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Chapter 1: Writerly Goals, Purpose, and Audience

Purpose: Literary or Genre?

Melissa Ford Lucken

Literary fiction and genre fiction are two broad categories of fiction that are often used to classify and categorize different types of novels or stories. While both types of fiction share similarities, they also have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Literary Fiction:

    • Focus on literary merit: Literary fiction often emphasizes artistic quality, depth of characterization, and exploration of complex themes. It aims to provoke thought and elicit emotional responses from readers.
    • Character-driven: Literary fiction tends to prioritize character development and psychological insights over plot. The internal struggles, relationships, and personal growth of the characters take center stage.
    • Experimental style: Literary fiction may employ unconventional narrative techniques, non-linear storytelling, or unique perspectives to challenge traditional storytelling conventions and push the boundaries of literary expression.
    • Broad themes: Literary fiction often tackles universal or philosophical themes such as love, identity, existentialism, human nature, and social issues. It delves into the human condition and offers profound insights into the complexities of life.

Genre Fiction:

    • Plot-driven: Genre fiction places a strong emphasis on an engaging and well-structured plot. The story’s events, conflicts, and resolutions take precedence over character development or literary experimentation.
    • Conforms to genre conventions: Genre fiction adheres to specific genre expectations and tropes. Examples of popular genres include science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, thriller, horror, and crime fiction. Readers often have certain expectations regarding the settings, plot elements, and character archetypes in these genres.
    • Entertaining and escapism: Genre fiction is often associated with providing entertainment, escapism, and enjoyment to readers. It focuses on delivering a compelling narrative, suspense, excitement, or emotional satisfaction within the boundaries of the chosen genre.
    • Targeted audience: Genre fiction tends to have a specific target audience and is marketed accordingly. For example, romance novels cater to readers seeking love stories, while science fiction appeals to those interested in speculative concepts and futuristic settings.

It’s worth noting that the line between literary fiction and genre fiction can sometimes be blurry, as some works may incorporate elements from multiple genres while still maintaining a literary quality. Additionally, literary fiction and genre fiction are not mutually exclusive, and many authors have successfully blended the two approaches to create unique and compelling stories.

The question of whether literary fiction or genre fiction is better is subjective and largely a matter of personal preference. Both forms of fiction have their own merits and can offer unique and valuable reading experiences. Here are a few points to consider:

Artistic Merit

Literary fiction is often celebrated for its focus on artistic quality, depth of characterization, and exploration of complex themes. It aims to push the boundaries of storytelling and provoke thought. If you appreciate intricate prose, nuanced characters, and profound insights into the human condition, literary fiction may be more appealing to you.

Entertainment Value

Genre fiction, on the other hand, is known for its emphasis on engaging plots, suspense, and reader entertainment. If you enjoy being transported to imaginative worlds, experiencing thrilling adventures, or being captivated by mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, or other genre-specific elements, genre fiction may be more enjoyable for you.

Reader Expectations

Genre fiction often adheres to specific conventions and caters to readers who have certain expectations for the genre they are reading. This can create a sense of familiarity and comfort for readers, knowing what to expect and finding enjoyment in the familiar tropes and storytelling patterns. Literary fiction, on the other hand, may offer more surprises and unconventional narrative approaches, challenging readers’ expectations.

Impact and Influence

Literary fiction has a history of influencing the literary canon, shaping cultural conversations, and being recognized for its intellectual and artistic contributions. It often tackles important social, philosophical, or existential themes that can resonate deeply with readers and provoke discussions. However, genre fiction also has the power to captivate and inspire readers, building communities around shared interests and providing escapism and entertainment.

Ultimately, the choice between literary fiction and genre fiction depends on your personal preferences, what you seek in a reading experience, and what resonates with you as a writer. Some readers and writers appreciate the depth and literary qualities of literary fiction, while others prefer the escapism and entertainment value of genre fiction. Both forms of fiction have their place and can offer meaningful and enjoyable reading experiences. Deciding whether to write literary fiction or genre fiction depends on your personal interests, writing style, and creative goals. Consider these:

Writing Interests

Consider the types of stories that genuinely inspire and captivate you. Are you drawn to exploring complex characters, delving into deep themes, and experimenting with narrative techniques? If so, literary fiction might be a good fit. On the other hand, if you have a passion for crafting thrilling plots, building imaginative worlds, or working within established genre conventions, genre fiction may be more appealing.

Reading Preferences

Reflect on the types of books you enjoy reading. Are you often drawn to literary novels that challenge and provoke thought, or do you find yourself gravitating toward specific genres like science fiction, fantasy, mystery, or romance? Your reading preferences can provide insights into the kind of fiction you might enjoy writing.

Creative Goals

Consider the goals you have for your writing. Do you want to make a significant artistic contribution and explore complex ideas through your work? Literary fiction can offer opportunities for self-expression, critical acclaim, and the potential to influence readers on a deeper level. On the other hand, if you have a strong desire to entertain readers, explore popular genres, and potentially reach a wider audience, genre fiction may align better with your goals.

Market Considerations

It can be helpful to research the publishing landscape and consider the market for different types of fiction. Literary fiction often caters to a more niche audience and may be more challenging to market and sell. Genre fiction, on the other hand, can have a larger readership and more established markets, but it also means facing competition within those genres.

Personal Writing Style

Your writing style and strengths may naturally lend themselves to one form of fiction over the other. Assess your abilities as a writer and consider whether your strengths lie in crafting intricate characters, exploring psychological depth, and crafting literary prose, or if you excel at creating compelling plots, building immersive worlds, and maintaining reader engagement.

Remember, the decision between literary fiction and genre fiction is not mutually exclusive, and many writers successfully explore both realms or even blend elements from both. Ultimately, it’s essential to write the type of fiction that resonates with you and allows you to express your creative vision authentically.

The difference between creating literary fiction and genre fiction lies in the emphasis on different aspects of storytelling and the conventions associated with each type of writing. Here are some key distinctions:

Focus on Character vs. Focus on Plot

Literary fiction tends to prioritize character development and exploration of human experiences and emotions. The plot in literary fiction often serves as a vehicle for character growth and thematic exploration. In contrast, genre fiction, such as mystery, romance, or science fiction, typically places more emphasis on plot-driven narratives, focusing on suspense, action, or solving a problem.

Exploration of Themes vs. Entertainment

Literary fiction often delves into deeper themes, social issues, and philosophical questions, inviting readers to reflect on the human condition. It aims to provoke thought, evoke emotions, and offer nuanced insights. Genre fiction, on the other hand, is primarily focused on providing entertainment, escapism, and satisfying genre-specific expectations.

Narrative Structure

Literary fiction may experiment with unconventional narrative structures, such as nonlinear timelines, fragmented storytelling, or multiple perspectives, to enhance its artistic impact and explore different layers of meaning. Genre fiction typically adheres to more traditional narrative structures that follow established genre conventions, including clear story arcs and predictable plot progressions.

Language and Style

Literary fiction often places a greater emphasis on the beauty and artistry of language. It may employ poetic prose, metaphors, and literary techniques to evoke emotions and create vivid imagery. Genre fiction tends to prioritize clear and accessible writing that drives the story forward, although there can still be room for stylistic elements within specific genres.

Readership Expectations

Literary fiction is often aimed at a more discerning audience interested in introspection, character depth, and literary merit. It doesn’t adhere to a specific set of reader expectations and can be more open to experimentation. Genre fiction, on the other hand, caters to specific reader expectations, including genre conventions, familiar tropes, and the desire for entertainment and escapism within a particular genre.

It’s worth noting that these distinctions are not absolute, and there can be overlap between literary fiction and genre fiction. Many books blend elements of both categories, and the boundaries can be fluid. Ultimately, the distinction lies in the writer’s intention, the emphasis placed on different aspects of storytelling, and the expectations of the intended audience, the reader.


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Purpose: Literary or Genre? by Melissa Ford Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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