Standards be damned?

Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read.                          I know of no shortcuts.                                                                                                                          — Larry L. King


When I first put pen to paper (or fingertips to keypad) and began filling the pages of my novel, the process was exhilarating. When I shared my initial draft with family and friends and they applauded my writing, I was encouraged. But as I said in my first post on this blog, I soon discovered there was more to this business of writing fiction than I had first imagined. It’s true; I could have believed the flattery I received was sufficient, patted myself on the back, and jumped on the self-publishing train so as to quickly launch my book and pin on a shiny badge of authorship, but I’ve never been inclined to proudly wear something I haven’t yet fully earned. I knew I had dues to pay before I could really call myself a novelist. A writer, yes, but still only aspiring to be the author of a debut novel I could be proud of. And so I’ve learned to write, and rewrite, and rewrite again.

Hemingway-first-draft-is-shit-quote. Hemingway didn’t mince words. Indeed, I do agree, and let me add: Shit don’t shine! And, you know, it might even stink a bit when fresh, making it especially important to clean up any boo-boos and polish things up well.

There are no shortcuts to becoming a successful, published author. One must learn the craft of writing, and then practice, practice, practice.

I take the craft of writing seriously, with pleasure, and with no small measure of patience. I think most writers feel the sameor at least they say they doand I have no doubt they mean it, but I have noticed that in the sometimes heady rush to be a published author, patienceeven the patience necessary to first learn the basic mechanics of writing, let alone refine the art of good storytelling—is often lacking.


Secure writers don’t sell first drafts. They patiently rewrite until the script is as director-ready, as actor-ready as possible. Unfinished work invites tampering, while polished, mature work seals its integrity.

                                                          ― Robert McKee, Story


The truth is, in this digital age, anyone can publish a novel, even if the language is jibberish. Being able to write is no longer requisite to publishing, nor will filling pages with content that is pure nonsense stop a literary imposter from producing a book. For better or for worse, in the world of self-publishing, the traditional gatekeepersprofessional agents, editors, and publishing housescan go home, and the relative pros and cons of their doing so depend on your perspective.
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What is literary fiction?

Books on table with flowers, wine bottle and glassIn previous posts I discussed what is meant by the literary classification described as “popular genre” fiction as well as provided a descriptive list of genre and sub-genre types. There are two other over-arching labels applied to literature: “literary” fiction, the subject of this post, and “mainstream” fiction, also known as “general” or “literary light.”

So just what is “literary” fiction? Many refer to literary novels and short stories as “serious” fiction. Everything about literary novels seems a little larger or a step up: big ideas and underlying themes that transcend plot; complex, in-depth characterization; prose that is both technically excellent and beautiful; writing that may reflect innovative craftsmanship and experimentation; longer length; and premium printing and presentation quality. Unlike the writers of genre novels, literary fiction writers are not required to follow particular conventions or rules, but their works must reflect such common characteristics and high standards. Continue reading

A list of fiction categories, genres and sub-genres

Jumble of colorful letters on black background.

A novel is a novel is a novel . . . Think so? In my previous post I defined “genre fiction” and began to differentiate between “popular” or “commercial” genre novels and those classified as “mainstream” or “literary” fiction (the subject of my next post). I also discussed the usefulness of such a system of classification. Believe it or not, more than one hundred fiction categories have been identified. Take a look at the long list below and see what you think.  Continue reading

What is genre fiction?

romance-genre-book-cover-with-sexy-coupleWe’ve all seen the covers. They beckon, they tease, and excite. And they are easily recognizable, prompting recollection and motivating interest. By repeatedly displaying subtle variations of highly evocative imagery–knives dripping blood or lawyers in court, lovers in passionate embrace or men with glistening muscular physiques gripping machine guns, quaint cottages and country scenes or couples walking hand-in-hand, as well as specific author’s branding through repetitive formatting and fonts–the covers of “genre” novels signal familiarity and broadcast that readers’ expectations will be satisfied. Their titles, too, speak boldy and unambiguously of the novels’ plots and characters, leaving little doubt in potential readers’ minds about what the books are about.

Genre fiction, also labeled “popular” or “commercial,” has strong mass-market appeal that is centered in a variety of common themes that match readership followings. These are the books up front and face-forward on big, commercial bookstores’ shelves, the “pocket” paperbacks in airport book racks, the books featured for casual and genre browsers on amazon.com and powells.com, wherever the high demand for them is met. They are easy reads and the best are always entertaining page-turners.

If you are a writer, you probably know these novels are easier to write than “literary” fiction, and in many instances are turned out in multiples per year. Popular genre fiction tends to be formulaic: the length not too long and the prose not too wordy or poetic; the plot primary, straightforward, action-driven and fast-paced; and the characterization subordinate to the plot, which unfolds through what the characters do and say. The writing is clear and accessible and the story conventions followed tend to be specific to each genre category or sub-genre. In commercial fiction, these categories most commonly include romance, mystery, thriller, action-adventure, horror, gothic, historical, western, and writing for juveniles or young adults, but there are many more sub-categories–more than one hundred in all! (My next post includes a long list of genres and sub-genres.) If this degree of categorization isn’t confusing enough, many of these genres play mix-and-match, sometimes crossing the once inviolable boundaries between popular genre, “mainstream” and “literary” fiction (described in depth in an upcoming post), and there is often disagreement about the assignment of the representative labels or whether or not some sub-genres should exist at all.

This leads me to my next topics: “mainstream” and “literary” fiction.