I begin with the first two paragraphs from E.L. Doctorow’s Preface to his new collection of stories, All the Time in the World:
A novel may begin in your mind as an evocative image, a bit of conversation, a piece of music, an incident you’ve read about in someone’s life, a presiding anger, but in any case as something that proposes a meaningful world. And so the act of writing is in the nature of an exploration. You write to find out what you’re writing. And as you work, the sentences become generative, the book foretold in that image, that fragment of conversation, begins to emerge and itself participates in its composition, telling you what it is and how it must be realized.
A story, by contrast, usually comes to you as a situation, with the characters and setting irrevocably attached to it. Stories are assertive, they are self-announcing, their voice and circumstances decided and immutable. It is not a matter of finding your way to them; they’ve arrived unbidden, and more or less whole, with a demand that you put everything else aside and write them down before they fade as dreams fade. Continue reading
re: John M. recently quoting something that Paul wrote at his blog, and re: Roxane’s recent post and the resulting epic thread regarding writing and its worth, I’d like to pick a bit more at the bones of genre fiction.
I love genre, because genres are basically conventions. They’re expectations that both authors and readers (and editors, and sales people) bring to a text—suggestions as to what should be inside, and how it should be arranged. And I dearly love conventions, because they’re the very stuff of communication, and of artistic structure—whether we’re obeying them, or departing from them.
I’ve never really understood what some people mean when they talk about “exploding genres” and “writing between genres,” and so forth, because I myself can think of very little writing that is pure genre. Most literature that I read—even the more conventional things—already exist between multiple genres.
Consider The Lord of the Rings.
Below are two illustrations of the moment in “Little Red Riding Hood” when the heroine of the story first encounters the wolf. Both these illustrations are effective in that they reveal as much about the thematic concerns of the artists as they do about the story itself.
"Little Red Riding Hood Meets the Wolf" by Gustave Doré (ca. 1867)
"Old Father Wolf Eyes Up Little Red Riding Hood" by Tyler Garrison (2009)