Guest post today by Sunny Frazier. She addresses the 'controversy' among writers about literary versus genre fiction.
(you know you want it)
Last summer rocked out to Robin Thicke's “Blurred Lines.” You either liked it, hated it or watched the video for titillation. Maybe it didn't even penetrate your radar.
I find the debate about literary fiction vs genre fiction much the same. I wouldn't call it a controversy and nobody is asked to pick sides. It's more than a misunderstanding. I'm going to call it the Hatfields and McCoys of the writing world. Authors get livid. Readers don't even know it exists.
Here's a simplified definition: literary fiction has merit. Genre fiction makes money.
The pricking point is that genre fiction writers feel like they are looked down on by literary folks. Their work is deemed sub-standard. Their defense is that they are writing books people enjoy. Books that are accessible to the average reader.
Literary writers find genre fiction too commercial. These writers are producing art. They want the respect of intellectuals rather than filthy lucre from the masses.
In trying to differentiate the two forms, Leigh Galbreath over at The Fictorians states that genre fiction is structured, literary fiction is more organic, experimental. Put another way, genre fiction has a plot and is usually going to wind up with a satisfying ending. The reader closes the book, sighs with pleasure and reaches for another book on the bookshelf.
With literary fiction, the reader has to WORK. It's some serious prose going on. The writing is more about language, style and technique rather than story.
Adding fuel to the fire is that very reliable source, Wikipedia. It states literary fiction must be “critically acclaimed,” and defines it as “complex, multi-layered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas.” Terms like “elegantly written,” “lyrical,” “darker” and “slower read” are used. But, it also calls it “an excessive or affected display of learning. Pedantic.” Ouch!
So, who's right? Is literary necessarily quality fiction? Is genre always disposable fiction? And, who makes that judgment?
At that point, things get tricky. Genres divide like amoeba, creating sub-genres. I write mysteries. In my genre there is the police procedural, amateur detective, hard-boiled, noir, craft mysteries, animal mysteries, historical mysteries, paranormal mysteries, romantic suspense—you name it, it's out there.
It's really not that cut and dry. Not only do I think it's possible for genre fiction to have literary aspirations, I believe authors should strive to go beyond easy labels. I have written short mystery fiction that won literary awards. Maybe the judges were just pleasantly surprised to have a murder in the mix, but I like to think there were aspects of the writing itself that wowed them. I work hard to elevate my writing without turning off my readers.
Sunny has been included in The Mystery Writers anthology, alongside Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, J.A. Jance and 54 other bestselling and award-winning authors. It includes writing advice and articles from mystery writers in 12 different subgenres including suspense, thrillers, crime, noir, traditional mysteries, amateur sleuths, private eyes, cozies, police procedurals and much more. Available at Amazon.com
Visit Sunny's site for her books and opinion.