Are Genre Stories More Stupid?

by Jami Gold on August 8, 2013

in For Readers, Writing Stuff

Pacific Rim poster from ComicCon with text: Does

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a genre girl. I prefer genre stories (of almost any genre) over most literary fiction. Ditto for movies.

Give me an action, sci-fi, comic book, or adventure story, and I’ll be there buying tickets. Even for the cheesy ones like Green Lantern. (Though I’ll promptly make fun of those. *smile*)

My point is I find genre stories easier to relate to. Does that make me stupid? Not according to my IQ scores or to my (as Melanie Marttila recently said) “thought-y” posts. Just because I enjoy genre stories more doesn’t mean I can’t read and enjoy literary stories as well. It’s simply a preference.

The Shell Game of Definitions

Yet there’s never an end to those who want to put down such-and-such movie for being dumb and unworthy of reviewer stars or such-and-such genre for being formulaic or unrealistic. Those same people all too often then put down those who read or watch such stories, as though if we enjoy genre stories, we can’t possibly be capable of appreciating more than one style.

Author Heidi Cullinan summed up my feelings on what makes great literature, and the same could be same of stories in general, no matter the medium:

“I consider literature to be anything that moves me deeply, makes me think, gets me coming back again and again because it is so rich and powerful it can change lives.”

Anyone who thinks genre stories are incapable of moving us, making us think, or changing our lives is being willfully blind. These are the people who call Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice literary fiction rather than romance so they can justify their respect. Ditto for calling Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 literary rather than science fiction.

Sure, not every genre story rises to that level of greatness, but neither does every literary fiction story. All literary fiction isn’t automatically genius, just as all genre fiction isn’t automatically stupid. It’s disingenuous to act like genre can’t reach that level simply because some erase the genre label from any stories that do succeed.

Why Is It So Easy to Dismiss Genre Stories?

One of the biggest tools that can make a story feel deeper and more meaningful is subtext, where we read between the lines and interpret based off what’s not said. News flash! Genre stories can use subtext too. In fact, they can use subtext just as well as literary stories.

However, because many of the naysayers have such low expectations of genre stories, they never go looking for the subtext. Therefore, they assume there isn’t any. But that assumption is far from true.

I’ve analyzed the subtext of The Amazing Spider-Man movie, and stories don’t get more genre than a comic-book movie. The recent movie Pacific Rim had mediocre dialogue—and beautiful, deep subtext.

Yet did the reviews comment on the subtext? No. The reviewers called the movie dumb. Who’s thinking superficially now? *grin*

If we’re never aware enough of the potential for layers or nuance in stories, we’re never going to find them. And maybe that’s part of the problem with dismissal of genre stories.

Subtext? In a Movie about Giant Robots and Monsters?

Pacific Rim is a homage to the original Godzilla and monster movies. Many of the subtextual cues are thus a mixture of European and Asian cultural touch-points.

In the opening scene, the characters are wearing white (the only time in the movie the hero wears head-to-toe white), which represents young and innocent in European cultures and can represent death in some Asian cultures. Those who have seen the movie know that both meanings of the color foreshadow events of that scene.

Others have commented on the significance of color for Mako’s character. The blue in her hair as an adult matches the blue of her jacket in the emotional flashback from her childhood, showing how she’s still carrying that memory with her, years later. The red shoe child-Mako holds to her chest figuratively evokes her heart. A heroic gold backlights child-Mako’s savior, providing additional understanding for the level of respect she has for him, etc.

The entire ending scene has religious undertones of the mecha-robot that directly represents the hero—complete with matching injuries—descending into hell. The hero rises (literally) to fight another day, reborn with a new connection to humanity.

And yes, the director of Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro, so these cues weren’t mere coincidence. He purposely designed this movie—which is so easy to dismiss as silly genre (“Giant robots versus Godzilla-monsters? *snort*”)—to have multiple layers and nuance.

Am I saying that this movie was an Oscar-worthy “best picture”? No. Then again, half the movies nominated for Best Picture some years aren’t worthy either. But how many reviewers (or normal movie viewers) bothered to notice those subtextual layers?

Is that lack of insight really a failing of genre stories? Or a failing of those who assume them dumb and refuse to look deeper?

The Formula Creates the Subtext

Every genre has a formula, yes. The mystery must be solved. The bad guy must be stopped. The couple must find their happy ending.

As I mentioned in my post about beat sheets, a formula is not a bad thing. The “must haves” for every genre can be checked off and still leave a story room for originality. The must-haves, in fact, form the basic subtext of the genre.

For example, romance novels—with their required happy ending—create the subtext that we deserve happiness despite our flaws and that we’re stronger together than alone. They posit that love is a powerful force, enabling people to overcome countless obstacles.

Most modern romances contain the subtext of celebrating people who are empowered, those who are willing to fight for what they want and take responsibility for creating their own happiness. Really, with all that, is it any wonder that I, a Pollyanna at heart, write romance? *smile*

Romances are the modern fairytale, and yet contrary to the many digs at the genre, they’re still realistic on a subtextual level. As historical romance author Tessa Dare pointed out, anyone who contends that relationships with respect, fidelity, and great sex are fantasy are, once again, being willfully blind. How sad life would be if believing in love meant we had no grip on reality.

As a romance author, I can assure those who would put down the entire genre (usually based on one example) that I don’t write with the purpose of “getting the reader off.” I embrace all the inherent subtext of the genre, and I enjoy adding additional subtext, often about my themes of the power of redemption, the ability of love to heal, the importance of sacrifice. And yes, I do all that on purpose.

If someone doesn’t pick up on all that subtext in romances, fine. They’ll still have an entertaining read. But it’s close-minded to assume there are no—and cannot be—layers or nuances within genre fiction, and it’s just plain ignorant (not to mention rude) to use that false assumption to ridicule genres and those who read them.

I’m proud to write genre stories. I have my preference and others will have their preferences. There doesn’t have to be a “better” or “more important” scale to those preferences. I haven’t put down literary fiction (or those who read it) in this post despite my preference, and all I’m asking is that people give each other the same courtesy. *smile*

Do you agree that genre fiction can be just as “smart” as literary fiction? Do you know people who assume genre stories are dumb? How do you define what makes a story “smart” or “good literature”? Have you found deeper meaning in genre stories? If you’ve seen Pacific Rim, what did you think of the movie?

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46 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Paul Anthony Shortt August 8, 2013 at 5:45 am

Thank you for this post, Jami! I much prefer genre books and movies to literary fiction or high drama – it just happens to be my preference – and I love finding deep meaning in those stories. There’s so much wonderful meaning to be found, intentional or not, in genre fiction, and it was my love of discovering it that led to me choosing to write genre fiction.

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 7:48 am

Hi Paul,

Yes! It can be a fun challenge to discover the deeper meaning in genre fiction. And as del Toro and my intentions prove, while not all of the deeper meaning is intentional, some of it is. Like I pointed out with romance, it’s the subtext inherent in the formula that I love and respect. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laura Pauling August 8, 2013 at 5:47 am

I love reading, watching and writing genre fiction! Better yet, I love a genre story that is well written and has a literary spark! I don’t think they are dumber, just different. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 7:54 am

Hi Laura,

Exactly. Genre doesn’t equal poorly written. 🙂

And literary doesn’t equal brilliantly written either. Much of my preference for genre fiction has to do with the fact that I find too much literary fiction overwrought and “trying too hard to impress.” Others can look at those same passages and see genius, so I know that’s a subjective thing. But if it’s subjective, that means it’s a preference, not written in stone. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Angela Quarles August 8, 2013 at 7:49 am

Great post! It annoys me no end when folks judge genre by the worst, and elevate the best into literary fiction.

And dovetailing nicely with this post, is this one on feminism and subtext in romance novels: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hayley-krischer/im-reading-my-first-roman_b_3652944.html

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 8:22 am

Hi Angela,

Ooo, thanks for sharing that link! And yes, as you said, too often people judge genre vs. literary on an uneven curve, and I’d rather they not try to place them on a better/worse scale at all. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee August 8, 2013 at 7:52 am

I actually believe that “genre” stories have the ability to be better than genre-less ones. A fair number of presumably “high-brow” writers are actually meaningless, because what matters is the meaning to the reader, not what the author intended. (That or they embrace presumably “high-brow” philosophies like “Everything is meaningless”.)

Now, those things can show up in “genre” fiction. (Using quotes because “literary” is effectively a genre in itself.) But those things aren’t the be-all, end-all in genre fiction, due to all the other things going on.

Due to the multiple levels of meaning and purpose, I believe that “genre” fiction can be deeper than “high-brow”, because it has more levels. Some cases in point: The Handmaids Tale and The Time Traveller’s Wife.

In fact, one of the best examples I consistently remember of an all-around effective novel is the paranormal romance novel Gabriel’s Ghost by Linnea Sinclair, which is space opera. World building, relationship development, word choice—all those (and more) are used to good effect in that novel.

Note that if you hate the author’s style or some aspect of the genre, you’ll find some of it lacking, but that’s true of any book. Not all readers connect with every writer’s style or characters.

There’s a reason a good friend of mine hates the author Patricia Briggs—she doesn’t pick up on the subtext, so the characters come across as flat to her. We’ll read the same book and come away with completely different understandings of it. That’s a style disconnect.

I can’t stand (0r understand) C.S. Lewis’s science fiction, though I’m fond of his fantasy. Another style disconnect.

The problem is that people see things as mindless or meaningless for them and assume that means there’s nothing there for anyone.

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 8:53 am

Hi Carradee,

If I hadn’t promised not to make this a better/worse argument, I’d agree with you. 😉

As you said, genre stories have to juggle more elements. They need to check off those “must haves” for the genre in addition to everything else. The paranormal romances I write have to include not only the 3D characters we’d expect in literary, but also a fast and attention-grabbing plot, a swoon-worthy romance, and a coherent paranormal element with worldbuilding. LOL!

There’s a reason romance authors and readers tell those who knock the genre to try writing one. They’re harder than they look. In fact, those who do all that and make it look easy are the genius ones. 🙂

You’re exactly right about style disconnects. Like I mentioned in the post, it’s okay to have preferences based on what we connect with, but to generalize that ability to connect and see deeper elements while making assumptions for everyone else is the stupid thing. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean Watkins August 8, 2013 at 9:11 am

As you know, Jami, my genre’s easily misunderstood, and I fight the ignorance on a regular basis. But I won’t rant on that today.

I’ll only say this: If you can’t easily suspend disbelief, and or feel all creatures from “real life” have to be realistic down to the last, freaking detail, you wouldn’t enjoy most of my stories.

But just because animals portrayed in a story, whether book, film, etc, is not 100% realistic doesn’t mean it’s entirely based in “Myth and nonsense.”

I research the animals I write about, but that doesn’t mean I want to be bound by science at every turn. Period.

It’s why some love Old Yeller (Sad Ending and all) but not enjoy say,
“All Dogs Go to Heaven” just because it’s not “National Geographic” accurate at every turn.

I can’t count how many times I saw that flick as a kid, and having watched it recently, I clearly had a braver aspect to my viewing tastes that the teen years stepped on a bit. Still, I rest my case.

Oy! Did these people NEVER watch cartoons or read comics in their youth? Where’s the willingness to play with imagination gone?

I mean, people were dreaming up electric cars LONG before they were scientifically feasible, and I don’t see people laughing at the Chevy Volt for being “Real.”

Now I’m not trying to sound crazy. Yes, I know objectively animals don’t talk and think as we do, but I do know they have more in common with us than we sometimes realize.

It’s not like they’re incapable of feeling a lot of what we feel, it’s just how they communicate it is different. Otherwise we wouldn’t be as close to our pets as we are. We wouldn’t have “Save our Whales” rallies and people who rescue animals from oil spills. On some level, we see ourselves in them, and if all they see is the worst in us, that’s a recipe for disharmony I’m sure Mother Nature doesn’t intend, right?

They are as part of the world as we are, and in many respects, were here before we were, we’d all be mindful to remember that. I may explore that through non-scientific means at times, but it’s no less sincere or meaningful than people writing about more realistic animal-human relationships.

But it’s just the principle of the thing, you know, Jami?

That said, while I agree genre fiction can be no less capable of subtext and rising about shallow stereotypes, I’m also not a literary snob, either.

I recently listened to the unabridged audiobook version of “The Whole World Over” by Julia Glass, and I found that one of the most gripping books I’ve ever read/listened to.

Yeah, it had pretty turns of phrase, but there was an actual plot, and strong characters in it, too. IMHO.

If literary means the overall quality of the writing, subtext, and putting character first over explosions and whatnot, than this book qualifies.

So anyway, I agree genre gets unjustly marginalized at times. But so does literary fiction, too. You can write “pretty” and STILL have a plot with substance.

I mean, even the often-challenged (Among many reasons) “Huckleberry Finn” has a clear story, yet it’s not “pretty” in terms of how it’s written.
I may not find stories heavy on dialect enjoyable, but I still recognize a story being told. So it stands to reason the reverse is true.

But I think the era of writers struggling to balance solid writing and the hallmarks of storytelling add to this problem, however major or minor.

Hope I’ve made some sense.

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

Hi Taurean,

Great points! Yes, I did a post before about how some people don’t enjoy fantastical stories–maybe because they have a harder time suspending disbelief. Yet as you alluded to, even the most fantastical or science fictional stories still have elements of the truth. If not, readers wouldn’t be able to relate to the story or characters at all. And many elements that might seem to be fantastical later turn out to be more real than expected as our knowledge and inventions expand.

As for the variety of animal stories, I loved Animal Farm *because* of its animal depiction (despite its lack of realism in that regard). I found that usage made the story easier to relate to than if it had used people. 🙂

I also agree with you that not all literary stories “have no plot.” There was a reason I very consciously avoided an us vs. them comparison on a better/worse scale with this post. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kim Barton August 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

I couldn’t agree with you more! I love genre fiction. I rarely read literary fiction anymore.

I was an English major in college, because I love literature, but that love was often ruined by having to read the classics. I felt like I was the kid screaming that the Emperor had no clothes! It seemed to me that the writers just wanted to play with writing, but didn’t care at all about the enjoyment of the reader. People are surprised to hear me say that I hate Faulkner, James Joyce, Hemingway, The Great Gatsby, and on and on. Literary fiction today often feels the same to me. The story can be lost in the cleverness of the writer.

I agree with the person who said that some of the best stuff combines genre and literary fiction, like The Handmaid’s Tale.

When I taught literature to teen homeschoolers, we read some of the classics. We did the obligatory discussions about all the important themes and such. What did they read that they got the most out of? The Lord of the Rings. We had the most amazing, intelligent, and insightful conversations about human nature, good and evil, the environment, the role of technology in the world, and more. It was the most enlightening 3 months of my life as a teacher/tutor. And we were reading high fantasy that critics have hated for 60 years!

I remember also teaching the Harry Potter books (me and HP again!) and when the kids and I discussed what HP was about one 13 year old girl said, “choices.” She blew me away, and we spent the rest of the class talking about the choices made by the characters and by us. Those young kids got so much out of reading what most people would dismiss as mindless fantasy.

I have not seen Pacific Rim, because I thought it looked dumb! I guess I’ll have to go see it and give it fair trial. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 10:36 am

Hi Kim,

LOL! at the Emperor with no clothes. Oh my gosh–do I ever know what you mean–so true! 😀

Too many “lovely turns of phrase” seem–to me–to call attention to themselves at the expense of pulling readers out of the story. That’s a big no-no in my mind. 🙂

That certainly doesn’t mean I’m against lovely turns of phrase. I’d like to think that I have a few in each story I write (and in some of my blog posts too). But I use them in service of the story, not at the expense of the story.

Ooo, love that experience of analyzing the HP stories for meaning. Students will often be more energized in analyzing and discussing the stories they really enjoy. They’re still learning the important skills about how to view characters and themes, all without growing to hate reading.

My favorite approach to teaching literature analysis is requiring students to read all the books on the list (about 10), just for reading’s sake, and then having them pick their favorite four to do in-depth analysis. That way, they’re still exposed to all the different styles of writing and stories but save their thinking energy for the ones they enjoy. 🙂

To be honest, Pacific Rim‘s dialogue is mostly dumb, and on the surface, the premise is ridiculous sounding. LOL! But I enjoyed it despite that for all the other reasons, the subtext, the homage angle, and the sense of hope inherent in the subtext that humanity could cooperate enough to build the giant robots. (On some level, that global cooperation is the most unrealistic aspect. *sigh*) Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Kim Barton August 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm

That is a fabulous idea about teaching literature and having the students read all the books but only analyze their favorite four. The next time I teach I’ll see if I can make that work. Thanks!

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hi Kim,

Yay! I hope it works for you. 🙂

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Amanda August 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm

OF COURSE genre fiction can be as smart as literary fiction! Case in point: Mary Ann Rivers’ THE STORY GUY. The way she twists words into sentences was lovely and (to me) like something I’d read in literary fiction. And it did something that reading rarely makes me do: I cried. A well-written story, beautifully told.

Another example would be Charlotte Stein. Not every one of her novels quite reach that standard I’ve got in my head for literary fiction, but her stream of consciousness way of writing is something you’d definitely see in literary fiction – and she uses it to describe some of the most sinful things imaginable 🙂

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Hi Amanda,

Ooo, thanks for sharing the examples! And I absolutely agree with you about the intelligence of genre fiction.

In a comment above, I mentioned my favorite method for teaching literary analysis. The interesting thing about that teaching method is the book discussion questions for genre or literary stories are essentially the same. In other words, the potential depth of analysis isn’t affected by some being genre. That fact alone tells me genre does not dictate stupid or superficial stories. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda Martin August 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I love this. When I started writing romance / chick lit novels and people asked me what I wrote I would say, “oh just chick lit”, because I assumed I’d be looked down on. In fact most people are either not interested that I’m an author, regardless of what I’ve written, or they’re just impressed that I’ve written anything!

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Hi Amanda,

Great point! Yes, writing a full story of any type is impressive and cool to most people. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Maryanne Fantalis August 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I dislike most “literary fiction” put out these days because of its self-conscious navel-gazing: “Oh, look at these lovely sentences. Oh, look how clever I am. Oh, look at how many rules I’m breaking.” And to your main point: Guy Gavriel Kay. There is no one penning more insightful books about the human heart or human history than this fantasy writer.

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Hi Maryanne,

Ooo, thanks for the recommendation! And yes, cleverness-for-the-sake-of-cleverness and navel gazing aren’t things I can relate to. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Karen McFarland August 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Hi Jami!

How’s my Phoenician friend today? The weather isn’t the only thing that’s hot. This post is smokin’ Jami. Great way to break it down.

You know, I am a fairly new writer. I can’t believe how touchy some can be over genre verses literary. To me, shouldn’t all works of fiction be written with strong craft? Isn’t it essential to any story? Isn’t it the reason why readers continue to read our stories to the end.

So as I make an attempt to write my stories, I will endeavor to apply this great advice! Thanks! 🙂

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Hi Karen,

LOL! Yep, good pool weather, that’s for sure.

I agree with you–too many take a snobbish attitude to the debate, and as I said in the post, I don’t even think there should be a debate. 🙂 Like you, I expect strong craft and storytelling, no matter the genre/literary divide. Thanks for the comment!

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Pauline Baird Jones August 8, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Now you’ve made me want to go see Pacific Rim. Very cool blog post and I agree. I get weary of the “stars on thars” that people sometimes engage in. Read and let read. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Hi Pauline,

LOL! “Read and let read.” Love it! Thanks for the comment!

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Melanie Marttila August 8, 2013 at 7:04 pm

OMG, Jami! You mentioned me in a post (squeee!).
I, too, am a genre girl and a proud one. Flying my geek flag 🙂 And yes, Green Lantern was cheese, but I think I might have watched for the eye candy in the skin-tight green onesie 😛 I’m going to have to go see Pacific Rim now. Both you and Katie Weiland have raved about it. I’ve been hear all kinds of good.
Back to fiction … I read everything. Classics, historicals, SF/F, YA of all types, lit fic, non-fiction, etc. I certainly don’t love everything I read, but I found some stuff that surprised me. It’s all about being open.
I should give more thought to sub-text, though. Your posts make me think thoughts, hence the thought-y.
Thanks for another great one 🙂

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Jami Gold August 8, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Hi Melanie,

LOL! And *fist bump* for the genre geek girls. 🙂

That’s great that you read everything. I need to have more time to read–period. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 9, 2013 at 3:31 am

Lol, and just because I like reading literary classics, doesn’t mean I’m “deep” either. XD Honestly, when I read anything, I only look to enjoy it. I usually don’t analyze things, except for writing techniques and character development, that kind of thing. Despite being an English major, I never automatically go looking for symbolism either, not even in literary stories. (I roll my eyes every time someone thinks “it’s the Christ symbolism.” It’s like ANY character who sacrifices him or herself to save others is a “Christ figure”. Lol.) I generally just read for the fun and pleasure of it. ^^ So yeah, just as a mainly-genre reader isn’t shallow, a mainly-literary reader isn’t necessarily “profound” either, lol. (I’m not really a “mainly” literary fiction reader though; I read a lot of fantasy too–though mostly teen/pre-teen fantasy. 😀 So maybe I’m kind of half-literary, half-fantasy.)

But now that you’ve mentioned it, maybe I should pay more attention to subtext, lol. And yes, I agree that genre stories are no different from literary stories in their potential to have subtext. Honestly, I think all stories have subtext and depth if you care to look–or pay attention, so it’s really quite silly of those people to believe that genre fiction has no subtlety. 🙂 The “just-for-fun” genre series like Percy Jackson, the Animorphs, and the Mortal Instruments are FULL of subtext and meaning. There are SO many philosophical lessons to be learned from all of them. Seriously, those scoffers of genre fiction must be BLIND. The philosophies are EXPLICITLY talked about in such genre series!! It’s right in their face and they can’t see it, lol. There are also many implicit themes, premises, messages, and morals within the stories and characters themselves. And even though I don’t analyze things symbolically in general, even I can see that a story about 6 children morphing animals to fight aliens isn’t JUST a story about 6 kids fighting aliens. There’s a lot of great stuff about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, family love, etc. It’s really really touching. ^^ If those things aren’t meaningful and profound, I don’t know what is. (Yeah, I’m a sucker for stories that talk about friendship and filial and sibling love–especially sibling love. So thankfully for me, many if not most stories touch on at least one of those three. 🙂 )

“anyone who contends that relationships with respect, fidelity, and great sex are fantasy are, once again, being willfully blind. How sad life would be if believing in love meant we had no grip on reality.”

Exactly. Those people are just cynics. Not only are they cynics; they are unrealistically pessimistic. Seriously, they need to go outside and look at more people around them. They will see that there ARE A LOT of “real” people with fantastic relationships, who are very very happy with their spouses and families. In fact, I recently came across a psychological study that found that there are some couples who have been married for twenty years but are still deeply, passionately in love!! Evidence of this—apart from self-report questionnaires on how they feel about their partner—is that these 20 year couples’ brain scans (when they are looking at a picture of their spouse) look very similar to those of newly in love couples. So the people who think that romantic love MUST simmer down to just warmth and attachment (though these are good too), are mistaken. 🙂 It is actually POSSIBLE to stay madly in love even after so many years! 😀

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Jami Gold August 9, 2013 at 9:32 am

Hi Serena,

LOL! That’s such a great comment I’m not sure I have much to add. 🙂

I love your insight though into just as I said genre doesn’t equal dumb and literary doesn’t equal genius, that the same goes for the readers. Genre readers can read (and think) deeply and literary readers can read shallowly. Personally, I’m just such a fan of subtext that I can’t help but analyze for it. At least on the level you mentioned for the Animorphs, as far as looking for the message/theme behind the story.

Ooo, interesting about those brain scans! I’ve known many long-term successful couples who still flirt and tease and play, and it’s good to know that the science backs that up. 🙂 Thanks for the fantastic comment!

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Serena Yung August 10, 2013 at 12:55 am

Yeah! Science can be really romantic too! ^^ Lol. I love brain scans. XD

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Serena Yung August 10, 2013 at 1:19 am

Oops, forgot to say:

“I’ve known many long-term successful couples who still flirt and tease and play”

Aw! That’s so cute! ^^ I love these couples. They give me so much hope for humanity by being powerful counter-evidence to what those cynics keep saying. 😀

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Jami Gold August 10, 2013 at 10:03 am

Hi Serena,

Exactly! The cynics are…well, cynical. 🙂 That’s a world view, not an objective observation of all situations.

And brain scans are just plain interesting no matter what. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung August 9, 2013 at 3:55 am

Sorry, just wanted to say a bit more:

Now to think of it, I believe that it’s impossible for a story to have no subtext, lol. Even a story as seemingly simple as The Wizard of Oz can actually be seen as a political allegory. (Yeah, I don’t really see The Wizard of Oz as literary fiction. I see it as a children’s story–which is a good thing because I LOVE children’s stories. :D)

Even seemingly extremely shallow stories like the Pokemon series (haha, yes) are actually much more than meets the eye. The themes of friendship, undying loyalty and devotion, courage, never giving up, always aiming to be better and better, caring about others, etc., are very noteworthy, profound, and touching messages to the audience. These themes most certainly influenced mylife, so take that, scoffers of non-literary stories! XD In fact, I think Pokemon celebrates the greatness and wonder of friendship more than most other stories, literary or nonliterary. 😀 Hurray for friendship! ^^

But even ifgenre stories didn’t have any subtext or “deep” philosophies in them (and that would be utterly absurd), why would that matter? Why would that make them “dumb”? I see absolutely nothing wrong with loving a story just because it’s enjoyable and exciting. To be more general, I think any novel that makes you feel happy (or happy in the midst of your sadness for the character) should be commended! I think it’s a noble deed to make your readers happy. 🙂 (Yeah, I’m so dramatic, lol.)

And what’s wrong with action/adventure? It’s cool and thrilling. 🙂
What’s wrong with comedy? It gives me a great laugh all the way through and makes my day.
And romance? Not many things in the world can make you feel as euphoric and exhilarated as romance. ^^ What’s wrong with giving your readers such a lovely experience? (Oh—I just noticed the pun there. No pun intended.)
And horror? Horror’s just cool. 😀
Fantasy? Why not escape this world? What’s so shallow about wanting to fly away for just a little while? That other world is very interesting and fun to explore. 🙂
Science-fiction? Science! 😀
Mystery? Those scoffers of genre-fiction must realize that you DO need to use your brain for these, right? (You have to use your brain for the others too.)

Oh, by the way, another fun point is that literary fiction may actually be easier to read for some people. A friend of mine said she prefers reading realistic stories (literary stories are usually realistic) over fantasy and science fiction, because you have to “use your brain” for fantasy and sci-fi. She said you have to memorize the details and systems of those worlds, whereas for realistic fiction, you don’t really have to memorize anything new. Thus, here’s an instance where GENRE fiction can actually be more challenging and requiring more brainwork than literary fiction! XD

LOLOL the more we talk about this, the more absurd those people’s claims that “genre stories are more stupid” are, haha.

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Denise D. Young August 9, 2013 at 8:24 am

Serena, I love that you brought up the “Wizard of Oz.” So much children’s lit is dismissed because it’s “just for kids,” but it’s really quite complex. I agree that it’s almost impossible for a story to be without subtext.

I just think about fairy tales. They seem like these simple little stories, but we keep telling and retelling them. Clearly those “simple” stories tap into something deep inside of us because we can’t let go of them. Any type of story, whether it’s set on another planet, in another world, or in the here and now, can speak to us on this deeper level. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 9, 2013 at 9:52 am

Hi Denise,

I’m going to pop into this comment too because that’s so true about children’s literature often being dismissed. And yet, it’s often those tales that are retold so frequently. As you said, that’s usually a sign of a powerful story. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold August 9, 2013 at 9:44 am

Hi Serena,

Ooo, great point! I completely agree with you. Every story, no matter how shallow, has a theme–often more than one. And themes are often carried in the subtext.

In superficial children’s stories, the writers might have their intended theme explicitly stated (the better for kids to pick up on), but the subtext often creates several unintended themes. The intended theme might be about never giving up, but the subtext in the hero’s friends sticking by his side even during the danger creates another level–an unintended theme about friendship and loyalty.

Every action or reaction, every choice or decision, builds a message in the subtext. What does that act or choice say about that character, the other characters, the story as a whole?

That said, as you pointed out, stories are valuable just for their entertainment factor too. Stories that pull us in and make us connect with the character are doing us a service. A sense of connection to others (even fictional) is necessary for humanity.

LOL! Love your point about genre fiction actually needing more brain-work! 😀 So true! Thanks for another fantastic comment!

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Serena Yung August 10, 2013 at 1:13 am

Hi Jami and Denise,

Yes, exactly! Children’s stories are way too often dismissed! And they’re so sweet to read too. 🙂 I guess Charlotte’s Web is sort of children’s lit, and it’s still one of my favorite stories ever. ^^

Oh I love it when our writing carries unintended themes! I love it when I write something, intending a very obvious theme, and then my friend finds that my writing achieved even more than I originally intended. 😀 Once, I wrote a simple love story–uh, just because romantic love gives me such a happy feeling ^^, and I was obviously celebrating romantic love, faithfulness, and eternal devotion. But my friend pointed out to me that my story was about hope as well. Hope in how my heroine eventually fought out of her problem with the hero’s help. Yes, the hero did help her a lot, but ultimately it was she herself who got herself out of it. So the story was about hope and self-reliance. 😀

“Every action or reaction, every choice or decision, builds a message in the subtext. What does that act or choice say about that character, the other characters, the story as a whole?”

Ooh, yes. I had a character who realizes that she was put into a false paradise, an illusion, while her team of friends outside were in trouble. So she chose to forgo that (illusory) happiness she was enjoying, no matter how painful it was, to go back and find her team to rescue them. This choice might be nothing remarkable, as all heroines of such action/adventure stories are supposed to choose to fight instead of shutting their eyes from pain. But what made this character more unusual, was that there were other characters who were in this happy illusion with her, and she didn’t have the heart to wake them up out of their illusion. She let them stay in that false paradise while she returned to the real world to fight. This might not have been the wisest thing to do, as those people would be snapped out of it someday, but it certainly says something about this character. It also might say something about the story’s, or even, gasp, my attitude–but hopefully not. XD

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Jami Gold August 10, 2013 at 10:28 am

Hi Serena,

Ooo, great example! Yes, the nuances in the decision to expel herself but not others says a ton, especially when combined with the other choices she makes throughout the story. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Denise D. Young August 9, 2013 at 8:18 am

Coming from an academic background, I’m all too used to hearing genre fiction easily dismissed. In my undergraduate creative writing courses, we were forbidden from writing genre literature. That was a shame because not only did many student want to write genre lit, but there’s also strong marketplace demand for it. I also remember being taught about the difference between “high art” and “low art.” (Yikes!) This world certainly contains extraordinary art, good art, and bad art, but no work of literature should be dismissed because it doesn’t fit into someone’s preconceived notion of what good stories should be.

When I arrived at grad school, we were free to explore whatever genre we wanted, as long as it fell within the scope of children’s literature. I finally had a chance to explore my love of the fantastic. (I now write mostly for adults, but I’m glad I had that time surrounded by other people who loved fantasy literature as much as I do.) There is so much well-written, powerful, inspiring literature out there in all genres, and no story should be dismissed because of its genre. Like many writers, I find genre literature challenging to write because, in addition to creating a well-crafted story, I also need to meet genre expectations. Instead of simplifying my process as a writer, the genre adds a layer of complexity, challenging me to think of new ways to meet those expectations while staying true to my characters.

Good post, Jami! 🙂 I don’t think this conversation will be over anytime soon.

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Jami Gold August 9, 2013 at 9:49 am

Hi Denise,

Oh, that’s awful! Some people have claimed there is no snobbery toward genre, but that’s the proof, right there. Genre does not equal “low art” any more than it equals “stupid.” Again, we could come up with plenty of genre stories seen as “high art,” and some snobs would try to take away the genre label to justify their respect.

You’re absolutely right about genre often adding another layer of complexity, both for the writer (with all those “must haves”) and for the reader in processing an often fantastical world. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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