Friday, December 29, 2006

Why Write F&SF?

Since Lyda brought it up in her last post, it seems like an interesting question to ask each other and to try to answer. She framed it as "why write genre?" but I'm going to be a little more specific, in part because I believe all writing is genre writing. The great American novel is a genre, and a small one. Likewise literary fiction. Each have their rules and their tropes and their small subset of dedicated readers. There was a time when genre was defined as anything not part of "mainstream fiction" which is a slippery term at best. This is especially true when you consider that romance has always been considered genre and that romance is 55% percent of the paperback fiction market and 40% percent of all fiction, dwarfing all other genres. Or when you note that a lot of writing that is considered mainstream is also SF, The Handmaid's Tale, fantasy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, romance, Pride and Prejudice, or a myriad of other genres. The traditional definition of genre has always had a strong element of "that which I do not believe to be worthy of the term literature."

So, back to the central question: Why do I write F&SF?

In my case that's a fairly simple question to answer. I'm all about world building and its impacts on characters and cultures. Creating an intricate and believable magic system with a history that reaches back into the depths of antiquity and has present day implications or impacts rocks my world. Coming up with a novel idea for a space drive that alters the way we interact with our world or that recreates historical pressures of colonization and conquest fascinates me. And frankly, the genre of literary fiction doesn't leave a lot of openings for a writer who wants to build an entire world from scratch.

All genres have tropes and conventions that limit what the writer can do, but in F&SF they are fewer and much less limiting, and if you can come up with a novel way of breaking them you're generally rewarded rather than punished.

I write F&SF because it doesn't put my imagination in a straightjacket and pretend that's the be all and end all of literary creation.

So why do you write F&SF? Or genre? Or poetry for that matter?


Kelly Swails said...

I think I write it for the exact reason you do, Kelly Y. It's fun, my imagination can run wild, and I like to read it. Once I came to terms with the fact that I've been a f/sf/h geek since childhood, my writing started to flourish.

Kelly McCullough said...

Yeah, embracing one's inner geekitude makes for a much less cognitively dissonant life if one is a F&SF writer.

Erik Buchanan said...

I write fantasy because that's what comes to mind. When other things come to mind I write about them. But for the most part, I write fantasy.

Stephanie Zvan said...

I'm not sure I have a choice. F&SF, along with myth, mystery and history, are just part of my vocabulary. I might as well take half my dictionary and put the words off limits as not write F&SF. My choice of genre, like my choice of words, is determined by which will most effectively tell the story I want to tell.

I've only been accused once of writing a genre story that didn't "need" to be that genre. Strangely, the person who said it thought I should be writing fantasy instead of science fiction. She thought there was no good reason for my aliens to be aliens instead of fae.

Kelly McCullough said...

Erik, Steph, some of that for me too. I think it's true for a lot of us. I know Tim Powers talks about not being able to write non-genre fiction. That F&SF has simply become set into the foundation of how he thinks about story.