plot + character | genre – literature

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Biz

I’ve made the point before (and will make it again) that the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is artificial and has more to do with social and class issues than anything else. Literary fiction is just another genre, with its own set of expectations and history and intended audience. Some people would argue that the literary genre is inherently more worthwhile or better than the other genres, but I see those arguments as circular and self-serving.

My take on this whole thing in a nutshell: characterization is crucial, but so is story. That is, plot is not a four letter word. A really good novel will have great characterization, a compelling, well put together plot/story, and in bonus cases, beautiful prose. These three things are not mutually exclusive.

[asa book]0743277198[/asa] I am raising this topic because I just finished reading James Lee Burke’s newest novel, Crusader’s Cross. I’m not going to do an indepth review, but I will say this: the man has all three crucial points covered: plot, characterization, prose.

There are some writers out there who are unapologetically not-literary-genre-focused and who are both commercially and critically successful. Burke is one of them. Elmore Leonard is another. Both of them write crime fiction, and both are very good at what they do. They deserve general praise and love and lots of readers. But I’m busy wondering how that happens. Why are some authors who write outside the literary genre spared the sneering of the crit-literati? Is it that some genres are lifted into the realm of literature over time? Think of the first big immigration waves from Ireland and Italy, and the discrimination those people had to deal with. Within a couple generations they were running city hall and giving fancy balls. With enough time they lifted themselves into the higher society and took their turns sneering at the new immigrants.

Is the crime genre like that? Has it been around so long that it’s been subsumed into literati land? Any ideas?

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