Last night’s work read saw a celebrated author of so-called “literary fiction” attempting a murder mystery. Great characters, fabulous dialogue, smart ideas–terrible plot. Why? The writer doesn’t know the first thing about genre satisfaction.
This happens from time to time. A “real writer” will decide to take on a genre, thinking that it must be easy otherwise there wouldn’t be so many of them. But what said “real writer” doesn’t understand is that true genre excellence comes out of love for what the genre has to offer.
Think of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake vs. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Both are futuristic science-fiction by novelists of fairly high pedigree. Oryx and Crake looks more like sci-fi; the book is filled with little touches like Chicken Nobbins, but it feels like a game. The ideas never coalesce because, in the end, she thinks that ideas and character are enough. She forgot about plot, the engine of science fiction. On the other hand, In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro puts plot first, by focusing the story on his narrator Kathy’s coming of age. All of the genre elements are subordinated to her story, and that’s how it should be. To put it another way, Oryx and Crake may look more like Ender’s Game on the surface, but Never Let Me Go gets why Ender’s Game is in the canon.
In other news, check out this new addition to my blogroll: The Accidental Novelist. Not only does she love the Superfast Reader, but she’s got outstanding writing exercises new each week. I mean, we’re all working on novels, aren’t we?