1. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    Genre writing vs. literary writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MarionRivers, Aug 18, 2008.

    At least from the viewpoint of the library, publishing, and bookselling world, there is a distinction between the types of adult fiction. There's genre writing, which tends to fall in certain categories that have certain convetions, and then there's literary writing, which is pretty much everything else. From what I can see the latter tends to be viewed as far more serious, though that is not always the case.

    I'm curious, if in your adult fiction, you tend to write more along the lines of genres or anything but. Also, what do you think about the distinctions in general? Are they unfairly limiting?

    Personally, I find that it's a lot easier to write without genre in novels than it is in short stories, and my writing reflects that. Since I don't use descriptions in my writing for the most part, it's very hard for me to extend the specifics found in a genre to full length, whereas with literature I can just go on about whatever I want.
     
  2. J_F
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    I think you're right about how literary writing tends to reflect more on life in general and resonates with an individual more, thus taken more seriously. The authour can express their ideas in literary writing a lot more freely without the boundaries of intentionally writing for a certain genre. You put a few crime novels or sci-fi novels together and you find they both have very similar settings and themes... while literary novels have a lot more distinction between them.

    I don't think, however, that genres are unfairly limiting per se. If a reader desires to read a book specifically with aliens and space ships and galactic conflicts, they should be able to pick up any work of sci-fi and expect nothing other than that. Same for crime novels; most people who read crime novels prolifically read them because they all share a certain tone and atmosphere that is attached to the genre.

    If genres weren't as limiting as they are, many readers who subscribe only to X genre may stray away from reading in general because of the difficulty of finding a book that suits their interests. Personally, I prefer the classics, and I usually don't read a lot of books affixed with a specific genre.

    Admittedly, I'm not actually sure about what you meant by "distinctions" in your post, but whatever I assumed it meant lays above me.
     
  3. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the issue with genres is that the conventions create a comfortable space where you can get away with things you cannot get away with in so-called "literary" fiction. I wouldn't call genres "limiting", but rather suggestive. I personally have no issue exploring themes deeply in a "genre" work, but I do think that story-telling plays a much larger role in genre, whereas themes can play na larger role in literary fiction. Another reason literary fiction tends to be more "serious" is that it deals with more realistic and wide focus on life. Genres tend to exploit only a certain few aspects of the world, because of the concentration on genre "conventions". I don't feel this is necessary, but I think it is a very present force. Genres focus more on specific aspects in practice, but in theory, they are capable of far more depth.
     
  4. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    By "distinctions" I mean, if you think we should even have genres or any type of classifcation of fiction beyond it merely being fiction?

    Because as the previous poster implied, it is also very possible to have a novel that is primarily theme and character-based, delving into complex facets of life and the world around us, that also happens to take place in a magical land called Aloria or a distant planet Zarthex.

    I've written plays that have virtually no traditional science fiction themes but just happen to be in the future as a way to detatch the proceedings from contemporary events. I've also written pieces, where there are wizards and magic, but they're hardly the main point and there to add to the mood.
     
  5. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Genres are a marketing tool. They get a lot of work published and read; but that doesn't mean you won't be published because you break conventions.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The reason there is such a thing as genre writing is because there is a proven market for it. Publishers know that they can sell books that fit certain profiles, so they put a premium on stories that fall into these templates. They are slightly more likely to accept mediocre writing in these categories, as long as they still think the book is saleable.

    That is what gives genre writing a less pretsigious quality. It doeas not mean that all genre writing is of lower quality, but only that the bar for acceptance is slightly lower.

    If you write well, and it falls into a genre, you're doubly blessed. R. A. Salvatore is well respected in the fantasy genre, because he does write well, even though many other books in the genre, and even in the same fantasy "worlds", may be uninspiring.

    So don't write outsiode the genre just to be seen as "literary". Write outside it, if you will, because that happens to be the story you hav to tell. Just know that in terms of selling it, you'll be competing in a different part of the food chain, where the meals are a bit harder to come by.
     
  7. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I prefer both to write and to read genre fiction because most "literary" fiction is just beyond my understanding. I want something with a concrete plot, characters, theme, etc., which are often more tenuous in literary fiction. (I'm not saying none of that is there, it's just not made as clear as it is in genre fiction, for the most part. Most literary stories leave me thinking, "What the heck is this about?" or "Where's the plot??") It's just easier for me to relate to genre writing, maybe because I'm not incredibly deep like a lot of literature tries to be. I want a good story where I can take what I want from it, whereas with literature I'm usually just too confused to relate at all.

    I don't know if the distinctions limit anything. Probably yes in some cases, no in others. I just wish literary types wouldn't tend to frown upon genre types (as my so-called "creative writing" instructor, a literary type, did upon my genre writing--he detested that I wrote scenes that could be visualized like camera shots in a movie, horrors!), and, truthfully, that genre types wouldn't frown upon literary types (as I admittedly do sometimes). (I am not saying that everyone does this but I do get a very strong anti-genre vibe in a lot of writing forums.) Writing is writing; one type shouldn't be greater or lesser than another.

    Since I don't use descriptions in my writing for the most part, it's very hard for me to extend the specifics found in a genre to full length, whereas with literature I can just go on about whatever I want.

    I'm kind of perplexed by this. :/ I'm pretty sure literary writing makes ample use of description, and that it isn't just about "writing on about whatever you want." Like genre writing, there are guidelines. Lack of description in any type of writing can be a bad sign.
     
  8. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    Well, true, literary writing can be filled with description but more so than genre writing, it can be filled with tangents and extended monologues and conversations in place of description. I don't necessarily see a lack of description as a bad sign. A lot of foreign and modern writers use bare-bones styles.
     
  9. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another thing to consider is that sometimes genres are much broader than people think they are, too. Let's use fanatsy as an example. Fantasy deals with the impossible, not the illogical. It's not necessarily about quests and elves and wizards. That's a very specific subcategory. For fantasy in general, you only need one element of the impossible, and it can be anything.

    The book Whalerider would generally be categorized as literary fiction, and it's got all the elements that make it very literary and respected in that community. On the other hand, it's also a fantasy for one reason: The girl can talk to whales. I don't remember exactly how it happens in the book, but in the movie, a whole pod of whales get beached. The biggest one, after everything all the adults do to move it back into the water, won't budge. But this tiny girl gets on it's back, nudges it with her heals, and says, "Come on." Suddenly, he moves. If that's not magical, I don't know what is.
     
  10. andrew17
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    andrew17 Member

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    To me the distinction is between plot based and theme based writing. Plot based writing just tells a story with a beginning middle and end. Theme based writing tells a story as well but the story is a tool for the other to discuss a topic.
     
  11. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    My impression of the genre markets is that they experienced a surge of interest when romance/erotica began selling in supermarket lines. There was a need for new writers and no shortage of newbies willing to fill that need. Today, the typical genre novel racks seem to be filled with multiple titles from a small number of writers. I suspect genre publishers have bigger slush piles today than ever before. Is the gold-rush over? If so, then writing genre might be no easier to get published than any other writing style.

    Of course, if someone develops the "next" great genre theme, he/she might get rich! Let's see, hmmm . . . how bout a series featuring Olympic athletes from antagonistic countries who set aside the nationalistic angst to find love, romance and sex while living in the artificial society under the Olympic dome? How would you end such a story?
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Who says you can't have both in one book, andrew?
     
  13. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    Commercial fiction can be found in an airport... and no one owns to reading it, while literary fiction is what people say they read.... but stays on the shelves.

    /jk.

    Rei, you can have both (Neal Stephenson, or Ray Bradbury, anyone?), but those sorts of authors are few and far in between. Some people go into genre fiction because it's comfortable, while they don't like the (as I've heard some people call it ) artsy-fartsiness of literary fiction. Only some. I'm sure I don't go into genre fiction at times simply because I'm looking for "harmless fun."

    I don't believe that genre is severely limting, but I think that it's limiting in a sense that it has to fit a certain mold.
     
  14. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know you can have both, and I have no trouble finding them, nor does it have to fit cetain molds. Like I said, fantasy only means that it has an element of the impossible, nothing more. I was posing the question to challenge andrew.
     
  15. ParanormalWriter
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    ParanormalWriter Contributing Member

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    I have sort of a prejudice against literary writing, as I feel it often takes itself too seriously. I've never been a big fan of the kind of writing that's intended to pass on a message, shed light on the human condition, or anything like that. All my writing is for entertainment purposes.

    I enjoy the rare peice of nonfiction, but only when I'm in the mood to read something that doesn't grip me too deeply. In other words, I don't get the same level of excitement or interest from reading anything too real world.

    I recognize this is just a personal preference of mine though. I don't feel qualified to say that one kind of writing is definately better than another. Opinions about that will differ from one writer to the next.
     
  16. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    I agree with you.

    "Genre" I think is really more of a creation made by companies to define certain types of plots for marketing reasons and does not get to the core of the issue, which really has to do with the fundamental stylistic difference you pointed out.

    I think the only exception to that, however, is that serious wing of the science fiction genre. Serious science fiction is extremely theme-based. The point of those pieces isn't necessarily just the adventure in the story but rather the philosophy and speculation on implications of possibilities within the story.
     
  17. MarionRivers
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    Good literary writing isn't boring but engrossing and gripping in its own type of way. Good nonfiction can also be engrossing and gripping, especially when it provides insight.

    The professors don't always know what's really good and what's not, so I reccomend that you use your judgement and read reviews, if ever want to take a stab at another piece of literary fiction again and see if you like it.
     
  18. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I have prejudices against the idea that a book has to be one or the other. We have a real need to categorize everything, but too much categorization is limiting.
     
  19. TWErvin2
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    Categorizing is the way things are with genre, and even classifying something as mainstream vs literary.

    Even within a genre, there may be categorization: Hard vs. Soft Science Fiction, or Space Opera, Military SF, etc. Fantasy has its categories, such as Sword & Sorcery, Magic Realism, etc.

    One of the ways to break down the categorization, and sometimes what works really well, is cross-genre writing. A Military SF novel with a strong mystery/who done it, plot. Look at paranormal romance, a category that has really taken off in recent years (oops, it became a category ;) but it's a good example of combining two areas into one).

    Writing that doesn't fall in a particular slot easily (even genre with strong literary aspects) can add a bit more difficulty finding a publisher, or possiby marketing the work could be a little more complex, but excellent writing and story telling, in the end, is what readers crave (and what publishers want to find).

    Terry
     
  20. andrew17
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    I never understood why people are against what they call over categorization. Having an abundance of "genres" is a sign there is a lot of originality or new ideas on the market. Look at Sci-Fi. 100 years ago it was one genre. Now, like someone stated earlier, there's tons of division. Because people found ways to branch out, they found new ideas and new places to take the writing.

    Of course it is a double edged sword though. You do tend to see a lot of the same templates, archetypes, cliches etc. in every genre. But really that permeates to about everything creative that we as a society do.

    I'd have to say I am the exact opposite of you, but I respect what you are saying. I never really got plot based writing. I guess I was into it when I was younger but to me I could just as well watch a TV show or movie (and trust me equally uninterested in those). Franz Kafka says it best for me:

    "I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."
     
  21. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    People have so much trouble understanding that this is commercial fiction. It has to sell. One way to up sales is to create a way of indentifying a reader's favorite styles that leaves little risk of wasting money. I look at genre as a reader's/marketer's system. Writers can use or not use it depending on their goals. I may label my work as "steampunk" or "high fantasy" or "historical fiction" or anything else, but only to help me get an idea of what inspiration I have (available) to draw on. Genre lines are dotted, not solid in my eyes.
     

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