?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2008-02-13 06:21
Subject: [process] Mainstream and genre
Security: Public
Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Mood:busy
Music:not much
Tags:process, writing
will_couvillier asked in comments:
A Mainstream fiction story as compared to a SpecFic. Is there a real difference in methodology other than the setting?

For some reason I've had the impression that a mainstream work is essentially a snapshot of a life situation.


Some thoughts on that...

Remember that genre is really a marketing artefact. That being said, to my view the biggest difference between mainstream and specfic is the contrast between First World and Second World assumptions.

A mainstream story doesn't have to define anything outside the character and conflict embedded in the story. Which is not to say mainstream stories don't range far more widely, just that their genre doesn't inherently bear that requirement. These stories live in the world that the reader already understands, or at least a version of it.

A genre story has to define everything, at least by implication. (Not on the page, though!) These stories live in a world where the reader is consciously expecting novelty, and generally is watching for the appearance of that novelty.

To go back to a very simplified example I've used before, when John Updike says "Rabbit is rich," any modern American reader knows that he means someone named Rabbit is wealthy, either in money or in some metaphorical manner.

When a genre writer says "Rabbit is rich," "Rabbit" could be a person, an animal, a spaceship, a civilization, food, or something else entirely; "rich" could be wealth, a state of humorousness, fuel/air mixture, fattiness of the sauce, and so on.

Mainstream fiction does often use genre tropes — The Time Traveler's Wife and The Lovely Bones spring immediatey to mind as recent, highly successful mainstream works which are undeniable embedded in the fabric of genre. But when mainstream uses those genre tropes, their are introduced as exceptions to the assumed norm within the narrative. They're not present to satisfy the novelty-seeking expectations of a genre reader, they're present to provide a lateral illumination to the dramat expectations of a mainstream reader. This is how Magic Realism works, for example -- introducing the miraculous into a set of First World expectations and experiences.

Genre fiction uses its own tropes as the default. An important aspect of the story experience for the reader is how explicitly those tropes are revealed or explored. It doesn't make sense to speak of introducing mainstream tropes to genre, because the First World is already embedded in the Second World. The Second World exists as a response to the First World, after all.

This argument becomes slippery when you have genre set in the First World — hence the blurry boundary between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. "Urban fantasy" is a genre label which implies Second World story characteristics through the use of the term "fantasy", while "paranormal romance" labels a First World story with unusual exceptions. Different set of reader expectations.

Thoughts?
Post A Comment | 10 Comments | | Flag | Link






Blue Tyson
User: bluetyson
Date: 2008-02-13 14:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
War For the Oaks = The Urban Fantasy.

No Second World in how you mean there, I think?

Paranormal romance = War For the Oaks minus some plot plus explicit pooka poontang.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-13 15:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, I was unclear. I wasn't claiming that urban fantasy isn't First World, I was trying to assert that the 'fantasy' label creates Second World expectations in the reader. Have edited for clarity.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



The Green Knight: Dalek
User: green_knight
Date: 2008-02-13 15:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Dalek
Romance and SF just appear to be completely utterly radically *different* in so many ways - even if you take two stories of the vampire hunter who needs to combine forces with the vampire they will be far from the same, because the whole approach is different and people write those stories differently and for the Romance side you get any of a hundred current novels, and on the Fantasy side you get things like Those Who Hunt The Night, which ought to convert *any* reader who hates vampires.

Recentyl, in fangs_fur_fey there was an interesting article about 'what makes a hero.' and I looked at the list of character traits and began to suffer from severe cognitive dissonance - I neither write like that, nor do I recognise those qualities in a) any protagonist I've written or b) any of my favorite books; yet the romance writers/readers in the audience appeared to find that it very much resonated with them.

I wholly disagree with 'Urban Fantasy' being second world, though. I thought the whole _point_ of Urban Fantasy was that it was partly anchored in our own reality, with real-world settings that went way beyond a gate in a hedge. Esther Friesner springs to mind instantly, for instance. Or even the Buffyverse.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-13 15:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hmm. I need to edit. I wasn't saying "urban fantasy" is Second World, I was saying label of "fantasy" implies Second World and creates that set of expectations in the reader.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Blue Tyson
User: bluetyson
Date: 2008-02-14 02:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Only when the word is on its own.

To me (and lots of othe rpeople as far as I know), for multiple decades 'Urban Fantasy' means our world, with things that go bump in the night running around.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Willis Couvillier
User: will_couvillier
Date: 2008-02-13 15:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My thanks! This discussion has helped greatly to clarify the distinctions to me.
Reply | Thread | Link



andrewwheeler
User: andrewwheeler
Date: 2008-02-13 18:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have to quibble about your use of the term "mainstream." Everything that isn't SF/Fantasy is not the same thing, and even books that aren't any particular genre don't form a coherent mass. Thrillers, romances, historical sagas, and westerns are all as different from each other as they are from SFF -- and the various bits of even what's called "literary fiction" aren't much more uniform.

I also think you're gettting at something like Chip Delany's point about SF routinely concretizing metaphors ("her world exploded" is the canonical example) from the other side, and that is one reason why SF texts can be hard for some readers to understand. But that's not the only reason, and other kinds of stories can be difficult for SF-trained readers to understand for their own reasons.

I just don't think it's a simple "we do this over here, and the entire rest of the world does something else over there" dichotomy.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-13 18:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I just don't think it's a simple "we do this over here, and the entire rest of the world does something else over there" dichotomy.

Largely I agree with you. I was addressing the question, and so perhaps not as thorough as I should have been. I do think it's valid to say, "here things we do over here that the rest of the world does not do." That's not dichotomy, just distinguishing features.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2008-02-13 19:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What I'd get out of this is that there really isn't much difference between writing SF/F and writing non-SF/F, because the stuff you're talking about is just related to some superficial stuff about technique, in a way. Thematically, of course, SF/F and mainstream literary fiction contains the same range, for the most part. All that an SF/F writing workshop really does differently is tell you when your ideas or execution aren't original or aren't convincing.

The "concretizing" of metaphor--ugly phrase--is a simplification. Because in SF/F stories you ALWAYS having metaphors that are, in fact, just metaphors not concretized in any way.

JeffV
Reply | Thread | Link



farmgirl1146
User: farmgirl1146
Date: 2008-02-15 09:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are so right. Mainstream writing uses many tropes, and the problem that literal readers run into with mainstream fiction is that they don't want to take the little side trips into the byways. However, the same is true for people who read novels by that Jay Lake fellow, like the Trial of Flowers, or books by Richard K. Morgan, Charles Stross, China Mieville, Joanna Russ, Louise Marley, or Kay Kenyon. There are some interesting tropes and other byways need to be explored, beyond the experience of a trip into a completely alien culture -- yet not so alien. Reading literally is not as much fun as reading tropically.

One of the precepts of mainstream fiction is that it narrowly adheres to the world as we perceive it today. Obviously, The Lovely Bones does not adhere ardently to this rule, but in someways it does, since the ghostly elements are fairly, well, mainstream. (Can't speak to The Time Traveler's Wife for I haven't read it yet.)

The fine art of story telling is taking someone to someplace they haven't been before. Mystery writing tends to lean heavily on the literal. For example, John (Camp) Stanford, in Certain Prey takes us to the Twin Cities (mostly Minneapolis) and into the mind of a for hire killer (spoiler warning) who gets away with it. There aren't many (any) tropes there, although you can make them up. That's fun.

With Meiville's trio of books, even the structure of the storytelling compounds his tropes. China Mieville unravels the whole world of Perdito Street Station that was described in the Amazon review as "Generous, gaudy, grand, grotesque, gigantic, grim, grimy, and glorious, Perdito Street Station is a bloody fascinating book." The Scar pulls the unraveling tread, stripping the shapes of the society away with some powerful story-telling metephores, and then he strips any shred of "glorious" away in Iron Council.

Two of the few people in mainstream fiction who put the trope of the story into the structure of the story, were John Steinbeck, albeit within a single novel, and William Faulkner, who does it within a novel as well as over the course of massively long story arcs that span many novels. (Anthony Trollope did this, too, but I'm not going there.)

One of the grand old men of mainstream who died last November, Norman Mailer, used tropes wonderfully in his debut novel The Naked and the Dead, and then seemed to have lost the touch. Some thought that with the The Executioner's Song he got this back, but I found it unreadable in the same self-indulgent, ego-centric way of his other works. Mailer's viewpoint of the world touched enough people that his perceptions of our society became the trope.

However, I will end with a thought on literal writing. I think one of the most literal writers is in the "paranormal romance" slice of the genre, and that is Laurell K. Hamilton. She creates an alternate first world (if I understand the term correctly), then adheres to it so literally that there is no substance to any trope she may have found and could have developed. There's no social viewpoint, really, either, but she does tell a good story.
Reply | Thread | Link



browse
my journal
links
January 2014
2012 appearances