Literary Fiction versus Popular Fiction

My dear friend Lauri over at Thoughts From Botswana wrote an interesting post on Literary Fiction versus Popular Fiction. These are my thoughts in response:

For me plot is art. Characterisation and character relationships are art. There is a real art to constructing a work of fiction that both shows and tells a compelling story with characters the reader can feel, but without the reader being aware of the scaffolding involved in such construction. I agree with John Grisham's points that you don't want to distract the reader; you want him to become absorbed in your book.

That said, there is poetry and beautiful writing that also stands as art, and stands out because it is beautiful. It does tend to be distracting, in a good way. There is a limit, I think, on what type of story one can tell entirely with writing that is meant to be savoured for itself. Certainly not a fast-paced or suspenseful story.

I haven't read Dan Brown's book, but I suspect if Pullman has noticed the writing style, this means one or both of two things: either Brown's writing construction is too obvious, or Pullman reads like a writer and is overly sensitive to scaffolding.



As mentioned previously, I've been deliberating my genre choices and doing some research. It seems I can rest easily for the moment, and that my decision to put Breaking Point aside for a while is quite a good one. I should be able to use it to re-enter the market if and when my books start to suffer from the "ordering to the net" policies of the bookstores. (I'll have to write about this issue at some stage, too.)
I have two further ideas for thrillers up my sleeve - one is depressingly dark, though, but the other could be an intriguing conspiracy theory romp that I could put a futuristic spin on and thus segue into science fiction from there. 

I'm still a little concerned about the leap from writing for children to writing for adults, although I don't consider myself a "children's author" at all. It just so happens that the books I'm currently writing are suitable for children; Breaking Point, however, most definitely is not. I can see that a pseudonym may be required (another one), but there doesn't seem to be an issue with working in this manner on the agent/publisher side (ie, having a plan to pick up and start again versus sitting and watching your career die). The issue arises with establishing a (new?) readership for a new line of books. 

This is where I've begun to cause myself a slight problem. A clever writer would work this all out in advance and try to link the genres in some way, even under different names, so that loyal readers can follow that writer from one line of books to the other. This, in turn, means that instead of starting again from scratch, you start a new line with a ready-made readership. But it doesn't work like that when moving from children's books to adults'. (Unless I can stretch it out long enough for any fans to have grown up by the time of publication...)

But despite that, I'm in the right place. Now I need to finish Lesson Two so that I can figure out how I'm going to link my books together - produce a "brand", I suppose, although it's a lot more creative and fun than the marketing people make it sound (and far more subtle).

I'm really glad, now, that I've signed up for the lessons every fortnight instead of weekly. I'm already lagging behind (thanks to a schedule that has gone nuts) and according to the student forum it gets even more intense in upcoming lessons. 

Comments (2)
That leap would be difficult for most people to traverse. I think your point about trying to link your two genres is an important one. If anyone can do it, you can. 
Posted 7 November 2008

I'm feeling much happier about it all. I've often wondered if Breaking Point is doomed to sit in my drawer unloved by anyone but me, but I think it's just a case that the time is not right. Now I think I can focus on the projects on my plate without worrying too much about what I'm getting myself into by choosing this particular route. 
Posted 7 November 2008