Hey, don’t avoid! Read and Learn! *wink*
I have discovered that a lot of readers, and some writers, do not comprehend the two very distinct style of fiction writing and so compare them regularly and erroneously. As a Genre Fiction Writer, I have suffered the annoying experience where a reader, or even a possibly “snobbish” writer compares my writing style to another writer’s simple because we both write fiction and most often, confidently tells me that such a writer writes better fiction than I do.
Now, let us establish something before we misconstrue TM’s words: There are many, many writers who write better “Genre Fiction” than TM. I know that.
The problem I have with the earlier people I was talking about is that they make their comparisons wrongly and completely out of context.
It is in the realisation of this, and having been many times irritated and have had my fill of such erroneous comparisons, that I decided it is time I do a study of the differences in the two major styles of Fiction Writing and to bring my comprehension of that study here.
And so today we are going to look at: LITERARY FICTION vs. GENRE FICTION.
Let us begin with GENRE FICTION since that is way easier to define and that actually is my style of Fiction writing. Now genre fiction simple defines all forms of fiction writing that can be included into the many categories, and/or, subgenres of fiction writing. Genre Fiction is also known as Popular Fiction—and I don’t need to explain why since more than half the world of fiction readers read this type of fiction. It is a plot-driven type of fiction and it is written with the pure intention to suit a particular, or several particular, sub-genres (or genres).
Some people call it “commercial fiction” because of its high demand in the fiction market. What mainly differentiates Genre Fiction from Literary Fiction is that the former focuses its attention mainly on Plot whilst the latter focuses more on characterization, the exploration of theme and on what is termed “fine writing”.
Of course, this does not mean that Genre Fictions do not contain all of the above three and contain them in a well-defined manner—because they do. It is just that the focus is on bringing forth a good and entertaining read. And to do this, the genre fiction writer must focus on the plot (the storyline) itself.
Genre Fiction is also characterised by its plenteous sub-genres. They are so many of them and many more are rising as genre fiction writers challenge themselves more to do something different. But the most popular ones (and we have done the list in the past) are: Romantic Fiction, Crime Fiction, Mystery Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Science Fiction and so on.
Now let us take a break here and get in the meaning of LITERARY FICTION before we do their comparison and know their differences.
Literary Fiction is the type of fiction writing that is principally character-driven. The story is mostly centred on the characters and developed around them. Unlike the Genre Fiction, it is not fast-paced. It moves at a slower, gentler, more defined pace building its characters as it goes and using a language style that is most often considered “literary” and thus judged “well-written”.
Some people consider Literary Fiction “serious fiction”, and this is mainly because its tone of voice is much more solemn than the genre fiction tone and the focus on character gives it a somewhat more meaningful appearance.
I, personally, do not consider any form of fiction writing more serious, or important, than the other. Neither do I consider a particular fiction style writer, or genre fiction writer, more important than the other.
Literary Fictions do not have genres, or subgenres. They are just considered Literary Fictions and are written, sold and read that way.
Now let us deal with the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LITERARY FICTION & GENRE FICTION
Already in defining these two types of fiction writing, we have discussed some of their differences. But so that we are clear and that we properly differentiate in future, we will list the differences below:
- PLOT: Genre Fiction is all-focused on the plot of the fiction, that is the storyline, or story, of the fiction. The writer develops his/her story around the plot. Greater attention is paid to plot in genre fiction writing and it is the plot that entertains and engages the readers. Whilst Literary Fiction is almost plot-less. There is a plot, I don’t say there isn’t, but the writer is not focused on developing or building the story around that plot. The story is built around the characters in the story, the theme of the story and the selling point of Literary Fiction is its literary language.
- SPEED: Genre fictions are fast-paced. They move at the pace of the plot. They are quick to read, easy to follow, contains little or no ambiguities and so are un-obstructive when it comes to understanding the story. Whereas Literary Fictions are slower paced. They take their time building on the characters and in particular the Protagonist’s. They follow the character’s growth at a slower pace and delve deeper into the character’s life. If for example the story is focused on an abused young woman, the writer will delve into the mental agonies suffered by that woman, the effects of that abuse on the character, her journey towards survival and so forth. This slows the story, makes it more complex and therefore, possessing that “serious” attribute.
- THEME: Literary Fictions are also very much theme-focused (and we have said that before), but that is another major difference between Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction. Again, there is need to state clearly that Genre Fiction also focuses on its characterization, theme and language style. But it does so with less seriousness and with less detailed focus than Literary Fiction. Still using the example of the abused young woman, whilst the Literary Fiction writer focuses on the characters (or major character), he/she will at the same time focus on the story’s theme: abuse. Being a slow-paced fiction, the writer has “all the time” to discuss the emotional, psychological and so forth traumas of abuse. Whereas the Genre Fiction writer would be more focused on carrying his/her readers through the journey of how “Young Woman” went from being abused to conquering her abuser or possibly dying in her abuser’s hand.
- “FINE WRITING”: This is highly expected in Literary Fiction. And this is not flowery, lush, sensual or vivid writing—these you are most likely, and possibly definitely, will find in Genre Fiction. “Fine Writing” is all about clear language, simple language, detailed language, poetry-kind of language where descriptions are exact and not effusive. Where the prose is well-crafted and rich. Where “fancifulness” is exempted and a kind of realistic, yet descriptive, language is employed.
- NO RULES: There are no rules in Literary Fiction. You have a theme? Go ahead and tackle it any “damn” way you deem fit. You have a story? End it whatever way it pleases you. But in Genre Fiction, writers are guided, and dare I say, encumbered, by the rules guiding a particular genre. For instance, you dare not end a Romantic Fiction with anything but “and they lived happily ever after”. Happy endings are expected of Romance Fictions and if it’s absent, then it’s not Romance. Crime Fictions are expected to show a crime, or several crimes, then uncover the crime and then seek justice for the victims. Anything else is an error and they begin to find a genre name for it.
Now to better help us understand these distinctions when we come across them I am going to list a few Genre Fiction books (or eBooks) and some Literary Fictions books (or eBooks).
EXAMPLES OF GENRE FICTIONS:
I will list by authors’/writers’ names:
- Stephen King
- Dean Koontz
- Nora Roberts
- Judith McNaught
- TM David-West (hey, and why not? Lol)
When reading stories written by these writers, you are reading Genre Fiction. All you need to remember is that genre fiction is characterised by a multitude of genres and subgenres and so their style of writing will most certainly differ. And so will their style of writing be different for the different kinds of genres they write. For example: For Better, For Worse has a tone that is imitative of the “fine writing” style of Literary Fiction because it belongs to the genre called: Realistic Fiction. Therefore I had to use less flowery language than I usually do. But it is not a Literary fiction and wasn’t intended to be.
Now EXAMPLES OF LITERARY FICTIONS:
This I will do by both authors’/writers’ names and book samples:
- Chinua Achebe
- Chimamanda Adichie: Americanah.
- To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
- Eru Ti Fe (or something like that) it used to be an unfinished free-read on Nairaland written by White-Mosquito
And I just saw this one yesterday, which prompted my deciding to deal with the subject of Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction once and for all:
- Secrets and Scandals by Skarlett on Nairaland.
*How much of the Literary Fiction style she can bring to play I don’t know but she seems to be making a good head way.*
And so there you are with examples to guide you should you want to get a better understanding of Literary Fictions and Genre Fictions. When reading fiction, bear in mind that because it is fiction doesn’t make it same type of fiction as the other fiction you have in your bookshelf, or mobile device. Educate yourself before you make the error of comparing wrongly and be sure you are versed in the different types of Genre Fictions and the rules that guide them before you tell a Genre Fiction Writer that her Contemporary Romance novel (or novelette) is not as well-written as the Miss B’s Historical Romance Novel.
Or even worse, tell Crime & Detective Fiction Writer A that he is a better writer than Sweet Romance Writer B.
If you must do comparisons, and for the life of me I don’t know why you should, compare rightly!
And that is our lesson for today. I do hope we have learnt something. At least now you know that TM David-West is a Contemporary Genre Fiction Writer and Chimamanda Adichie is a Literary Fiction Writer—don’t compare us, please!
But hey, nothing is written on stone, is it? We can dance whatever tune pleases if the inspiration beats right *wink*
Have a great week y’all and keep reading… and writing. Cheers.