Sunday, March 11, 2007

An Interesting Question About Literary Versus Popular Fiction

My computer guy was in a bit of a panic today when he saw that I hadn't posted anything since Thursday. I think he was afraid there was something dreadfully wrong with the blog and that he was going to get stuck dealing with it. Not the case, though.

Part of the reason for my absence was the arrival of a young relative who had the misfortune of being stuck alone in a car with me for an hour yesterday. We discussed his short story writing class.

I, too, took a couple of fiction writing courses while I was in college back in the day, though they were not specifically geared to short stories. He is reading and discussing short stories, not just writing them. I don't recall reading any published fiction in my classes. If memory serves me, we wrote a great deal more than he seems to be doing.

I don't know how I feel about that. Certainly, I didn't get much out of my writing classes. I sort of just floundered around and can't say I learned much of anything. I can't recall discussing point of view, plot, anything at all. Reading and discussing some published works might have done me some good. I definitely don't believe that a person can learn to write simply by writing just anything.

But that is my frustration. Young relative is experiencing frustration of his own because he is a popular fiction kind of guy and college is a literary fiction kind of world. The short stories he's being exposed to are meaningless to him. "Nothing happens," he keeps saying.

All this leads up to the interesting question this young guy asked me in the car: Are there publications that publish mainstream fiction that is not what we call "literary?" There are all kinds of literary journals and The New Yorker for so-called literary fiction. There are all kinds of publications for science fiction and mystery. But are there magazines and journals that publish mainstream fiction that would be described as "popular?" By which I guess we mean accessible.

Accessibility should not necessarily mean without depth. And, of course, obscurity is not necessarily profound.


J. L. Bell said...

"But are there magazines and journals that publish mainstream fiction that would be described as "popular?" By which I guess we mean accessible.

Those publications are now called "television shows." That's where the public finds the plot-driven stories that used to appear by the dozens in the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and other popular magazines.

Gail Gauthier said...

Actually, Rust Hills says very much the same thing in his book Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular.