Monday, February 16, 2015

Defending genre

This is me, defending genre
Elsewhere, I was defending genre writing.
From folks who only like Literary Fiction.

And since I hate to waste good writing I thought I would bring that back here.

I say -- There's excellent genre. Scads of it.
So why do folks not see this obvious truth?

It's Sturgeon's Law, in part  -- "90% of every kind of writing is crap."

The difference between LitFic and genre writing is

Both excellent and mediocre genre writing is on the shelves, making a profit, being read and enjoyed, each in its own way.
Mediocre LitFic, of which there is any amount, remains in decent obscurity because it is not remotely commercial. It's not seen.

That leads to sampling error. 
You also get sampling error when you take the best books in a genre and declare them 'literary fiction' rather than 'really good mysteries' or 'great SF&F'.

Let us now praise genre and its forefathers in their generation.

Launcelot and Guinevere ... Pure Genre
Genre is story.

Storytelling is a Big Deal. Ancient as humanity. Core to what makes us human. Powerful.
What defines us?  What is our 'culture'? What books do we care about after a hundred or a thousand years?

King Arthur and the Round Table, Robinson Crusoe, Romeo and Juliet, Moll Flanders, The Satyricon, Song of Roland, Tom Jones, A Thousand and One Nights, Pride and Prejudice, Rob Roy, Poldark, The Importance of Being Ernest, The House of Usher, The Three Musketeers, Kidnapped, Last of the Mohicans.

Tales of high adventure, mystery, love, horror, bravery, sacrifice, triumph, humor, intrigue.
Pure genre.
One characteristic of this durable literature is that it was popular in its own day. Beloved up and down the social and intellectual scale. It was bestseller stuff when 'bestseller' meant stories told around the fire. 

It appealed to the hoi polloi.

So I don't so much want to hear 'noncommercial' as approval and praise.

Commercial' is not a criticism. 'Popular' doesn't mean poorly written.
Genre is the good stuff.


  1. I've been biting my tongue so hard "Elsewhere" that it bleeds, sapping my poor genre loving heart.

    1. I really don't understand the lofty contempt for genre writing. And yet I think universities are somewhat prone to this.

      Let what is basically 'genre writing' get a hundred years old and it's a classic. Look at the best seller list and the roughly the same book is 'escapist trash'.

      I can just see the revered writers of the past saying, "Of course I write for the common man. I write entertaining stuff. How the hell am I going to make a living otherwise?"

  2. Oh yes oh yes oh yes. And it's true about all the arts, isn't it? The snobbishness about "high art" is so depressing.

    1. I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable in the visual arts to see how similar ideas play out.

      I will say the world seems full of folks who believe their favorite flavor of art should be supported at government expense. Not really an answer, somehow.

    2. In the 15th century, ordinary Florentines were all excited about the competition to design the next set of doors for the Baptistry. In 18th century Vienna, errand boys would whistle Mozart melodies.
      Nobody told them that they were peons, unable to appreciate great art.
      (I will now get off my high horse until the next time the impulse to rant gets overwhelming.)

    3. I love that opera was considered the 'music of the people' because it was so full of color and excitement and drama.

    4. It always amuses me that the LitFic crowd who so reveres Shakespeare completely ignores the fact that almost all of his plays are purely genre (and a good many of them are Romances). They also ignore that they were written for purely commercial entertainment (or perhaps propaganda to appease the powers that wanted to close the theatres from time to time) purposes. The fact that his plays were great commercial successes IS the reason that they were gathered and published and why we have them today. It is telling that the literary crowd also criticized Shakespeare (and Burns, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Austen etc. etc. etc.). Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

    5. Need an edit button - should have said "the literary crowd of his day criticized Shakespeare"

  3. Amen to this post. There are so very many ways people use to think of themselves as better than others, and it's such a waste of our time and energy.

    1. So much time explaining why books are not bought.

      Blame the readers, blame the bestselling authors, blame the educational system, blame the marketplace, blame the publishers ...

  4. Hi Lynn --

    I really wish we had good editing here at Blogger, but I hate the thought of a new system put in place.

    It's a little funny to see how age turns genre into 'classics'.

  5. Anonymous8:33 PM


    I've expressed my opinion at the other place and been dismissed like an addled child who simply doesn't understand. A moment, let me wipe the drool off my chin. Much of the writings we consider classics today WERE the genre and often looked down on in their day. Robert E. Lee only wanted his daughters reading poetry and the Latin classics, none of the modern trash.

    You've fought a great, logical, and informed fight. I'm sorry it's been largely dismissed.

    Julie, happily writing fluff.

  6. Oh heck. I don't expect most folks to agree with me. I certainly don't need everybody to think the way I do.