Some people get really intense about genre definitions and what genre a specific story is. I’ve heard several extremely impassioned arguments, including one about whether or not Star Wars is science fiction or fantasy (Google it, and you’ll see that my friends weren’t the only ones).
As they were arguing, I realized that there was a big problem: they had different definitions of the genre. One was using the literary definition, and the other, the common one. Unfortunately, the two definitions are not exactly the same. For example, a lot of the general public consider science fiction something with aliens, space travel, and/or fancy gadgets. For the literary community, on the other hand, sci fi is all about the technology (plot-wise), and the technology has to be “feasible” in the future.
How could they possibly agree on the genre of anything unless it does all of that?
It doesn’t help that definitions aren’t static either. As writing changes, so do the genres. Subgenres get added, and there are all kinds of mixed genre works now: romance has varieties in all the other genres, there are sci fi western, fantasy detective stories, and more. How on Earth are we supposed to narrow those books down to one genre?
And I hate to say it, but does it even matter?
As far as I can see, genres 1. help you find books at the library or bookstore and 2. help the publishers market to the right audience. If a publisher thinks that science fiction readers are going to like a book, they’re not going to let a few magical elements keep them from putting it in the sci fi section. Heck, I’ve been to bookstores where the same book is on display in 3 sections (not including new releases, large print, clearance, or hardbacks).
That’s why there doesn’t seem much point in arguing about genres – unless you like to, of course. In that case, you’re welcome to use any of these points as additional ammo for your next debate.