Monday, November 10, 2014

Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction

"We don't focus on genre fiction here, we focus on real fiction."

I was told that in a creative writing class in 2005 while I was attending Purdue University. I was enrolled in their Liberal Arts program getting a double major in History and Writing. Writing had been a hobby of mine while growing up, as whenever I was grounded from watching TV my Mom insisted I find something else to do and writing stories about such thrilling, three dimensional characters as Dragonfire the weredragon who breathes fire and Manta Man, an underwater batman.

....yes, those are the actual names. I assure you, the Lava Lord, Silver Dragon, and Laserman weren't that much better.

When I was in high school and I fell in love with Werewolf: the Apocalypse I started writing down the adventures I wrote for my players and short stories about my LARP characters. I loved writing, but when it came time to graduate from High School I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It took taking a fiction course at Marian College before I became convinced I wanted to write for a living. I knew what writing I liked doing, I knew what types of genres I loved to write stories for, so now I just had to take the next step and commit to it.

The problem was, it was very hard to find any professors that would take anything but literary fiction. Literary fiction, at least as far as I understand it, is telling stories set in the modern world. There are no fantastic elements to them, and they do not evoke themes of horror, science fiction, or fantasy. It wasn't just that the professors wanted to focus on literary fiction during the course but in many cases they were very hostile to the very mention of it.

The reactions I received ran along the lines of...

  • "Genre fiction is the lowest form of fiction."
  • "Genre fiction is not real fiction."
  • "With a few exceptions, the majority of genre work is crap."
  • "You will never improve if you write stories like that."

Of the many courses I attended at Purdue, only one allowed for even the slightest bits of fantastical elements to them. The others had us write about emotions and themes, but we had to structure the stories around very generic locations. We had to rewrite stories and give them a modern twist. We had to write about conversations between people, such as about the loss of a loved one or going through a break up.  All helpful exercises, but when it came time to write longer stories there were several professors who would refuse any story that contained elements that did not conform to their narrow view of literary fiction.

That's why this video hit a cord with me.

I understand that professors need to set strict guidelines for a course. I mean, you have to have guidelines for which to grade people, right? But to just reject it out of hand because it does not conform with your views of what real writing is doesn't help someone grow as a writer.

While it is true that a lot of genre fiction is full of narratives such as Lord Stoutheart, the Purest Paladin Who Is A Hit With All The Ladies and Duke Bumpuncher, Scifi Scoundrel of Saturn, you will find other characters who are not only as memorable as Huck Finn but are just as deep. Juan Rico from the novel Starship Troopers is one such figure. Every time I reread that book I take away something new, and seeing the brutal, authoritarian world that he lives in through his eyes changes each time.

Now before I go, I have a few friends to share with you guys. The first are my friends over at Nerd's Domain, who review RPGs and other gaming items and record podcasts of their Cthulhu campaigns. Go check out the adventures of the Quietts and Scott Troiano as they explore through the Mask of Nyarlothotep!

My friend Sarah Roarke has a kickstarter up for her webcomic! She's so close to her goal and her comic is pretty awesome. You can find it over at

And finally, check out our new Facebook page! I waffled on creating one for a while because I didn't want to overwhelm people with updates from Smug Pug Games but it seemed like a great way to reach the wider masses that are Facebook.

Now if you excuse me, I shall go fall over dead now from this stupid cold. I cannot wait for someone to reveal that I'm secretly a Skrull and I can move beyond these stupid illnesses.

Ooh, Skrull-Space Knight-Green Lantern.


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