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  1. #11
    Jon Piper

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    So, it seems we have a system for catagorizing novels. Is the following correct?

    A NOVEL can be classified as genre (mystery, romance, horror, legal, mainstream, etc.), literary, or both literary and genre. There are no other classifications.

    The Old Man and The SEA is literary.
    The Firm by Grisham is genre.
    Brave New World by Huxley is literary/genre (science fiction)

    NO MATTER what its classification, a novel may be considered a classic, but not all literary or genre novels are classics.

    The Old Man and The Sea (literary) and Brave New World (literary and science genre) are considered classics by many "authorities." Some think The Da Vinci Code (genre, mystery?) will be considered a classic.

    FINALLY a novel can be considered a masterpiece. To be a masterpiece a novel must be either literary fiction or literary/genre. A pure genre novel cannot be considered a masterpiece; it must have some literary merit.

    The boundaries and measures of the above classifications are subjective.

  2. #12
    Joe Zeff

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    To me, literary fiction is written to impress the critics and academics, not to be enjoyed. If the masses like it, fine, if not, at least "those who matter" did. Literature isn't something you set out to write, or at least, it shouldn't be. You set out to write the best, most interesting, most enjoyable book you can, and if you're very lucky, it turns out that what you wrote is eventually considered literature because it has stood the test of time.

    Write your best, in what ever style makes you comfortable and don't worry if it's literary or not. That's something for your agent and publisher to decide; if they think the intelligentsia will be impressed, they'll market it as literary fiction whether you think it was or not; if they don't, they won't, even if you're sure it should be. Just be the best writer you can be, because that's your job. How the book is marketed is up to other people, so don't tell them how to do their job for you.

  3. #13
    Amber Scott

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    This reminds me of an exchange we had in my writing class last week.

    Joe: "McBain's books are excellent. Not literature, but they're wonderful..."

    Beverly: "Not literature? Well, what would you call Dashiell Hammett?"

    Me: "Awesome?"

    Everyone laughs, class continues. That's really my only definition when it comes to novels. Awesome vs. not-awesome. :-D

  4. #14
    Greg Kosson

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    I think Jon's original observations are good ones. It's almost as though writing classes don't teach us how to write badly enough to get published. That is, they teach us a style that is difficult for most people to master and even harder to sell.

    Genre fiction could be written much better and still be genre fiction, but since readers don't hold it to a higher standard, there seems little reason for writers to bother and little reason for publishers to insist. It's the ability to lay out a gripping plot that sells the books.

    It's frustrating for many aspiring writers to pick up a bestseller and see (or at least believe) their writing is equal to or better than what's in the bestseller, yet they can't sell their own. The problem may lie in the fact that they haven't mastered the cheap plot tricks used in bestsellers and haven't quite got the refinements of literary fiction down either. Or if they do, nobody knows what to do with their work because it doesn't quite look like an apple or an orange.

  5. #15
    M L

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    the difference is in how the story is told.

    in genre, you most often have constrictions concerning plot and pacing and certain aspects that readers of that genre expect. a body on page one in a mystery, for example, or the desire to "have it all," ie, a hot boyfriend, a kick-ass job and a stunning wardrobe in chick lit. the stories are plot-driven, with the characters dragged along.

    in literary fiction, you have the desire to create rich, complex and rounded characters. they must be compelling, but can be just an average guy joining a pick up game of basketball in a back alley in Conneticut. but here, the story comes from the characters, it flows from the crazy and often unpredictable choices we make, and not from externally imposed devices. the story does not advance by a long lost cousin arriving on page 100 who solves various mysteries and leaves clues to others to come.

    in short, I see the difference as

    to say, as Joe did, that literary fiction is meant to not be enjoyed is the most preposterous thing I have heard in many moons. it is also a slap in the face to writers who feel that trying to share and capture the human condition is important.

  6. #16
    Mya Bell

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    Joe offered the opinoin: "To me, literary fiction is written to impress the critics and academics, not to be enjoyed."

    I have to strongly disagree with that.

    Literary fiction is written to appeal to readers who like depth and breadth in their reading.

    I love literary novels. I love books that I can read for enjoyment but which also challenge my knowledge and perception of allegory, parody, metaphor, and symbolism.

    To me, reading a nonliterary novel is like eating a store-bought chocolate chip cookie. I love chocolate chip cookies, so it's a delightful experience.

    Reading a literary novel, on the other hand, is like eating a piece of Bavarian chocolate cake prepared with subtle liqueurs by a master chef/baker. Not only does it taste good, but it has those underlying flavors that titillate without overtly announcing themselves, and it is likely to be served on fine porcelain with raspberry sauce and a clipped piece of mint---a feast for the stomach, the palate, and the eyes. A literary novel, like gourmet baking, excites me on more than one level.

    --- Mya Bell

  7. #17
    Richard Reilly

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    you sound liek the type who wants to have her cake and eat it.

  8. #18
    Joe Zeff

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    Mya, literary fiction may well be as you describe it, but the term still sounds pretentious to me. Maybe I need a better way to describe what you consider literary fiction that doesn't have the negative connotations to some of us.

  9. #19
    Greg Kosson

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    Literary fiction is a common term. I think it's one of those things you have to live with even if you don't like whatever connotations it brings up in your mind.

  10. #20
    Jeanne Gassman

    Re: Genre vs Literary Fiction

    Joe, your comments about literary fiction smack of reverse snobbism to me. It's a bit like saying, "I don't want to live in that nice neighborhood because only stuck-up phonies live there" when you have no idea how hard some of those "phonies" worked to buy a house in that area or who they really are.

    Literary fiction transcends genre. It's good writing, writing that endures because it's well crafted and speaks to many. I write literary fiction and I read literary fiction. I also read many types of genre--everything from mysteries to fantasy to horror. And I have as much respect for the well-written mystery as I do for the work of a John Updike or Joyce Carol Oates.

    I hear this discussion all the time at writer's conferences, and it bugs the heck out of me when some newbie genre writer says in a snide tone, "I write genre, not literary crap. I write what people want to read." The funny thing is that I never hear my fellow literary writers say they hate genre. Most of the literary writers I know speak of good genre writers with a level of awe. They are impressed that someone can write within certain strictures and confines and produce a good, well-crafted story. (Literary writers tend to be more free-flowing and experimental, I think.)

    Before you criticize the fruit too harshly, be sure that you've given it a fair taste.

    Just my opinion... (You get that, Stan? )


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