Tag Archives: genre

WRITING YOUR FIRST NOVEL PART FOUR: PLOTTING YOUR STORY

Sing to me, Oh Muse… “

                    — Ode to the Courage of a Child by Nicola Berardi: Father of Alexey

 

The muse.

Greek mythology tells of the Nine Muses, deities that served as the inspiration for writers, artists, and philosophers. The word muse derives from the Greek word “mosis” which means to “desire and wish.” Ancient writers would call on the muses as they began to write and to this day Muses are symbolic of “inspiration and artistic creation.”

Writers often joke about their “muse,” but I suspect each of us secretly likes that soft voice only we can hear urging us to write. In truth, our inspirations are triggered by anything and everything we observe or imagine.

Now, that your muse has spoken. The question is what do you do with the story idea swirling in your head?

In Part Three of our series, we discussed developing your story by beginning to write without a plan or creating your storyline by planning it out or plotting it. Deciding what your story is about is not the same as structuring the novel. In Part Four, we are going to examine how to put the pieces of your story together.

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Story vs. Plot:

First, let’s discuss story vs. plot. For many novice writers, the difference between these two terms is unclear. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines plot as the “the plan or main story (as of a movie or literary work).”  A story is told in a series of scenarios, or events, interacting sequentially.

Director Martin Scorsese offers the following explanation of story vs. plot:

“The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died, and then queen died of grief is a plot.” … Perhaps, in film, a plot could be said to be the sequence of (causally related) events that make up the narrative. The plot…it is what happens. Jul 29, 2014

Stories are about the characters’ conflicts or goals. It is important to introduce the protagonist, or main character to your readers quickly, I suggest the first page, to establish a rapport. If your readers like and identify with your character, they will be interested in reading to the conclusion of your story. We will be discussing character development in the next installment of this series, but clearly, developing plot and character go hand in hand. If you outline first, once you have fleshed out your characters, add their important elements to your plan.  

As a mystery writer, I respect my readers’ need to have a murder victim within the first few pages. I introduce my antagonist within the first chapter, no later than the second chapter, as I establish clues. It is imperative, regardless of genre that you keep the small nuances of your genre in mind. While it is a writer’s desire to be innovative, it is also important to remember why your reader loves the genre you write in. Don’t disappoint them.

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Story Structure:

One of the most touted methods of creating a plot in the writing world is the three-act structure, or the five or seven-act structure.  The problem is stories do not occur in three acts. Three or more acts evolved as far back as the days of Aristotle from natural stopping points within a story to provide intermission for the audience.  While there is a lot of information and instruction on this method of developing a story plot, the truth is stories are not built on any number of acts. They are crafted by identifying the conflict the story is based on, and the action needed to resolve the conflict.

There is some confusion with the three-act method with how the plots within a story unfold. There is a beginning, middle and ending of a story but they flow from each other and are not specific acts.  

The Beginning

The beginning section is traditionally used for exposition, the literary term for providing character information, backstory, any information that is pertinent to the story. (We will discuss how to present this information in a future installment of this series.)  You must establish your story, introduce your characters and reveal conflict that forces your protagonist to act. The catalyst for your story should be revealed in this section, murder, the discovery of a secret, a broken romance, whatever conflict your main character must overcome.

The Middle

The middle of the story is where many novice writers lose focus. Often nicknamed the “saggy middle,” it is the portion of the book where it is imperative to keep the reader engaged. Rising action regarding the story’s conflicts should drive this section of the book. A series of issues, some resolved, some not are presented, and the pace should vary. Give your reader time to catch their breath, a constant roller coaster ride will only serve to tire them.

In this middle section, your goal is to move the story on to its conclusion. Conflict should rise, the characters should be placed in further jeopardy. At least one main action scene along with smaller events should be driving the story, leading your character toward the total disruption of their goals or desires.

The Ending

The ending is where the conflict or goal of the main character is broken and then resolved. Never make it easy for your protagonist to reach their desired outcome. Place them in physical or emotional harm’s way, bringing them to the brink, then redeem them at the conclusion. The last scene of your book should (if you choose) reveal the aftermath of the story as you return them to a normal life.

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While we strive to be original and innovative in our writing, we need to remember that there are reasons we are governed by laws. Rules and regulations keep chaos at bay in the courthouse, Congress, or on the road. Writing rules, while not rigid, keep your novels from becoming chaotic. Following a tried and true structure provides you reader with an expected ‘friend,’ allowing their emotions to rise and fall as your unique storytelling draws them in.

Up next:  Writing Your First Novel  Part Five: Developing Unforgettable Characters

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Resources:

https://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/nine-muses-in-greek-mythology/

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plot

nofilmschool.com/2014/07/martin-scorsese-difference-between-story-plot

 

 

 

 

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Fantasy Genre: Fantasy Worlds –  Creating Imagination

Fantasy Worlds – Creating Imagination

Fantasy world

“The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes.”
― Lloyd Alexander

 

As a writer of fantasy, you are in control of your reader’s imagination. No other genre allows a writer to create a world for a story to exist in impossible ways. Consider a cloud city in science fiction story. Science fiction can suspend reality to a point, but the events, spaceships, and weapons involved require that there be some grounding in the laws of physics as we know them to be plausible. Those floating cities need anti-gravity machines to exist. Not so in fantasy, magic makes the cities float.

That is not to say that rules do not exist when world building in the fantasy genre. As discussed in a previous article, the magic selected or created for the story must have rules that are followed to be plausible.

Where to begin? You should begin with the plot of your story and your characters. Consider the adventures your character will have throughout the story and then imagine you are the reader. Where would you want the story to unfold? Let’s start with the basics.

The World

Your story can exist anywhere. Create an entire world, a hidden realm, or a magical world existing within a mortal world. The sky can be orange, the grass purple or crystal, the possibilities are endless.

Build your world by considering the following:

  • Time Period: Is your adventure in an ancient realm or a modern world? Much of the rest of your decisions regarding the world you create will be influenced by the time period you set it in. Agrarian, industrial or technological? Don’t forget to determine their calender.
  • Where do your characters live, forest, mountain, valley, desert? Near a river or an ocean?
  • Cold, hot, temperate. Does it rain or snow or is there endless heat? Are there major storms, with lightning, thunder, torrential rains, typhoons, whirlwinds? Or is the climate stable… perhaps due to magic?
  • Inhabitants: Describe your characters. Color of hair, eyes, how they move. Decide the clothing they wear. What is their language and is there more than one language spoken? What is their diet?
  • Flora and fauna: What animals exit? Are they used for food, burden, transportation, or recreation? Determine the trees, grasses, flowers, agricultural plants.
  • Dwellings: Do they live in wooden or mud huts, stone houses, or palaces, suburbs or the city. Single-family units or tribes?
  • How do they educate the population or those with magical skills?
  • What is their social and family structures? Their beliefs? How do they interact with each other? How do they care for the sick? How do they entertain themselves? Do they have common values or are they in conflict? Are they militaristic or passive?
  • History: How did their civilization evolve. Has magic always been a part of the world? What races of magical beings have been lost or still exist. If more than one realm, are they at war?
  • Employment: Do they trade or barter? How do people make a living? How are they compensated?
  • Transportation: Do they travel via magic, or beast, or in a mechanical vehicle?

Adam Johnson writes about the aspects of world building that often get overlooked.

Your world can be as fantastic as you want it to be. Never limit yourself when creating your world. However, you should start with physics that mirror our own. Meaning, gravity functions the same. Unless, your setting is an alien world but, the physics of that world must be consistent with what we understand about physics. This will keep the world at least somewhat familiar to the reader, making them more comfortable.

Consistency is key to plausibility. If you have made changes to your world, they cannot become an afterthought. Your world and your characters must be consistent, and any changes must be apparent and have solid reasoning for the change. Things should function as much like our world as it can while retaining the details that make your world special. (Such as the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The wizarding world had its own rules but, they were all consistent. Also, that world was hidden from the human world to show the difference and allow our minds to be more open to the concepts that she introduced after.)

It is your world but, it is not just about you. Your world should be somewhere that other people would want to live in. This means that your world should be so immersive that once the reader is finished, they are scrambling to find anything that will put them back in that world. It doesn’t just have to be friendly, it can be a treacherous world that no-one wants to find themselves in but, if you really capture that world in all its glory, the reader will be begging to come back.

Remember to ask yourself, who am I writing this for? Let’s not fool ourselves, we write stories because we love weaving a tale. There’s a story that we want to see come to life, and we take it upon ourselves to craft the story. With that being said, there is always an audience that we are writing for.

 

By Adam Johnson and Deborah Ratliff

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Resources:

https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/the-ultimate-guide-to-world-building-how-to-write-fantasy-sci-fi-and-real-life-worlds/

Quotations from an article written by Adam Johnson for the Facebook group Writers Unite!

https://www.jkrowling.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/world-building

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Authors:

Since Adam Johnson was a child, he had an insatiable craving for a great story. Whether movies, comic books, TV, he was hooked on the story. An invitation to play Dungeons and Dragons led Adam to write a backstory of one of the characters, and the desire to write fantasy was born. When not writing high fantasy, Adam is restaurant chain management and a tattoo artist. He also serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/D-A-Ratliff-594776510682937/notifications/

Blog; https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

 

The Fantasy Genre: Characters

The Fantasy Genre

Fantasy character

Fantasy Characters

 

“just because a mage wears the black robes does not make him evil.” 
― Margaret Weis

 

Fantasy characters. The moment we begin to think about them I suspect images of characters from our favorite books, movies, or cartoons begin to rise from our memories. Could be a witch or wizard, a dragon or troll, a superhero or an evil stepmother that reminds us of our favorite story. The question is not which character we remember but why. What characteristics of a fantasy character makes them memorable?

Fantasy stories are rarely simple. They are an incredible tale of the impossible told on an epic scale. With such a grand story there must be characters that are equally majestic. They form the core of your story and the conduit to complete the quest.

Overall, our main characters, the protagonist, and antagonist regardless of genre are the hooks we use to draw our readers into our realm. If we don’t provide a character that a reader can identify with the reader loses interest. In a fantasy, while there may be several main characters, the focus will always be on the one character who faces the ultimate conflict. Secondary characters also hold a very important role in the story. In addition to providing support for the main character, they carry subplot arcs to drive the story to its conclusion.

The Protagonist

The most important character in any story is the protagonist. If your reader does not identify with the protagonist, the quality of the story and other characters won’t matter. It is imperative to capture your reader’s heart for them to become engaged.

The protagonist is the hero, and in fantasy as in other genres, this character should possess the strength of soul and determination. Their commitment to the story’s goal and how they deal with conflict and obstacles in their path drives the narrative. Your hero should be flawed, hold secrets, be at times uncertain and afraid. The more human and ordinary the character is the more endeared they become to the reader.

Fantasy adds another level to the protagonist’s abilities, magic. Decide how your character will reveal their powers or skills or react to magic if they do not have powers. Is this quest the hero’s destiny or was he drawn in by accident? Does your character have a dark side, something that must be quelled to complete their task?

This is fantasy. Allow the magical tone of your story to flow through your protagonist.

The Antagonist

Ah, the evil genius. But should your antagonist be entirely evil? The answer is no. It is easy to assign only vile characteristics to a villain. Resist the temptation. As you give your protagonist flaws, give your villain some qualities that your reader can identify with as well. Remember, the villain thinks his motivation is correct. By giving your villain a reason for his evil ways, you bring depth to his actions. Weaving the villain into the lives of the protagonist and his sidekicks also strengthens the power of the antagonist to create greater conflict.

Secondary Characters

There will be sidekicks. There must be sidekicks. They provide a support network and are needed to show the human and vulnerable side of your hero. These characters may not always be physically with the protagonist, but they are an integral part of the story. In fantasy, the variety of characters is boundless and the more imaginative, the more interest for your readers. Think Muggles and Hobbits and dragons and begin to create.

Among the secondary characters you will find the following:

Best Friend: A single secondary character who is a confidant, loyal to a fault, someone, who would give their life for the hero. To create a stronger bond between hero and best friend add depth by disagreement, estrangement, competitiveness, or humor. Placing the best friend in mortal danger often provides the catalyst for the hero to grow and face the conflicts ahead.

Mentor: A classic figure in fantasy, the mentor gives guidance and educates the hero as he follows his destiny. The mentor, who may have magical powers or wisdom, could be someone familiar or a stranger, the relationship strained or close. At some point in the story for the hero to prove they have grown and no longer need their mentor, there could be an emotional parting of the ways.

Romantic Interest: We all love a good romance, and the fantasy genre is no different. A love interest also humanizes the protagonist, adding another layer to the hero’s vulnerability. Often a romantic partner can serve to challenge the hero to remain committed to the quest despite whatever adversities are encountered. Do not make the romance larger than life or it will overshadow the ultimate quest, keep the relationship grounded and real.

 In truth, these characters minus a magic spell or two, are characters found in any genre. The differences are often in the minute details. Be inventive, allow some characters not to be traditional. Never lose sight of the world you have created and allow your characters to reveal the magic it holds to your readers.

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Resources:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/fantasy-fiction

https://www.jkrowling.com/

https://www.tolkiensociety.org/

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Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

 

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/D-A-Ratliff-594776510682937/notifications/

Blog; https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

 

 

WU! Workshop: Fantasy Genre

Fantasy genre 1

 

The Fantasy Genre

 

According to “Cliffnotes,” Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least).

As “Cliffnotes” is wont to do, a very succinct description. Factual but an injustice to this wonderous genre. The very word conjures up mysterious adventures, characters, creatures and most of all magic. Fantasy is a tale about the impossible.

The fantasy genre is part of speculative fiction which includes science fiction, superhero fiction, and horror/paranormal fiction. These speculative subsets differ from fantasy in one major component, plausibility. The characteristics of these genres need to reflect a familiar world. We measure the concept of space travel against our knowledge of physics. To have a superhero character, people of “normal” abilities must exist. Fantasy does not need that restriction. Trees can talk. Horses can fly. And magic exists.

Neil Gaiman in Stories: All New Tails writes, “I love the word ‘fantasy’… but I love it for the almost infinite room it gives an author to play: an infinite playroom, of a sort, in which the only boundaries are those of the imagination.” 

Fantasy need not be realistic. However, there are common characteristics that must be present.

Characteristics of the Fantasy Genre 

  • Magic: Fantasy must include a system of magic and that system have established rules that are followed. This element of the story alone separates fantasy from other genres. Creating a unique magical system is one way to set a story apart from others. Remember, magic is a character in your story, create a memorable one.
  • Characters: The development of characters, while very important in all genres, is paramount in fantasy. The scope of a fantasy story lends itself to larger than life characters and to quite a few of them. While you will always have your hero and evil villain, you may have many main characters and strong secondary characters to drive the story.
  • The Challenge: The core of your story is the challenge facing your characters. Conflicts that both drive them toward and keeps them from their goals create tension and interest in your reader. With an extensive cast of characters, conflict can be internal, between friends or between enemies. To create a cohesive story, there should be one arcing storyline which includes all your characters striving for the same goal.
  • Environment: Where does your story exist? When you create your imaginary world consider its terrain, flora and fauna, its social structure, educational systems, entertainment, military, and how it is governed. The more intricate you construct your world, the more drawn your reader will be to it.

In addition to these basic characteristics, fantasy also has many sub-genres, each of which brings unique characteristics of their own. Marcy Kennedy compiled a list of the most popular fantasy subgenres on her webpage, www.marcykennedy.com.

Fantasy Sub-genres:

Historical Fantasy – Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable historical time period and in a real-world location. This sub-genre encompasses things like the King Arthur legends and Robin Hood. It’s more about how the author plays with history, myth, and legend than it is about magic.

Epic Fantasy – Epic fantasies are what most people think of when they hear “fantasy.” They’re defined by a large cast of characters, multiple POVs, and complex plots. They’re set in a fictional world, and the plot often revolves around the rise and fall of kingdoms. The ultimate epic fantasies are George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Urban Fantasy – First of all, urban fantasy is set in a primarily, well, urban/city setting. You can’t set your fantasy in a medieval-esque pastoral setting and call it “urban fantasy.” It’s darker, grittier than most other fantasy, and you’ll usually find it populated with demons, vampires, werewolves, witches (not the Harry Potter kind), or zombies. Kelly Gay’s The Better Part of Darkness is an urban fantasy example. Urban fantasy is often confused with paranormal romance. While they can and do often have blurry lines, the best way to tell them apart is to ask if the core conflict is about two people falling in love. If the main focus of the story is on the relationship, then it’s a paranormal romance. If the main focus of the story is somewhere else, on some other conflict, even if it has a romantic subplot, it’s still an urban fantasy.

Superhero Fantasy – Secret identities, superhuman powers, and villains who are more than a little unhinged are part of what makes superhero fantasy so much fun. Superhero movies like X-Men, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, and Captain America are all great examples of this genre.

Traditional Fantasy – Traditional fantasy is basically a teeny, tiny epic fantasy. It’s set in a secondary world (i.e., not our world) like epic fantasy, but it has a smaller cast of characters, fewer POV characters, and a plot that focuses more on a single character (or small group) and their unique struggle than on the creation or destruction of worlds/kingdoms. Magic in some form is usually a key element of traditional fantasy. A classic traditional fantasy is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

The fraternal twin sister of traditional fantasy is sword and sorcery, where the plot focuses more on the swashbuckling adventures and daring doos of the main character than on the magical elements. In other respects, they’re the same. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is an iconic sword and sorcery fantasy.

Contemporary Fantasy – This sub-genre of fantasy sets the story in our modern-day world (as opposed to historical fantasy) and, although they can have dark elements to them, they also aim to give their reader a sense of joy and wonder. Contemporary fantasies often involve a “world within a world.” If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, you’ve read contemporary fantasy. (Urban fantasy is actually a sub-genre of this sub-genre, but it’s easier to consider it as its own sub-genre. Confused yet?)

Alternate History – Don’t let its name fool you. Alternate history plots actually usually fall into the fantasy genre rather than the historical fiction genre because at some point in time the history of the story world diverged from the history of our world. What if the Nazis won World War II? That became the inspiration for The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick. Depending on the focus of alternate history plots, they can also be categorized as science fiction.

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Regardless of the type of fantasy that you choose to write, remember the world you are entering is full of magic, wonder, and the impossible. It is your job to take your reader there with you.

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Resources:

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/cliffsnotes/subjects/literature/what-is-fantasy-fiction

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/745687-i-love-the-word-fantasy-but-i-love-it-for

http://marcykennedy.com/2014/04/crash-course-fantasy-sub-genres/

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Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/D-A-Ratliff-594776510682937/notifications/

Blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

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Writing Your First Novel Part Two: The Question of Genre

Writing Your First Novel

Part Two

The Question of Genre

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“Readers will stay with an author, no matter what the variations in style and genre, as long as they get that sense of story, of character, of empathetic involvement.”  — Dean Koontz

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From the first children’s book, comic book, or novel that we choose, we begin to develop our sense of what type of story we are drawn to read. For me, I was intrigued by mystery and science fiction at a very early age. In my teenage years, romance entered the mix, and I soon found that my favorite stories to read were combinations of these separate genres.

In Part One of the Writing Your First Novel, we discussed the importance of reading and how it impacts your writing skills. One of the strongest influences of reading is an enhancement of vocabulary. Many of us tend to use the same words in our everyday speech. Reading will expand your selection of words and enrich your writing. Reading also provides an awareness of sentence and story structure and correct grammar. Reading current work allows you to discover the latest trends in the genre can assist in helping you decide the focus of your novel.  Choosing popular works within a specific genre allows you to explore the latest trends and can help you decide the focus of your novel.

Merriam-Webster defines genre as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” Fictional genre is further categorized into specific topics such as romance, mystery, science fiction, historical, contemporary or young adult among others.

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“I had always wanted to be a writer who confused genre boundaries and who was read in multiple contexts.” — Jonathan Lethem

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The traditional brick and mortar publishing houses have long categorized novels into specific genre descriptions. Even though there are numerous sub-genres under those headings, a cozy mystery or detective novel will still be displayed under the ‘Mystery’ banner in a bookstore or library. Based on statistics and marketing plans, it proved easier to control the advertising dollar and consumer focus if novels fit a certain niche. Shelving of books in a retail store is coveted and easier to acquire shelf space for a book in the single mystery genre rather than one in the mystery/science fiction/romance genre. What area of the store do you place a book of mixed genre? It’s a publisher’s marketing nightmare.

That issue has changed considerably with the advent of on-line publishing and search hashtags which have allowed authors to market their works in multiple genres. When genre lines are blurred, the only limitation a writer has is their imagination. Shelf space is no longer a consideration when as Lethem says, “boundaries are confused.”

The question you should ask yourself is what genre do you feel comfortable writing. I have seen numerous writing ‘experts’ say you should write what you know. The problem for me is that I love science fiction and murder mysteries. But, I have never been in space, and I haven’t committed murder, so I don’t have those experiences to draw from when writing. Author John Grisham is a lawyer and his stories center on his experiences practicing law. Not all of us are afforded the luxury of writing with such skill sets. What do we do?

We read, read, and read more novels in the genres of our choice and we do the necessary research to provide plausible details to your writing.  There are certain patterns and expectations that exist within genres, and your reader will feel cheated if those characteristics of the genre are not present. A noir murder mystery novel needs to have a dark, sparse, gritty quality that you will not find in a cozy murder mystery.

The key, I believe, in successfully writing a multi-genre novel is balance. One of the genres chosen must be the primary focus of the story, while the other one, two, or more genres should support. For instance, I wrote a science-fiction/murder mystery/romance novel where the overall science fiction theme is the focus, the murder mystery is the vessel to deliver the story, and the romance builds tension as the two main protagonists, who are emotionally connected, face danger. Throughout the novel, any of these components may take the lead in scenes, but the story balance remains the same.

I do hold to the theory that any genre can mesh with any other, and the combinations may open new vistas for your readers. The fact is these genres are a measure of what can and des occur in our lives. While there may not be dragons in our real world, we have fears that manifest themselves as such and can be symbols within a story.

One thing to remember, throughout this process of learning to write you should also be writing. Details can be added or corrected in the editing process. The important task is to write and to write until the story is complete.

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Writing Your First Novel

Part Three:  To Outline or Not to Outline…. (Pants or No Pants)

Coming soon…

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Resources:

https:qute//www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/genre.html

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/genre