I have a serious dislike of labels, especially when they’re applied to the complex or intangible like people, books, music, or any other kind of art.
I write stories. Sometimes they’re fantasy, sometimes they’re contemporary, sometimes they’re crime or suspense or action adventure. Sometimes they’re sci-fi or historical. To me, they’re all stories, important in their own way, each written for their own reason … and then I’m asked to put them in a box, with a label.
It’s so the right readers find my stories, I’m told. But is that actually true when each reader reads their version of my story and not mine? When I can change the box they fall in with click of my mouse, or – if the fancy takes me – with a stroke of my pen?
Stories are patterns, and each one can be unravelled and remade was easily as an old jumper. Many writers do just that, fanfiction writers do it all the time. Don’t like the ending of a book? Write another one. Don’t like the lyrics of a song? Make up your own.
So aren’t all these categories and labels just limitations we impose on ourselves? And yes, before someone asks, I do get annoyed by the I don’t want M/F in my M/M, or dragons in my fantasy, or swear words in my stories or whatever is making the rounds at the time. Especially when we answer the complaints by slapping on more labels like plasters over a papercut.
All we’re doing is hiding in smaller and smaller jars, dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller groups. Global discussions become bun fights between small groups huddled in tinier jars. In doing so, we stop ourselves from seeing the big picture and – in the case of stories – we may deprive ourselves of discovering something wonderful, heartbreaking or inspiring. Just because it isn’t stored in a particular jar or sports a particular label.
We don’t all like the same things. But that shouldn’t stop us from looking around.
I like stories driven by strong characters, men who break, but put themselves back together and fight on, women who don’t take crap from anyone, and characters who aren’t at all what they appear. And I don’t mind whether these stories are fantasy, history, or memoirs. I love cookery books and history books, and I might even pick up a slushy love story, a math book or a story featuring elves, or shifters. Just as I go and listen to bands I’ve never heard before or look at paintings or sculptures by artists I don’t know.
I don’t like labels and I do my damnedest to ignore them.
But that’s me, and when I’m about to rip up at someone I also remember a discussion I had a few years back with a woman I met at a networking meeting. She told me that she had spent years struggling to come to grips with some events in her past, that she’d felt alone and helpless and unable to move forward… until she found a label that resonated with her and peeked into the jar. Finding other people in the same situation had helped her enormously. And her story helped me see labels in a slightly more positive light.
I still don’t like labels. I still find them limiting. But I can accept that they may have their uses. For not confusing icing sugar and potato starch, for one, or for helping someone find a place from which to start over. So, after all that, maybe it’s not the labels that deserve my dislike, but rather the way we use them. Injudiciously. For division rather than guidance.
It’s an idea worth playing with. Once I’ve worked out into which of amazon’s many boxes to drop Crossfire. Wish me luck.