Enjoying Genre

I sincerely hope I never write literary fiction again.

Literary fiction is, when done correctly, gorgeous.  It explores deeply the complexities of a character, showing in a different light all the disgusting glory of human existence.  It insults, weeps, and delights itself.  Again, when done correctly, literary fiction is gorgeous.

I don’t want it.

A couple days ago, someone presented me with a visual prompt: the sun behind a pair of mountains behind a grove of trees, all frozen solid.  So I wrote a piece of flash fiction, and since I was on the spot and currently reading Thomas Wolfe, I wrote it in that style.  I wrote about choices, and change, and the affect of beauty on the mind.  It sounds so pretentious here, but it was only 200 words, and I showed as much as I could.  It was good practice for description and emotion.

The next day, I realized how much I loathed what I had written.

It was good.  I have to say, I think the piece worked.  The metaphors and turns of phrase I attempted did what they had to, I think, and the characters, while barely sketched, were enough.  It wouldn’t have won any awards, but it was good for a first attempt.  And yet, blech.  I hated it so much I grew depressed, thinking that I was now the stereotypical white male writer who goes to a liberal arts college, gets a writing degree, and spends the next thirty years drinking until they realize their recalcitrant Muse never really existed.  Yes, many have managed to escape this.  Yet for me, as the curve of my life approaches the Guy in your MFA Twitter account, depression increases to infinity.

I’ve always wanted to be able to write any genre I read.  So far, I’ve been pretty good at that.  I consider myself a fantasy writer, but I’ve written all across the board, trying different things all the time.  However, I don’t think I’ll come back to literary fiction.  The literary mind and the fantasy mind are two sides of the same coin, and I much prefer the fantasy side.

This realization came to me on Friday, when I kicked a bedpost.  Traitor, I accused it.  Immediately, I began thinking of how I could use that idea in a description to show a character’s emotion.  A year ago, I would have used that as a story seed: a bed that eats the sleeper, or steals the dreamer’s thoughts and blabs them to secret organizations.  Literary fiction personifies an object to describe it; fantasy personifies to build a world.

That scared me, that I would immediately jump to the literary interpretation.  I used to generate millions of plot bunnies at once, just by reading a book— now they turn into metaphors for the human condition.  I don’t want to write metaphors for the human condition, unless they include unhealthy amounts of dragons and magic.

Literary fiction describes a character, whose tiny world is enormous in their eyes and the eyes of the reader.  All the author’s creative energy is devoted to describing that world, placing a lamp just so to illuminate the crags and shadows of their perception of the world.  Fantasy describes a character moving through an enormous world, full of magic and wonder and heroism.  The author’s creative energy is devoted to making everything look awesome.

I would much rather make a world look awesome, with magic no one has considered and implications no one expects, creating a character that any literary writer would be proud to own yet leaving them in the background as I describe beasts and wars and how politics work when your opponent can shoot fire from their ears.  I would rather not spend my time describing the complexities of a changing human as they move through the same world I’m living in.  Yes, the prose is gorgeous.  The art of including and excluding images that affect them is intricate and beautiful.  I just don’t want it.

That’s my decision.  I have said that I want to write every genre under the sun— I have written literary fiction, and I have decided that I don’t want to write any more.  On the other hand, I have also written epic poetry, and decided that I enjoy it.  Just comparing those two, I think I can tell which one to avoid.

So with that prompt I was given, I’m going to rethink the way I approach.  Rather than looking at change, and beauty, and the perishability of a single moment in time, I’m going to write about a dragon who accidentally licked a frozen iron deposit during the Ice Age and gets stuck until it can melt (unfortunately, he keeps sleeping through summer, and thus sticks around for millennia until he becomes a mountain range).   I’m going to imagine a bed that deliberately walks over and trips you when you’re not looking, or holds you down when you’re too tired to fight free.  Yes, it means more plot bunnies.  But it means more fun for me.

How could this be just about me, though?  Try genres all over the place, by all means.  But make sure you aren’t enslaved to a genre you hate.  Write everything, but know your opinion on each.  When you have the opportunity to write what you really love, make sure you decide on the right thing.

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23 thoughts on “Enjoying Genre

  1. I agree. Write widely through genre, but don’t stick with a genre you don’t like writing. And that right there is why I don’t write contemporary. Or epics (well… part of that is because I can’t seem to get a novel word count up to 50k, much less to 200k. The other part of that is me not wanting to create something quite that large in scale).

    However… I’m having trouble understanding what the problem with literary fiction is (your troubles with it, I mean). Is it John Green vs. Maggie Stiefvater? (If yes, then I think I get it.)

    1. Ah, no. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that— John Green is contemporary, and a lot less literary than Thomas Wolfe. So no, that wouldn’t be the comparison. My problem is, literary fiction messes with showing and telling and ambiguity and stark contrasts to create a point— which is awesome, and a writer who can do it right is brilliant— but commercial fiction (from contemporary to epic fantasy) tones that down much more, less to create an effect than just to tell a good story. Literary fiction might tell a story badly on purpose to make it punch a certain way. Fantasy has to tell the story so that it’s enjoyable, and uses its techniques to make it so.

  2. …maybe that’s my problem in reverse. I’ve been writing fantasy in setting only and focusing on characters and metaphors and just about everything you said about literary fiction is what I think of. I would not see the bedpost plotbunnies, I’d see the metaphor. Maybe I should try purposefully writing that way…but then what do I do for setting? That was the main reason I did “fantasy,” per se–I liked not having to research every little detail about how things worked in such-and-such an era. Ah well. Thanks for the post though! Rather enlightening. =)

  3. Confession: I think like a literary writer. And not just when I’m writing. All the time. I see symbolism and metaphors and complicated things in people’s actions and reactions and words they say and don’t say, and I also see it in…kicked bedposts.

    But now for the confusing part.

    I am not so sure I like literary writing anymore, either. I don’t enjoy it as much when I’m reading, though that my be because I rarely find a book where it was done truly well. And with the issues I’ve had with my most recent story, which I suppose could be classified as literary, I’m not so sure I like writing it, either. I had a lot of fun writing my…adventure story, I guess it was, and that generally meant I wrote faster and came up with more interesting ideas and all that. So now going back to contemporary was hard. In a way you have less freedom to be crazy. And yet…I picked up one of the last chapters I wrote for that project a week or two ago, and I loved it. It felt meaningful, I think I got the emotions right, I think I nailed style, and the plot made sense. But I don’t know what to do with that story. So… This is kind of part of my grand writing dilemma.

    This got long. I think the point was, I have no idea what I’m doing with genre right now. Is there a reason I’m “good at” literary, a reason why that’s how I think? If so, why isn’t it fun? Because of the perfectionism thing, or something else? And how do I balance this with what I do have fun with?

    Yikes. I need to stop thinking about this, don’t I?

    1. No confession. Literary writing isn’t bad at all— I just don’t want myself to do it. You can do it if you like, and good on you for it. But, if you truly don’t like literary fiction, don’t do it. Just don’t let me influence you.

      I hope you figure out how to enjoy genre again.

  4. “I don’t want to write metaphors for the human condition, unless they include unhealthy amounts of dragons and magic.”
    BLESS THIS POST AND EVERYTHING ABOUT IT.
    I’m so with you here. I’ve enjoyed reading literary fiction before, but I just…it gets a little pretentious and tiresome sometimes, in my opinion, and I’m all for people liking to write or read it. It’s just…not my kind of thing. I need my blood and guts and adventure. But I’m also not a huge symbolism person and I don’t appreciate it or like reading about a lot of it, unless you’re doing it subtly, so.

    1. Well, then. I see we have a winner.

      I’m glad you liked the post. I hope you never discount literary fiction because of it, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Definitely learn how to work with symbolism, though. That’s worthwhile.

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever had this problem…but then, I don’t really think that way much. Metaphors confuse the fiddlesticks out of me, for example, and my plot bunnies are almost always very fantasy-based.

    On a different note, I probably should explore more genres, though. Up to this point, my exploration of other genres has literally just been, “Hey, let’s write some sci-fi!”

    Seriously.

    Also, I thought you should know, when you mentioned kicking the bedpost, I found myself unconsciously rubbing my foot. I wish it had been a sympathetic thing to do, but I think it was slightly more empathetic than anything.

      1. Good point. I should probably also try writing short stories more often. Is it sad that I’ve written more full-length novels than I have short stories?

        No problem. I kick things all the time. Always on accident, but, eh.

  6. I love trying to write book sin all different genres, but not every genre is for me, and I’m slowly discovering which ones I enjoy writing, and which ones I don’t. I think it’s one huge, infinite learning process because even if I might not like writing in a genre the first time around, I might like it later on.

  7. Seconding Aimee about the line regarding unhealthy amounts it dragons and magic.

    I 1000% agree with the message behind this post: write what makes you happy. Yes yes yes and so much yes from here to the moon.

    *Tries writing comment about how this applies to her own writing, is unsatisfied with the results, and gives up in favor of going to sleep.*

  8. I tried writing something like this once. It quickly developed into an ongoing work with a fantasy-inspired plot twist. I don’t know what to make of it now.
    (Also trying suspense out. It’s going slightly better.)

  9. I agree with this post- everyone should be able to write what they like.
    And, oops, I have literary fiction tendencies- mainly when I (attempt to) write realistic fiction. I’ll have a picture in my mind, go off on a tangent, and then things just come out that way and I don’t like it much, either. Like you, I find that it takes away from the description of what’s happening to and around my character, and while I’m no fantasy writer, I’d much rather write about my main character’s new life with an aunt that hates her than write metaphors for an hour with no action.

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