My last post was a big rant about the lack of respect given to genre fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy. I stand by what I wrote in that post: genre fiction can absolutely have literary value.
But over the last couple of days, I’ve given more thought to the issue, mostly in the context of academia. I was a creative writing major; I dealt with the stigma of genre fiction during my years of writing workshops and literature courses. I chafed against those strictures, pushing the lines whenever I could, because I love science fiction and fantasy. I love the things that those genres can do.
But I can honestly say that I would not be the writer I am today without the boundaries placed on me in my advanced writing workshops. I have a much better grasp on the importance of many essential parts of writing because I wasn’t allowed to write in genre.
Why is this? The biggest reason is that, in the untrained hand, genre often becomes a crutch. It is very easy to write a book that is carried by the originality of the magic, or the weirdness of the world, or the excitement of the plot. The problem is, stories like this are incomplete. Yes, having a compelling plot is important; a rich setting is the foundation of the story.
But without character, without humanity, stories can fall flat all too quickly. What my classes forced me to do was to consider storytelling from a human perspective, to develop round, dynamic characters that push the plot, instead of relying on a cool plot to pull along the anchor of flat characters.
The result, hopefully, is that I have a more complete grasp on what it takes to write a fulfilling story. My own style has emerged from those classes that limited me.