Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Genre Guessing

Dear Rejecter,

You know how certain autobiographies go from interesting personal incidents to relevant social analysis(essay form) and back to more personal incidents? Would this format, if executed well, be out of line in a novel(with a fictional character instead of myself)? Because I've found that didacticism in the story incidents themselves (almost) always drag things down, but being straightforward about "this is what happened and this is what I think," if well written, could really work. Also, if you think this could work, would an editor pick it up? And to what area of publishing would you direct queries- and how would you label such a work? Is it inherently literary because of the analysis, even if the writing is plain? Should I call it anything other than a novel(in spite of the fact that that term is quite broad and welcoming thanks to the experimental fiction movement)?

A novel is a work of fiction. If you've written a series of essays based on your beliefs and personal life experiences, but changed the names, it's not fiction unless you change the facts.

The real question here seems to be whether it's "memoir" or a book of essays on social analysis. Novels - and even memoirs - are generally not written as a series of essays, but the real issue here is what point you're trying to get across. Do you want to tell a life story because it's interesting, or are you using life anecdotes to give social commentary? It sounds like the latter.

Your genre is: not relevant to your query. Just say it's a bunch of essays and that should be pretty clear. The agent will request it or not request it based on their interest in your subject matter, not how you label it.


Anonymous said...

Might just be me, but I think that kind of narrative style -with a fictional character's views, and a fictional character's social commentary- could actually be rather interesting. If, as said, done well. Was there more to the question that made it clear it was actually the writer's opinions that would be laid out instead of a character's?

Anonymous said...

Based on their interest in the subject matter. What does the subject matter, as long as it's well-written? The best of writers can write about anything with insight and clarity. The subject should be, at most, a secondary concern.

ryan field said...

Doesn't John Irving get away with this all the time? And he writes novels last I heard.

I found this definition of "novel", but I'm only going to paste the first line because it seems so appropriate here. "Dare we touch this one with a ten foot pole? Of course we dare, provided that you accept the caveat that novels are so varied that any definition is likely to be inadequate to cover all of them."

Literatus said...

Thanks, Mr. Field, the Irving reference gave me at least one author I can point to in this area.
I was worried that this idea might suffer from the coffee vs. sugar problem, i.e. "Would you like a little coffee with that sugar?" The worst I can imagine is sounding like an old man yelling about the day as he totally forgets to tell his rambling old-man story.
Fortunately, while fiction screw-ups are common for me, editorial mistakes are not, so if it doesn't work I'll probably notice. Thanks to the Rejecter for taking a look. If she wants to take another look at the social analysis novel, with Irving for a starting point, that'd be awesome. But thank you very much.

Timothy Fish said...

I think the subject matter is of utmost importance. Many of the books I buy are because of the subject matter and the subject matter alone. I will even overlook a few instances of bad writing if the subject intrigues me enough. There are a great many authors that some people consider to be great writers that I have not read because their subject bored me. The subject matter is very important.

Anonymous said...

This kind of reminds me of Grapes of Wrath in a way - one chapter of plot, one chapter of exposition on the Depression and the dust bowl farmers. Some people in my English class liked that, some hated it, but yeah, as long as it's well written and interesting, you can sell anything.

Anonymous said...

Not only the Grapes of Wrath, but another all-time great novel, War and Peace, has many pages devoted to his views on history, free will and art, presented as essays. Another great novel, Moby Dick, has that encyclopedia of whales smack dab in the middle. I confess I just skimmed that part.

My memoir, which will be published, is written not as a chronological narrative of my life, but as a thematic tour of the work I do. But it's a memoir not a novel.

Anonymous said...

Tim: That's what insight is for. Somebody takes a boring subject and makes it interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hello Rejector:

Gotta say...you're my favorite source for insight into literaryland. You're knowledgeable, witty, sharp and funny. So enough butt kissing...I've got a question for you.

Like most, I'm a rejected writer. And after seven years, I decided to write something "unrejectable".
And I did.

I searched for a genre which would intrigue lit agents--minority comedy. And in the first batch of queries, I recv'd over a dozen requests for fulls. Happy ending, eh? NOT.

My agent submits to an excited editor at a big house and the rejection is scathing. The Editor didn't get the funny and thought the characters were meant to be serious. Go figure.

End result: Film people love it; literary people hate it. But it's a book, not a screenplay, dammit.

Is the traditional comedy dead in literature? And I don't mean political satire or high-brow New York wit stories...I mean I Love Lucy kind of humor.

Your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Ayn Rand. Her "essays" from her novels were excerpted in For the New Intellectual. And Shaw did this in his plays. He said he was only interested in the artist-philosophers. My novels do this somewhat too. And yes, it's considered Literary Fiction. More power to you!

The Rejecter said...


No kind of comedy ever fully dies. I mean, I'm still laughing at Edward Cruickshank's political cartoons about George IV as the Prince of Wales.

Regent/NoGent? HILARIOUS!HahahahahahaIneedalife

Marissa Doyle said...

Oh dear, Rejecter, it's George Cruikshank, not Edward. But that's okay--I laugh at early 19th century political cartoons too. A lot of them are fully as scathing as anything seen today. But I write historical fiction, so it IS my life. :)

Anonymous said...

This appears to be relevent:


The Rejecter said...

It was George. I should have figured. Every person from that era is named George.