plot in a big way

Just trying to get some thoughts out of my head here. Bear with me...

I've been thinking about the term "literary fiction". It seems to have two connotations:

1. Quality--if something's "literary" then it's of value, it's worth-reading. Works that are "literary" are therefore perceived of as being of greater intellectual worth than genre books.

2. Plot-lite--Literary novels do not have the great steep plot-arcs of genre fiction. They concentrate on character, mood, setting, all the other parts that make up a novel.

Now, since the advent of New Weird in the early nought-y's there's been a movement for bringing more literary values to fantasy. This is not to say that this is what New Weird demanded (though the people involved in that furor certainly did seem to aspire to better quality fiction, and who can blame them), rather it was about capturing the zeitgeist, writing about the now, rather than some non-existent commiseratory past made up by Tolkein. However, as very few of the literary-fiction types claim to be New Weird types then I'm not sure it's important, except as a historical marker for this sort of fiction getting a wider audience.

With this, I think, there has been a drop off in the steep arcs of sci-fi's pulp past. Which is kind of funny 'cos Mieville referred to New Weird as the pulp wing of the surrealist movement. In fact, as I think about it now, Mieville is really still doing exactly what I want to do: big plots, literary values. I want the big plots to make a come back. I want people desperately rushing to save the world. I want it done in a vaguely realistic and well-written way.

Big plot's can survive the literary-isation of genre fiction, they just can't be ridiculous big plots. Big plot in fantasy isn't defined by one man and his sword fighting to save humanity. The world is in peril all the time, but groups of people act to save it. A million tiny events, a million actors all working on their own agendas effect events. Pull out a few of the more significant players, a few of the more significant factors, don't ignore coincidence, and plot can survive, transformed yes, but still a towering behemoth. Increased complexity just means the writing is more of a challenge, not that it can't be done (not that I'm suggesting the literary writers of now can't do big plot, they just have different goals than I do). So, dammit, I'm going to try to do it.

1 comment:

Paul Jessup said...

I say definitely go for it. Literary genre fiction is different from literary fiction in so many ways anyway. So I say- plot, plot, plot!