Friday, September 5, 2014

A Question

Why is Literary fiction referred to both as a genre and a style?  I've seen this mentioned in many literary magazine guidelines where they state that they're "open to all styles, including literary".  And genre magazines say that they're "open to all genres, including literary".  I'm confused.


Charles Gramlich said...

I too am bamboozeled.

sandra seamans said...

Maybe Literary "transcends" both genre and style?

Fred Zackel said...

I'm simple-minded. I think the only important difference in the writing life is the difference between fiction & literature and that difference is empathy. Compassion. Walk a mile in my shoes kind of thing. Like the only thing that "saves" Conrad's Heart of Darkness from being twaddle is the biscuit the narrator gives to the black laborer / slave. I also think literary means I don't think about Other People (i.e., readers) when I write. I think literary means it's a sham. But then I am wrong about everything else in life.

Fiona Glass said...

I think there's a certain amount of snobbery about the presumption that literary fiction can't be genre fiction. To me, good writing is good writing no matter whether it involves spaceships and monsters, or not.

Peter DiChellis said...

Confusing to me too, but I guess editors want what they want. And if they don't want mysteries, I'm out.

Some explanations I've seen: literary as genre is often about internal conflict/journey, while genre conflict more often results from external forces the character must overcome. Literary as style apparently means language choices count as much as story choices, which means . . . huh?

Best reason to ignore the distinction: Raymond Chandler.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Beyond the fact you can have literary style in a genre novel, I think it comes down to literary has been around forever and genres are a more modern idea. There are many who count literary as a genre (I don't) or say genre does not have a style. I just figure it is the bias of whomever slapped together the guidelines and am glad as it means anything goes.

sandra seamans said...

Sorry to have dropped out of the conversation yesterday - my afternoon got shanghaied.

Hey Fred, long time no see! I think you're on the right track. I just finished reading Christine Falls by Benjamin Black and while I could see how it was considered literary I felt he did his character Quirke a major disservice by having every woman he met fall in bed with him. A great misuse of genre tropes.

I totally agree, Fiona. Good writing doesn't have to be overdone to be brilliant.

Yes, Peter, Chandler nailed it perfectly on all levels.

Sometimes I think those MFA degrees go to some writer's heads, Kevin, and that's who many of the literary magazine's editors are. I believe that a good story is a good story no matter how you categorize it.

Thomas Pluck said...

The best distinction I've heard is that literary as a genre is less concerned with plot; as a style it leans toward poetic and less direct.
So literary thrillers/mysteries are written in a literary style (think Adrian McKinty, James Lee Burke, Tana French).
An example of a literary novel written in a ... hardboiled style, let's say, would be Blue Fox by Sjon, off the top of my head. Or Larry Brown's novels, like Joe (though you can simple call that Southern Gothic).
I don't care much for the distinctions and think they become blurred and misused, as "literary" tries to claim the cream of the crop of genre novels.
It "transcends genre" or some crap.

sandra seamans said...

Yes, I think that's what they like doing with their literary tags, Thomas. Though they tend not to claim best sellers as literary. I wish that people would just accept the stories without any tags.

G. B. Miller said...

Got me. I find both to be extremely nauseating and formulaic.

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