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Genre Fiction: Just Like Literature, Only Popular

Alan Jeffriesby Alan Jeffries, Professional Editor – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Young Adult Adventure

The balancing act between Expectation and Art is the crux of the so-called Genre Paradox: how to conform to “category requirements” while providing fresh and compelling entertainment. Being both “old” and “new” at the same time is tricky; it’s more than just rearranging the stock elements and characters that often brand “genre” as lowbrow and unchallenging, just so much empty-calorie comfort reading.

Critical condescension has been frustrating writers and readers for generations; professional scolds using the worst examples from any given field to condemn the whole of it. Back in the early Fifties, noted science fiction writer and critic Theodore Sturgeon, fed up with such nonsense, declared that, yes, 90% of science fiction indeed crap—just like 90% of every other class of artistic endeavor. Thus, science fiction was no different from Renaissance paintings, the Lake Poets, or the New York School of literature in terms of overall quality.

As per Wikipedia (so you know it’s true), a similar adage appears in Rudyard Kipling’s The Light that Failed (1890), specifically: “Four–fifths of everybody’s work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake.” This is the same as saying that 80% of everything is crap, so either Sturgeon had higher standards than Kipling, or literature was 10% better back then (quite probable).

I feel it’s my job to help my clients avoid being part of the 90% mob of mediocrity. Uncritical readers forgive technical issues if the required genre elements are rich enough (or even just abundant), but I won’t let them settle for just “good enough.” Though subliminal in nature to most readers, a solid foundation of clarity and logic form the basis for truly satisfying entertainment (it can’t all be sex and explosions). To help the writer achieve their best, entails submersion in the writer’s world, then reporting back what I see (or don’t). Then we work out solutions so that everybody wins.

In this way I am an advocate for both the reader and the writer.


Alan Jeffries can help in facilitating your creativity without losing sight of craft.

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