Literary genres

In literature, there are major genres, or classes, such as comedy, tragedy, satire, romance, picaresque, epic, etc. Each such genre sets a framework for the narrative, defining the boundaries for the possibilities. Although I’m not an expert on literature, I’m convinced there are things that in one genre would be inconceivable, that just wouldn’t work – while at the same time being very common in another genre. Of course it is possible to combine two genres, making it possible to include elements of one that would be impossible within the framework of the other.

For every genre, there must have been a time when it first became observable. Prior to that, it was just one or a few writers experimenting, but somehow this new genre was born, as “enough” works were published to form a new movement, clearly distinguishable from the others. I don’t know whether there are genres that originate from the works of a sole writer, though.

Although the genre limits the possibilities, it also seems that it enables freedom and creativity within those limits. I guess that humans need constraints in what they do. Without constraints, things can take off in any number of directions. Setting up boundaries for the task is something that we’re inclined to do.

There are also other types of genres, such as detective fiction, science fiction, mystery, horror, etc, which each also constrains the possibilities. I think these types of genres more often are combined with the more major genres – as in “science fiction satire.”

So, what’s the point of all this? Software architecture, of course! Regardless of whether the architecture is formally documented, it must function as a literary genre, and it must feel intuitive to the participants in the project. The genre “horror comedy” seems to offer unlimited possibilities, but if a team of writers should collaborate in writing a horror comedy, the choice of genre would contribute significantly to the forming of a common vision among the writers.

I’ll have to go now. See also my post Storytelling and architecture over at Irrational Software.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on February 12, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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