Archive for October, 2010

Genre Disses Contemporary Literary Fiction Editorial Opinion

Thursday, October 28th, 2010
William H. Coles

At a recent conference for thriller and mystery writers, obvious tensions and resentments were expressed by two best-selling authors in their genres about the state of contemporary literary fiction. The most frequent theme was that contemporary literary fiction is boring, lacks resolution, is self-serving, and small. Who wants to hear about another dysfunctional family or an abusive childhood? Why is there no resolution in literary fiction? (There is often no conflict.) Why is literary fiction always, in some way, about me, the author? For many literary fiction writers in the audience, there was absolute agreement. It was a session where successful storytellers were pointing out again how modern, academically-trained literary writers fail to create adequate stories . . . and fail to achieve narration that can engage and please any reader who is not related to or trained in academics.

There were frequent examples of MFA trained authors who fail to entertain, and fail to sell to any significant numbers of readers. For writers eager to create literary fiction in the classic sense, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Faulkner, De Maupassant, Babel, Austen, the Brontës, Conrad, Forester, et cetera, it is plain that taking an academic route to learn writing may not be the right path to develop their talents and reach their literary goals. It is a paradox. The genre writers depend on strong plot and lack the skills for character development to a literary level. Yet the literary writers seem inept at storytelling and engaging most readers by consistently focusing on character at the expense of a good story, and frequently failing to develop their character focus to a level of excellence that forms an unforgettable character who will drive plot action and have a significant enlightenment.

Genre writers and reviewers found fault in the "littleness" of literary writers' conceptualizations of story. There were calls for addressing the major issues of today's global society. Those writing genre saw the opportunity in genre fiction with greater than life characters and plots with catastrophic, or the threat of catastrophic, results. That makes limited sense. It ignores the capabilities of dealing with broad, important social and political issues through meticulous character development, character involvement in plot momentum, and character and reader enlightenment as an equally effective, and often better, way for prose to deliver social and political educational experience.

To save literary fiction as an art form, literary writers will soon have to seek better training in creating effective prose and learning effective storytelling. It seems clear from the majority of readers that literary fiction is not pleasing even the long-suffering, careful "intellectual" reader. All the while, publishers continue to accept and promote "literary" writing that does not address this issue, writing that fails. The failure is attributed to being "literary." But the failure is in the poor quality of prose and storytelling of contemporary literary writers and the persistence of publishers marketing of this writing as "extraordinary" and "best seller."

For students of literary fiction, genre writing may not be favored as most enjoyable reading, but it should not be ignored for its ability to please millions of readers.

If this post interested you, you may value the website Story in Literary Fiction.


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