Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why I write what I write

Some years ago, I was listening to the late crime writer Barbara Parker speak, and she said something that sparked an interesting discussion, so interesting that it took over the rest of her lecture. She said that after her first book came out, she found herself at times wanting to apologize for having written a genre novel. She admired lots of nongenre fiction, liked fine prose and thoughtful writing as much as the next reader, but had written in a genre that critics rarely praised for literary qualities. She said that feeling disappeared when she started hearing from her readers how much they liked her story, how much they appreciated her skills and the long work and thought required to craft the story. Over time, she said, she understood that crime fiction can be just as powerful as any piece of literary fiction, and can be a lot more fun to read.

I didn't know if I agreed with her back then, but of course I do now. I'd been known to rail against some books, expressing dismay that people actually liked this or that piece of manipulative crap. It took me a while to realize that it wasn't any particular genre I was railing against; it was bad writing I didn't like. And I didn't get how some readers couldn't tell the difference between strong writing and storytelling and bad, cliched stuff.

I've come to know, like I know my face, that good writing is good writing, no matter the genre, and no matter what some critics think. People will have their biases. It's unavoidable. I have a bias, too: I like well-crafted stories, with interesting plots and stong characters. No matter what the New York Times may think of them.

Scottish crime writer Denise Mina recently wrote a cogent response to Jame Kelman's comments about genre fiction. If I could speak to any young writer who may be doubting herself, doubting the value of her chosen genre, I would tell her something like this.

Lastly, a message to beginning writers: Write in the genre you read; its what you know, and you'll write confidently.

Confident writers strive to entertain intelligently. Insecure writers seek to impress.

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1 comment:

  1. So much to agree with here! I advise aspiring authors to write in the genre they enjoy. If you don't enjoy your writing, then why are you writing at all?
    As for plot and character - crime fiction sets parameters. My readers have certain expectations. Crime thrillers have to be plot driven. My main interest, however, lies in my characters. Sometimes a character has to perform a certain action for the sake of the plot but, as any writer will tell you, characters sometimes take off in their own directions. Of course, I cannot allow a character to go 'out of character' or the illusion is broken. Readers must never think "I don't believe this character would ever do/say that". So there can be a tension between the direction in which a character develops, and the requirements of the plot. My readers are unaware of this problem. It's down to me as the author to create a believable fictitious world with plausible characters and an elegant plot. Cut Short has been a phenomenal success, so I seem to have achieved my goal so far, but the second book in my series will be published in 2010 and I'm already wondering how that book will fare...