Thursday, December 10, 2015

Genre versus Story – Finding a Novel’s True Voice

As readers, we often find ourselves drawn to genre first and story second- not that this is a bad thing, per se, but it surely limits our interaction with other voices in print. We may have a taste for fantasy, a penchant for romance, or a titillating desire to be immersed in the far flung adventures found in science fiction.

Then there is literary fiction.

Not a genre exactly, but a way of interpreting the quality of the story and the message behind it. And there must be a message, a quiet little reminder deep between the lines that surrenders itself only upon close reading.
Traditionally, these messages are found amongst the writings of Steinbeck and Hemmingway, within the pages of Harper Lee and Thomas Hardy, and part and parcel of Fitzgerald and O’Conner.

Without argument, each of these is a writer of serious thoughts and deep philosophical content, pinnacles of the high literary arts.

But literary fiction does not reside solely within the tales of reality-based fiction. There are others who have completed the meld of social consciousness and somber message that live themselves in genres away from the stoic and reflective. These voices rise from the ranks of fantasy, with the work of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, and in Ursula LaGuinn’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omalas. The voice of these works rise above genre to smack the reader on the head with a 2x4… be careful, they warn. Do the right thing.

The heavy message lies also in the works of Bradbury’s science fiction, and within the romances of DeFoe’s Moll Flanders and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

The point is, a novel’s true voice is dictated by the message shared with the reader, that little lesson or series of lectures within the pages that share a greater depth of meaning beyond the tale. Genre by itself doesn’t do that.

We need only to look toward Disney for formulaic examples- how Beauty and the Beast shares the lesson of finding love behind the fa├žade and accepting the person within. Or of Finding Nemo, with the timeless lesson of how family will always find you no matter how far you run.

In your own work, look to share the message and meaning with your readers to give them their money’s worth. They are investing time with your tale, and they should be rewarded with a kernel of learning, a deeper meaning garnered from deeper meaning.

Say for example your protagonist is taking a journey from their childhood home to the big city. This trip may easily be rendered literarily by mirroring the choices they make to bring about personal growth, even if they aren’t aware of it themselves.  Now, does it matter the genre? Of course not- Luke finds himself while discovering the force. Dekker embraces his true self while hunting rogue androids, Frodo struggling toward Mount Doom with Sam by his side yet forever alone, or Peter as he subjugates Narnia.  

Start every sentence with a thought- what does this mean beyond the face value of the words. Bring your characters to places that change them. Enjoy sharing your message with those who care to dig a little to find it.

Let your novel’s true voice come forward without being tied to traditional genre writing.

It will most certainly be worth your time.