Literary vs. genre or commercial or plot-driven. Those seem to be the battle lines. When I first entered into discussions about types of novels, I claimed that literary fiction was prone to think too highly of itself, its language preening and primping as it strutted down the runway to nowhere.
My conclusion ultimately was that story trumps all—bad writing, weak characterization, unclear setting, undefined theme. By this I meant, give the readers an exciting plot, and they will love the book.
Now I think that is only partly true. Yes, story trumps all. But story is more than an exciting plot. Story, the best kind, includes engaging characters.
Sure, we can write the equivalent of a B Western, with lots of gun-play and bad guys falling off their horses. Today it would be a B Thriller, I suppose, with lots of explosions and bad guys falling off buildings (usually only partially constructed ones).
In other words, there is LOTS of action. And conflict, of the external variety. Throw in some suspense, and people will have the adrenaline rush they seek and feel satisfied, though they might have a hard time telling a single person what the book or movie was about.
Is this good story? Not in my opinion. Good story lasts longer than that. It touches more than a reader’s emotive center that produces a momentary rush. A truly good story requires the reader to connect or engage with a character.
If the reader cares about the character, the danger, adventure, romance or whatever takes on a whole new dimension, one that matters more and lingers afterward.
It seems to me, a good story can dress up as literary fiction, with a visionary theme that might be unpopular, or as genre fiction, with a theme that reinforces an already held belief.
If it is true that story trumps all, then literary fiction, if the story is good, should be as commercially successful as genre fiction.
Orignially posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction October 10, 2006.