I often hear the argument about Historical Fiction only to realize that it is often confused with a particularly embarrassing form of writing is called Historical Romance: Bodice Rippers for the most part. So to start with a reasonable definition: Historical Romance is Genre Fiction whereas Historical Fiction is Literary Fiction. Got that? But what is the difference between Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction? We need an impartial Martian to come to earth and help us understand this differentiation … the literary commentators and critics are all over the place with their firm pronouncements.
(By the way: never trust what a commentator, critic, or pundit says … think for yourself!).
I want to say that Genre Fiction is fiction designed to entertain the readers without being too original or thought-provoking, usually in a blatant effort to make lots of money off the people who only do the “Easy” crossword puzzles. All the rest is Literary Fiction. But what if a novel that looks like it should be filed under a Genre designation at the bookstore actually exhibits literary values? Do we just call it Literary Genre Fiction?
I concluded long ago that genre’s were developed to classify books at the booksellers in a way that aficionados could more easily locate the books they wanted to read. Imagine if I walked into a large Barnes & Noble looking for a Science Fiction book to read and discovered that the entire store was organized alphabetically without regard to any form of genre. It’s a lot easier to walk in, see the sign for Science Fiction, and head on over to pick out my next book to read.
Remember, there was a time when the Novel was not considered an acceptable form of literature … in today’s terms, they did not include the Novel in the genre Literary Fiction. But this brings up a classification that is used in many literary circles: the genres are poetry, drama, essay, fiction, and non-fiction. Notice that this more closely resembles a library system and than a bookstore. This is the classification scheme for genres which I prefer and generally use in discussions or teaching. As all of life, it is true that if you stop and think about it, you can complicate the hell out of this simple scheme. Where do Epics fit? Is a Memoir fiction or non-fiction? Is non-fiction just an extended essay? Should there be a Juvenile designation to mirror the adult versions of each genre? And on and on.
The one form of literature I might add to the classification is Manga and its more general form, the Graphic Novel. Depending on the day, I see Graphic Novels as just novels with a great deal of the narrative told through pictures. But other days I stop and muse about the narrative often presented in an oil painting, especially those old masters with all the symbolic sub-text scattered around the canvas. Is the Graphic Novel more a novel or more a graphic? To complicate this argument, the other day I was listening to the radio and they played Teen Angel. Now that was a narrative much like a short short story but with music accompaniment and a beat you can dance to. Should Running Bear have its own literary genre?
So in conclusion (as if this argument is ever finished) I suggest the more academic and less commercial designation of genres: poetry, drama, essay, fiction, non-fiction. But if you’ve been paying attention, the simple conclusion is:
it’s all fiction.
Lest you forget: the lyrics to Teen Angel
Teen angel teen angel teen angel uh-huhThat fateful night the car was stalled upon the railroad track
I pulled you out and we were safe but you went running backTeen Angel can you hear me teen angel can you see me
Are you somewhere up above and am I still your own true loveWhat was it you were looking for that took your life that night
They said they found my high school ring clutched in your fingers tightTeen Angel can you hear me teen angel can you see me
Are you somewhere up above and am I still your own true loveJust sweet sixteen and now you’re gone they’ve taken you away
I’ll never kiss your lips again they buried you todayTeen Angel can you hear me teen angel can you see me
Are you somewhere up above and am I still your own true loveTeen angel teen angel answer me please