I was attending my first creative writing class, the professor noticed a how-to
craft fiction book in my backpack. “If
you rely on books like that your stories will be artless.”
Artless? Was he implying
that my writing would be free from deceit, natural– maybe ingenious?
Most likely he was insinuating that my writing would be inartistic,
crude– ouch! Literary gatekeepers
have traditionally shunned prescriptive rules for crafting fiction, yet even the
most avant-garde visual arts schools have long had histories of teaching visual
artists to combine primary blue and yellow pigments (in color theory classes) to
produce various shades of green.
a visual arts graduate, fiction writer and poet, I embrace a diverse learning
style– no matter the medium. Like
a select assortment of colors I layer onto my artist’s palette, I have found
dramatic writing canons to be the fundamental ingredients that help me create
enticing images, fresh illuminations and engaging drama on my paper canvases.
in the ensuing years since completing my first creative writing course, the gap
between literary and mainstream writing camps has narrowed.
Today’s literary, mainstream, and genre writers can draw from an
assortment of learning opportunities to fill their creative palettes.
Indeed, there are more “how-to” writing magazines and books stacked
on bookshelves and tucked into backpacks of aspiring fiction writers than I had
when I smuggled my contraband how-to book into my first creative writing class.
Moreover, the benefits I have gleaned from attending writing classes
(formal or informal, in person or on-line) as well as workshops, conferences and
writing peers surpasses the guidance my artless professor had provided.
not what or whom writers look to for artful direction that is important; what
matters most is how they proportion and develop what they find in the literary
theory chests and/or prescriptive mainstream/genre vaults into their unique
writing style and voice.
following checklists identify the key elements of literary vs. mainstream/genre
fiction as I have come to understand them.
I don’t consider them to be set in stone, and I readily mix them to
suit each new story I paint.
fiction . . .
contains complex thematic intents or ideas
explores universal themes of truths and/or humanity in general
broadens the reader’s impressions of the human experience
draws philosophical reflections from both the writer and the reader
relies on form vs. plot
presents complex views of life and/or multidimensional characterizations
confronts characters with internal, often moral, conflicts that will
involves subtle, though no less profound story resolutions and/or
often involves more use of passive voice
affords slower, more introspective pacing
uses an array of figurative, symbolic, archetypal and poetic qualities of
frequently embodies allusions to characters and/or story elements from
and genre fiction . . .
generates entertainment for the reader by allowing them to escape
casts the world and humanity in predictable terms of good and evil
satisfies the reader’s expectations of easily anticipated story paths
fulfills a traditional understanding between writer and reader concerning formal story elements
provides a recognizable and forward moving narrative
challenges characters with temporary problems requiring easy resolutions
- depicts stereotypical and satisfying characters that display predictable actions/decisions
offers detailed settings and/or interesting facts, about the story’s
employs an active plot-driven structure
affords a fast pace, with strategic breaks in the action
commonly adopts a stylistic and moral tone
typically concludes with a happy ending
writers, as well as readers, can look forward to a great deal of quality writing
to come from a new generation of storytellers, who are learning to mix, blend
and shade their words to suit their respective styles as opposed to strictly
adhering to prescriptive guidelines.
Janet Paszkowski is an experienced fiction and memoir writing teacher from Alpharetta, GA. Her recent writing accolades include honorable mentions in both the Writer's Digest 4th Annual Short Short Story Competition and the 2004 Florida Freelance Writers Association's Writing Competition in addition to numerous literary and mainstream publishing credits. Her article, "24 Tips for Distinguishing Literary and Mainstream/Genre Writing" is an excerpt from her forthcoming book, The Fiction Writer's Book of Checklists: A Comprehensive Guide for Revising, Editing, Critiquing and Selling Fiction.
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