Genre fiction can be described as anything that is not literary fiction. Yes, I know – very helpful, not!
I have nothing against literary fiction though I suspect the only book I have in that category is the magnificent Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I was in a dilemma with her follow up Bring Up The Bodies. I know how the story of Anne Boleyn ends!
When you know there is nothing positive well… having said that, I may well try it at some point. (Mind you, I was like this with the film Titanic. I knew about the iceberg! Didn’t see anything in the film for me!). Okay, call me a philistine then…
The Purpose of Genre Fiction
Oh and I suspect the sainted Miss Austen would come into genre fiction as romantic comedy so there! Dickens was considered a hack writer in his day and indeed wrote by installments and, yes, for the money. I’ve always had the impression that literary fiction is “above” that kind of thing but this may well be just me.
But when it comes to reading, I do prefer genre fiction. All of my favourite books come within this category. I prefer to think of genre fiction as books which are aimed at entertaining readers. That is not to say they can’t be educational or enlightening as well, but their main purpose for me is to entertain.
I don’t think that is the main purpose of literary fiction. Literary fiction to me is meant to enlighten and perhaps challenge the reader. That’s fine incidentally but I tend to read at bedtime and frankly I don’t want an intellectual challenge at that point in the day!
I also see genre fiction as being instantly accessible and that is a major part of its appeal to me. Storytelling is meant to get a story across to a reader and keep them engrossed enough to want to read to the end of it and to want to find out what happens.
Categories of Genre Fiction
I’m sure you’ll think of others but below are the main genre fiction categories I would list.
Children’s Fiction which is a category on its own but overall I would say comes into genre.
There are all manner of sub-divisions within each genre and there can be a certain amount of crossover too. For example, crime and horror often combine as does, ironically, crime and comedy. Well, there’s a contrast for you!
Variety and Snobbery
The above sounds a bit like a cast-off book title from Jane Austen, does it not?! Seriously, I love the variety within genre fiction.
For crime, I prefer the cosy end of the market but there’s plenty of room and books available for those who like the bloodier crime stories.
For history, I like those stories which tell a well known historical story from the viewpoint of a historical character. The late Jean Plaidy was very good at these. Her In the Shadow of the Crown tells the story of Mary Tudor from Mary’s viewpoint. (Most of the focus in this era is on her half-sister, Elizabeth. Don’t get me wrong. I like those but it was good to see a viewpoint from another Tudor monarch.).
I do loathe the snobbery around genre fiction. It is the bread and butter earner for the publishing houses and does subsidize literary fiction. I have no problems with that but I do hate the “it’s only genre fiction” attitude I have come across. There is no only about it. A good genre fiction book takes time and effort to write and craft and get to publication standard. It takes even more work to get it edited well and published.
And for it to go down well with readers is the ultimate accolade.
Ultimately as authors, we want books and stories to be read and enjoyed and for readers to go and read and enjoy more books. Genre fiction is hugely successful in what it does here.
Whether the snobbery is a hang over from the old “penny dreadfuls” I don’t know, but I would argue even those got people reading who had not read before.
I also see no problem with comic books or manga or anything like that. They get people into books when all is said and done and that is the problem all writers face.
Having people read and keep reading is our ultimate goal. It’s wonderful when people develop a reading habit early and keep it up. But how do you draw in the reluctant reader?
You’ve got to go back to basics and come up with a wonderful story people have to read.
Time For Crime Fiction
I see the forerunners of crime fiction as we know it now as Edgar Allan Poe and, above all, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle with his legendary creation, Sherlock Holmes, who is also the first of the flawed detectives. And the particular flaw Holmes has is still controversial now. I wonder if that had been anticipated?
You can also know you’ve been successful in what you do when other authors either send you up or kind of mimic you. Agatha Christie does appear to give Hercule Poirot a less intelligent brother, Achille. That is a direct nod to Sherlock and his brother Mycroft Holmes in the Doyle stories. The story concerned here, The Big Four, I see as Christie’s answer to Doyle’s The Sign of Four.
To be honest, what matters most to me is that people read and love doing so. That ultimately is why I have no time for snobbery of any kind around fiction. I don’t have a problem with literary fiction but it simply isn’t going to be what I reach for first and foremost when looking for my next read.
Whatever you read, enjoy! That really is the important thing! And do share what your favourite books are in the comments box. We can all add to our reading lists!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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