Friday, September 7, 2007

Literary vs. Genre

One of the things I spend a lot of my time thinking about/wanting to read about is the topic of genre fiction vs. literary fiction, what the terms means, their artistic worth, and so on. Most of this relates to the perception of the artistic merits of fiction, and whether fiction needs to have pretty words to count as great art or not. This eventually turns into a debate about what qualifies as literary fiction and what qualifies as genre fiction, and it lierary fiction is just another genre or not.

The way I see it, the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction is this. Genre fiction—it's various genres, sci-fi, fantasy, western, mystery, crime, thriller, horror, romance, etc.—is interested in the tropes of it's particular genre, and literary fiction is more interested in the use of literary devices—foreshadowing, symbolism, character, imagery, structure, etc. Its basically two different approaches to relating themes, which is what all fiction is ultimately about.

Hence the difference in the readers interest. Readers of literary fiction want to read something that is, let's say, well-written. Readers of science fiction want something that involves science fiction. This does not mean that a science fiction book can't be well-written, or literary fiction piece involve genre element. Both occur. It's a question of emphasis.

For example, lots of Thomas Pynchon novels include genre tropes, like robotic men, ninjas, walking dead people. But the emphasis is more on the prose style and postmodern plotting and structure techniques. Hence, literary fiction. Also, most of those tropes are pretty derivative. Then there is someone like Philip K. Dick, who apparently, writes like crap, but has visionary, genius science fiction concepts. Hence, he's considered a major science fiction writer. In fact, it's often the case that some genre writers who are not really good "writers" are still considered very good writers because of the content of their ideas. Most of the pulp writers whose names we still know, like Lovecraft and Howard are known because of their ideas, the Cthulu mythos and the Hyperborian Age, respectively. Meanwhile, literary writers usually become well known for their innovation of technique, like Faulkner or Hemingway or Joyce. (Although I often feel like Joyce is his own form in an of itself, as he seems to be more a writer of ideas than form, and thus became the master of form as he was the master of ideas. Or something.)

In brief, genre fiction is about ideas, literary fiction is about technique. And both forms have both ideas and technique.

Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007

Via the Onion A.V. club, I see that Madeleine L'Engle had died. Guess I feel I should point that out, since I wrote this post about her work not too long ago. Now I feel bad about not finishing A Swiftly Tilting Planet. So it goes.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on her.

Got nothing done yesterday.

I spent most of my night finishing my A Familiar Dragon book. It collects the first three books in a series of five, so I ordered the last two online from Amazon. it's sad that the books are out of print. I hope the author, Daniel Hood, is doing all right.

The books should be here by September 10th. It will be nice to get something in the mail. Something to make this place feel a little more like home.

And hey, it's the weekend. Hopefully the writing juices will kick back in. I feel like of thrown off my game by that long weekend. Think I need to just bite the bullet and start pouring over my notes again, get back in the mindset. Any time now.