Monday, June 25, 2012

Genre vs. Literary Rant

What I'm Reading: Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund
What I'm Listening to: Soundtrack of Lord of the Rings. It's usually all I ever listen to when I write. So epic.

Before I begin, I'd like to recommend this article I just spotted by Ursula K. Le Guin concerning the Literary vs. Genre debate. I'm afraid I can't say my rant is quite so elegantly written. 

R.A. Salvatore (fantasy genius) wrote the introduction of The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science-fiction by Philip Athans. He begins by saying he was once asked at a convention if he was ever going to write "a real book." I was more than a little surprised and angry when I read this. I think for someone to ask such a question, they would have to be pretty pretentious and arrogant. And Salvatore's not alone. Genre writers are oftentimes not considered "real" authors.

I get it every once in awhile too. Someone will ask me, "What do you write?"
"Young adult fantasy."

I've gotten a couple critiques where people state, before they've even read my story, that they're not into fantasy. At the end of the critique, they're usually like, "Well, if I liked fantasy, I think I would like your story." I mean, thank you for your time and effort. I appreciate it. But if you're already so biased against my story before you even read it, why bother?

I've taken three college writing courses so far. The first was an intro to creative fiction class. Though it was fiction, we weren't allowed to write anything that wasn't realistic. No fantasy, no sci-fi, no horror. We were encouraged not to write anything with action or adventure. My teacher wanted us to focus on everyday lives. How freaking boring is that?

The second class was creative nonfiction. Obviously, I couldn't use my imagination and make stuff up (although I may have stretched the truth a few times). This was the most difficult class for me since my life is, for the most part, uneventful. I didn't get much out of the class.

The third was intermediate fiction. On the first day of class, we went around saying who our favorite author was. I knew I was in trouble when I didn't recognize any of the names. When it was my turn, I proudly said J.K. Rowling. I was in a class with a bunch of kids my age, but they all had moved on to more "adult" stuff. I was still stuck in the fantasy and sci-fi realm. Later, my teacher basically said that every sci-fi and fantasy book she ever read as a kid could really have been the same book. There's little difference between them. Apparently I was the only one who got miffed when she said this (which I complained about on our class forum later). As with my first writing class, we were only allowed to write contemporary, character based fiction. We would be given F's if we wrote anything that deviated from that.

From my experience with the classes, I probably won't take another unless it is specifically geared for writers like me.

Most books they make you read in school are atrocious. And they wonder why so many kids don't like to read. They don't expose them to good stories. Call of the Wild? Horrid. David Copperfield? My fellow classmates burned their books when they were done reading it. We're forced to read these books because they're "classics." Well, who said they were? What makes them so great? Because they're old? Most of the time I don't see the value in these books. Honestly, I don't recall ever reading a literary piece and liking it.

So who is the better artist? The one who uses their imagination to create fascinating worlds and characters or the one who draws from serious, real-life experiences? To someone who is fair and reasonable, the answer would be neither. But to me, the one who creates the fantasy setting, the one who uses their imagination will always be the most creative and, therefore, the best. I write and read in order to escape the dullness of reality. Literary fiction only proves how mundane life truly is.

My conclusion: literary fiction can go suck it.

What is your opinion concerning genre and literary fiction?


  1. I'm considering dabbling in other creative courses as opposed to creative writing once I get into college in the next few years, so hopefully I won't have to run into the problem you are in.

    At the writer's forum I'm at, YA is the one that gets locked into the ghetto due to various reasons (marketing, trends, prose, subject manner, etc.)

    The problem is that some of the problems are justified (ie, the gender issue), but we don't know to what degree.

    At least fantasy is embraced, considering so many of us write it, including me.

  2. I would recommend taking a writing class in college. You do get a fresh perspective, which helps you to avoid cliches. I learned ways of making my prose tighter, more vivid, stronger--among other things. I just don't like it when people stick their noses up at genre fiction. Nearly all my professors do. Especially YA. It's an art form that's not taken as seriously as it should be.

  3. I took a couple of creative nonfiction classes; even though it's not exactly my field, there are still a LOT of lessons I learned there that I can carry over into some of my other stuff.

    That aside, I definitely see what you mean about the books you're forced to read being...well, less than ideal. I remember back in high school when we read The Scarlet Letter, and how much of a slog it was for me to get through. To say nothing of half a semester of classes full of one tooth-grinding tale after another. I guess the idea is to give a glimpse of what writing -- or more importantly, the culture and mindsets -- at the time were like, and history and academic interpretations have been kind to them. On the other hand, if your plan is to have students learn how much fun it is to read, then MAYBE you shouldn't give them books that make them want to pour wet cement into their eyes.

    Truth be told, I'm a little wary about classifying things, be it genre fiction, literary fiction, or otherwise. Ideally, a story should be able to earn merit -- and keep it -- based on the quality of the writing and story. It's like hating an entire breed of dogs just because they have floppy ears. Know what I mean?

    ...I probably shouldn't look at my dogs when I'm trying to make an analogy.

    1. " shouldn't give them books that make them want to pour wet cement into their eyes." That about sums it up perfectly.

      I don't really like classifying things like that either, but I think it's just human nature to do so. We have to label everything. It's difficult not to. Unfortunate, really.

      p.s I'm not a big fan of floppy-eared dogs. lol

  4. Anyone who reads books that are based on video games and listens to the LOTR soundtrack is ace in my book.

    1. lol, thanks. I still have yet to actually play the game. I'll have to get around to it one of these days. Especially since the book is pretty good.