Last night, my friend Sarah and I got into a discussion about “beautiful words” versus “compelling story.” This quickly evolved (devolved?) into a discussion about literary fiction vs. genre. We weren’t really arguing, since we both came from Serious Literary Aspirations and then broadened our scope to include Passionate YA Love. But I was probably harsher on literary fiction than she was.
Sarah and I are both loud and opinionated and like to have the last word, so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when she continued our discussion via email. She said:
“I feel like I need to justify one point that literary has going for it — it is often a very close reflection of real life, real human thought. Human stories are not always or usually plotted.”
And you know what? She couldn’t be more right.
Part of what makes life so interesting, so compelling, is its unpredictability. A plotted story is expected to have twists (ironic, no?), often at certain points within the narrative. But life, life can throw you a curveball whenever the hell it wants. (And oh boy, will it.)
As a halfie, I’m very familiar with the idea of straddling two worlds, and that’s what I’m trying to do as a writer, too. I want to take the best parts of my literary background and merge them with the best parts of the commercial/genre stories that I love. Why does it have to be words versus story? Can’t they work together?
I think they can. If you’re looking for good reads that live in the middle of the spectrum, here are a few of my recommendations:
- Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
- A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
- Mercy by Jodi Picoult
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Do y’all have any others to add to the list? Literary books that have commercial-style plotting, genre fiction that uses literary turn of phrase, or anything in between?