Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Timeless Argument- Literary or popular

Fiction is arbitrarily sliced down the middle as literary and popular. The exact definitions are wavering but some writers take pride in being firmly in one camp. The literary types frown upon those writing plot driven books that get bought by their thousands. The popular fiction clique wonder what the point is in writing books no one reads, or in some cases can't read because of their literary merit that excludes all from understanding except the author.

The battle rages with Dan Brown's current book The Lost Symbol. Phillip Pullman criticised Brown's book saying it was "flat, stunted, and ugly writing". John Grisham,one of my top ten favourite authors, has come to Brown's rescue. Quoted on Telegraph .co.uk Grisham says that he doesn't understand "literature".

"For me, the essential component of fiction is plot. My objective is to get the reader to feel impelled to turn the pages as quickly as possible. If I want to achieve that, I can't allow myself the luxury of distracting him. I have to keep him hanging on and the only way to do it is by using the weapons of suspense. There is no other way. If I try to understand the complexities of the human soul, people's character defects and those types of things, the reader gets distracted."

Again as I often come down to in my blog- do we write as a job, to put bread on the table or do we write to see how far we can push the art? For me I'm a pendulum- swinging first one way and then the other. What about you?

11 comments:

daoine said...

For me plot is art. Characterisation and character relationships are art. There is a real art to constructing a work of fiction that both shows and tells a compelling story with characters the reader can feel but without the reader being aware of the scaffolding involved in such construction. I agree that you don't want to distract the reader; you want him to become absorbed in your book.

That said, there is poetry and beautiful writing that also stands as art, and stands out because it is beautiful. It does tend to be distracting, in a good way. There is a limit, I think, on what type of story one can tell entirely with writing that is meant to be savoured for itself. Certainly not a fast-paced or suspenseful story.

I haven't read Dan Brown's book, but I suspect if Pullman has noticed the writing style, this means one or both of two things: either Brown's writing construction is too obvious, or Pullman reads like a writer and is overly sensitive to scaffolding.

(Mmm, excuse me while I copy and paste my comment into my own blog as well.)

Jude Dibia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jude Dibia said...

One must find a balance between plot and characterisation. That said, what is the point of writing for others to read if they can't grasp what you are saying? It is upsetting when some writers start talking filth about another writer... my take will be, if you don't like a writer's particular style, then no one is forcing you to read it!!! There happens to be different genres in fiction and DB's falls within the suspense thriller group... there's a huge market for this kind of fiction.

london said...

Actually i am waiting for his new novel and "The lost symbol" is really fantastic...

Karen Walker said...

I found you from Espeth's blog. Glad I did. This is such a thoughtful post. I think there is room for both. But personally, I much prefer the story with a good plot, characters I care about, and one that keeps me interested.
Karen

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Karen thanks for stopping by.I agree I like a good plot and engaging characters and I like to understand waht's going on. I recently read a book which has won almost every award here in Southern Africa and I struggled to get through and then couldn't say what it was even about.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Can I have a seat in both camps, please? I try to write interesting characters immersed in a thought-provoking plots, but I'd also like to make money doing it!

Following "what's hot right now" only leads to disaster as what's hot right now won't be three months from now. I try to write the book I would want to read and hope that others will join in on the journey.

Elspeth

Helen Ginger said...

I write plot and characters. It's also what I read for pleasure. Nothing against literary books. For me, they take to long to read, although I have read them. But I prefer fast-moving books that immerse me in the plot and the characters.

Helen
Straight From Hel

T. and little D. said...

Sometimes I suspect that authors who critice authors like Dan Brown are simply jealous of his success. (Not all of them, I do not want to imply anything generally like this to everyone, everyone is different, but some authors give this impression.) Let Dan Brown write his stories. I have read two of his books in the past and they are pageturners. Yes. I also like to read more literary books. But let's face it: I would like the people to be as enthusiastic about climate change as they are about football and they aren't. The same applies to readers. Most of them are just not the intellectual type who wants to read literary books. Most people read to relax, to forget a moment about the world and dive into another one, to enjoy doing something on one's own, etc. I don't see anything wrong with reading books like Dan Brown's (although I would wish people would read more to understand the world, maybe some non-fiction time and again). But who am I to judge?!
I am grateful for the many multifaceted authors out there who brighten my evenings and weekends and holidays!!

Btw I love your blog, Lauri!

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

T. and Little D- I agree we need diversity- all sorts of things to read. I love to read fast paced mysteries, literary stuff, young adult novels and last night I just finished a classic children's book. I write all over so I try to read all over too. And I'm gald you enjoy the blog.

Kate said...

Plot is definitely the most important and I sympathise with Grisham's view. Too many self-indulgent, descriptive passages have me skim reading for the next important part of the story.