Popular fiction

Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is plot-driven fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.[1] Genre fiction is generally distinguished from literary fiction. Screenwriting teacher Robert McKee defines genre conventions as the "specific settings, roles, events, and values that define individual genres and their subgenres".[2] These conventions, always fluid, are usually implicit, but sometimes are made into explicit requirements by publishers of fiction as a guide to authors seeking publication. There is no consensus as to exactly what the conventions of any genre are, or even what the genres themselves are; assigning of works to genres is to some extent arbitrary and subjective.

Genre fiction is often dismissed by literary critics as being pure escapism, cliched, and of poor quality prose.

Genre and the marketing of fiction

In the publishing industry the term "category fiction" is often used as a synonym for genre fiction, with the categories serving as the familiar shelf headings within the fiction section of a bookstore, such as Western or mystery.

The uncategorized section is known in the industry as "general fiction", but in fact many of the titles in this usually large section are often themselves genre novels that have been placed in the general section because sellers believe they will appeal, due to their high quality or other special characteristics, to a wider audience than merely the readers of that genre.

Genre fiction has received some degree of legitimacy, as authors formerly known for their literary fiction have written novels under pseudonyms.[3][4][5] Also, with the demise of the hardback book, distinctions between genre fiction and literary fiction may begin to blur, with appropriate changes in marketing.[6]

Evolution of fiction genres

Since the beginning of literature it has been acknowledged that there are different types or categories of created work. Poetry, a form of literature older than prose, was in ancient times divided into narrative, dramatic, and lyric forms. Narrative poetry, at least as it was first written (as opposed to recited or sung), was primarily epic. Dramatic poetry came to be divided into tragedy and comedy. The Greek philosopher Aristotle in his Poetics for the first time named story genres by categorizing dramas according to the value-charge of their endings and the design of their stories.

Many fiction genres can be traced to a small number of important or extremely popular literary works written before that genre came into existence. "Genre" fiction is portrayed as those works that seek, in some degree, just to emulate these paradigms. Science fiction began with Jules Verne and then H. G. Wells, as a recognizable genre, although Mary Shelley is generally credited with having written the first science fiction novels (Frankenstein and The Last Man) forty-five years before Jules Verne and H.G. Wells' first literary works. Horror stories and mystery stories can both be traced in large measure to Edgar Allan Poe and a few others. It is possible also that Poe helped originate science fiction with such stories as 'The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall.'

The period 1900–1910 was fertile for the development, by writers such as M. P. Shiel, of fiction genres and character types. Often these appeared in periodicals, which eventually became the pulp magazines of the early 20th century.

Critical Appraisal and Controversy

Although frequently ignored or ridiculed by literary critics, genre fiction has achieved a measure of acceptance among some modern critics, with Stephen King being awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters,[7] polarizing some commentators and instigating debate on genre fiction's literary merit. Derisive comments about genre fiction have sparked responses from Time,[8] Salon,[9] the Atlantic,[10] and the Los Angeles Review of Books.[11] In the 2000s, the BBC defended itself against charges that it had sneered at genre fiction,[12] while the Man Booker[13] and National Book Awards[14] were criticized for ignoring genre fiction in their selection process.

Age categories

Most genres of fiction may also be segmented by the age of the intended reader:

List of genres

As noted, there are many different ways of labeling and defining fiction genres. Following are some of the main genres as they are used in contemporary publishing:

Crime

Crime fiction stories are centered on criminal enterprise, and can be told from the point of view of the perpetrators or those involved in its detection. They range in tone from lighthearted "caper" stories to darker plots involving organized crime or incarcerated convicts.

Fantasy

Fantasy stories use magic or the supernatural as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Fantasy is frequently divided into high fantasy, which is epic in scope and set in a completely fictitious world, and low fantasy, which blends reality with limited elements of fantasy. Contemporary fantasy and magical realism are somewhat analogous to low fantasy but overlap in complicated ways. Fantasy lends itself to pastiche and is often combined with other genres, making the distinction between fantasy and science fiction sometimes difficult to discern. Weird fiction, in particular, borrows liberally from fantasy, science fiction, and horror.

Horror

Horror fiction aims to frighten or gross out its readers. Although many horror novels feature supernatural phenomena or monsters, it is not required. Early horror took much inspiration from Romanticism, birthing Gothic horror. Modern horror, such as cosmic horror and splatterpunk, tends to be less melodramatic and more explicit. Horror is often mixed with other genres.

Mystery or Detective

Mystery fiction, or Detective fiction, typically involves the investigation of a crime, most often one or more murders. The term whodunit, from 'who done it?', indicates that the identity of the criminal is initially unknown, and discovering that identity is the focus of the story. The related term "whydunit" indicates that the criminal's motive is the main focus, and that their identity may be revealed early in the story. Another related term "howcatchem" indicates that the main focus is means by which the detective or investigator catches the killer and that both the identity and motive are revealed early in the story. Sub-types of mystery/detective fiction include "cozy mysteries" (such as those of Agatha Christie) or "hardboiled" mysteries, where the investigator is very tough and unsentimental. Noir fiction is closely related to hardboiled, with the distinction that the protagonist is not an investigator.

Romance

Romance is currently the largest and best-selling fiction genre in North America.[15] It has produced a wide array of subgenres, the majority of which feature the mutual attraction and love of a man and a woman as the main plot, and have a happy ending. This genre, much like fantasy fiction, is broad enough in definition that it is easily and commonly seen combined with other genres, such as comedy, fantasy fiction, realistic fiction, or action-adventure. Same sex romantic fiction also exists.

Science fiction

Science fiction, although difficult to define, generally refers to plausible, futuristic stories, ranging from the rigorous hard science fiction, to social science fiction and space opera. Science fantasy occupies a middle ground between fantasy and science fiction. Alternate history is a sub-genre where, for some specific reason, the history of the novel deviates from the history of our world. Both alternate history and science fiction are often referred to, alongside fantasy fiction, magical realism and some horror fiction, under the umbrella term speculative fiction. Science fiction is frequently combined with other genres.

Western

Western fiction is defined primarily by being set in the American West in the second half of the 19th century and, secondarily, by featuring heroes who are rugged, individualistic horsemen (cowboys). Other genres, such as romance, have subgenres that make use of the Western setting.

Inspirational

Inspirational fiction is a term that refers to fictional works with faith-based themes. They may be targeted at a specific demographic, such as Christians. Modern inspirational fiction has grown to encompass non-traditional sub-genres, such as inspirational thrillers.

See also

References

Further Reading

  • Forbes, Jamie M. (1998). "Fiction Dictionary". In Herman, Jeff, Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents 1999–2000, pp. 861–871. Rocklin, California: Prima Publishing.
  • Gelder, Ken (2004). Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-35647-4
  • Sutherland, John (1981). Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s. London and Boston: Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-0750-7
  • Swirski, Peter (2005). From Lowbrow to Nobrow. Montreal, London: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-3019-5
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