Literary Corner Cafe

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mainstream Fiction versus Literary Fiction

There's been so much debate over mainstream fiction versus literary fiction. In general, mainstream fiction (the works of authors such as Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Jonathan Kellerman, John Grisham, and Dean Koontz, just to name a few) concentrates far more on plot, while literary fiction concentrates more on character and character development and change.

Of course some mainstream fiction contains wonderfully developed characters, e.g., Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen and Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe. However, in mainstream fiction, the emphasis is, and always will be, on plot.

On the other hand, although literary fiction concentrates more on character and character development, that's not to say good literary fiction lacks a plot. Yes, some of it does, but much of it certainly does not.

For me, at least, the works of the brilliant Nobel Laureate, Jose Saramago certainly have a plot, as do those of fellow Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison. The plot's a little slower than what's found in mainstream books, but "Incident A" still leads to "Incident B" still leads to "Incident C," etc. And that, of course, is a plot.

Literary fiction, i.e., character driven fiction, is often perceived as being "better" than mainstream fiction, despite the fact that mainstream fiction is far more popular. I think it's just a matter of personal preference. Certainly there are extremely well written plot driven novels just as there are poorly written character driven ones.

In general, I think people turn to plot driven novels when they're looking for diversion and entertainment and to character driven books when they want to delve into the inner workings of the human spirit - when they're looking for books to enrich both mind and soul.

It should be remembered that one of the most important things in life is balance. Although we all have our preferences, surely we all need a bit of both entertainment and enrichment. And who's to say entertainment is not enriching? Even though I greatly prefer literary novels, I do enjoy intricately plotted Victorian novels to help me through the too-long-for-me winter months and I love comic novels when relaxing in the summertime.

Whatever kind of book you choose, for whatever reason, treasure it. A good book, a really good book, is a connection between the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader, a very special gift that lives on forever.

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