Cup of Dcaf: Literary vs. Genre Fiction


Whoo boy. This is going to be a bit of a rant.

Now, as anyone who follows this blog knows, I write a wide range of genres. I write a lot of epic fantasy, of course; I also dabble in horror and science fiction. And I write a lot of shorter literary fiction. It’s sort of the foundation of my writing.

Where to start? I just found myself in a discussion with a very rigid gentleman. He was of the opinion that all genre fiction is not literature.

Needless to say, I disagreed. The idea that all fiction of a certain genre—and literary fiction is a genre—is inherently superior to all other writing is a joke.

I don’t curse on this blog, but I really want to right now.

This idea that so-called “literary” fiction is somehow better than any fantasy, sci-fi, horror, mystery, romance, historical fiction, or what have you, is unfounded and willfully ignorant. Genre fiction is a veritable treasure trove of think-pieces and artistic talent. Is there a lot of crap out there? Yes. We have our Twilights and our 50 Shades of Greys; we also have the Odyssey and Lord of the Rings and Ender’s Game and Foundation. All of these things have merit; all of these things have things to say.

Any fool who thinks that a book is trash because it features magic or spaceships is limiting his experience with the written word. Genres allow writers to explore themes, criticize norms, and comment on anything at all—and they allow a freer rein of these exercises than literary fiction ever could.

Genre allows imagination to flow. It lets marginalized voices have a say. It lets men and women express themselves and their joys, their frustrations, with contemporary culture in a way that isn’t heavy-handed and blunt. Genres allow storytelling and criticism to go hand-in-hand, weaving a subtle tapestry that not only entertains, but also teaches.

Now, literary fiction absolutely has merit as well. It merely addresses things in different ways. Some of my favorite short stories are “literary”. I wouldn’t write in that genre if I didn’t think it was worthwhile.

And, since I won’t curse, myself, I will just let the estimable Patrick Rothfuss say some more on the subject. Some light profanity is present in this video. A student was told she couldn’t write a paper on one of his books because it was fantasy, so she had him record a reply.

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