The story of one writer as she tries to get published and attempts to avoid procrastination
Thursday 7 April 2011
G is for Genre v. Literary Fiction
Probably one of the most polarising topics among writers is the issue of genre. Among readers too. There is a set of stereotypes that surrounds each genre. Mills and Boon/Harlequin? They're for repressed women. Science fiction? For oddballs who spend more time on the internet than interacting with actual people. Literary fiction? That stuff is for people who would rather observe life than actually live it.
Popular fiction gets bad press. A small but vocal group of literary fiction writers would have us believe that in order to bring out a genre book, all you need to do is stick to a certain template and you could write it in your sleep. Authors of popular fiction point, saying that literary fiction is like the emperor's new clothes; nobody understands it but everyone is afraid to admit it in case people think that they're stupid. So which is true?
The problem is that the term literary fiction is actually quite an arbitrary concept. The works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were considered popular fiction, and their books weren't seen as having much literary merit by their contemporaries. Yet both these authors are seen as classics now. There are also a lot of literary novelists who borrow themes and structures from so called genre fiction.
These kind of distinctions bother me, because some proponents claim that one type of writing to be superior to another, and run down other types of books in the process. Some of us have favourite genres that we stick to, but most of us read widely depending on our mood. I don't particularly like westerns, but I think it's a valid genre. I think every book offers something to a reader, and each reader's idea of value is different.
But I think the whole thing is summed up quite nicely by Daphne Clair: "Readers of literary fiction expect to be challenged and like to be entertained; readers of popular fiction expect to be entertained and like to be challenged. They're often the same readers in a different mood."