Monday Musings: Literary versus Genre

Good Monday Morning! Chris Allen-Riley, Kirsti Jones, Lynn Doezema, and I are back to our weekly mini blog-hop. Today, we visit the topic of literary versus genre fiction. Be sure to stop in to see at all our blogs to see our various thoughts on the topic.

Back when I first started writing, I had to ask a more experienced writer what all the fuss was about literary versus genre writing. It all seemed so shrouded in mystery—so us versus them. To paraphrase and to simplify… Literary works were the ones that won awards. Genre works made money. Literary works explored the human condition. Genre works put the human on a roller-coaster ride of a plot and let him go.

Eventually, I came up with my own litmus test for whether a work was literary fiction or genre. Here it is (be prepared to be blown away!): I pick up a book at the bookstore. If it’s something deep, dark and depressing—watching a loved one die a long slow death or a convoluted ethical dilemma—in short, something I don’t feel up to reading because it’s too much like real life, it’s literary fiction. If it sounds sweet, funny or implausible—in short, something I would read to be entertained—it’s probably genre fiction.

Maybe that sounds flip, but it’s not a bad test.  Dire Wolf by Tess Grant

The literary-genre divide has been going on for years. My first books were absolutely genre—YA novels about a teen werewolf hunter. Definitely not the stuff of the Newbery Award.

Then I started writing my adult mystery, Second Chances. See it here on the What I Write page. The main character is a difficult and complex woman named Jo Birch—a deeply vulnerable soul wrapped in a mouthy and hard exterior who is scarred by every case she works. As they reviewed chapters, my critique group kept asking me, “Why is she like that?” “What’s her response to that?”

When I finished Jo’s story and turned it over to beta readers, comments were something 2011_08220127like this, “This is more about Jo than the mystery.” “I just wanted to find out what happened to this girl.” Another reader was more blunt. She said, “This is literary suspense.”

Imagine my surprise! I–Proud Genre Girl–had written a literary novel. Okay, deep down I had my suspicions, but still having it confirmed came as a bit of a shock.

What did this teach me? Perhaps the divide between genre and literary is not so much a gap as a continuum, and the two aren’t nearly as far apart as we sometimes make them out to be. What do you think?

Visit Chris, Lynn, and Kirsti for their thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “Monday Musings: Literary versus Genre

  1. I hear you. I’m writing a young adult post-apocalyptic adventure punk. LOL My readers don’t care what it is called as long as the story is good. Writers are the only ones driving this splitting of genres.

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