Creative Writing and Fiction Subgenres Help
Literary versus Genre Fiction-- What Do the Labels Mean?
Literary fiction is usually considered writing in which the author's concern is to be "writerly." Genre fiction is usually considered writing in which the plot and narration appeal to readers less interested in the literary merit of the writing. Authors of genre fiction, which includes mysteries, action thrillers, science fiction, and romance novels among its subgenres, are said to focus on plot and suspense for supplying reader pleasure. In literary fiction, even when utilizing plot devices like love stories or murder mysteries, authors say they work with the style of their language and the depth of their characters to investigate complex human themes, whether these themes appeal to a majority audience or not.
But there is irritation about what is exulted as literary and what is excluded. B. R. Myers wrote "A Reader's Manifesto" for the July/August, 2001 Atlantic Monthly magazine. It is subtitled "An attack on the growing pretentiousness of American literary prose":
Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be "genre fiction"—at best an excellent "read" or a "page turner," but never literature with a capital L. An author with a track record of blockbusters may find the publication of a new work treated like a pop-culture event, but most "genre" novels are lucky to get an inch in the back pages of The New York Times Book Review.
Everything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other hand, is now considered to be "literary fiction"—not necessarily good literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respectful attention than even the best-written thriller or romance… What is not tolerated is a strong element of action—unless, of course, the idiom is obtrusive enough to keep suspense to a minimum.
Despite the distinctions critics, publishers, and award givers make, most of us strive to write well and find our audience after we have written. To do this, though, we must be aware of the fiction subgenres.
One way to break fiction into categories (whether that fiction be literary fiction or genre fiction) is by length. Wikipedia's entry for fiction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiction) includes these popularized page-length guidelines in ascending order:
- Flash fiction—a work of fewer than 2,000 words (but often 1,000 or even less by some definitions)
- Short story—a work of at least 2,000 words but under 7,500 words
- Novelette—a work of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words
- Novella—a work of at least 17,500 words but under 50,000 words
- Novel—a work of 50,000 words or more
Whatever the length, though, to be considered a satisfying piece of fiction, in addition to having convincing characters, settings, and plot, the author must create a tone or voice for the work through word choice, narrator personality, background, and point of view, as well as through choice of images and details.
From these elements, a theme develops; it is the point the story makes from the outcome of the actions, reactions, and interactions of the characters, as well as the narrator's thoughts and impressions. A writer doesn't often start with a theme in mind. Instead, the theme develops as the characters reveal themselves to the writer. For William Faulkner, according to his statement in a Paris Review interview (www.theparisreview.org/viewinterview.php/prmMID/4954), the novel The Sound and the Fury arose not from a grand idea but from the kernel image of a little girl in white clothing muddied by the splattering of horse hooves as her grandfather's buggy arrives home.
All fiction deals with the notion of "what if?" In fictional worlds, authors can make suppositions about what would have happened under altered circumstances, circumstances the author in fact alters. Carol Bly puts it this way in The Passionate Accurate Story:
I think that the moment we are processing or typing along and we change how it was to how it might be, the natural ethical tastes of our species jump in and begin "loading" the situation. Suddenly, something very electric in our minds, but which goes about under the boring title of "values," has entered. It joins the first-draft writer and starts steering the story…
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