There are lots of different kinds of books. But, given the number of books around, and the complexity of any attempt to categorise them, at the most basic level the writing world is split into two distinct camps.
The first camp, I suppose, is the one generally regarded as genre fiction. Of course, as the name implies, there are lots of different genres within it, like romance and scifi and fantasy and mystery and action-adventure. And each of these genres have their rules and conventions, which most writers don’t stray too far from. But overall, it’s really about telling a story. Start at the beginning, and then this happens and that happens, until you get to the end, all the while staying as true as possible to the rules of the genre. There’s nothing wrong with that. Lots of people like to write these sorts of stories and lots of people like to read them – including me – I’m more than happy to read a well-written piece of genre fiction any time.
The second camp is the one that would usually be defined as literary fiction. This is where story is more than just story. Characters aren’t just characters and plot isn’t just plot. There may be layered themes, or subtle comments about society. There may even be a range of references to other literary works, but very little actual plot to speak of. Reading literary fiction can be hard work, and hard to make sense of if you’re not well read enough to discern all the references. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with that either. Lots of people find this extra work to be very satisfying, and as for me, I’m happy to read a well-written piece of literary fiction if I’m in the right mood.
Of course, it’s never as simple as that. Much genre fiction contains deeper meanings than simple plot and exposition. And much literary fiction employs the conventions of genre fiction. But as a shorthand, it’s quite useful, most of the time. It defines two readily discernible poles, within which any story could be placed. Only problem is I’m never quite sure where my stories fit in within those poles.
My stories are definitely stories. They follow pretty conventional story structures, and I don’t believe they pose a huge intellectual challenge to read. Which would seem to place them clearly at the genre end of the scale. But then again, I like to think there are a few layers to my stories, a few deeper meanings that attentive readers can find if they want to – but are not essential to enjoying the story. And also, when it comes to genres, I’m never quite sure which genres my stories fit into. They tend to make up their own rules as they go.
So does this mean my stories fit more comfortably at the literary end? Given the breadth of literary fiction and the vagueness with which the term is defined, it’s possible. But I tend to think that my stories are a bit more ‘story-focussed’ then the average literary work. They don’t take so much intellectual effort to read, and they definitely don’t rely on a broadly-informed reader to make them work. So I don’t really think I’m a good fit for the literary side either.
So where do my stories fit? I suppose between these two extremes there’s a kind of continuum, and they could be placed somewhere in the middle (as could many other of the world’s greatest books). Where exactly is that spot? That’s probably less for me to decide, and more about where my readers choose to place them.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as