Sunday, March 15, 2015

SFF and LIterary Writing

The following is in response to an essay in Esquire, "How Genre Fiction Became More Important Than Literary Fiction."

First, a passage from the essay:
"The landscape of realism has narrowed. If you think of the straight literary novels of the past decade—The Marriage Plot, The Interestings, The Art of Fielding, Freedom—they often deal with stories and characters from a very particular economic and social position. Realism, as a literary project, has taken as its principle subject the minute social struggles of people who have graduated mainly from Ivy League schools."

Then my comments:
Decades ago I was reading the novels of Alice Adams and Laurie Colwin. They are both good writers in a New Yorker way. At a certain point, I think while reading Colwin, I realized I was reading about the emotional problems of people with trust funds. So I went back to science fiction.

I suppose I could see the current literary situation as the triumph of science fiction, with all these elite literary writers pillaging SFF for ideas. I don't like it, though I have no trouble with the triumph of SFF in popular culture. I suppose I ought to see a therapist re my dislike of the American upper middle class and their art. I want them to keep their sticky fingers off my beloved space ships and trolls.

What I remember about Adams at this distance in time was -- her writing had some tics that bothered me. She began too many sentences and paragraphs with 'and.' If the 'and' is actually needed, use a semi-colon instead of beginning a new sentence. Most of the time, it wasn't needed. It was there to make the style sound smoother. No. Never use words that are not needed.

Come to think of it, my ideas of style are probably shaped -- at least in part -- by the Icelandic sagas, which have a very spare style. Though they have a couple of interesting tics of their own. The sagas love prepositions, as do Minnesotans. Why say 'take hold' when you can say 'take hold of?' And like Minnesotans, the saga writers use a lot of pointer words. I don't know what the right term for these are. Words like 'there' and'then.' 'That's a nice car (or sword) you have there.' 'So how did you like the concert (or battle) then?'
I need to set myself a test. How long can I go without mentioning Iceland or the Icelandic sagas? How long can I go without mentioning my own writing?


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