Posts Tagged ‘genre fiction’

Jane Underwood

❝Interestingly, literary fiction is considered to be free of formulae. Sometimes, my students even insist that the difference between literary and genre fiction is that the former isn’t formulaic. But isn’t it? Don’t most literary stories start a scene, then introduce some back story, create primarily emotional conflicts, and then end only a few paragraphs after the protagonist experiences an epiphany. Sounds like a formula to me. Of course, there are an infinity of stories one can tell with this formula, or with subversions of the same. That’s true of literary fiction, definitely!❞

To Underwood’s blog entry, “On Formulas and Fiction”…

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“The truth is, we need popular fiction in our lives as accepted parts of the literary world. In one of my first creative writing workshops, the professor urged us to avoid “genre” fiction, claiming it was lazy writing. Over the course of the semester, many stories were shared, the majority of them lackluster, and, to be frank, boring (mine were no exception). The class was inundated with dysfunctional relationships and the daily tribulations of young urbanites.

One day a student turned in a piece that showed real promise. It was a children’s story, for around the same age as Bailey School Kids or Boxcar Children. It concerned a school for supervillain children, and one student who didn’t want to grow up into the next Lex Luthor, but instead wanted to become a tailor.

The story was, in a word, delightful. It was fun, clever, well constructed; I could see it selling well as a series or being the talk of the Scholastic Book Club. The entire class loved it, and told the writer so.

The professor tore it apart. Called it “juvenile” and said that it “wasn’t really literature, which is what we’re trying to write here.”

I was shocked. Even on a purely technical level, this was one of the better written pieces we had seen so far, and yet here the professor was, decrying it, with all of the knowledge accumulated from his three or four published stories.”

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☞ The incident mentioned by Nathan Elwood above was unfortunate. There is certainly a place for popular literature in creative writing classes, and most examples of popular literature can also be described as genre fiction. The students (and Elwood) might have attended a course for writing serious literature, but it is not always easy to determine beforehand if this was what they paid for, and if the teacher had a more liberal attitude towards fiction in general.