using artificial light sources). This is where most of the lighting in a given location comes from things like computer monitors, neon lights etc.. and the rest of the background is kept slightly gloomy in order to allow the light to stand out more. This style of lighting can be found in numerous cyberpunk things – here are a few examples:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982).

This is a screenshot from the opening credits of “Ergo Proxy” (2006). However, not all of what I’ve seen of the series looks like this.

This is a screenshot from “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” (1999).

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015).

As you can see, the lighting in all of these things comes from artificial light and the rest of the background is kept gloomy to make the lighting stand out more. This is one of the visual “rules” of the cyberpunk genre, and you can learn stuff like this by looking carefully at things in your favourite obscure genre and making comparisons.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂