Response #8: Genre Fiction in Creative Writing Classes

I’m sorry that this posted a few days early. This blog post is for NEXT WEEK, APRIL 9-12.
The response for TODAY (APRIL 2 OR 3) is on the partial. THIS ONE.

First, read this blog post by a former student of mine, Sal Pane, who is also a teacher of creative writing.

Then, consider the following questions and statements:

  • The books we find and read as young people are generally commercial fiction, genre fiction. The only place to buy books in my hometown was at the grocery store, for example. I wasn’t exposed to literary fiction much. I wrote about this here. I find it interesting that what probably brought you to the creative writing classroom is your love of genre fiction. And the first thing you learn is that the kind of book that brought you to us isn’t acceptable in the classroom. Or most classrooms. 
  • You need to know this: if you want to get an MFA, you will have a very difficult time getting in if your writing sample is genre fiction. This is because most of the faculty (not all) who teach in writing programs don’t write genre fiction. And remember, decisions about who gets in are made by a committee comprised of writing faculty, and the number one criteria is the writing sample. You don’t just apply to an MFA program like you do to college. For example, the most competitive programs might receive 500-1000 applications for 8 spots. This isn’t a bias being expressed by individual writing faculty. The governing body of this discipline, AWP, clearly says that the standard in creative writing programs is “work of publishable LITERARY quality.” So: what I’m saying is that if your novel for this class is pretty much straight genre, and you want to pursue an MFA, you will have trouble getting in to most programs if you use this book as your writing sample. You can piss and moan about this, but it won’t do much good. You have to decide: if you want to pursue a graduate education AND you want to be a genre writer, start thinking hard about this issue. Do you need an MFA in order to write the kind of book you want to write? Are you willing to write a different kind of book in order to get in and to graduate? 
  • What, other than marketing, is the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction? What genre fiction do you consider to be “LITERARY” and what genre fiction do you find not literary?  

Your 500-750-word response must refer to the Sal Pane post to demonstrate that you read it.

Advertisements

28 Comments on “Response #8: Genre Fiction in Creative Writing Classes”

  1. Mia Hanneken says:

    I have never had much interest in genre fiction writing. I don't know if it's because I have a clear eye on publishing and I know genre writing isn't super marketable, or if I naturally like what is considered literary fiction. Sal Pane talks about how demoralizing the classroom can be because of the stigma against genre writing, and I can wholeheartedly empathize with this. So many classes I've been in have said that we don't study mystery novels or romance novels because it's "not real literature." As if they don't have the essential components of "real literature." But as Pane says, they always have the crucial parts: character, setting, and plot. I have yet understand why this isn't considered worthwhile reading since genre writing appeals to so many people. Think of Nora Roberts, Stephan King, and James Patterson's success in genre writing. Why is this considered meaningless, useless writing? Since I have little interest in genre fiction, I don't read much of it. Because of my inexperience, I am unsure about what I consider literary and what I don't. I think the part of the reason these books aren't considered literary is because these novelists seem to produce them so quickly, implying (wrongfully, I'm sure) that thorough time and thought isn't spent on each novel, that it represents nothing significant. As a writer, I can only imagine how discouraging this is that your writing isn't taken seriously. So simply from a sympathetic point of view, I can't say that any genre of writing isn't "literary."

  2. Maye says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Maye says:

    I hear all about this prejudice against genre (and for literary writing) in creative writing courses. I also have seen “literary” writers bend the “rules” by adding elements of genre into their literary works (as Sal Pane also mentions), and I have seen experienced genre writers include literary elements as adroitly as literary authors. As to what constitutes genre and what literary art, it is sometimes difficult for me to differentiate by other than the most obvious markers: whether it has (Salvatore Pane’s) vampires, is primarily a love story, is about a detective solving a crime, takes place in outer space, incorporates monsters or alien life forms or axe murderers… I suppose there must be some bar against which to measure what creative writing students should be taught, and to which we must aspire and be judged by (because after all, one must be graded). Literature has certain elements or tools that need to be learned, practiced, and (hopefully) someday mastered. Writing that is good, that engages and moves readers, that endures – whether or not it is genre or literary – incorporates these elements, which include plot and characterization, and emotionally honest depth. (With the possible exception of really bad cult classics, which endure for some reason unknown to me.)Is it possible for formulaic writing (I am referring to standard genre formulas) to engage and endure – to be made of literary quality? Probably. (I’m sure that I have read some, though at the moment I cannot think of a specific example.) And certainly that which is not of literary quality, ought to be considered as existing below the bar. Does all literary work exist above the bar? Do I even need to answer that? There are times I really wonder what publishers were thinking when marketing certain “literary” works. (Again, I cannot think of a specific example.)As readers, we know when a work is of high quality, don’t we? We feel it because the world and characters created by the author touch something deep within us, changing us somehow. We sigh, and say to ourselves, “yes, it is exactly like that.” Sometimes when we say that, we’re saying it about worlds and creatures we could never remotely encounter (in real life).I have often heard that one must be knowledgeable of and experienced in the rules, before seeking to break them – if one wishes to produce art. In every field, it seems whatever the rules are, someone comes along and breaks them in order to create something spectacular, something new. And then the new thing becomes the standard against which everything produced is judged.I believe it is the mastering of these elements of story that writing must be judged by, rather than the subject matter it contains. I think that is what Sal Pane is also saying. Learn the rules so you can someday break them. But don’t let the rules break you. Use our time in creative writing courses to experiment, and so find our personal writing “path”.But what do I know? I am still a student (who also wants to be accepted into an MFA program). I will, of course, refrain from including a western scenario with horses and pistols in my writing.

  4. Sarah Chaney says:

    Sadly, I’m one of those students who came to college expecting to indulge in writing. I didn’t realize writing was restricted to certain types of writing. I grew up reading genre fiction, so naturally that’s the only thing I knew how to write. While I am slightly bitter at the university’s attempt to stifle the genre portion of my writing, I can now see that it benefited me. Before college, I wrote stories because of their exciting plot. I wrote a story and just chucked a couple of characters around in there that are acted upon by their surroundings or other characters. Now I can’t wait until graduation (four weeks, ahhh!) to start dabbling in “literary genre” writing. Yes, I just made that up and it will be a thing someday. It saddens me that people can be so snobby against genre/literary. In college (or at least this is how it has come across to me) students think that because literary writing is expected of them, it’s okay for them to look down at genre writing and to scoff at people who do write genre fiction. I admit there have been many days I’ve been afraid to admit that I enjoy reading genre fiction, let alone that my passion is to write in genre fiction.Who says it can’t be both? People always tend to see things in black and white. It’s either good or bad. The internet is good or it’s bad. Genre fiction is good or it’s bad. Why not both? To answer your last question, I think literary writing is character driven vs. plot driven (at least, this is the definition fed to me when I got to college. Up until that point I had no idea what distinguished literature from genre). I just stayed up until 4am last night reading the first Hunger Games book. It is definitely plot heavy, but it’s also very much character driven. Things would have turned out a lot differently if Katniss hadn’t made decisions, which were reflective of her past/personality. I totally agree with B.J.’s point in Sale’s article that “it’s quite hard to create an entire world and its people in twelve double-spaced pages.” When I first got to college, I was shocked and a little bitter over two things: 1) I had to write short stories (vs. novels) and 2) I had to write something called “literary” (which I had no idea what that was at the time). It quickly became apparent that there is a reason why fantasy is discouraged in short stories, for the reason listed above. Once I had an understanding of that, I was a little bit more willing to write out of my comfort zone and it worked out okay.I partially agree with Pane’s comment that literary is an umbrella genre. Is it? Especially when it comes to sci-fi / fantasy, it’s usually just considered genre, regardless of whether it has elements of literary fiction. Here is a crude example: I’m a quarter Japanese (although I don’t look anything like it) and many of my friends refer to me as Asian even though I’m mostly Caucasian. My cousin is half Japanese and half Caucasian, but people just consider her Asian. Do you see my point? Even if it’s mostly literary with some elements of sci-fi / fantasy, I feel like it often gets slotted into the genre writing category. It may be true that literary is technically an umbrella term for all forms of genre, but I feel like the way it is treated in universities, it teaches students to separate literature from genre writing.While I do want to write in the “genre” portion of literature, I am still considering getting an MFA. Regardless of what kind of book I want to write, educating myself on writing as a whole (structuring a book, building believable characters etc.) is beneficial to me. Even if that means producing a writing sample that is notin my strongest area of expertise.

  5. ((Daniel Na))Oh all the issues I have with this….Just what makes something "literary"? Lyrical sentences? Strong characters? Well constructed word choice? A intricate plot? While you're over there defining literary for me, why not define "art" for me as well? I find the two quite similar in both their aspirations and their difficulty to categorize. This is not a polemic argument. It is not one or the other. To claim that Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, genre works that have and are influencing generations in every aspect of creative work, are not literary, is ludicrous. Shakespeare wrote for the masses, he was a commercial playwright, and his plays are filled with low-brow baudy humor. But he is "literature". Why?As to what Pane/BJ wrote: I'm not sure I agree with them. To address BJ first: 1.He says that there can be a pushback from other students as they are pushed beyond their normal aesthetics. Isn't that the point of college? To introduce students to new things? And on the flip side, when "literary (whatever that means)" students are forced to read genre and there is a pushback, that's a problem. What about all the genre writers who have to sit here and read your "literary" works?2. He says its difficult to create a world in 12 pages. Certainly. But what else should I be doing in college, than challenging myself? Just because it's *hard*, students should not try it? There are plenty of anthologies of short stories done in genre. There is even a site dedicated to short stories in the fantasy/sci-fi genres (http://www.tor.com/).3. He says that professors feel under-qualified to discuss it. Well, to that, I say that a good genre work has all the same markings of a good literary piece: strong character development, good sentence structure, pacing, plot, etc. One doesn't have to be intimately familiar with genre tropes to help someone improve their writing.The only thing that I have to say about Pane's statement is that it bothers me that he claims the character as the absolute end-all of good writing. I don't believe in absolutes when it comes to writing, anymore than I believe in them when it come to art. I certainly think that good characters are important, and I strive to have them in my writing, I just don't like the absoluteness of how he stated it.My own experience in this program…don't reflect this prejudice at all, actually. I don't think I've ever had a professor that was profoundly against genre or tried to force me to write to their tastes. Maybe I'm just lucky.I'll end with a quote from Neil Gaiman, a writer I highly respect:"Write for yourself. That way you’ll be making at least one person happy. And if other people like what you like, you’ll have an audience."

  6. Zatoki says:

    I hadn't really thought about the lack of genre writing in classes until this article. On one hand, I understand. I was kind of hesitant to write my novel as a genre piece simply because creating a world from scratch can be heavily intimidating, just as Pane pointed out. I agree with him, how genre should be allowed just as much as any other form of fiction, as long as the stories still provide good characters. His example of the different Star Wars trilogies was perfect. All of the characters in the old trilogy are memorable, even to the most minor character, but the new trilogy basically focused on special effects and visuals instead of good character development. I hoped to do that with my own science fiction story, develop good characters instead of focusing on cheap frills, but I might have been a bit too zealous and didn't develop my world well enough.In middle school, my seventh grade English teacher taught us several genre novels, such as The Hobbit and the first Artemis Fowl novel. I didn't exactly care for that specific teacher, but, for once, I actually enjoyed reading the novels in my English courses. I learned of foreshadowing, themes, and other elements found in various literary works. I mean, it's really hard to define what exactly is "literary" and what isn't. With the language in such books as The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones, and so on, I would definitely call them literary. But someone else could disagree with me entirely. I wouldn't necessarily call the first The Hunger Games a literary novel because of the way it is written, but I know there are others who would strongly disagree with me. Besides my seventh grade class, genre fiction really didn't come up that often except for an English class I had in college a year or so ago (the class in which I fell in love with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). It's a shame MFA programs don't consider all genres of writing equal as long as they are well-written and provide compelling characters. But you don't have to be dragged down by the constraints of others. As can be seen from the likes of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings and so on, people do read these books. I love these kind of books, love immersing myself in different worlds but with characters I can still relate to. Whether or not a certain select group considers them literary or not is irrelevant when you enjoy what you do and people actually read it. I know I wouldn't necessarily want to restrain myself to a certain format in order to get into graduate school. Then again, I'm not really thinking about graduate school at the moment, even if I'd pursue an MFA program. But yes, in my opinion, all forms of writing, from sci-fi operas to epic fantasy adventures to something akin to Mrs. Dalloway, I think all forms of writing can be considered literary.-Tyler Trosper

  7. Ryn says:

    I think I've known—and perhaps I've known this since your 307 class—that writing “genre fiction” is not what the world of academia looks for. But I wonder if it's for the reason that I feel Pane outlines, which is a startling similarity between characters and limited characterization. Certainly I've been hesitant while reading manuscripts containing vampires—consider it a Twilight knee-jerk reaction—and I understand why academia would not want that. But I tend to think, perhaps, that there is a belief that genre fiction somehow lacks the tools of “normal” fiction, and that is, I think, terribly incorrect. (Pane fortunately seems to agree with me on this point.) To suggest that writing science fiction, western, or romance is so far removed from literary fiction feels disingenuous; the same abilities of deep characterization and complex plotting are still required for a novel to be engaging. Not to say that genre fiction and literary fiction are the same, of course; there are difficulties in writing in either type. But to suggest that genre fiction is somehow “lesser” than literary fiction? I have to wholeheartedly disagree, and I think that it's the stance academia has taken.To quote Pane: “Arguable, every story—regardless of genre—has a plot and characters and a setting.  All of these skills can be easily transferrable.  To quite Robert F. Kennedy (who may or may not have been talking about genre fiction), ‘That which unites us is far greater than that which divides us.’  And I think this applies quite well to genre fiction in the workshop setting as well.”When I think about the MFA question, I consider that the manuscript I've written for this class—for my thesis—is not the only story I've ever considered, and that it's actually my first foray into whatever genre it is. I suppose fantasy would be it. I've thought about writing dystopian novels, YA novels, historical fiction…I never feel as though my tastes have pigeon-holed me into genre fiction unwillingly, and I am always open to the idea of a different type of story. (Having the skill to write it? Well…we'll see.) Of course I also consider that I'm being dissuaded from obtaining an MFA and have sought out similar programs (MLitt, for example) to understand how they differ and how they will help me in the coming years.Related to what is “literary” and what isn't, I really have no clear answer. We could spend all day arguing whether or not, for instance, Harry Potter is “literature” or not, by whatever definition we choose to impose upon those works. How do we define literature? How do we decide what isn't? If I had to hazard a guess, it would have nothing necessarily to do with the writing, the characters, the plot, or the language. The force that really propels a work into that ever-exalted label of “literature” has to do with theme, and—more importantly—a theme which transcends space-time, holds true across the ages, speaks to generations beyond the barriers of human life and the life of a book on a shelf. It is through this that we continue to read works that can be considered “problematic,” works that contain the author's own prejudices of the time and yet still have a theme worth considering. (There was actually a small discussion on Tumblr today regarding Lovecraft's works, I think.) It is because of this that we read works multiple times, ask questions about them, write essays about them. The entire foundation of literature studies wavers on that ability for a work to continually speak to us even when the author is dead (and probably rolling, sometimes) in his grave.So really, there is no difference between the two, except that those lucky enough to be given the “literary” distinction are those works who echo out beyond their pages and beyond the graves.

  8. Cindy Martin says:

    I love genre fiction. I’m usually reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or murder mysteries. And I have never had a problem with writing genre fiction in a creative writing class. I have never had a teacher tell me that I can’t write something that is in a genre. In fact, most of my writing teachers have encouraged students to write in genre if that’s what they’re most comfortable with. The only thing I’ve noticed in my classes is that most students tend to stick with more realistic stories. I think this is more because realistic stories are easier to write in twelve pages. Genre fictions often need too much explanation of the world they’re in to be very feasible for a short story.But I know that most literature professors do have a prejudice against genre fiction. Unless it’s considered a “classic,” like “Frankenstein” or “Dracula.” It’s unfortunate since the most popular books are genre fictions. There has to be a reason these books are so popular. I think English professors need to start taking popularity into account when they’re considering books to put in their syllabus. I completely agree with Pane that character is key to a novel. The most memorable stories are the ones with the most memorable characters. I read a lot of genre fiction, and I know that often the characters can be very shallow. Sci-fi often becomes more about the science that the characters. But then there are novels like “Ender’s Game” that are considered top genre novels and literary novels. And it’s because the characters are compelling. The science of the world is important and almost completely fleshed out, but it’s more about the characters than the world they’re in.I don’t think there is such a thing as a “literary” novel. All “literary” means is that it relates to literature. And technically, every novel and short story is literature. I like to think of “literary” to just be another genre. Of course, I know that colleges don’t think that way. I will admit that some novels are better than others. But I also feel that that is a point of personal preference. For example, “Great Expectations” is considered a great novel, a classic. But I hated reading it. I thought it was a terrible book. If I were a teacher I would never force that book on my students. But to many people it’s a wonderful book. Or I love James Patterson’s books, but to many professors and scholars, his work is formulaic and worthless. I still consider them literature. The only thing that makes a novel “literary” is getting stuck with that label by scholars and teachers. It’s not something inherent in the novel. It’s a label, just like fantasy, romance or thriller.

  9. Cathy Day says:

    Some things to consider and remember:–We will talk about this issue more IN CLASS at the end of the semester when we discuss the publishing world and how to submit work. –Applying to MFA programs is not that much different from submitting work to the right agents and editors. If you have written a YA paranormal romance manuscript, and you're going to the Midwest Writers Workshop to "pitch" to agents. You're trying to figure out which agent to select. You go to this webpage: http://www.midwestwriters.org/speakers-faculty/ There's four agents: Kathleen Ortiz, Brooks Sherman, Sarah LaPolla, and J.L. Stermer. You'd read their bios and see what kind of book they represent. Why would you pick Brooks Sherman when his bio clearly says he's open to all YA fiction EXCEPT paranormal romance? No, you'd pick Kathleen Ortiz who DOES represent and like that kind of book. It's pointless to get upset that an agent isn't interested in your book. Why waste your time and energy ranting about it?–If you decide to apply to MFA programs, you have to do your homework here, too. Find out who's on the faculty, read their work, read interviews by them, and see if you can find out "their aesthetic." A lot of younger creative writing teachers/writers (say my age) are open to and actively writing "crossover" novels (they crossover between Adult and YA or Literary and Genre). If those people teach somewhere, APPLY THERE, not at the school where both members of the fiction faculty publish straight-up realism. UNLESS you feel like your work transcends "straight genre" and is also literary. For example, you think your dystopian novel is more in keeping with Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO or Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE than Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES. Then by all means, apply where you want. –But know this: it's always a crapshoot. You could just as easily be an experimental writer who gets rejected because a particular faculty is not sympathetic to that aesthetic, or someone who writes realism who gets rejected because a particular faculty is not sympathetic to that aesthetic. THIS IS THE REAL WORLD PEOPLE. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS. If you want to be a professional writer, prepare yourself.

  10. Phoebe Blake says:

    Sal Pane’s blog post really hit home for me. When I first entered college I was so excited to start my writing career. My number one goal was to get published while in college (checkmark) and then to make the bestsellers list after I graduated. Sadly, I did not even know about literary fiction and its importance until I started college. I remember being overwhelmed with the concept of underlying themes in literature and how there was a craft to every sentence that went into a story. Okay, no problem, I accepted this and just figured it would apply to my massive love of Romance novels (yes, I’m that girl that everyone in creative writing hates—I’m a swooner). But then I started hearing other students gripe and complain about romance in literary. Many referred to the Romance novel as “complete and utter porn”. Even a professor dared to bring up the topic of Romance novels and frustratingly, I had to sit there and listen to her go on and on about how unimportant they were and that they would never be a part of literature. After that, one girl in the class chimed in, mentioning she thought reading Romance novels made people less intelligent because it refused to host smart conversations throughout the text. The talk of love in the novel could only live in a dreamer’s world and would not teach the principles of reality. Of course I was frustrated! I became a writer to write what I love and everywhere I went (and still go) in the English Department people are telling me it’s a ridiculous genre to write about. I am really pleased to find Sal Pane contemplating these genre fiction issues. It’s a great thing that Sal decided to use a variety of stories to help everyone in a classroom understand the ways of different genres in fiction. I also think by doing this it keeps students on their toes and blocks the monotonous ways of reading literature over and over. To learn, students need variety and entertainment. I love when I read something for a class that surprises me and I end up enjoying it. I know going into certain classes the texts I will read will be boring and I question, “How is this supposed to help me write what I want to write?” But I always have to suck it up and find a way to read the text anyways because it must have at least some value otherwise it wouldn’t be taught, and I’m open-minded enough to soak up any new information I can.Creative Writing professors should continue to find a way to incorporate genre fiction into the classroom. I mean, most of the students they are teaching (at least for me) grew up reading the enjoyable novels from the Young Adult section in a bookstore, not the literature section where the novels are more complex and express adult themes with high textual information that kids don’t have the patience to learn from yet. So finding a way to bring in stories that take college students back to what they loved to read and learn from in their youth is what is most important in developing a student into a better writer. Any classes concentrating on genre fiction—sign me up!

  11. Sondra says:

    I’ve heard this double standard for literary writing and genre writing mentioned quite a bit. Genre writing has historically been considered “better” than literary fiction. Because of this, I’ve seen a lot of people create competing sides of their own fiction reading and writing. I have many friends in the creative writing department who will tell me their favorite authors are J.K. Rowling, Nicholas Sparks, or C.S. Lewis, but then claim Ayn Rand, John Steinbeck, or F. Scott Fitzgerald when asked the same question by a professor in a creative writing class. There is definitely something to be said about these popular names in literary fiction, and obviously a shame felt by those who really like genre fiction.This seems unfair to me, since while the AWP prefers “work of publishable literary quality,” it seems to me that the works being published and sold the most by the larger publishing houses are mostly genre fiction. Genre fiction just seems to sell better in today’s world. I think the best example of this is the Twilight series. There aren’t many literary elements to those books at all, but they still sell much better than if a work like The Great Gatsby were published today. I would give an example here, but I don’t know of any. Yes, that’s sad, but it also goes to show which books get the publicity – the ones that will sell.That being said, I do agree with Pane’s statements about genre fiction in the creative writing workshop – that students tend to shy away from these works when they are up for discussion and want to make them into something they are not, or at least that they are not yet. It is difficult to create and convey a fantastical world, or a whirlwind romance in 12-50 pages (depending on the class), and often times the writer has to decide which is more important to them: acquainting the reader with the world or romance, or giving them the thorough characterization and elaborate plots and subplots we are taught to use in such classes. In a novel writing class like this, I think it’s even more difficult, since you’re only giving your group 50 pages of what is going to be a much larger novel, and therefore much larger world. You want them to buy into this world as much as you have over the course of your writing, so you think, “I’ll put as much in about the world as I can.” But then you realize that by putting so much emphasis on this aspect, your characters and plot have fallen by the wayside. And since this is a class that focuses on such skills, the group is likely to pick at your story for that.This doesn’t really mean that genre fiction can’t have literary aspects. The Harry Potter series seems to come up multiple times in all of my creative writing classes, and I think that’s because J.K. Rowling does succeed in incorporating literary elements into these heavy genre fiction books. The characters are deep and well developed, and the plot is so perfectly executed that it’s almost impossible to find a single flaw in the series of events. On the other hand, as I mentioned, the very popular Twilight series is almost purely genre fiction with almost no literary elements. As the series goes on, Meyer tries to add depth to the characters in the Cullen family, but the main characters Edward and Bella are left quite flat. The only trait they seem to have is their love for each other. And then the plot itself falls just as flat with a quick “the end” given before anything really happens that you were expecting.I think that genre fiction should be, and probably will be, more accepted in the higher level classes and MFA programs, but I understand that there is a line between good and bad genre fiction. This idea that a work is accepted or denied based so largely on whether it is genre or literary fiction seems ridiculous to me. There are good and bad works in both categories, and the fact that those in genre should be thought of as less than those in literary is just a snobby and outdated idea.

  12. CWestbrook says:

    Chelsea WestbrookI think the main thing I learned from reading the Sal Pane blog, was that no matter what people may say, write what you want. It is very hard to get ideas across in fiction classes because of the short time the students are there. Pane was right that many teachers do not know a lot about certain genres so they tend to stay away from them, and not help the students as much as they could. I think it is important to write what you want in a class, because even if people do no understand or like that genre they can tell you what they think. That is very important to me, because if one of my books ever got published then anyone could read it, not just people who like that genre. I think it is good for people to read outside their comfort zones because it gives the author an idea of how the majority of those people will think. Pane talks about the frustrations of work shopping a story. Many people focus on the realism of a story, but I like that, because people are always going to question everything. If realism is what people get hung up on, then I feel that things then need to be more explained or analyzed. People need to understand the world author’s put them in and if someone can write an entire fantasy book where no one questions the world it is set in, then the author did their job right. I feel as a write we are supposed to put people in a place they can believe. I understand how that can be frustrating though, because in a workshop the pages are not perfect so it is better to get feedback with other spots, rather than one small detail of the story. I think that Pane’s way of teaching if very good. It teaches that not every story has to fall into one set genre, but can branch out and be more. Some people like to add different genre elements to their stories, I think that lets them explore different themes and add more to their story. I do not plan on going to graduate school, but I do not believe that a degree will make much of a difference on whether a person can get their stuff published or not. I know that the classes help improve, they do a lot, but if someone has a good story it will not matter how much education they have. I think the main difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is that people believe literary fiction hold more merit than other and genre fiction is what is popular at the time. I personally have never cared for technical definitions of things. I believe that it all comes down to the opinions of each individual. One person can think that a certain book is the most inspiring moving thing they have ever read, while another could think that same book is a the worst thing they ever laid their eyes on. When I write, I just write. I try not to be influenced by anything else, but make up a story the way I want to. I try to be as original as I can.

  13. Jgmartich says:

    I agree with Sal Pane that the classroom can be a demoralizing place to pursue creative interests that you are passionate about. Just because the genre that you love isn't the most popular or academic doesn't mean that it doesn't convey a profound meaning to an audience somewhere. I think that it's backwards and immoral to teach kids that only certain types of writing contain literary value. I'll write whatever story I become fascinated with. That's the point of all of this: that we each become so internally drawn towards characters, settings, scenes, plots, and ideas, we can't stop writing them down or thinking about them. I don't write about magic or the supernatural in my stories because it doesn't interest me – but there are millions of people reading those books everyday. That being said, to write genre fiction does not mean to write in another writer's world. Taking larger concepts and ideas is fine, but utilizing the same plot lines, characterization, and settings is a cheap way to create literature. I don't know if I've ever written in a specific genre before. I take things that I like and work with whatever is in my head at the time. Growing up I read things from all over the place. My parents made me read The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings (my mother spoke Elvish in high school). I read young adult novels, but also J. D. Salinger, Daniel Keyes, Kurt Vonnegut, and anything that I could get my hands on at the library. Anything with movement in the storyline, with a large, abstract conflict, and a well-structured plot keeps me reading. I don't understand the difference between genre fiction and literature because there isn't one. We read and write what we want to, regardless of the sanctions or policies imposed by academic authorities. I don't plan on pursuing an MFA at all but it's disappointing to learn that most programs are structured against progress and creativity. To me this is an extension of the educational fear of failure. I've only ever learned through repeated failures. Rejection, and how to respond to it, is one of the most important things that a writer can learn. Failure is a part of the process and to think otherwise is naïve. These MFA programs don't want to take on a new writer whose work expands or conflicts with traditional literature because it could fail to meet impractical and outdated standards. This kind of behavior drains the energy and imagination from modern literature. They are promoting stagnation. I want to break that pattern, and it's possible. Self-publishing is becoming easier. More publishers and printing houses are opening up and will need writers to fill orders. If you have a story to tell and it's had an effect on someone already, don't let others dismiss it.

  14. Michael Cox says:

    I never completely understood how people can distinctly classify whether something is genre or literary fiction. I feel like some of the best "genre fiction" I've read have had some literary merit. Maybe I'm just seeing things, but the first chapter of Deathly Hollows certainly makes me think of the Death Eaters as radical purists who want to abolish all things relating to Muggles in the wizardry world. This includes education of course, which reminds me of how some people who don't want evolution or discussion of homosexuality in certain school systems.I guess if I was to try and define what separates literary and genre fiction, it would be like this. Literary fiction is supposed to be focused on themes, symbolism, and important messages about the human condition. (The "human condition" is a buzzword passed around by literary critics all the time it seems.) Genre fiction is more focused on characters, setting, and entertaining the reader. I honestly haven't seen a good book that doesn't combine the elements of significance an entertainment to some degree and I think it's important to have a mixture of those elements so the reader doesn't wonder why he's reading a novel.There are quite a few drawbacks in what I think many of us can agree are two of the most popular genres only behind romance perhaps: Fantasy and Sci-fi. As Sal Pane mentioned in her article, these genres are difficult to accomplish in 12 pages due to their nature to have fleshed out worlds most of the time. It's hard to pull off, but I've seen good fantasy stories in workshops that were only seven pages long, so it's certainly possible. I think the key in fantasy/sci-fi short stories is to make a world that's similar to ours with a few key differences. Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" doesn't take more than a few paragraphs to explain the world because it's really not too different from our own, just with a government that institutes handicaps on the citizens. I really like the last lines that Sal Pane has comparing the original Star Wars to the prequels, because it really is dead on. While the original certainly has it's cliches and archetypes, the characters are a lot more interesting than the ones in the prequels. The cinematography was much better and demonstrated concepts without clunky dialog explaining the political situations. If anyone wants to hear a more detailed explanation of the problems with the prequels and how the originals are better, I highly recommend RedLetterMedia's review of the prequels. It is kind of hard to get past the character reviewing the movies, and there are a lot of distractions from his well done commentary, but it is the most thorough review I've seen so far.I'm not sure how much I really want to pursue an MFA. I don't have plans to go right away, but it'd be nice to profess and workshop with college students in the future, though it might take even more time to get to a stage beyond composition and move on to teaching my passion for creative writing. For the time being, I'm just hoping to get an editorial or proofreading job of some sort as I look for publishers to get the novel I'm working on out there, so an MFA isn't a big deal right now. I don't even think I have the experience and wordsmith abilities to be accepted in to a program at this point in my life.

  15. asbrewster says:

    I've always kind of noticed this division between the two sides of fiction – although I never really knew until later in life that it was just the difference between what is considered "literal" and "genre". To be quite honest – growing up I always just referred to the books we read in high school the "classics" because they were the ones that people deemed intellectual or must-reads. I immediately just thought they were boring, as sad as that sounds. "Placing too many restrictions on genre — telling the students what they can and cannot do — is almost like asking them to write stories with half the alphabet. And writing is hard enough." – reading this made me want to jump up and down, pointing at my computer maniacally yelling "YES! THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!" I understand the classes that are designed to make their students learn and develop – the ones that make us try new things, like writing in completely different and strange ways. These rules are helpful to us to learn to be creative in what we do. But there are classes that focus our writing on to the very straight and narrow path of either literary or other paths that aren't my passion. I remember entering my 285 class and everyone in the class immediately started bashing the Twilight series within the first week. Right then I thought to myself "well there goes all those ideas for stories." I like writing about cheesy romance between the human and vampire – the twisted chemistry between the two, but since going on to college, it has been deemed a genre that isn't worth reading unless it's on the level of Dracula. It's frustrating being a writer when you feel so confined to a tiny box of things to write about. Ever since that class, I've avoided writing they very topic that I love to write about most because it isn't "literary". I feel that's one reason why I'm struggling so much with my novel. I wanted to try something still in this dark and twisted realm – a way to get to completely different people in this strange and confusing relationship – but I didn't know how to do it and make it work. I'm not passionate about what I'm writing about now, but I wanted it to be at least a higher caliber genre than my cheesy vampire romance. I know the major or minor is driven to make us better prepared for being writers – publishing and such – but ever since I started college it was made very clear to me that I probably wouldn’t get far in the writing world because of what I like to write about. I have since lost my interest in publishing and decided to focus more on writing in my own time about things I want to write about outside of class. My best works are things I never turned in – because I wasn’t held back by the schema of what is worthwhile writing. Maybe it’s just because I’m biased towards those works. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about trying to get into a graduate program because I already know that isn’t the path that I’m wanting to take. I’m not as strong as a writer as I thought I was, and I’m okay with that. This is my minor, and I’m planning on working on my Psychology major instead. My love for writing can help me unwind from my job.

  16. asbrewster says:

    When I think of literary works – I think of the Grapes of Wrath or The Great Gatsby – or any other classic story that has this plot that is underneath the surface. Genre writing is above the surface – the character delving him or her self into a world that is unknown to that character – or at least that’s what I feel like the difference is, but sometimes its just a fine line between the two. Quite honestly, I had to google the difference. I had the basic idea, but I didn't know how to answer the question – what does make them separate from each other? Although I do like some literary fiction, I’ve always been fond of the adventures into new worlds and the fantasy of genre fiction. I know this is purely preference. No writing is write or wrong. One is not better than the other. I do realize that the focus on literary writing may just be like Pane said: an opportunity to experiment – not this restriction to guilt a writer for liking what they like (as hard as it may seem for me to accept it).

  17. "Placing too many restrictions on genre—telling students what they can and cannot do—is almost like asking them to write stories with half the alphabet. And writing is hard enough" -That! Finally! I knew when I went into college I had no motivation to go teach kids and i have no desire to teach kids how to write because I feel like i could be like Sal and "un-niche" the poor kid. I don't believe that i need another degree in order to write my genre because honestly, right now i don't think i need another degree. read books and learn from them and try out the forms and styles and see which one works best. its like chemistry in the early days, experiment. for most of my pieces i easily connected with Sal when she said "For sci-fi and fantasy, it’s quite hard to create an entire world and its people in twelve double-spaced pages. Similarly, it’s hard to workshop these pieces." Yeah, this shit is hard to do, but i believe if one has the passion to create a world inside a head then they should work towards putting it on paper. Whenever i think of literary works i automatically think of the classics, never the modern era books. With genre fiction i always think of modern novels and short stories. Honestly, i've never given much thought to these terms or even define novels in these terms except for fiction or nonfiction or poetry. i haven't read much modern genre fiction in order to put it into literary works besides HP because when reading it feels like a classical piece because since i enjoy greek myths, i can see the myths in the books. i do believe that trying new things is awesome like for example, the Body, is all in footnotes. yes its confusing, but its entertaining and fun and something new. i also think that Sal summed it up when issuing with genre fiction when she said: "However, I don’t want my own ignorance to stifle anyone else’s creativity." that destroys the soul

  18. Rlgibson says:

    Sal Pane hits the nail right on the here for me. I'm not necessarily the biggest genre writer, and I don't focus on it often in my work, but I have noticed the difficulty of putting out some short story in a world with too few pages to explain. All it really did come workshop time was confuse people. And I feel most of that happened, because I just couldn't find the space for what I was trying to put out. Something I like to do more often is to write in not-so-far-off future setting. For whatever reason, it is something I quite enjoy. It may be because I can make the rules for the future, but one thing is certain. One of the greatest things I find from writing in a near future is predicting a possible outcome that isn't too far from what could potentially happen. This though is a battle for me mostly. While it is hard for students or a professor to judge something they don't know enough about, a genre style doesn't come out too much in my writing. I do need to get better at putting all the pieces I want the reader to know out there, but as far as I know my writing career will be largely a personal endeavor. By this I mean I have no intent on getting an MFA in the foreseeable future. I may continue my education past a Bachelor's degree, but writing in this sense isn't what I am likely to pursue. More likely, I would continue my work with Journalism. The two go hand in hand quite well though. So, who knows? Maybe I'll be back to work on creative writing more, but if I did, I would probably write a polished more conventional piece to get further in the program. To be honest, I don't think I would need an MFA to write what I would want to. And of course this is by no means to brag about my work, which presumably many would consider mediocre at best. This is more to say I pretty much would write what I wanted to write regardless of my situation. It's a bit of a shame that genre writing is hard to use as an entry way, but it makes sense. Some genres just don't have the audience or market needed to be considered more in an MFA program. As far as the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction is concerned, I find the differences to be very subtle sometimes. Pane was right on the gist of that how the literary fiction can work as an umbrella of sorts containing parts of whatever it wants, but genre can be a little more strict when it has to stick to one rule set. For me, I guess it all falls in the writing style itself. There seems to be more formula work to the genre world than in literary. Or what is widely considered literary. In the end though, it is all up to the reader to decide whether he or she regards a certain book on way or another, because what I could consider literary someone else could consider genre and vice versa.

  19. To tell you the truth, I’m not exactly confident that I know what “literary fiction” is. I guess I think of literary fiction as stories which are primarily a metaphor for some aspect of the human condition, and genre pieces as works which are meant first and foremost as entertainment. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly match up with what Sal Pane said about straight genre pieces not focusing on characterization, thus giving literary fiction an advantage. But because characterization seems more important in entertaining than in making a point, I associate characterization more with genre fiction than with literary fiction. For example, we read John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” in ENG 307, and I think of that as literary. The characters weren’t nearly as important as the journey, and I thought it was literary because it was (at least the way I interpreted it) a comment on denial, or perhaps on gossip.Working with these definitions of “literary” and “genre,” I think one genre work that I might consider literary is Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” I think that could fall under the realist genre, but it is also a well known allegory for good overcoming an evil phony. I don’t think Agatha Christie’s stories generally count as “literary,” though, because they don’t teach us anything metaphorically. They come right out and tell us what the point of the story is, so even if it’s a comment on paranoia or the driving force behind criminal motivation, when the detective talks about it, it comes across more as the character’s own personal opinion – and thus, characterization – than as the author’s overriding wisdom about the general human condition. And I don’t think I would find Harry Potter to be literary. Harry Potter has magic and mysteries and plenty of characterization and setting description, but it doesn’t tell us anything about ourselves when we read it. I guess what it all comes down to is that I feel like I’m learning something profound when I read something as a metaphor, but something with its lessons told explicitly seems very common, like advice from a parent.At this time, I have no plans to go to graduate school, and I don’t think I need an MFA in order to write what I want to write. After all, like you and Sal Pane said, genre fiction is what first interested me in writing, and that’s what I want to continue to write. On the other hand, if I decided I did want to get an MFA in creative writing, I wouldn’t be averse to writing a different kind of book. It wouldn’t offend me as an artist or anything like that. To be perfectly honest, I’ve always admired what I thought if as literary fiction, and the only reason I don’t write it is because I don’t think I can. I know that’s pretty sad, and it’s not that I don’t love fantasy, but half the time when I write fantasy, it’s not to have fun with it, but because it’s the easiest genre to write in (at least to me).

  20. erynn.deanne says:

    I really enjoyed reading Sal Pane's blog because it really validated my belief that you should write what you want to write. Sure, if you are more focused on publishing your work and making money from your work, which is definitely important for someone who plans on making a living from their work, then maybe being aware of what is marketable and what is not may play into what you write. But really, genre fiction IS incredibly popular, so I can't begin to understand it when college courses create an atmosphere that demolishes student's love of genre fiction.I understand from the article that it is difficult to workshop genre fiction. In my flash fiction course, a lot of people wrote fantasy pieces and while it was interesting to read, it was difficult to grasp the story. They had to basically sum up the entire story in a few paragraphs. Characterization was thrown out the window, rules for the world they were creating was thrown out the window, they just focused on the plot throughout the twelve pages. I understand that, as it left me frustrated as a reader. But to totally wipe out genre fiction as not being good enough makes no sense to me. Workshopping in a college class is not the end all be all of writing. It should bring you the knowledge and tools to write on your own, to write what is in your heart, not what a professor believes to be the "right" way to write. I love reading genre fiction,and I have tried to write a fantasy story because it was a challenge for me. My niche is generally realism, but I never want to limit myself to one type of writing. I want to keep growing and keep challenging myself. I think fiction is just fiction. Regardless of whether or not there is a blood sucking vampire or a 19th century duchess, it is all a form of creation. Why should one be more worthy of being read and written over the other?I'm definitely interested in pursuing a MFA. I want to learn everything I can about my craft. If I have to squash out the vampire to learn the elements, I'll do so. But that doesn't mean after it is all said and done, I won't invite the vampire in.To quote the great J.K. Rowling, "I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It's totally for myself. I never in my wildest dreams expected this popularity."

  21. kpweiss says:

    Generally, I don’t think of books as being either genre fiction or literary fiction…to me they’re all fiction and that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. In the blog post, the author writes that he didn’t want to be the one to tell the next seventeen-year old Stephen King to knock it off. Unfortunately, this is what happened to me. I feel like too many times, people judge you if you want to write this so-called “genre fiction,” because it is just that: genre fiction, not literary fiction. I guess that’s something that’s made me more determined than ever to write genre fiction, because I love it and because I want to prove people wrong, that there can be more to it. In my stories, I try to combine the realistic and the fantastical, so that it’s not just one or the other. That way everyone has something to pick on. For example, the novel I’m writing for this class takes place in our world, nothing comes here from a “made up place.” There are demons and angels, God and the Devil, and while some may think that’s fantastical, the flip side is that you never know. It could happen. This could be how our Judgment Day goes down. I feel like the real difference some people see between genre fiction and literary fiction is that genre fiction is more fantastical, whereas literary fiction is more realistic and is something the reader can see truly happening if these particular characters were real outside of the story. Another difference I can see is that genre fiction writers could get too caught up in the particular genre they are writing in, focusing on only that and not the development of other things such as characters or even the rules of the world inside their story. Too many times I’ve come across that being in creative writing courses with Sean Lovelace as my professor. I can still hear him saying, over and over again in my 307 class, “What are the rules?” So now, every time I start a new story, I think to myself: What are the rules going to be? Get it out early on. Repeat it, if necessary. Make sure the reader remembers the rules. Similar to what Sal Pane posted in his blog, I have had people try to reconstruct one of my stories before because it wasn’t technically “realism.” It wasn’t sci-fi or fantasy, but it wasn’t the story of an ordinary guy or girl walking down the street, and they didn’t like that, so they picked it apart and talked down to me like I was stupid or didn’t know what I was talking about.I feel like too many times, some people don’t give enough credit to those who write genre fiction, not saying genre fiction is better than literary fiction or vice versa.

  22. T. D. Fields says:

    It’s interesting. I can’t necessarily pinpoint the book or even a specific time period which was the catalyst for my intrigue in literature and writing. I guess it’s like any good friendship. Or bad? This said, I know that the books I look to as inspiration or are my favorites are not genre. At least they’re not easily defined in this way. Even despite this, though, I can comment on the acceptably or popularity of what comes into the creative writing classroom. It honestly came as a bit of a shock to me my freshman year that we weren’t all just constantly writing our novel (which is why this class made me so happy) or collection of short stories (or poems, I suppose). We were much more focused on flash and the semantics of writing. WHICH ARE HELPFUL. But the construct of creative writing academia was not what I envisioned as an aspiring writer. Moreover, the preoccupation with indie literature that many writing instructors seem to have was a bit surprising to me. I understand that there is a place and niche for each of our writing and that we can’t all be novelists or world renown. I guess my point is that the learning environment of creative writing was not at all what I envisioned. What DID I envision? I suppose that we’d all be working toward becoming the next Cormac McCarthy. This is all to say that even though I don’t consider myself a genre writer, I, too, have had to adjust my conceptualization of creative writing to fit the parameters of the classroom. And here’s where I make my grand concession. I understand the institution of academia. There are measurements and confines and standardization. It’s the nature of the beast. Creative writing IN academia is no different – it can’t be. For the sake of evaluation and consistent measurement, there are limits, parameters, assignments, specifications, what have you which define the writing we are able to produce for the classroom. I appreciate that B.J. Hollars identifies the “pushback” from students. I can absolutely understand this. If outside of my specialty or even basic understanding, I would feel shut down in workshop because of my lack of knowledge on the genre. This said, though, I also have common sense enough to understand that there is always something to say about a piece and that beyond the genre, it is still a narrative. There are still characters. Plot. Syntax. Grammar. It really just keeps going. If a student actually assumes that they are helpless in a genre workshop situation, they’re not trying and are therefore an ineffective workshopper. Pane alludes to this when he says that he often uses the Stars Wars example to delineate between the better half and the lesser half even despite the fact that they both are genre pieces. At the end of the day, there is something to say about ANY piece.

  23. T. D. Fields says:

    And finally, for the question at hand. Let me introduce this by saying that I believe that if a creator believes that she is producing art, it is art. No questions. From here, take it and apply it to theories and schools and criticisms, fine, but there should be no debate of art. I say this because I’m not comfortable claiming that any one genre is more “literary.” I think, as evidenced by the Star Wars examples, that there exist more literary examples within a genre. I have a theory, and I hope I can adequately articulate it. I consider validity in those artworks which change the conversation. For example, writers such as Conrad have largely become less and less relevant because his “major” works are really just imperialistic regurgitation. But Joyce, Proust, Woolf, Hemingway, Falkner, Fitzgerald (I’m really just listing modernists, can you tell?) took a rigid and firm Victorian form and questioned it. This is why writers like Galsworthy are often swept under the rug. Because they came at the end of the movement, they had no involvement in changing the conversation. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about genre writing to assert much about which works have done this. I do know that many graphic novels are making their way into at least a sub-canon. And it is precisely because they are creating something drastically new out of “nothing.” So what’s the difference between literary and genre? Honestly, the only probably difference is the definition of a few straight white males sitting somewhere off in their mansions congratulating other straight white males on their writing. Otherness, be it racial, sexual, or genre-related, is often and unfortunately overlooked.

  24. Lacey says:

    I am not working towards a Masters of Fine Arts. Since I am graduating this semester, I have been job hunting a lot. Since I have to stay in Indiana for the time being, I am not having much luck finding writing jobs. I plan to write fiction on the side and have a base job of some type. I do not really need to be concerned about writing a different book in order to graduate because I am going to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and that is just fine with me. I will make my mark on the world whether that is near or in the future I believe it will happen.Genre fiction is books of many types such as, mysteries, romance, science fiction, or horror. Genre fiction allows the author to concentrate on one theme for their story. Literary fiction is more of a work of art. It focuses on style and character more. It is more of a "serious" fiction.If I look at genre fiction as literary fiction or "works of art" then I would consider all genre fiction literary. I think it takes talent to create a great love story or good mystery. I consider all books a work of art. Obviously the book was published so someone liked it and someone thought it was a great piece of work. So that is why I would consider all genres literary fiction.

  25. First off I have to say that I don’t believe that you have to earn an MFA to become a published author. Sure it may be helpful when you try to get recognized or published that first time, but in the end I feel that the best writers out there are the ones who never had any “training” in fictional writing at all. For the most part yes I do like to stick to one “genre” when I write, but I also have realized recently that I have a tendency to take my favorite themes and put them into varying genres. Sal Pane mentions that in most cases schools will, either purposely or not on purpose, tend to stilt the writing of a student because of the requirements that they impose upon them for writing programs. I know it sounds a bit preachy but I feel like students should get the opportunity to write what they want to write, and not have to change what they write just to please those “in charge” in the writing programs. Although I myself do not plan to continue my education to the graduate level and earn an MFA, I do see the merits in doing so. The boards that choose the students who are accepted, however, should really be changed up a bit, along with the regulations. I really don’t feel that if a student has to change what he/she writes just to get into a program that it is truly worth the hassle. Some of my favorite authors were not “trained” in the art of fiction writing, but they are recognized today in many different facets of the fiction world. As for my own writing I feel that although I tend to stick with the same themes, I also am very versatile in that I like to work with different genre types as well. I am grateful for this class in particular for giving me the opportunity to write a more substantial piece that can be continued on into a full novel someday. I have always dreamed of writing a novel, but with my constant need to condense my writing and get as many crucial details out there to begin with, I had such a hard time writing anything more than a short story. This has really given me the chance to broaden my horizons, and I hope to someday become a published author. Maybe even with the book I have started in this class. I just wish that other schools were not so apt to stick with the “rules and regulations” and keep the students tied down to what the world “thinks” is Literature. I also want to mention that in Sal Pane’s post, he mentioned that he has worked with students who tend to write in genre fiction. He talked about a different way to teach/workshop a work that comes from genre fiction, and I feel that when it comes to the writing of students finding a way to help improve their writing is the main goal. The goal shouldn’t be to “fix” what they write, but to improve their skills so that one day they can be who they dream to be. An author.

  26. Marc Bartel says:

    Before reading the article by Salvatore Pane, I didn’t fully grasp why genre fiction is such a slippery slope for creative writing. Now that I fully understand what genre writing is in a more technical sense (writing a story that revolves around the genre rather than characters of the story). I as for someone who has been writing for most of the semester on a piece that might be considered genre fiction this article was a revelation for me. The two factions depend on what you want to do with your writing. Genre Fiction may unfortunately be temporary success from only fitting into a specified genre. Meanwhile literary fiction is (or at least strives to be) relevant many years after a “fad” has disappeared. How can a writer who feels comfortable with writing a specific genre choose between success in the short run or success in the long run? I’ve always had certain genre’s that I enjoy writing about. Sci-fi in particular knowing this I suppose I would fall under the area of “genre fiction”. However, looking at Mr Pane’s article I now know that just because I my piece might be labled as genre fiction doesn’t mean that it necessarily has to follow the same trappings. In Mr. Pane’s article you can have a “genre piece” but make it have memorable character’s and a plot worth telling. The best example that he used was the Star Wars prequels and the original trilogy. Even though the original Star Wars could in theory be described as a genre piece. What raises it from the traditional genre trappings are it’s relatable characters and a familiar story arc that we all know. Then he went on to describe the prequels which were “one dimensional names moving around in a video game.” What Mr. Pane means is that the prequels only indulge in the world of Star Wars and barely give any characterization to the people who live in it. To become more than a vanilla genre fiction we have to give people characters who they can relate to and can care about, while also showing a believable and realistic world.

  27. Genre fiction was what I started reading early on, mostly horror or the macabre like Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, and before that, R.L. Stine. I’ve never been able to indulge in much sci-fi or fantasy unless it was incorporated into horror stories. But then as my tastes developed I sort of became removed from even those stories, although I occasionally will go back and reread Lovecraft and Barker. This is normal, I’m sure, as children we wouldn’t be expected to sit down and finish The Shipping News and feel compelled to love literature.I still like when stories incorporate a bit of magical realism or something that remains unexplained. Toni Morrison does this really well and I would think no one could argue that she is not literary fiction. Sherman Alexie does this. Rudolfo Anaya as well. Actually, it seems that when we talk about literary fiction as not having the characteristics of “genre” we are mainly excluding cultures where the aspects of fantasy and mysticism are integral to their cultural beliefs and traditions. It would be less “literary” to NOT include these aspects into the stories. Maybe? Just an idea.I have found that it is sometimes difficult to workshop other student’s work that would be considered genre, especially if it is sci-fi and fantasy. As the article suggested, it is incredibly difficult to get into the world that the author is trying to construct with just a few pages. Furthermore, the names and places sometimes have no connection to me as a reader as they are usually made up. When places and names are made up in literary fiction there is usually some way in which to ground and relate the place. Made up city in the mid-west or east coast? I know roughly what to expect. Made up city on planet RT-9 district B inhabited by the Bowati, descendants of Tado? Huh? I Have no idea. That is why perhaps I can enjoy this in film, but find it taxing in literature. I’m not saying it can’t be done. Lord knows there are a lot of wonderful sci-fi and fantasy works out there that I have never read, I just don’t find them as compelling (by this I mean my own willingness or desire to read, not that they are not compelling works).I love the exposure I get to contemporary literary fiction in my creative writing courses. I’m not really a fan of canonical literature, except for maybe Melville and D.H. Lawrence. I love being introduced to writers that I WANT to be contemporaries with, which may have gone unnoticed otherwise. If someone’s love for genre fiction brought them to writing, surely they may know those authors already. Because literary fiction is a fraction of common novels that are readily accessible standing in line at the grocery store, it is welcomed to be introduced to writers and more importantly, where to look for great writing. I have no qualms with genre fiction (I loved Hunger Games) and I still look on the Vampire Chronicles fondly as my access to novels, but I enjoy literary fiction in the class room because it gives me greater exposure to contemporary literature.

  28. Sarah says:

    I was taught that the difference between genre and literary fiction is that literary fiction is more focused on a/the character and a more emotional journey, whereas genre was more focused on the world it is in or on the clichés that are expected from the genre. The distinction was also given as character based or plot based. For this reason, I used to assume that all literary fiction was essentially boring because nothing really happened plot-wise. Literary fiction has a plot, it is just developed through the character rather than having the character develop as a result of the plot. Elements of genre fiction appear in literary fiction, they are just lest prevalent and less clichéd. To write completely outside of any genre at all is impossible. Likewise, elements of literary fiction can appear in genre fiction. In my own work, some elements of different genres appear, but I also reference very specific works of genre fiction. The characters are aware of it and thus it affects their backgrounds, how they react with each other, and how they develop emotionally. Having read Sal Pane’s blog post, I have come to the realization that the novel I am currently writing is more literary than genre. I have struggled to find the genre that my novel fits into and I am now realizing that it does not have to fit anywhere. In a previous creative writing class I was forced to write literary fiction rather than genre fiction. I hated it for the longest time, but I realized later on that it helped me in my writing more than it would have if I had only written genre fiction. I think some genre fiction in any number of genres can be considered literary. To give a more specific example: I primarily write fantasy; fantasy is rarely considered to have anything to do with literary fiction, but magical realism and speculative fiction, elements or subsets of fantasy, are often written more closely to literary fiction rather than fantasy genre fiction. In any genre, if the story is more closely focused on the character and their development, it could be considered more as literary fiction. I personally plan on trying to get into an MFA program after I graduate. I do not believe it is necessary for me as a writer or for me to be able to write my book. Although I am thankful for all I have learned and the advice I have received, I do not even think it is absolutely necessary to have a formal education in writing to be a writer. I am not willing to change the type of book that I write for anyone other than myself. Because of that, I have been experimenting on my own to incorporate different writing styles that I am capable of writing and familiar with so that should I have to write something more specific, I am already aware of it and capable of writing it with some level of knowledge and skill. I am a genre writer, but I do not want to be chained to that eternally.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s