“Steampunk” is my new favorite word. I think it should be the name of a band but it’s the name of a fiction subgenre, unfortunately for aspiring musicians.
I’d never heard of it until I started researching exactly where my recently-finished novel fits in. There are about eight million genres these days. I’m pretty sure when To Kill A Mockingbird came out, it was simply regarded as Fiction. Now it would probably be “Gothic Fiction,” or “Coming of Age Fiction.” Or, more likely, “Gothic Coming of Age in the South Fiction.”
Those novels that can’t be categorized cleanly, like mine, are lumped into literary fiction or mainstream fiction. The two genres are similar and the lines between them seem a bit blurred, depending on where you look.
This hyper-need to define and categorize down to the eighth sub-plot, or lack of, has created quite the battle between the Literary and Commercial genres. (Commercial being composed of the many subgenres, like Romance and Western. And Steampunk, Cowpunk, and Butterflypunk. Just kidding on the last one.)
Literary writers are demonized for caring too much about the words themselves and not enough about plot. Highfalutin, they are. They care about the craft. In Hollywood, they’d be the Method actors who pretend to be homeless for two weeks to prepare for a role.
Commercial writers are demonized for ignoring the beauty of the language for the excitement of the plot. Dumbed down, they are. The Transformers movies.
There’s all manner of stuff written about this apparent enmity. There are hundreds of blog posts and articles titled, “Literary vs. Commercial.” (Which is why I didn’t use it for this post.) Most recently, I read of it HERE, where the author stated that plot IS more important because that’s all anyone ever remembers. I argued in the comments that we also remember stories that are well told, and the words matter. He’d quoted Homer and Shakespeare, for crying out loud. Not such bad writers.
I’m more with agent Donald Maass, who just wrote a book about the merging of commercial and literary fiction. For me and many others, both matter. The best of the best write beautiful sentences that string together an interesting story.
But not everyone focuses on both. Some writers care more about plot. Some writers care more about language. My question is, Who cares? In an age when we have the subgenres of Frat Lit and Synthetic Biology, Decadent and Dying Earth, it’s clear there is more than one way to skin a cat. And write a book.
**I just have to list some more subgenres I found because they sound so perplexing and/or ridiculous (apologies to writers of these): Feghoot, Fabulist, Quiet or Soft, Rampant Animals, Firm Science, Generation Ship, and Wetware Computer.