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The Argument between Literary vs Genre Fiction

The Argument between Literary vs Genre Fiction

From the Guardian: (You can read the entire article and contest if you visit the link)

One doesn’t want to decry authors who are certainly outstanding in their field (constructing a page-turner requires narrative skill); neither does one want to sneer at the tastes of book-buyers, for whom reading at all in this age of distraction is an increasingly fought-for pleasure. …….But genre fiction is, by definition, generic……The genre writer’s first responsibility is to the genre itself: they must fulfil readers’ expectations for convention, or they have failed. It’s easy to see how this becomes part of a capitalist enterprise, which requires market ‘product’ and fears innovation as a ‘risky sell’.

The argument between the factions of genre and literary fiction continues.

To my mind, neither side would win, and neither should. Fiction will always enlighten as well as entertain, and if it does too much of either, we have trouble on our hands.

There’s a lively discussion on this very topic over at Darcknyt’s blog. While I sympathise with my friend Darc’s confusion over transient and literary, I have to admit that I favor both types of fiction. I am an avid reader of fantasy and mystery, and then I also consume books that are somewhat “high-brow”. Books are books, and if they keep me reading, I keep reading them.

It is important to know your genre when you query an agent, but before you reach that stage, it is much too early to worry about what sort of shelf your work would fit into.

Since I haven’t reached that stage (i.e. do not have a manuscript handy), I’ll do what an honest aspiring writer ought to do, get back to my daily writing.

To those who would like to get in on the argument however, I looked up Nathan Bransford’s post on the topic (someone mentioned it on Darc’s post, and I remembered having read it), which gives a very well-thought-out opinion on the whole issue.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • ‘Genre’ is by definition ‘generic?’


    Both words may stem from the same Latinate root ‘genus,’ but they have nothing to do with one another. ‘Genre’ means ‘gender,’ and ‘generic’ means ‘unnamed.’ The only difference between genre writing and literature is found in the mind of pseudo-intellectuals who wouldn’t know their way around a library to save their lives.

  • Genre has been on my mind lately too. My philosophy is this: if you write because you love the act of writing, then write what you love to read. If you’re writing for a market then write for the readers.

  • DarcKnyt says:

    Overall, I think I agree. I want to try my hand at literary fiction, but I really do need to understand it first. I think once I can get my brain wrapped around what it is in a general way, I can do it without too much worry about the specifics.

    Unless, of course, those specifics trip me up … as they always seem to. 😀

    Thank you for the shout-out too. 🙂

    • damyantig says:

      Just write, Darc, and do not worry about what genre.
      I have written a few short stories, and while some of them turned out to be literary, others became sexual, horror, some even fantasy.
      Just let your unconscious go into its dreamspace, and watch it while it goes places. Then take down what you see. Err…I hope that wasn’t too vague, but it is the best I way i can describe the way I see writing.