Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Debate

As a wanna be a writer, no scratch that, as a writer and author (I have to count that one non-fiction, coffee table book as a publication, right?), I have this long-running debate percolating in my head. For those of you who have been with me a long time, the chances are good that you've heard a little snippet of this before. But that won't stop me now, because my brain is breaking with the words that need to come out. God help us all.

Anyway, the debate is this: literary versus genre fiction. Which one would I rather write? Of course, this leads to the question of, What the heck is literary fiction and what is genre fiction? There are so many good websites out there that can explain the nuances of both styles of writing, but I trust you can find those on your own. So let's cut to the chase and reveal what I've discovered (via some research, because you know that I'm a mostly untrained writer): that literary fiction depends on characters to drive the story, more so than plot. Therefore, literary fiction tends to be slower paced, if you will, and to some (including yours truly), that means uneventful.

Genre fiction, on the other hand, includes Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Western, Mystery, and more, and seems to rely on a faster-placed plot to move the story forward. There are a few exceptions, but I have more tolerance for well-written genre fiction than I do literary fiction. Many times, literary fiction can be so out-there (for lack of a better word) and so intent on exhibiting the lovely prose and perfect character descriptions, that I reach the end of the novel without realizing what the point of the story actually was. Cases in point for me: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. Both are well-lauded tales, both are beautifully written, both have sentences that I'd love to be able to piece together. Both bored me to tears.

In fact, recently I found this quote by Nathan Bransford, author and former literary agent, who wrote: 
"Sooooooooo much literary fiction I get in the old query inbox is plotless. It's just a character musing about the vagaries and eccentricities of everyday existence. The prose is lush, the character detailed, but one problem - absolutely nothing is happening and thus it's (forgive me) extremely boring. Good literary fiction has a plot."
I shouted Eureka! and sat in front of my computer, nodding my head and pumping my fist. Yes, yes, I agree with that! Plotless literary fiction? Not for me. I need to have plot!

So, back to my dilemma. Which would I prefer to write? I have no idea. I actually don't think I house enough depth within my soul to generate any novel that can be called literary fiction. And even though my first manuscript I gave to my author friend to be evaluated was termed by her to be "very character-driven," I can tell you (and so can the people who read the YA story) that the novel does not belong in the literary section of the bookstore. (Is there even a literary section for YA? I don't know. I'll have to look into it.)

Which means, I'm just going to write, and revise, and edit until I have my manuscripts in such great shape that it doesn't matter whether they're literary or genre fiction. They'll just be examples of good writing, ones that not everyone will like, but ones that no one can argue are at least well-written. I'll worry about categories when the agents actually come calling. And clearly, that hasn't happened yet.

Happy writing!
"Sooooooooo much literary fiction I get in the old query inbox is plotless. It's just a character musing about the vagaries and eccentricities of everyday existence. The prose is lush, the character detailed, but one problem - absolutely nothing is happening and thus it's (forgive me) extremely boring. Good literary fiction has a plot."
- Nathan Bransford (literary agent) - See more at: http://www.novel-writing-help.com/literary-fiction.html#sthash.yotIWuDg.dpuf

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