Literary vs. Genre Fiction

There’s an ongoing argument between writers. You may have heard of it. On one side, with have the literaryists, the ones who read about real-life and thought-provoking-ness. On the other, you have the genreists, the ones who want a bit of action and adventure in their books.

For writers, though, there is a very thin line between literary and genre fiction. So, which is which?

Literary fiction

  • Tends to be thought-provoking
  • Tends to be real-life/set in this universe
  • Emotional
  • Can be about better understanding the world
  • Can be told in weird ways (eg just description, speech etc)
  • EXAMPLES: The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi…

Genre fiction 

  • Fits into one of the genres (link to a very extensive list which probably has every single genre ever), for example action, western, romance etc.
  • Aimed at readers looking for an entertaining read
  • Normally deals with situations you won’t find it real life
  • Can be alternative universes, such as the Sherlock universe, Lord of the Rings universe, or Game of Thrones universe.
  • Has more structure (ie plot points)
  • EXAMPLES: Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter…

So, your stuff could fit into one of these categories. But then you have the ones that overlap – such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which could be considered a literary romance, so it fits into both.

Some also think that literary fiction is boring compared to genre fiction.

Personally, I love Gatsby and Harry Potter, so I can’t really judge.

Now we get back to the argument. Many literary authors say that ‘their’ genre is better. They’ve go a lot of evidence to back it up – books such as The Fault in Our Stars being made into films, and works such as Gatsby standing the test of time. But is it really?

Some people also say that literary fiction is a genre in itself…so wouldn’t that make everything genre fiction?

Now that you know what the difference is (or you’ve had your memory topped up if you knew before!) what is your opinion on literary and genre fiction?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

The parties at Gatsby’s Long Island mansion were legendarily glamorous affairs.

Yet amid the throng of guests, starlets and champagne waiters, their host would appear oddly aloof. For there was only one person Jay Gatsby sought to impress. She was Daisy Buchanan: married, elegant, seducing men with a silken charisma and ‘a voice…full of money’.

As Gatsby pursues shady deals and his doomed obsession with Daisy, F. Scott Fitzgerald distils the essence of the Jazz Age, and probes to the empty heart of the American Dream. – Blurb from Penguin Popular Classics book

In 2013, I believe, The Great Gatsby was gifted to me by a pen-pal in Scotland at Christmas. I don’t know why I didn’t pick up the book before now – maybe the idea of reading it didn’t interest me, or I had other things to read – and the book was pushed to the back of the pile. Then, I had a question from her asking about my characters and who they would be in Gatsby. That was when I decided it had to be read.

I was pleasantly surprised, and regret not picking it up earlier. Although it didn’t entice me to begin with – moreover, I had trouble deciphering exactly what the book was talking about due to language I was not used to (but has apparently furrowed its way into my mind) – it grew on me, and I spent one morning finishing it off after not turning a page for about a week. It was in this morning of the 26th June 2014 that I fell in love with the book.

The characters are all unique to themselves – Daisy with her snootiness and naivetés; Nick with his straight-forward thinking and probably the most stable of the lot; and finally Gatsby, with his ‘doomed obsession’ and varying moods. The have different voices and even catchphrases, old sport. They are also painted in such a way you can see them as you read, and they become real. Obviously, this is something you want in a good piece of writing, and it is presented perfectly.

As for the plot, well, it isn’t the most interesting. It is the way Fitzgerald has told it that makes it interesting. Events that occur all the way through – side plots, if you will – add to the main one, and make it so the actual plot doesn’t bore you. Sure, this is used in all books, but I particularly noted it in Gatsby. Vivid descriptions that bring the scenes to life. Fitzgerald’s way of narrating is, although it was written 88 years ago, rather relatable also.

I think it was Fitzgerald’s entertaining voice that kept me reading; that, and the descriptions, which were brilliant. I think this is one of the few books I would be willing to read again, and may even do so.

Overall, I seriously recommend Gatsby. Some people may not like it because they had to study it in school (that really does destroy so many good books!) but I think that if you want to have a look into the past, it’s a brilliant way to do so. Although I can’t yet completely put my finger on why I love this book so, I think it has something to do with the characters – maybe they’ll grow on you, too. I may even try watching the film.