More literary/genre musings – 2020 Writing Week 37.5

Mike Grist Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I’ve been reading up some more on the difference between literary and genre, and found a way to express that feels true for me, as the guy who writes it.

When I’m writing, I want to feel like I’m on an adventure. I’m exploring a new space. Maybe it’s the human condition. Maybe it’s a social issue. Maybe it’s how far a plot/character thread can go. I don’t know exactly where it’s going, and I don’t know exactly what the end is.

All of these unknowns are what make this kind of writing so fascinating for ME.

I’ve always just assumed that what I find interesting, others will find interesting too – since there are many books and movies and TV shows that feel fimilar to my writing.

I’m sure this is true. The audience are out there. Finding them for more literary works is famously harder.

So literary is like a genuine adventure into the unknown, for both me and the reader.

Genre however is more like a guided tour.

It’s over ground I as the tour guide/writer have been over many times. It’s to see an array of things without too many surprises, but we know we’ll all enjoy. It’s familiar, self-contained, comforting and safe.

You know what you’re getting with both genre fiction and a guided tour. It’s not an adventure of the tour guide, obviously. It may feel a little adventurous to the reader, but there are guard rails up in place. We all know it’s not a real adventure where anything can happen, and we don’t want that.

A couple of things set off thinking of genre this way. I was reading reviews on Gregg Hurwitz’ Orphan X (which I’m reading now). All his front page reviews are bad (though his overall score is great). One reviewer said something about not wanting to read the book before he goes to bed, as he doesn’t want that kind of stuff in his head.

That turned me right around. Reading before going to bed. Of course!

Genre fiction, certainly in vigilante justice, should probably be, above all, comforting. It’s about restoring justice. The readers want to be pushed, like a little rush on a rollercoaster ride, but not too far. Not too urgent. and not be made to wait too long for resolution, as that’s uncomfortable.

Stay up late/all night reading just to get that wanted sense of comfort/all is right with the world? Many readers don’t want that kind of intensity.

Another thing that pushed me here has been Su’s experience researching feel-good romances similar to the one she’s written. She says they are very soft. Extremely sweet. No edge. No misery. No real sorrow. Bad things in the backstory are distant and foggy. Good things in the present are like a warm blanket.

They are massively comforting. Su’s book is very comforting too, but there are some unexpected spikes of reality that push through. It has a literary edge.

Adventure vs. Guided Tour

This kind of contrast fascinates me. It really makes me think what I want from my writing. I obviously love going on adventures in my writing. But the more ‘risk’ there is, the fewer people will want to come along. The less risk, the more people will want to.

I’ve been reading a few fellow books in Vigilante Justice. Mark Dawson, Andy Maslen, of course Orphan X. There is far more time than I would have thought spent on seeing these guys’ everyday lives. Walking their dogs. Walking around their homes describing everything. Mixing drinks. Talking to people in the elevator. Looking out of windows. Having the full backstory described in info dumps.

With Wren it’s pedal to the metal from the start. Inspired by movies like ‘You Were Never Really Here’ – which is obviously literary, and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, which is the same. We get little on Wren early on, and it’s dosed out gradually.

The genre-obeying books don’t do this. The backstories are straightforward. It’s the standard one – lead guy was a killer, accidentally killed a kid, now is haunted by that and trying to make up for it.

Wren has that backstory too, but it’s more complex and inverted. It explores the human condition. It’s unfamiliar territory. Not a guided tour.

So do I keep adventuring, and hope to find enough takers? Or do I take a crack at guided tours (not even sure I can do that – obviously I need some standout feature for my stories, they can’t just be Reacher carbon copies – but it can’t be too different)?

Or maybe both? With the difference signaled by cover and blurb? Alternate series, one for me, one for the readers?

I’m thinking about it. It would be a kind of adventure, actually, to see if I can crack a guided tour.

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