Genre Fiction vs. Literary Fiction

In case you weren’t aware, there are two opposing camps in the field of fiction writing. There is the “genre fiction” camp–also called “commercial fiction” or “popular fiction”–and there is the literary fiction” camp.  What is the difference? 

Generally speaking, genre fiction is plot-driven and is read by the majority of fiction readers, although much genre fiction is character-driven. Genre fiction has several subcategories, including romance, women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, science fiction (sci-fi), horror, and fantasy.  Literary fiction, on the other hand, is character-driven and more intellectual in nature. Literary fiction is usually considered to be of a higher level of writing, what could be called “erudite” writing. It is also characterized by an originality that sets it above ordinary writing. 

Literary fiction can fall into a genre of writing. For example, one could write a literary novel in the mystery genre. But, generally, literary fiction is a genre all its own. 

So why the opposition between literary fiction writers and genre fiction writers? Well, literary fiction writers sometimes consider genre fiction writers to be lesser writers and genre fiction to be a lower level of fiction. While, historically, this may be true, genre fiction today has risen to new heights of excellence that cannot be denied. 

But the distinction remains in the treatment of the subject matter. Literary fiction is more philosophical and explores the thought processes of the protagonist. Genre fiction deals more with where people live on a daily basis. 

Regardless of which type of fiction you write or you prefer, each has its place in the cadre of literary endeavors. Both literary and genre fiction can be vehicles for pointing our readers to Christ. And this, bottom line, is our ultimate purpose as writers.

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4 thoughts on “Genre Fiction vs. Literary Fiction

  1. Thanks for breaking down and defining this, MaryAnn. I’ve seen the terms used more lately, and knew generalities but not the specifics. I agree, our message can go out in either avenue.
    Blessings,
    Karen
    May 14, 2011 at 11:33 AM