Do you believe pop fiction and literary fiction are equals or that one is better than the other? Why?
We generally call a work “pop fiction” when it is plot-oriented. We begin to think that it might be literary when it is character-oriented, and we label it absolutely as “literary” when it is language-oriented. But there is no reason that pop fiction cannot be character-oriented, and in my estimation all fiction should be language-oriented, at least to the point that the implied sound of the words does not work against the thrust of the work. So to me the best fiction is popular fiction that has literary qualities, and history is full of work that fits that description: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn
and For Whom the Bell Tolls
, to name three. Write one of those, and you won’t have to worry about what to do for a day job.– Tom Morrisey
They serve different purposes, so it's really not a question of "better" or "worse." Popular fiction has as its goal entertainment, and as such must please readers in some sense--making them laugh, cry, dream, etc. It's meant to be a satisfying experience. Expectations are found in each genre, and the successful writer of popular fiction will meet or exceed those expectations. Literary fiction, on the other hand, is not about making readers feel comfortable or satisfied. Often it challenges their worldview, or forces them to face painful realities in their own lives, or leaves them pondering bigger questions than a single storyline can answer. I think the writing can be equally strong in either form, even as the writers strive after different goals. -- Liz Curtis Higgs
While so-called literary fiction may possibly stand the test of time better literarily than books labeled pop fiction, I strongly believe pop fiction has equal (if not more) value, simply because it is accessible to a broader audience. If the primary reasons Christians write fiction are to entertain and to convey a message, then isn’t a wider audience desirable, whether over the long or short term? –Deborah Raney
If you write popular fiction, you should strive for, as John D. MacDonald put it, "unobtrusive poetry" in the style. If you write literary, it wouldn't hurt to accept that plot is not a dirty word.
Then go for your vision with everything you've got. - James Scott Bell
I think they're equals in that they each entail certain challenges in their writing. I suppose I could post for days on that thought. But to keep this answer short, I'll say at best, I like to mix the auras of the two in my own writing. My women's fiction wasn't fully literary--it had too much plot for that--but there were aspects of the style of writing that tended toward the literary. In my suspense, the challenge is to keep the pages turning, keep the tension high. Not easy--at least not for me. But within that constant "stretched rubberband" of tension, I like to use some literary techniques--deeper characterization (than a typical suspense), and different turns of phrase in the writing. --Brandilyn Collins
I think the story inside each writer has to be told in as excellent a fashion as possible. I read equal amounts of both popular fiction and literary. I’ve heard readers call Anne Tyler literary, but she’s very mainstream; she just happened to win the Pulitzer. But now that I’m getting to know more literary authors I find many of them squirming out of that harness. Literary authors run screaming from any sort of labels, so even “literary” becomes a label to them. I’ve heard other writers refer to my books as literary but they aren’t literary at all. I write from a personal aesthetic, but always with elements of popular fiction such as humor, suspense, and romance. My literary friends don’t understand why anyone would refer to my books as literary, but they think the same thing about their own writing. So the question to pose first is, “What is literary writing?” --Patricia Hickman
A well written book is a well written book, and if it's done skillfully enough, it will have qualities of both "literary" and "popular." --Hannah Alexander
There is wonderful writing in both popular and literary fiction. There is wonderful storytelling in both popular and literary fiction. And there are books of both types that are sheer torture to read for one reason or another. The only thing I require as a reader is that the author hold my interest and entertain me.
Last year, I tried to read a book that was being raved about. It had won a Pulitzer or some other major prize. While the prose was evocative, the story was so boring I thought I might die from it. I don't understand why it garnered so much praise. If you write beautiful prose for the sake of showing off that you can write beautiful prose, I am not impressed. Likewise last year, I tried to read a popular award-winning novel. The story was great and I wanted to know what happened to the characters. But the author bombarded me with the f-word and behavior so gross by some characters that I finally had to give up without knowing how it ended. Too bad because all the vulgarity and foul language wasn't required to make the characters and setting realistic.
Entertain me. Make me empathize with your characters. Pull me into their lives and help me experience their feelings. That is what makes a book better than others. -- Robin Lee Hatcher
I lean toward fiction that moves me, that makes me think of issues I otherwise might not, that expands the genre, (is not predictable) and is inventive with structure and that surprises me while still being congruent with character development and plot. I like the use of language that tends to mark literary works. Someone once said the the primary purpose of fiction was to move people and the primary way to do that was through the metaphor. A good story should also entertain in such a way that a reader continues to read and finish the book and not set it aside because it was too inaccessible, too "erudite," too literary. Good literary fiction does all a story should do, well.
That said, pop fiction can do all those things too. It can move people, be inventive in structure, make us think about things we otherwise might not and be congruent without being predictable or is predictable (think Sue Grafton) and yet creative within the confines of the structure the reader has come to expect for that author or genre. It may be more entertaining than thought provoking, perhaps; but if we trust the power of story to "come along beside us" as a pebble/parable does, then pop fiction can change people and move people and bring insights without ever being in our face and can provoke thinking in ways different than a literary work can.
Truth is, sometimes I can't tell the difference, which probably says more about me than the authors. When I read Lisa Sampson or Melody Carlson's adult works or B.J. Hoff or Linda Hall and their deft use of language and metaphor, are they literary (even though they might be mysteries or historical novels) or are they pop (because they are accessible to readers) the way the Yada Yada Sisterhood is pop? (But then, the Yada Yada girls are pretty inventive, too!) I read Cormack McCarthy's latest, The Road
, which I'm sure is considered literary and yet it was so accessible to readers it could easily be called pop. It'll be nominated for another National Book Award while I doubt Sue Grafton's work ever will. That might distinguish between literary and pop right there...
I guess I want a good read, one to hold me, move me, inspire me, make me think, even laugh, transport me then bring me back so I can take what I read into my everyday life and use it to bring meaning to my own life and to those around me. That can happen with pop or literary, can't it? And I'm not sure either is better than the other. If we're true to the story, that's what matters. We can aspire to tell the story either literary or pop. I guess I do aspire to write both. I'd better get back to it right now. --Jane Kirkpatrick
There's no easy answer to this. It seems to me that the differences aren't entirely due to the "style" of the novel, but also cast by the perspective of the reader--and the publisher. I see a number of novels labeled as 'literary" that really aren't, and conversely see literary novels that are deemed more general (which usually, though not always, translates to better sales for them). It's become a kind of trend for publishers to define more and more of their releases as "literary," when in reality they're genre or general. The mistake of equating literary fiction with excellence and popular fiction with mediocrity has led to some gross misunderstandings about both. In truth, there are mediocre and inferior offerings in both "commercial" fiction and literary. Literary isn't just another word for excellence. Nor does "popular" or "general" mean inferior. Just read a sampling of both from ABA--and CBA--and you quickly find that each has its "stars" and each has its failures.
Better to concentrate on working toward excellence in whatever we write and forget the labels. Jodi Picoult has written some really good, insightful articles on this very subject, by the way. -BJ Hoff
Because there are different kinds of readers in the world, both pop and literary fiction are valid and necessary. I can’t see that it makes a difference which category a book falls into, as long as it touches the reader’s mind and heart. I personally enjoy both pop and literary fiction, and choose a book depending on what kind of “reading experience” I’m in the mood for. -Ann Tatlock
I think they're different, that's all. One isn't any better than the other, they're just different styles of writing. We need both, I personally like to read both. As, I think, do many readers. But whatever kind of fiction you choose to write, it has to be done with an eye toward excellence and quality. There's great literary and commercial fiction out there, and there's really awful stuff in both categories. Let's just do everything we can to ensure we're adding to the quality of whatever we are called to write. --Karen Ball
I think they're equals, but I don't think they always need to be compared. They both serve their (different) purposes and serve them well. I think at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, Does this book have compelling characters, an interesting plot, a respectable writing style, etc. All the basics of writing fiction apply to both genres. There are certainly bad examples of both. -- Rene Gutteridge
Give me a story that takes me out of my world and gives me characters to care for. If a book can do that, I don't care what label it wears. --Angela Hunt