From Writer Unboxed:
All writing is a form of storytelling, so if you are puritanical about genre, this is the point where you should clutch your pearls and look away. The stark grocery list stuck to the refrigerator door is the skeleton outline of its author’s desire. It promises a plot (a trip to the store); characters (the list maker, the hero who treks to the store, store clerks and cashiers and inattentive customers); conflict (what if there are no vine-ripe, organic, locally sourced heirloom tomatoes?); setting (pristine kitchen, packed parking lot, labyrinthine rows of cans and jars); and any number of themes and symbols (the Siren song of the cookie aisle, empty shelves, and banks of crisp, glistening greens). Can you understand now how the desire for that perfect Tinga de Pollo lies tacit in the stark outline scribbled on a scrap of paper and stuck with a magnet to the refrigerator door?
Organize the list, add to it a series of imperatives (chop, toss, stir, drizzle), and it becomes a recipe, another tacit story about a cook and what and whom she loves. Insert the recipe, along with a few other favorites, into a story of two young, star-crossed lovers, and it becomes the novel, Like Water for Chocolate, the recipes reinforcing aspects of Laura Esquivel’s story: the role of women in a patriarchal family, the expression of love (familial and erotic) through cooking. Squint and the novel becomes part sociological treatise (a story about Mexican society at the end of the nineteenth century). Squint again and it is a historical narrative (a story about the Mexican Revolution). Esquivel’s novel is a fable, an epic, another example of magical realism, the critics sputtered. They want desperately to classify it, which is a little like killing something in order to possess it.
Historians are novelists who feel a near religious devotion to the factual elements of the stories they tell, confessing their slightest detour into the realm of inference as if they committed a deadly sin. Naomi Oreskes and Erick Conway are both historians of science, yet the confounding problem of how to communicate the rapidly accelerating pace of climate change turns them into iconoclasts.
Genres are useful as long as you are willing to shatter the icons you worship. Consider Oreskes and Conway’s opening sentence, its clauses perfectly balanced, encapsulating the full arc of their story in a manner reminiscent of Dickens: “Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past.”
Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed