Valid Criticism or Literary Snobbery?

Literary SnobberyGenre fiction, originally referred to as popular fiction, has been around as long as there has been literature.

The idea of ‘genre fiction’ versus ‘literary fiction’ probably began its modern history in the 19th century with such authors of popular horror fiction as Mary Shelly, Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker, and popular science fiction authors like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Here we are at the beginning of 2014 and countless changes have taken place, many since the turn of this century. On the literary scene it would seem we are in a state of constant change; the publishing aspect alone has been undergoing radical change, so quickly that it is almost impossible to describe before it morphs into something different again.

Some of the other changes include the increasing number of genre labels that sometimes seem to me a little obscure, with the assignment to the various categories certainly more subjective than objective. At least we do seem to have some say in regard to the classification of those constantly splintering genres, with a degree of choice as to where we might look for those readers: the ones lurking in their enclaves, waiting to discover and, of course, appreciate our literary endeavours. As Indies, we are free to write across whatever genres we choose but, by pigeonholing our work, are we selling ourselves short?

In spite of the constantly diversifying genre categories, the so-called literary critics still seem to polarise literature in the same way they have for hundreds of years: ‘genre fiction’ versus ‘literary fiction’.

The following is one of the least jaundiced literary critic’s distinctions I’ve read: ‘Genre fiction is plot driven and written with the intent of fitting into a specific, literary slot in order to appeal to those readers familiar with, and fans of, a certain topic. Whereas literary fiction purports, generally, to agree upon qualities such as elegant, lyrical and layered prose, while contending with or attempting to contend with humanity’s truths and the inner workings.’

While a more scathing distinction is: ‘Genre fiction is pure escapism, often written in clichéd, poor quality prose,’ further describing the differences thus: ‘Genre fiction is largely lowbrow, while literary fiction is generally highbrow.’

Interesting points of view… as is this one: “Has literary fiction become just another genre, a label to describe poorly plotted, rambling and flowery, anal retentive prose that go nowhere?’

It seems strange indeed that most of the works of those early genre fiction authors is now considered classical and therefore, taken literally, literary. So, does the passing of time turn genre fiction into literary fiction? The answer to that seems to be a resounding ‘maybe’, if it lasts long enough. And what about the other way around… does literary fiction ever fit into the genre fiction mould?

Here is my take, for what it’s worth. I’ve read so-called literary novels that have obviously been well-written by classically-educated, extremely literate writers with a talent for words, but who were not necessarily good storytellers. Just as, I’ve read genre fiction that has been written by storytellers who were not necessarily classically-trained or well-educated. I believe that the best, most adept writers from both realms produce novels that, regardless of genre, have superb plotting, characterisation and depth, and also deal with some of humanity’s truths and inner questions. So, with the pacing and plotting of genre married to the discipline and panache of literary prose – regardless of what you call it – I believe that is a recipe for good, and entertaining, fiction writing.

You decide, is it valid criticism or literary snobbery? What has been your experience?

Author: T.D. McKinnon

Scottish author T.D.McKinnon ‘Survived the Battleground of Childhood’ in the coal mining communities of Scotland and England before joining the British Parachute Regiment at fifteen where he remained for five years. He has trained in the martial arts for most of his life and had five Karate schools in Scotland before immigrating to Australia. He writes across several genres and has completed five books that are all available as eBooks. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife. Learn more about T.D.McKinnon at his website and Amazon author page.

61 thoughts on “Valid Criticism or Literary Snobbery?”

  1. When I first started writing, the distinction between literary and genre bothered me. Then, I realized that some of my favorite authors were pulp authors and writers of genre fiction, some of whom were later considered literary lions. The key trait of all was that they were great storytellers. So, now, I proudly proclaim myself a pulp writer.

    1. ‘The key trait of all was that they were great storytellers.’ And that, Charlie, when it comes down to it, is all that should matter. Some may be light but uplifting, some deep and resonating, some shorter and therefore less time consuming, while others may be virtual tomes that demand an inordinate portion of your life. Whatever their design, if they are written well, there is a niche for all.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting today, Charlie.

  2. I think a lot of it has to do with social class, historically speaking, and maintaining a sense of exclusivity and prestige in an era of mass literacy. Then comes the era of mass marketing, which strives to categorise everything within an inch of its life into neat little boxes that can be targeted at neatly defined demographies (or ‘markets’), out of which emerge bloody minded tribalisms.

    Frankly, the last thing that the marketing industry wants (in an echo of those refined old leisured classes) is ‘product’ that makes the hoi polloi think.

    Personally, I’ve read plenty of genre material that provokes thought, explores the human condition, and that has something to say at both the emotional and intellectual levels — has all the hallmarks of literary fiction, in other words — but doesn’t wear its literary pretensions on its sleeves.

    I hope I am of this ilk in my writing (though it’s up to readers to judge whether my sleeves are clean or splotched with pretentious stains…)

    1. Hello, and welcome, sir, to my humble post on this prodigious, Indies Unlimited, website.

      I believe that you are quite correct in your estimation that the mass marketing media (and I believe wholly encouraged by the traditional publishers) tend ‘to categorise everything within an inch of its life’, also incite and promote that, age old, sense of snootiness in regard to what is and what is not ‘literary’.

      Thank you so much, Mark, for dropping by today and commenting.

  3. Snobbery has been around since the time of the ancients. The distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is just another form of snobbery in my opinion.

    Critics like to rave about the depth and flowery words and call anything that’s slow and plodding literary fiction. If something is exceptionally well written and has a decent plot, the critics will still say it’s good but add caveats, like that it will appeal to the massses, as if this is somehow a bad thing.

    However it’s categorized, fiction should appeal to readers. I think the problem with literary fiction is that one of the defining components of it–at least in the minds of many today–is that it can’t be appealing to most readers.(Think Jonathan Franzen who was upset about being an Oprah book pick because it meant she thought his work appealed to the lowbrow masses.)

    That’s snobbery, and a pretty poor standard for any type of reading material. Setting the standard that only the elitest, most savvy readers will understand or appreciate the genius of the writing is not a good thing.

    I think genre classifications help readers easily pick books they’re likely to enjoy, however I think literary fiction as a category is a head scratcher, because it basically is a snob label. I think ultimately readers have spoken on what they think of this, as genre fiction way outsells literary fiction.

    Beyond the labels, though, good fiction often sells.

    1. Ultimately, RJ, in regard to what sells, you are quite right; however I still feel that by the endless classifications we may be missed by readers who might really enjoy our work; ‘that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,’ but would you sniff something called skunkweed just to check that it didn’t smell sweet?

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, RJ, and always so thoughtfully.

  4. In my opinion every book can be placed into a genre depending on the story or the purpose. Any book can be well written or poorly written. To make the kind of blanket distinctions above does both readers and authors a grave disservice.

    For example, I write what is loosely labelled Fantasy. That is considered a genre. Yet, I’ve been told that the quality of my prose and my storytelling is very literate (and not just by fans of Fantasy). So I could label it literary fiction. Either label will prevent some searchers from taking a chance on my stories.

    If readers buy into the idea that genre fiction cannot be literary, or that literary fiction will not keep the blood racing or tell an intriguing tale they are missing out on a lot of good reads.

    In the distant past those distinctions may have had some merit. They no longer apply.

    1. As far as labels go, Yvonne, how about ‘Old World, Literary Fantasy’, I personally think that’s a classy label, and warranted. It would be more helpful, that way the tags would bring your titles up in a wider variety of searches.

      Thank you so much for dropping by today and commenting, Yvonne.

  5. I believe literary fiction began (and to some extent still functions) as an instrument of class distinction. The paragraph-long sentences, the page-long paragraphs, the expansive vocabulary, the metaphorical imagery, the dry wit, the multiple layers of meaning were beyond the ken of the working class.

    These works were written by members of the educated class for readers of the educated class – a wink and a nod to one’s intellectual peers. Who else could possibly understand and appreciate the soul-rending symbolism of Nunzio wearing a scarlet tie to his father’s funeral? Who else could care?

    The same cliques exist in art and music. Only the proper sorts have the intellectual acumen to appreciate the beauty of some few squiggly lines and to tell one discordant hoot from another.

    But each of these is infiltrated with pretenders and hangers-on. Each is eventually the victim of its own flawed reasoning and self-flattery.

    In the end, what these people say and do and think does not matter to me. I prefer the good opinion of the unwashed masses.

    1. It certainly is still used by the, so called, literary elite as ‘an instrument of class distinction’, Stephen; who for the most part do not realise that, unless those literary prose take a journey, with a reason for doing so, and actually get somewhere, the use of long sentences, expansive vocabularies and clichéd metaphors fail to impress, and not only the ‘unwashed masses.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and sharing your pearls of wisdom, Stephen.

  6. The genre distinctions really irk me. I know why they exist, because humans (and especially bookselling humans) like to put things into tidy categories, but painting all of literary fiction with the same tedious, plodding brush is doing a disservice to a massive number of works. Literary fiction is not always exclusive of plot, of excitement, of great storytelling. Yes, some are. Some get painted that way. I’d put Franzen there; I’m not a fan and I don’t like his snobbish tenor or the way he cuts down other authors. But TC Boyle, for instance, seeks to make his literary fiction accessible with humor, great characters, and fascinating stories. Yes, he’ll send me to the dictionary at least once per chapter, but I like that about him. I like to write literary fiction once in a while, because I love reading it and I like a good metaphor and some tasty prose, yet I’m conscious that readers want a story and yes (Lynne Cantwell) an ending. Interestingly, Amazon has in the last few months subdivided literary fiction. You have to dig deep and it’s only in the Kindle store, but they currently have nine categories under “Literary Fiction.” Interesting. But I agree that good writing and a good reading experience is what it’s about, no matter what category a book is slotted into.

    1. That’s actually ten categories of literary fiction in Kindle, Laurie; a bit of a joke. In part, the point I’m making is that something is well written or it isn’t. If it’s a novel it deals with characters and a narrative, perhaps several narratives as in multi layered, it also needs to be going somewhere and, for the most part, it needs to arrive somewhere: any larger truths are a bonus.

      Often times, authors limit their readership by using vocabularies that are too expansive and there are those, who are happy to be called genre writers, who do that. Conversely, those critics who use the term ‘literary’ to describe quality, elegantly written prose I kind of understand.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Laurie.

  7. For me, the only concern is which genre best fits my story to reach readers. With each new addition to the list of genre to choose, comes a change of the algorithm which will affect the rest of the already slatted titles. We have to constantly watch to see how the change affects our reach to readers, and our sales. Should we change to a newly created genre? Do we need to adjust our meta data? That is what concerns me in dealing with genre. Literary fiction or genre niche – we still need to reach someone’s ear for the story to be heard. Change keeps us all vigilant.

    1. You are right, Elisabeth, it’s all about reaching those readers; those little nuggets of gold in the slurry of humanity who will ‘get us’. And for those of us who do not stick with one genre, but speak with a definite voice that will talk directly to certain readers, regardless of genre, pigeonholing is not so easy. After establishing that readership the problem ceases to be, a problem, and they (the marketers) will advise us to ride the coat tails of a genre until you acquire the necessary readership.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Elisabeth.

      1. I can go further and say that most English literature majors that I knew read romance novels as light reading after the literary reading to give their heads a rest. They hid these books in textbooks and brown bags. lol 😉

  8. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me a good read is a good read. I’ve read in all genres except comedy. I like Henry Miller and I like William Shakespeare, and Heinlein, and Mathieson, Roth, Updike, John Fowles, and other mainstream writers. If the writer has a brain and an idea and can spell and construct an intelligible sentence, I’m likely to read him and enjoy his work.
    Genre is an organizational method. Why not place your desired line of writing into a genre to bring you a step closer to potential readers? Isn’t it a good idea to find your sci-fi genre separate from the mix of other genres, if you’re looking for what you read? It seems so to me.
    I write in two genres, sometimes three, and I’m glad to place them into a genre where they’re easily found.
    It seems to me genre is good for the reader as well as the writer.
    My only complaint about reading is a complaint about writing, and that is too many writers want criticism when they should be asking for correction. They seem to seek praise for having written rather than for having written well. I see childish grammatical and spelling errors in a probably 75% of the fiction I sample on Amazon and in excerpts posted on Google. I don’t want to read and stumble on errors and read and stumble on errors all through a story. And what’s worse, there are people who warn against these errors and offer tips for avoiding them who make the same errors they warning others about.
    I don’t get that at all. Why won’t this generation of writers take instruction?

    1. I would have agreed with you in regard to genre once upon a time. When I was growing up it was fairly straight forward; when you were looking on the book shelves there was contemporary fiction, historical fiction, science fiction and western fiction, and everything was pretty much found under those labels.

      As time went on and there were more books the genres began breaking down further and further: mystery, thriller, romance, fantasy, drama, comedy and on and on… Now, apparently because we have a relative glut of fiction being produced, we have proceeded to the point where there are approximately 210 genres, and further splintering daily.

      Gone it seems are the days when you could just brows the shelves and find what you wanted, and if you wrote and publish a book, supposedly, someone would pick it up and read it, and then pass it on, or at least pass the word on.

      As for the standard of writing… sad but true, but hopefully, eventually, as we learn to navigate this new and strange environment (without gate keepers), ‘the truth will out’.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting today.

    2. Blame the educational theories of the last 40 odd years. Instead of giving children the tools to become creative [once they have something to say], current educational theory avoids hobbling the creativity of young minds by not making them learn how to use the boring tools that make creativity possible in the long run. Plus, who needs to spell properly when we have spellcheckers? -rolls eyes-.

        1. Ah, so that’s what they’re calling it these days. In my day it was just called illiteracy. I must be getting old[er]. 😀

  9. Maybe it’s time we stop worrying about categorizing and judging each others work as anything other than it is. Maybe we should just be looking for good writing. Maybe, actually, there’s no such thing as literary fiction.

    Categories are all about marketing and sales. To me, that’s sad. I just want to read good writing. On my desk right now two Raymond Chandler books sit next to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and the Susie Bright edited Best American Erotica of 2004 — all four books contain superb sentences and engrossing stories.

    The best writing always seems surprising to me, like I had no idea you could do that.

    1. It made me smile too, David, and only people who don’t read novels (and I’ve met a few on my travels) won’t get that!

      Thank you so much for dropping by and sharing today, David.

  10. This is a great topic to discuss, T.D. Thank you for the post. I think it is in constant flux — these writing labels — and more than ever we are looking to make distinctions. But I think a good novel — a great novel, even — will contain a bit of both.

    The essay, “Daniel Abraham’s Private Letter from Genre to Mainstream,” is a fantastic piece on the marriage of literary and genre fiction.

    Here’s the link:

    1. So many here today agree, KP, that good writing or, as you say, great writing defies category, especially regarding the, so called, literary divide: ‘genre vs literary’ fiction.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting today, KP.

  11. IMO, the history of literary fiction is one of class, elitism, and snobbery, as many have said. There are those today who are still of that mindset. But the label is also useful today to indicate “just another genre” with certain qualities. Poorly done it is often the “poorly plotted, rambling and flowery, anal retentive prose that go nowhere” one of your quotes describes while when well done it fits the nicer sounding descriptions.

    To me, the more interesting question is what purpose genre classifications serve and whether they do more harm or good. I was about ready to discuss that and realized I’d have an entire post, so you’ll have to wait. 🙂

    To me one sign of a great post is if it gets me thinking, TD. Yours definitely fits. Thanks,

    1. Nice to see you here, Al, and I have an idea where you’re going to go with your, ‘What purpose genre classifications serve and whether they do more harm or good.’ In fact I had to pull myself up and chop a fair bit out that was originally in this post. It began as paragraph number five but it became obvious that there was an entire post in that one aspect. I will be interested to see your take on it.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting today, Al.

  12. Great post TD and excellent comments.
    I use genre classifications to find readers for my books. It is a way to market a product.
    I don’t choose my personal reading that way. When I come across a book that interests me I add it to a list. A well written book for me is one that makes me want to plan time to read it. I’m busy like all of you and if I’m not excited at the prospect of putting my feet up and losing myself in a story… then the book is not for me. I have suffered through most of the literary masters while in college. I want to read great stories like The Princess Bride, which has been on the TBR list for years.
    I can’t stand condescending publishers, writers, or critics. If you’re writing a sentence with ten commas I will need to read it several times to understand it and that may bore me. It doesn’t mean I can’t understand it, it means you have slowed down the flow of the story through your words. Whether you care or not, as a writer, is the point. Extra words doesn’t mean you have written literary fiction. It means, in my humble opinion, that the sentence is not crisp. 🙂

    1. Always lovely to see you here, Lois, and I agree with you on all counts. We really don’t have a choice as to whether we classify our work in a genre or not, the best we can do is slot it where we consider it will find those gems that will become our reading public.

      I too need a book to grab me by the lapels for me to manufacture the time (I certainly don’t have spare time just lying around), and I definitely don’t follow a specific genre, just as I don’t write in a particular genre. I also lean toward less rather than more, which is not to say I don’t wax a little lyrical on occasion.

      Thank you so very much for dropping by and commenting today, Lois.

  13. My own experience is that (classics aside) literary fiction consists of those works which are read only when someone is forced to read them (either for a class, or because of social consequences). Genre fiction comprises those works which readers WANT to read.

    And largely this is true even of classics. It’s easy to place Verne into science fiction, Shakespeare into romance, historical, fantasy, and other genres. Most classical fiction which people enjoy reading can, in fact, be placed in a genre without much trouble.

    A plotless story is a symptom of weak writing, much as a story with flat characters or poor prose would be.

    1. I would seem, Kevin, that you are answering in the affirmative to the question I posed in paragraph nine: ‘So, does the passing of time turn genre fiction into literary fiction?’ because, as you say, ‘Most classical fiction which people enjoy reading can, in fact, be placed in a genre without much trouble.’ And in their day were pretty much panned for being ‘popular fiction’.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting today, Kevin.

  14. I like your thoughtful post, T.D. 🙂

    As Laurie alluded to above, I prefer stories with plots that go somewhere. The literary fiction I dislike is the navel-gazing stuff where the main character lives the whole thing inside his own head, without really learning anything: no “aha!” moments, no changes of heart, and certainly no indication that the plot has come to a resolution of any kind.

    But I’ve read a fair amount of literary fiction, and I enjoy some of it. And as others have observed, there’s lousy “literary fiction” and well-written “literary fiction” — just as there’s lousy genre fiction and well-written genre fiction that, but for the subject matter (murder or magic or rocket ships), could be called literary fiction. And you’re right to a degree, T.D., about the classics that would get genre labels today: They’re classics today because they’ve stood the test of time, but also because genre labels didn’t exist when they were first published, so they couldn’t be marginalized in that way.

    I think you guys who said literary fiction began as a class thing are probably right. Now, I believe, it’s just another genre label.

    1. Hi Lynne, I’m sorry I’ve been busy so it’s taken longer than usual to get around to thanking everyone for dropping by and commenting today. It’s still the same day here although it’s the next day over there. But you’re right on all counts, particularly that there is good and bad literary and genre fiction writing, and for all sorts of reasons.

      As for the old classics, as I said to Kevin, many of them were panned for producing popular fiction; which was meant in the same disparaging way some critics say ‘genre fiction’ today. And, yes, literary fiction is listed as a genre classification; however some of the old snobbery remains.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Lynne.

  15. My big problem is WHAT genre to fit my own work into, for marketing purposes. Is it an animal story? Is it fantasy? Is it romance? (Yes, to all of those) The most accurate one is the “Visionary and Metaphysical” genre of fiction but that’s so new, no-one has heard of it so it’s of no use to sell the book, and we’re doing this for marketing purposes right?
    It seems okay to decide on your own genre, unless you decide your book is literary fiction. If you label yourself with that one, you’re only shouting your mouth off.

    1. Actually, there are quite a few indies doing well in the literary section on Amazon. Not as big a percentage as in most other sections – where genre fiction bestseller lists are about 50% indie, literary is only around a quarter. But that’s still not bad. 😉

      I think that today, “literary fiction” really is just another genre, another style of writing that appeals to certain readers, and not to others. Great fiction is as apt to come from any genre as it is from the literary genre.

    2. Hi Tui, yes I believe we are at the stage, pretty much, where we can decide and name our own genre, for the sake of marketing. I also think that if you believe you address some of the criteria for literary fiction ─ just as, if you believe you have aspects of fantasy you would put fantasy in the description, for example: A Sci-fi Fantasy ─ you might put it in the genre description, for example: A Literary, Metaphysical Fantasy. If indeed literary fiction is a genre handle, why not? We are talking about marketing after all; just remember the reason you are putting any kind of label on your work is to reach your readership.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting today, Tui.

  16. Genres should just be there to give a reader an idea of what kind of book they’re getting into … science fiction, detective mystery, sword-and-sorcery, military thriller. Any excess quantification now seems to be there just so that someone, somewhere, can be at the top of a relatively meaningless genre sales ranking list. Just list the book as the most relevant genre and let it go to be free and range the way Nature intended.

    “Literary Fiction” is such a moronic classification. ALL fiction is literary, as in that they are all literature. Whether it’s David Copperfield (Classics), 50 Shades of Grey (softcore erotica) or Twilight (failed kids primer), it’s all literature.

    1. Hi Rich, how nice to see you here, and yes you are so right but that’s not the way it is now is it. It’s like once upon a time I used to go into a café and just ask for a coffee, and now it’s a cappuccino, a caffé Latte, a caffé aulait, a moccaccino, a latte macchiato, an espresso macchiato, a caffé Americano and on and on, there are almost as many different coffee titles as there are genres titles.

      Let’s face it, the way it is now with genres you can call it what the hell you like, and if you’re selling your wares on the internet, and most are of course, whatever tag you manage to attach to your book will give it a wider score for the search engines, won’t it? All’s fair in love and war and marketing! As you say, ‘it’s all literature’, so just whack literary in the genre description along with whatever else it is, for example: ‘A Literary Western’.

      Thank you so much for dropping in and taking part today, Rich.

  17. My bottom line is this: I write what I enjoy writing and I read what I enjoy reading. I don’t give a fig the label. Yet, there are a of snobs in our business. I recently read an ebook I enjoyed. The author did not want me to write a review, because she and her book are ‘literary’ and she preferred her ‘peers’ to review her book.

    I’m a romance author. Not considered a peer. Perhaps I’m not considered intelligent. Pffft.

    I’m on the same page as srobert41: “… grammatical and spelling errors in probably 75% of the fiction I sample on Amazon and in excerpts posted on Google.”

    I get so annoyed these writers are taking up my time. A writer reached out to me earlier today. Said she was prolific. I looked up the books on Amazon. She has a four page book. Right–four pages, Selling it for a dollar. Snobbery? No. I call that arrogance. Or ego. Or something else.

    Lynn suggests: “…genre labels didn’t exist when they (classics) were first published, so they couldn’t be marginalized in that way.” Yes, they were. I hate to mention it, but I’m older than God and a few years younger than death…I paid 35 cents for for some early books in pulp fiction, now deemed classics. Thank goodness I wasn’t around for the dime novels. Where would one classify C.S. Forester’s 136 page little paperback, The African Queen?

    Genre labeling was a business decision by bookstores somewhere around 1970.
    Publishers fell in line with it to get shelf space. Before that books were shelved according to author name. In libraries by the Dewy Decimal system.

    Just saying…

    1. Hi Jackie, thanks for dropping by. Like I said in the article, originally labelled popular fiction, this snobbery has been around since the beginning of literature; and you’re right, those writers were marginalised by so called, literary critics also. The only thing different now is the number of books that are available; we have never seen its equal!

      The number of books written, and without any kind of gatekeeper, alone guarantees there is going to be a fair share of, shall we say, substandard material. I don’t know what the answer is; this is a new, developing industry, morphing daily ─ it has changed drastically even in the last year ─ but there is an abundance of talent out there and we have to keep the home fires burning so that they at least have a direction to take.

      Keep heart, Jackie, and thanks again for dropping in and commenting.

  18. In all honesty, I never knew that literary fiction is supposed to be “upper class” and genre fiction is supposed to be “lower class.” I simply thought that Literary Fiction was a genre that can’t be simplified into other genres, such as fantasy, horror, etc., or that it maybe contains hints of other genres but doesn’t exactly cross all the way over.
    For me, I write juvenile fantasy and YA paranormal. Why? Because I like it. I feel comfortable in these genres and I also enjoy reading them. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy other genres – I do. However, I feel strongest writing these two. I never knew the label of “genre fiction” got such a bad rap. Now that I do, I don’t care. LOL! To me, fiction is fiction, plain and simple. I am just honored to be able to contribute. 🙂

    1. The truth is that it really doesn’t matter, Nicole; read and write what you like, I know I do. You weren’t aware of the genre snobbery and it didn’t affect you in any obvious way. When I was first reading and then writing, I pretty much wasn’t even aware there were different genres, I just read what took my fancy and wrote what I felt like writing and it didn’t affect me in any obvious way either. Let the literary critics do their worse, we authors just keep writing.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting today, Nicole.

  19. Ted, enjoyed your post very much – thank you! For me, genre is tricky, since I write what may be called eastern spiritual fiction, or metaphysical fiction — and what complicates things further with regard to the current saga I am working on is that it involves a ghastly crime! So I came up with Metaphysical Crime Fiction as the genre — do you think this might be acceptable? I ask because you appear to be someone who has really researched the matter….would love to know….and can send you the synopsis of Krishna’s Counsel — my work-in-progress novel — just a para or so – if you would not mind. Best!

  20. Hi Mira, and that’s TD, not Ted. You are definitely not alone with the genre confusion thing. I have researched the subject quite extensively because I too have had dilemmas in regard to genre labels because I write across a variety of subjects.

    I must say that even after extensive exploration I am left just as perplexed. I certainly don’t consider that I have any expertise on the matter; however, in line with what I’ve said in my previous responses to the various comments about this article, I believe that genre labelling, with approximately 210 listed labels, has pretty much reached the point where you should label your material in a way that you think will best reach your target readership. From what you have said about your new endeavour, Metaphysical Crime Fiction sounds like it might be a fit and proper label.

    The best of luck with your ‘Metaphysical Crime Fiction’, Mira, and thank you so much for dropping by and contributing today.

  21. Dare I say it? An erudite and topical post, TD! Imho, the classics are simply those works of fiction that have universal appeal, embodying all the elements that make up a great, well written story. In 100 years’ time, no one is going to care what descriptive category those stories straddled!

  22. The oldest literature of all is fantasy, e.g. The Epic of Gilgamesh, or the relative youngster, The Odyssey. They have lasted not because of their choice of words, after all, only a very limited number of scholars actually read them in the original form, but because of what they say. In my view, “beautiful words” (which are in the eye of the beholder anyway) alone are unsatisfactory, but if some find that alone satisfactory, good on them. In my writing, I try to make my plots interesting, but I try to have an underlying message for those who are prepared to think about it. But under no circumstances will I try to emulate someone who professes to have a “better” style, nor will I ever like something because I am supposed to. I recently surprised a guide in an art gallery by asking what she thought of “that” – a painting, and when she had finished, I surprised her by saying I thought it was a scrambled mess. Both views are valid. The point is, if you cannot find some things more to your taste than others, independently of “the approved view”, you have no taste at all.

    1. We writers, each and every one of us, write with our own, unique voice; or at least we should if we hope to do anything more than be copy typists. So you are definitely on the right track, Ian.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Ian.

  23. I wonder if indeed this post and many of the illuminating, penetrating, thought-provoking, entertaining, enlightening, sometimes profound, humourous and occasionally invertedly snobbish comments and replies here … are in fact indicative of what literary fiction is (at its best) ………. so much more than just a collection of words that make sense ….but do little more than that.

    Literary fiction is supposed to be fiction with literary merit. But all fiction can be fiction with “literary merit”…. if it is good enough … (or perhaps if it merits being called “literature”). To me, “literary merit” is a bit like the difference between poetry and prose; or between great writing and good writing … great writing does lots of things: involves its readers; makes a connection with them (even if it is sometimes through allusions visible only to an educated elite); touches their hearts; makes them laugh; make them cry; feel anxious and relieved; makes them feel they know the characters: care for them, identify with them, love them or hate them; makes them want to read on and not put your book down; makes them want to know what happens next; helps them discover something new or many things that are new or inspiring; and leaves them with a feeling of enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and even elation (if you’re lucky). And maybe that’s not all!

    By the way, I thought about categorizing my latest book as metaphysical, historical, criminological fiction but had to settle for historical fiction and decided to try to describe it slightly differently in different retail outlets – even ‘literary fiction’ in one place. So I don’t have any problems with ‘literary fiction’ just with lazy and lustreless writing.

    1. Bravo, Gary… and most eloquently articulated. I particularly like, ‘Literary fiction is supposed to be fiction with literary merit. But all fiction can be fiction with “literary merit”…. if it is good enough,’ and that, I believe, encapsulates it beautifully.

      By the way, I too have an historical fiction that I wrestled with in regard to genre labelling; I finally settled with, yes, ‘Historical Fiction’.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Gary.

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