Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dr. Mambo, Aug 30, 2016.
Are there any? Is it possible to be both a literary writer and a genre writer?
I think it's possible to write in all kinds of genres. I write short stories that would probably fall in literary, and I've written one novel that definitely is not literary.
I don't really keep genre in mind. I just want to tell a story, so I write it.
Peake, Mieville crosses over at times, Wolfe, LeGuin, Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Rushdie, Atwood, Marquez and others if you want to pull in that subgenre. And of course if you go back into classics you find plenty of works of literature that are fantasies.
Sure, it's possible to be both. Stephen King writes his horror, but he also writes some really great literary fiction. It's always really great to come across one of his literary short stories in the journals. But are you talking about writing genre and literary works separately? Or are you talking about more of a hybrid or combination of the two in a single work? That's been done too. Look at The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
I'd never encountered the two terms prior to spending time on this site (at least in a context that meant anything to me), so I'm not sure I even know what I'm asking. Maybe we need to backtrack...
What makes a work a literary work? Is it something to do with the writing style itself (deeper themes, subtleties, and the like?), or is it "literary" just because it's respected? Or is it more simple--"literary" just means it defies classification?
Is "genre" writing defined as work that fits into a specific genre? That's all genre writing is? Because I've gotten the impression based on how I've seen the terms used that "genre" writing is simplistic, and "literary" writing is like, super deep and stuff, man.
Or is a genre writer just someone who sticks to one genre? And a literary writer is... what, then? Someone more versatile?
Since you mentioned McCarthy, he's the epitome of a literary writer, no? Just because Blood Meridian is a western obviously doesn't make it "not literary." I'd be hard pressed to pick a more literary book.
My original question stemmed from reading Lovecraft. He seems to me a literary horror writer.
There is much debate of what literary fiction is and how it is defined. But I think you're a little off. Literary is more of a style of storytelling more than a style of writing. That's what I believe as a reader and writer of literary fiction. Some people think it's all about flowery description and poetic prose, but I don't think it's that at all. My favorite contemporary literary writers work is very accessible, and I would say more often than not that the writing can appear somewhat deceptively simple. There are a lot of prizes for literary fiction and I think that is why people think it's well respected. And it should be, but not just because it literary fiction. I think if you want to really grasp on what literary fiction is and to see if that is the path you want to go down as a writer is to read a lot of literary fiction. And I mean a lot. You will probably get a few different opinions on the difference between literary and genre work and the crossover in both directions. But reading a good amount of it, you will form your own opinion.
Here's a link to a really good article about what makes literary fiction. It seems to cover all the bases.
That's exactly what I'm getting at, though. My opinion has always been something like "literary work is the classics, and then there's everything else." Your own definition is much more forgiving. Stephen King, literary? There's hope for all of us!
You might be a 'mainstream' writer, which seems to be the category between genre and literary. It's the kind of category that breaks genre rules, but often has some elements of genre in it. The difference between it and literary fiction seems to be degree. Mainstream fiction is told in a more 'workmanlike' manner. That is, the prose isn't quite so self-conscious as in a literary work, but doesn't remain as simple as most genre fiction readers like it to be. It's got a lot more character development than most genre fiction has, but it's more plot-conscious than literary fiction. But again, there aren't any real definitive boundaries. If you're pretty sure your work isn't 'literary' (and you don't particularly want it to be literary) but it doesn't fit into any genre category either, it's probably Mainstream.
You can definitely write a genre novel in literary prose. I actually prefer not to have my genre fiction delivered that way if I can help it, but when it serves the story it's great.
I just finished Lavie Tidhar's "Osama" - a fantasy which is quite lyrical in its prose. And I'm in the middle of Indra Das' "The Devourers" - which I think is quite poetic in it's treatment of fantasy (that one is werewolves in Mughal India - really interesting in it's descriptions.)
You also occasionally have literary authors who DABBLE in genre writing - Michael Chabon writes literary fiction but he LIKES genre ficiton, and the one alternate-reality novel he wrote ("The Yiddish Policemen's Union") won the Hugo Award (touching off a bit of a debate about giving genre awards to non-genre authors..
Coincidentally, Yiddish Policemen's Union is one of my favorites and I stole a lot of my worldbuilding tricks from that one - Chabon spent a lot more time on things like food and clothes and slang and such as opposed to technology or anything wizbang.
You're making my head swim.
I'm not so much concerned with what I am (I don't even know at this point--my stories run the gamut), just how the terms are used among writers and other people in the biz. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of agreement, which is fine. One less concept to stress over!
Excellent link, by the way. It helped clear things up quite a bit for me.
Funny how even the Big Fish squabble over these things, huh?
There is a very lively literary scene going on right now. Sure, the classics are great, but I prefer contemporary literary fiction. Stephen King really has written some great literary fiction. I think if you google his name and the title of one of his pieces called "Afterlife," you should be able to read it. It was published in Tin House (one of the top literary journals) last summer.
And I don't want to start any arguments, but poetic prose is not the definition of a literary work. I am saying this as an avid reader of literary fiction. It's really not there as much as some people tend to think.
I'm something of a fan of King, I've just never heard him described as "literary." I guess he has a few shorts I would consider literary, though, especially using the criteria discussed in jannert's article.
I'll have to go an have a good read through that article @jannert links to, because I don't even know what literary fiction is.
That was a bit gobbledegook, wasn't it?
Poetic may be the wrong word - although as a guy who doesn't read a lot of literary, most of the analyses I've read do point out that literary puts a lot more emphasis on the prose itself as opposed to what the prose is describing (which was part of that great article @jannert posted).
I always like to say that as a genre writer, my job is to disappear - I'm trying to get you to the point where you stop thinking about words on a page because you're too busy watching the movie in your head. Of course, there's still a lot of technique in how to do that, but Brandon Sanderson for instance says that he strives for "workmanlike prose" rather than lyrical prose, because he's writing high fantasy and the prose isn't necessarily the point. In literary you really can't do that, and aren't particularly trying to.
Granted there are lots of gradations there and I could go through a laundry list of differing uses of prose from Genre writers - right now I'm reading David D. Levine's "Arabella of Mars", and in that case he's purposefully aping Jane Austen's prose to sink you into the 1700s setting (and yes they are on Mars in the 1700s, long story).
I've also always liked this infographic put out by P.S. Literary on the differences between Literary, Upmarket, and Commercial fiction - I think it's a little hard on Commercial fiction, as those of us in the trenches there do have higher artistic aims and care about our characterization, but the nuts and bolts are about right. And I don't mind saying we put a stronger emphasis on plot - I've always thought of the Literary vs. Commercial thing as surrealist paintings vs. fireworks shows. They're both hard to do correctly, and both express beauty - but one is more abstract and nuanced, while the other is a mass-market spectacle that requires very careful calibration.
It's probably also worth noting that that infographic itself points out how fluid some of the lines are. One of the examples used for "Literary" - Station Eleven - is post-apocalyptic sci-fi premise. The Goldfinch is listed as Literary rather than upmarket despite having literally inspired the term "Goldfinching" - which has been used as a verb to describe literary critics trying to push upmarket women's fiction out of the realm of the literary. And the upmarket category includes a smash-hit thriller - The Girl on the Train (actually I think most "domestic thrillers" would probably be seen as upmarket.)
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