Robot 6

Quote of the Day | Mainstream vs genre fiction

In mainstream fiction […] we cannot succumb to the whim of the story. We can’t decide that the reason the barista won’t date the main character ISN’T because she’s had a horrible breakup and is slowly learning to trust again (leading to series of bad lovers because she feels more comfortable when she KNOWS she can’t trust) but rather because there is a dragon’s ghost within her, and love and lust can only be fulfilled if that dragon is defeated by creating a mythical cup of cappuccino that transports the main character to a fantasy world, and also goes quite well with bagels or croissants.

Paul Tobin explains why he enjoys writing genre stories better than slice-of-life stories. As you can see from the quote, it has to do with the joy of creative freedom, but he also balances that in the article with the need for rules, even in a fantastical setting.

It’s a mix that’s tough to get right, but as a reader it’s the best thing in the world when a story can not only connect me to other people through its characters and our shared humanity, but can also throw in some vampires, pirates, and creatures from space just to keep it interesting.



I mean frankly, given those two scenarios, the first seems like it has more story potential.

I’m rather fond of something I heard China Mieville say at a convention once: mainstream literature is a genre in itself, with its own sets of rules and expectations — one that’s run a successful thirty-year marketing campaign to convince people that it isn’t a genre.

I get what you’re saying, but I think that’s because Tobin went ahead and outlined the entire story for the second option (as opposed to the first one, which he just teased). Mathematically, the greater story potential is always going to be on the side with more options, which is his point.

sandwich eater

April 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Honestly, I live a normal life, so when I want to read or watch something I want it to be fantastical and outside my normal experience. What I’m saying is that I’d rather live my own life than experience someone else’s normal life, but if the normal life is interrupted by danger, and filled with adventure then that’s something I could get behind.

Michael: True, but I’m not sure that mathematics are the best criteria for measuring a story’s worthiness. With that philosophy in mind one could say that stage productions are inherently inferior to movies, since they have much less to work with in terms of visual effects and mobility. And anyone who could put a Sam Shepard script next to the screenplay for like, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is going to say that all the math and money in the world isn’t going to keep the latter from being much worse than the former.

I don’t know-I have such a love for both SoL stories AND genre fiction (two of my favorite movies being “A Woman Under the Influence” and “Death Race 2000″) that I get uncomfortable when people say “such and such type of storytelling is limited by such and such.” I think if you’re a good writer a story that has to abide by the rules of the “real world” shouldn’t present any kind of hindrance to your storytelling abilities. .

I agree. It would be ridiculous to suggest that every genre movie is better than every real-world drama, and there certainly are slice-of-life stories that I love. I’m thinking more about when the writer’s staring at a blank piece of paper and deciding what to put on it. The potential is less limited in genre fiction, but limitations aren’t necessarily bad.

Like Tobin says, even genre fiction needs to have rules; it just has less rules than real life. It’s what the writer does within those rules – however restrictive or free they are – that counts.

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