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  1. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    Restriction re: Genre Connotation

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Not the Territory, Feb 10, 2020.

    Here comes the semantics.

    Some modern genres appear to be more restricting than others in terms of execution/exploration of theme and meaning. Is this because of the authors or the audience/critic? Or both?

    A book with the trappings of medieval/urban/future fantasy won't get lauded as literary fiction. Neither will a humour or horror piece. It's not going to be in pretentious book clubs or become a mandatory high school piece. Its reviews will be centered on the criteria of the genre, as they probably should be, but does that create an endless cycle that limits the potential of writers in those genres? While the stories that are sold as historical fiction, literary fiction (huh?), crime, thriller, and actual sci fi (not fantasy sci fi) are always set to standards invoking a more in-depth use/exploration of theme, characters, and plot.

    I will refrain from using the word "can." The answer is always yes. Anything can. fuck can. Do modern exceptions actually occur in the real world, right now? Second, does it even matter? Last, if a genre-limited piece did gain enough significance in the literary world, would its genre be relabeled to something like literary fiction?

    Note: I know ancient pieces of fiction that would be labelled all sorts of genres today end up being very important. I.e. Beowulf or The Divine Comedy, but I'm not considering those as evidence for a multitude of situational reasons.
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I do notice that the number of genres and the pedantic splitting of hairs with respect to genres gets stickier and stickier. I would love to go back in time and stop the whole {fill in the descriptor}-punk movement. There's a something-punk for every kind of genre novel, and it feels like it's moving in the direction of an individual something-punk per novel.

    But, I feel that at its core, this question is falling prey to the Studio 54 paradox, where literary fiction is assumed to be the rarified realm everyone wants to enter, complete with granite cliff of a bouncer at the door.

    Do some genre pieces have elements of literary fiction? Sure, of course. A number of China Miéville's pieces come to mind (Embassytown and Perdido Street Station, namely) are exquisite displays of wordsmithery with a clear focus on artistry and use of language (the hallmarks of literary fiction), while never once abandoning the structural framework of the genre roots.

    But the bouncer at the door won't let those books into the club. Everyone outside may feel they deserve entry, but not the bouncer, and the bouncer represents those for whom even a whiff of genre props or tropes is an immediate disqualifier.

    But, there's this really great little gay disco down the street where the crowd is usually pretty mixed, the music is thump'n, and the drinks are poured to gay standards, which means just enough mixer to make it drinkable, and not one drop more, for the same price as the glass of fruit punch that was waved in front of a vodka bottle being sold at the Studio.

    Fuck Studio 54 and its asshole bouncer. You can change your Sci-Fi clothes a hundred times and you'll always be dressed wrong. Period.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2020
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  3. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Member

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    Well... obviously certain genres exist to explore certain themes and rely on conventions.

    A romance book is going to have love as central to the story even if it combines that with themes of loss or mystery. The main character will need a love interest, and 9 times out of 10 they will be together at the end.

    I mean genres exist to give readers an idea of what to expect from the book. And yes some genres are more clearly defined (and thus restrictive) than others. Fantasy is basically anything fantastical, that's a wide range of potential. Horror on the other hand has to be scary, and likely deal with a supernatural threat otherwise it turns into more of a thriller.
     
  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think the goal of a genre writer should be to have their work labeled as literary fiction. If you want to have your work fall into the category of literary fiction, read and write the kind of literary fiction that is being published today. Plenty of literary authors borrow genre elements, but they still deliver a literary story which is what is expected by readers and publishers of such works. Literary fiction is not some exclusive club, it's a kind of story. It's not genre. There's a different market for straight genre. And it's ridiculous to think a genre story should for some reason fit into the category of literary fiction just because it's good. That's not how it works. Genre stories and literary stories are two different types of stories. I think you need to read enough to understand the difference. And there is room for crossover, but I think you really need to understand the difference first.
     
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  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    also self described literary fiction is not necessarily what will be remembered as great literature by future generations - studio 54 and its monolithic bouncer will have passed into obscurity long before that little disco, because many more people had their first less than legal drink and parking lot hook up at the latter
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
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  6. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    Forgive me for stepping off of the path. In the future, when I am tempted to question the bones of absurd axioms, I will make sure to remember that things are just the way they are. Keep it circular, as they say.
     
  7. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm always a bit puzzled by the term 'literary fiction' because it doesn't necessarily exclude genre. I keep looking up definitions. Here's Wikipedia's article on it ...which, of course, isn't necessarily the last word on the subject.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_fiction

    However, their list of what constitutes literary fiction is worth looking at:


    Some of the best fiction I've ever read has been classified as 'literary.' Just finished James Robertson's To Be Continued, and I liked it so much I gave two copies as Christmas presents. However, so has some of the worst ...the kind I just never finish.

    Literary fiction can make you aware of life's permutations. It can get you to appreciate the power of words.

    It can also be so full of itself and downright annoying that it makes me want to throw the book across the room. (Wolf Hall ...aaargh. I have tried OVER AND OVER to read that sucker, and I just can't. And it's the kind of subject matter I've always been interested in. But Hilary Mantel's self-consciously quirky style puts me right off.)

    Sometimes even literary fiction that I do appreciate suffers from one thing I personally don't enjoy about certain books. The style can be so 'in your face' that it interferes with my immersion in the story it tells.

    If I'm always standing back admiring the author's word choices, I'm not immersed in the story. Therefore it doesn't leave much of an impression on me. (Well, a few of them do, but they are the exceptions.) If the word choices help me GET immersed in the story because they are so aptly chosen, I will probably realise this partway along and do a bit of admiring. But if I sense the author is knocking his pan out to be clever, it keeps me at a distance. Even if the author IS clever.

    As I've said before, in other discussions on the forum, for me good writing is like good driving. I don't notice what a good driver is doing. I just admire the scenery as it flows past, look forward to the destination, think about the overall purpose of the journey ...and I enjoy the ride. And inevitably I WILL think about where I've been and what I saw, heard and felt.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
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  8. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    I appreciate the difference, though I refuse the notion that genre and literary fiction are entirely different categories (while acknowledging it is common to think so). As per my first post, certain genres are likely to accept the label of literary while others aren't allowed in the "Studio 54" (as Wreybies put it) because of their superficial characteristics. That's partly why I raised the question: "does it matter?" No, I don't think it matters if your work is labelled as literary fiction. All writing categories are victims of limited semantics anyway.

    The problem I am cynically highlighting is that certain genres are more limited by their own identity than the capabilities of the writer. Since it isn't even considered that a certain genre will have "literary merit," the writer doesn't even try, nor does he have incentive. It is being posited that if your story has orcs or lightsabres, it couldn't possibly have "a concern with the complexity and style of writing" or "introspective, in-depth character studies" as Jannert's Wikipedia puts it.

    Does anyone understand what I'm trying to say? It's not that I think genre fiction should be exactly like "literary fiction," it's that in many minds, the good, core elements are safely parceled away in spits-out-wine turtleneck land and very few men and women of the craft (and audience) are demanding more of themselves as a consequence. Some people are preferring the term "crossover" when this does happen. Fine, suit yourself, but I think that further reinforces the needless segregation of qualities.
     
  9. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Member

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    I don't read literary fiction and so I might be way off base here, but I kind of feel like genre isn't the best way to describe it.

    Based on what I've read about it, it seems more like a stylistic choice (comedy would be too). In that it matters more how the story is written than what kind of story is written. So technically any genre of fiction should be able to be literary as well, just like how any genre could be written as a comedy.

    However that doesn't mean the genres always make a good match. While a horror comedy works, a thriller comedy would lose the suspenseful air that makes it a thriller.

    Similarly fantasy doesn't lend itself well to literary elements. Fantasy usually has expansive, epic plots, and the slow thoughtful pacing of literary fiction would slow that down to be a chore to read. Plus those of us who love fantasy generally read it more for the plot and the world building than the characters. We love great characters too, but if they start to become the focus to the detriment of everything else, the book will likely not be well received.
     
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  10. Xoic

    Xoic Member

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    Here's an amazing article about Gene Wolfe that deals with the issues you bring up. He's a contemporary author whose work tends to get placed under sci-fi/fantasy but he says he's writing about the same broad subject matter Homer and Ovid and Shakespeare did—about everything that exists and everything that can exist, not limiting himself to the narrow slot of social fiction, a fairly recent genre and one that he feels will prove to be short-lived: Gene Wolfe Interview
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting to note that internationally bestselling Scottish crime author Val McDermid has won two Literary awards for her crime novels (Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award and the DIVA Literary Prize for Crime.) She has also been a guest on a couple of occasions at one of Scotland's best-known Literary book festivals, The Ullapool Book Festival. (I've attended those!)

    So yes, it's certainly possible for an author to write in genre, but also be considered a 'literary' writer. The quality of the writing has to be very high, though ...and it has to transcend the formula that some genres demand. That doesn't mean it doesn't keep to the genre's general formula, but I reckon there has to be more to it.

    https://www.davidhigham.co.uk/authors-dh/val-mcdermid/
     
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  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I get the sense you're mocking me a little. Publishing in general can feel like some sort of exclusive club regardless if you write genre or literary fiction, but it's not. Good stories get noticed and published all the time. There's a lot of competition no matter how you look at it. But I think you might be confused a bit about what literary fiction is. It's not genre, and for the most part, it's not trying to be genre. Like I said, it's a different kind of story. The focus and purpose would be different in a literary work than it would be handled in genre. It also comes down to what readers are looking for. I have almost no interest in reading genre fiction. It's just not something that interests me. I don't want to read about aliens or fairies. I see literary fiction as a way of capturing the importance of mundane moments as a way of artistic expression. Honestly, I see literary works as art. But not every book has to be a piece of art to be good and successful. I actually think genre writers probably make more money than literary writers. I'm a literary writer. It's tough. Writing of any kind is tough and there will always be a ton of competition. Good stories get published, read and noticed. You can blame the system all you want, but that's not likely to be the problem. If you want to write literary fiction, study literary fiction to get some idea of what separates it from genre. It's not the gatekeepers separating literary from genre. In fact there are plenty of gatekeepers on the genre side of things. But there's no need to think your work has to be classified as literary to be good. Quality of writing and the style of writing are two completely different things. Also, literary fiction and something having literary merit are two different things. Something doesn't have to be literary fiction to be good. It's also a bit confusing why you have this issue with the separation of literary and genre. You can write anything you want. If you want to write literary fiction, there's nothing stopping you. Same is true for writing genre. But it's probably a waste of time and energy to be upset about genres labeling different types of writing for what they are. These categories are a big asset to readers. It also helps to know your audience. And that's another benefit to writers, that readers will easily be able to find the types of stories they want to read. Again. I will say, I don't think the goal of a genre writer would be to have their work called literary fiction. Literary fiction doesn't mean it's better. It's different. And I don't think we want all writing to fit into the same category. I will say you seem a bit confused about what the differences are and why. The existence of different genres and works that don't fit into those genres shouldn't upset you.
     
  13. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    Not mocking you, but (this is assuming that mocking is even the right word) the content of that first post. Life is too short to try and make things personal.

    Having perceived literary merit and being literary fiction are absolutely the same thing for the vast amount of cases. That is the common affectation of the soul. That is part of the problem, in my mind. The evidence is in the exceptions which can be counted on an inattentive carpenter's hand.

    We aren't going to come to any kind of understanding, largely due to preconceived notions. That said, if you focus on the concept rather than attempting to apply notions to myself, you may at least see my viewpoint (not agree, but at least fathom).

    Here are some of the assumptions you've made:
    1: That I think traditional publishing is some kind of exclusive club.
    2: I want to, or am trying, to get traditionally published.
    3: I think it's the system's fault I'm not getting published.
    4: That I think my work has to be classified as literary to be "good."

    This is bewildering. It's as if you're engaging with a manifestation of your general musings rather than an individual. Which, in turn, makes me feel as though I'm speaking to a tape recorder. That said, please do not think I aim to deride your post. You put effort and time into a well structured and worded argument, and I greatly appreciate it.

    You think that genre fiction isn't art, and literary fiction is. That's fine, you have every right to that opinion. I respectfully disagree, and can also understand your reasoning.

    I am "upset" not because I want genre fiction to be exactly like literary fiction, but because a detrimental, quality-limiting false dichotomy has formed. More bewildering, the dichotomy has bisected the category of "genre fiction," since a select few kinds of genre fiction are ever lauded as "literary" (i.e. speculative fiction vs horror). See my first and third post for my opinion on some of the limitations it is inflicting on at least part of the craft and how.
     
  14. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Mod hat on here: This is an excellent discussion and a good topic, but let's not personalise it, eh?

    Stay with the topic itself. Deal only with the issues raised, please. Not who said what. Don't assume what another member means when they say what, etc. And don't assume what the other person's reading/writing background might be. That kind of exchange leads to threads becoming unpleasant—especially to bystanders—and ends up getting a good thread closed. (It's been courteous and instructive so far, but it does have the potential for becoming more heated.)

    Tell us what you believe literary fiction is. Tell us why you like it or don't like it. Tell us why writers should or shouldn't be concerned about whether or not their writing is genre or not. If you disagree with another's opinion, challenge the opinion itself, not the person who expressed it. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2020
  15. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    How about T.H. White's The Once and Future King? It's been quite a stretch since it was first published, but I'm not sure I'd call it ancient.
     
  16. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    While a little old, that's a fantastic (no pun intended) example to counter my hypothesis. It certainly gives me hope like the Mr. Wolfe and Ms. McDermid that have been mentioned.

    Edit: My main reason for mentioning age, of which I should have been more specific, was to separate the pre-paperback wasteland (prior early 20th) from today. I just think those are different worlds of craft that can't be compared. The printing press is of course another significant milestone, but I care most about the recent one.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2020
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  17. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thought of another author who has written genre (Sci Fi) but whose work passes muster as Literary as well. That's Scottish author Iain Banks (non-sci fi), or Iain M Banks. (sci-fi.) They're the same person.

    I have been a fan for years of both his non-sci-fi (set in contemporary Scotland) and his sci fi novels—mostly set in a universe he created, and are referred to as The Culture novels, the same way Terry Pratchett's books are often referred to as The Diskworld novels.

    (My favourite of Banks's sci-fi novels, The Player of Games, is a book I still re-read from time to time.)

    When I saw him as a guest at the Ullapool Book Festival (a Literary festival) he was promoting his latest Sci-Fi novel at the time. (He was the liveliest guest at that year's festival. Two years later, he was dead. It was a sudden onset cancer. We were all gutted. But, like Pratchett, he was extremely prolific when he was alive, so he's left a legacy of many excellent books.)
     

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