Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Genre Hopping

Highbrow literary types annoy me.  Actually, they don't even need to be highbrow.  I suppose I'm a hypocrite in some ways with how I treat the literary form of prose, but if proponents of literary writing back off from dissing genre writing I'll be happy to do the same.  Their arguments are archaic and ignorant to what knowledge of the craft good genre fiction writers possess.  Excluding the classics, they don't even have sufficient readers to back them up.

I was thinking of an example to use in an argument supporting speculative fiction ideals and came up with "a wizard casts a spell on a tree."  Yes, that does place the ball in my court, doesn't it?  I still think the comparison can work though.

Here's my spec fic writer version:

Uleria deadpanned his chant, eyes glazing over the twisted network of willow branches.  The needles swayed under his power.  He closed his hand tight and hissed.  The whole of the tree blazed into a blue-hot inferno, brighter than the gray-blue sky of the evening.

Here's my literary writer version:

Uleria cast his words flat as one might throw a discus.  His arcane energy bristled on his lips.  The tall willow tree before him threw up a dozen terrified arms.  Unable to flee, it danced, its shimmering akin to the rain of sequins on the dress of a gyrating woman.  Uleria clenched his worn ebony fist and hissed.  A blanket of blue-eyed flames enveloped the forsaken tree.  Beside it the evening sky was dull.

This post will inevitably fail to prove my point perfectly since I'm not all too learned in the literary ways.  It would probably do better if I were to ask someone who writes in the literary style to compose a paragraph based upon "a wizard casts a spell on a tree" and use that rather than my version.  But I'm actually writing a blog post and I want to try to make my point as best I can alone, right now, before I can delay it.

Every sentence from the original version has more than one purpose.  The first part of the first sentence establishes Uleria as a character and shows an action.  The second part gives away a tiny detail about the nature of what Uleria is doing and/or how he is doing it (thus character detail), and it gives a description of the tree that evokes a stark image in very few words.  The second sentence shows a consequence of Uleria's action with another image of the tree, emphasizing the cause to the effect.  It is shorter than the first sentence to give balance.  The third sentence reveals a pair of actions in an abrupt manner, both because they don't need to be embellished and because a second shorter sentence here compliments the flow of the paragraph as a whole.  The fourth sentence shows a further consequence to the action with precise language, giving a clear picture of not only the tree, but the sky as well.  The sentence also reveals the time of day of this event.  In this paragraph, point-of-view is emphasized.  The camera lens is focused on what Uleria is focused on.

The second version is thirty words longer than the first (seventy-four words vs. forty-four words) without actually revealing anything extra.  It brings a variety of images to mind with figurative language and may stimulate the senses more than the original version, but those images distract from the story.  The sentences are given a length based not so much on flow as on how long it takes to draw up an image.  In this paragraph, point-of-view is abandoned in favor of an artistic narrator.

Is there a place for literary writing?  Certainly.  If you like it, you like it.  But I simply don't understand how some people can feel there is no place for genre writing that doesn't try to emulate literary methods.  Maybe you have to learn from a genre writer to appreciate the art that is genre writing.  Maybe the two art forms aren't even siblings, but only cousins, only one of which the average reader may favor.  I cannot say for sure.


  1. Until I hit university, I never knew the difference between literary and genre writing. I now often try my hand at both. I don't think one of them are any better or of lesser value than the other, and even as far as readers go, I tend to find that I tend to favour or dislike a piece based on its voice rather than it's genre or if it's literary. There are good and bad examples of both and I think the idea of putting them into a hierarchy and saying one is better than the other is just silly. Everyone should just read and write whatever they feel like and stop trying to turn it into a competition! Great post, Patrick--sorry if I got a bit ranty there, I have a strong opinion about this issue. haha :)

    1. I would agree, for the most part. I am biased, but I try to look at both sides (as well as the third branch: mainstream) as being equal in and of themselves. It's the traditions behind each one that makes it hazy. I think the competition is good for readers, though perhaps not for writers.

    2. I think it has more potential to be bad for writers than for readers, but then I suppose it depends how it's executed. I've been to a couple of really good events hosted by Kill Your Darlings lit journal in Melbourne where they've run a 'Highbrow vs Lowbrow' slam, but these are usually hosted in good sport rather than actually trying to slam one or the other type of writer.