Let’s Talk Genre

It is the age-old debate of literary VS. genre fiction: which kind of writing comes out on top? Both camps have their fanatics. The struggle is vicious is ugly. And many fine stories have been wounded during the war. But why?

On one side we have genre fiction. Generally speaking (and there are always exceptions), it is plot-driven, characterised by its fast past, twists-and-turns, narrative devices and thematic predisposition, dependent on the kind of genre under scrutiny (horror, romance, mystery, adventure). It is fiction designed to entertain.

On the other we have literary fiction. Once again I speak generally, but here the focus lies on character development, structure and emotion, at the expense of plot and drive. It is the literature of thought and feeling and philosophy, making it more high-brow than genre fiction, but slower, less approachable and less urgent.

Both kinds of writing have advantages over the other, and both have their disadvantages. Fans of genre fiction might say literary writing was boring. Fans of literary fiction might say genre was trashy. Neither of these things are objectively true, of course. What neither side seems to realise is the potential for greatness, when the lines between the two are blurred.

Give your literary voice a plot drive. Slow the action/horror/romance for a chapter and listen to the characters. When does literary become genre, and genre literary? I’m not so sure it matters any more, and certainly – and I feel very strongly for this, having been subject to both prejudices in the past – a story shouldn’t suffer because somebody feels it falls into the wrong camp. The usefulness of genre labels – literary, genre or otherwise – extends to the grouping of similar books on the bookshelf, and should stop there.

The market for literary fiction is dwindling, whilst a lot of genre fiction could benefit from an infusion of character development and eloquence. By consolidating the two, I think they could both benefit. Is there anything to lose from trying?