A Practical Fiction

I have decided recently that as a writer I dislike genres. That is not to say I dislike the stories written in genres, I just dislike the idea of genres. I say this, by the way, as someone whose stories, because of certain narrative details, are placed unequivocally within a genre.

This was not always so. When I began writing novels I wrote what we call literary fiction. I wrote literary fiction because since I was about sixteen that was all I read. I had no knowledge of the world outside of literature. The first time someone asked me what I wrote I was puzzled. I wrote literature, of course. Isn’t that what one wrote? I had a lot to learn.

Now that I am so much older and a little bit wiser I believe that literary fiction still has a distinct and profound psychological advantage over genre fiction: no requirements. Your only requirement if you write literary fiction is that you write a good book. This book can have mystery, love, suspense, cowboys, CEOs, soldiers—whatever. The writer is free from that odious list of marketing requirements with which mystery and suspense and fantasy and romance writers saddle themselves so that they still “fit” into this genre to which they are supposedly devoted. The literary writer is free to simply write the story they most want to write.

So I say, whatever you write, forget genre. Genres are a marketing idea, and a good one. The advantage of genres, theoretically, is that the reader knows more or less what she is getting into before she reads the book. She knows what to expect narratively from romance or suspense or urban fantasy. Not so much with literary fiction, which may be why it tends to sell a little less. No matter.

When we write, we are all literary writers, whether or not there are dragons or spaceships or dashing pirates in our stories. Our only allegiance should be to the story, that current of desire that caught our interest and brought us to the desk. Once we’re done, then we can find our genre. Remember, however, that every genre evolved when someone wrote just what they wanted to write and were being imitated by so many others that eventually we took all those books and put them into a corner of the bookstore. Genres are a practical fiction, nothing more. The impractical truth is that you are only required to write what you most want to write.

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