Can you define the difference between between genre and literary fiction? I can’t believe I spent over $50,000 on an MFA in Creative Writing and found I could not.
I was recently invited to sit on a Revision Panel by a Novel Workshop group in the Boston area. It was not until I had arrived and met the other panelists that I realized I was the “odd man out.” Unlike my panelist colleagues, I did not write “literary fiction.”
Romance, it seems, falls into another category altogether. One, I also soon realized, not widely revered by fans of the literary brand of fiction. What, I wondered, was the huge distinction? Researcher as I am by nature, I embarked on a mission to find out.
In 2014, a writer from the Huffington Post wrote, “There are certainly highbrow literary readers who believe that genre fiction does not deserve any merit.”
“Genre fiction” is the category in which most sources place romance novels.
The same journalist states, “The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses.”
Other sources draw the line between the types of fiction in other ways:
- Literary fiction typically places more emphasis on description rather than dialogue or action.
- Genre fiction tends to progress at a much quicker pace than literary fiction.
- In literary fiction, “nothing much happens.”
Now, I can only speak from personal reading experience. I am presently reading a ghost story by one of my favorite authors, Susanna Kearsley. This author’s works fall into the category of “literary fiction.” And yes, I admit, the pace is much slower. Much time and effort is taken in descriptive detail, of setting in particular. And at times, for pages and pages, “nothing much happens.” That doesn’t change my enjoyment of this author’s books.
But let’s get real here. It’s a freaking ghost story! Just exactly how “literary” can one get when crafting a tale about the supernatural?
True, it’s a different experience than those by “genre fiction” writers, such as Charlaine Harris and Laura Spinella. These are, at least as far as Amazon categories, romance writers. What makes their brand of fiction supposedly inferior to the literary variety?
I’m looking for a riveting story, an escape from reality. But tell me: don’t books by these “genre fiction” authors also deliver “real emotional responses”? At least for me, they do.
I believe it’s about time the world of publishing realizes that the gates to success are no longer governed by editors and agents sitting behind big, shiny expanses of mahogany, but by readers. Just as in all other aspects of our world, we, the people, are tired of labels. We are not willing to be judged by race or sexual orientation or social class or nationality. The books we write need to be judged within their own context. Not according to some standard set by a precedent that no longer applies in a modern, progressively thinking age.
So, as romance writers, what do we write? Genre fiction, i.e., throwaway, cheap-thrill entertainment? Or something “worthy of more merit,” filled with rich descriptive details and deeper insights into relationships? Books that provide “a means to better understand the world”, those that “deliver real emotional responses”?
You already know what my opinion is—and the kind of books I endeavor to write.
Fellow Soulies, we are romance authors. Proud romance authors. We love our genre, our stories, our niche in the publishing market. Embrace your label, Soulies, and soldier on, continuing to write the best love stories you can write.
Because in the end, no matter what anyone says, love always wins.