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Lesson

GENRE, SPECULATIVE & LITERARY FICTION

Read these wiki entries on genre ficton and speculative fiction. The two categories encompass some of the most popular as well as some of the most esoteric and alternative forms of fiction, among them science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism, irrealism, bizarro fiction, romance, detective fiction, western, comedy, erotica, etc. These forms are often opposed to literary fiction, a somewhat nebulous and subjective term that connotes narratives distinguished by "literary merit," i.e., narratives that focus on things like style, psychology, metareferentiality and academic jargon in lieu of plot and suspense. Then again, there are many narratives that blend elements of genre, speculative and literary fiction, such as Steve Aylett's fictional biography, Lint, Mark Leyner's story-cycle, My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, and my novel, The Kyoto Man.

There is no way to concisely provide you with a lesson on genre, literary and speculative fiction, all of which are hotly debated by practitioners, editors and readers, particularly as genre splicing, a somewhat recent formation, becomes more and more popular and the boundaries that define these categories increasingly blur. Nonetheless by reading the above links you can get an idea of the basic elements that comprise science fiction, fantasy and horror. You will need to do so in order to complete Fiction #2 (see below).

Diehard aspiring authors of science fiction and fantasy may like this world building tutorial. You might also enjoy the Science Fiction Hub and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

If genre horror is your poison, check out Matthew Warner's Horror Isn't a 4-Letter Word: Essays on Writing & Appreciating the Genre. (NOTE: Excerpts of Warner's book are accessible via the archived columns at Horror World.) Also check out an article at the Horror Writer's Association called "What Is Horror Fiction?"

Fiction #2

Write a science fiction, fantasy or horror flash fiction that is only EIGHT WORDS LONG. This piece should be clearly identifiable as science fiction, fantasy or horror based on your diction. Be sure to tell me which genre you are writing in, and don't forget to compose a dynamic title. Your title, in fact, may be what determines the genre of your story (although you may not use the words "science fiction," "fantasy" or "horror" in the title or the story). Above all: MAKE SURE EVERY WORD COUNTS.

A Note on "Good" Writing

Unlike what some editors, authors and professors may tell you, "good" writing is a subjective phenomenon. That is, different people agree and disagree upon what constitutes "good" and "bad" literature based upon their desires, tastes, education, experience, ideology, insecurities, etc. (hence the quotation marks). This is not to say that writing cannot be objectively bad; for instance, if I blow my nose onto a piece of paper, title it "The Doves of Greed," and submit it for publication, an editor may rightly send me a rejection letter explaining that, among other things, my story needs improvement. Nonetheless there are plenty of well-written, well-crafted stories submitted for publication that get rejected and/or critiqued over and over again for an abundance of reasons, depending upon the publication, ranging from undesirable themes or genres, to bland prose, to use of adverbs ending in "-ly," to getting lost in a pool of 3,000 submissions, to having an unknown pen name. Sometimes publication is nothing but luck, especially in more prestigious or high-paying venues. The point: study the rules of writing, learn the craft from the bottom up, practice, practice, practice—then develop your voice and WRITE WHAT YOU WANT, instead of what you think readers, editors, etc. want you to write. Keep at it long enough and eventually you will generate a readership and some editors will like your work. Don't be discouraged by criticism. If you stick with writing, criticism never goes away.

Featured Book

Philip K. Dick. The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 5 (The Eye of the Sibyl). 1992.

This book collects short stories originally published in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Dick is one of the most prolific, offbeat and well-known science fiction authors of the twentieth century. He is neither a prose stylist nor a plot technician. Despite some exceptions, his writing is rather clunky and unrefined, which is not surprising considering the rapidity with which he produced the 100+ stories and 40+ novels that constitute his library. His authorial brawn comes from imaginative prowess, eccentricity and innovation. In short, Dick is an idea-machine. For new writers, he is an important author inside and outside of the science fiction genre for his strengths as much as his weaknesses. To read more about Dick, visit this fansite. He is in many ways a more interesting character than the people in his stories.

Readings & Assignments

Fiction #2: Submit via Pilot. DUE DATE & TIME: Friday, Feb. 14, 11 a.m.

Discussion: Read Margaret Atwood's "Bread" in Flash Fiction and write a response to it. Your response should be creative, which is to say, you should construct a narrative that in some way stems from and/or mimics the style and theme of "Bread." DUE DATE & TIME: Friday, Feb. 14, 11 a.m.

Architectures of Possibility: Read SEVEN: Narrativity, EIGHT: Settings and NINE: Characters Flat/Round. Respond critically to two of the seven interviews at the end of these chapters, explaining why you agree or disagree with the author, or simply why you find something the author says interesting or enlightening. Each response should be at least 250 words long and submited via Pilot on the same document. DUE DATE & TIME: Friday, Feb. 21, 11 a.m.

Journal Entries: [4] Write a short piece about an event in your life telling everything BUT the truth. It must be a real event, but make up everything and everyone in it. Then write the real event. Finally write a response to this exercise assessing whether the fictional or real event is more convincing. This is a 3-part entry.