I keep coming back to James Wood’s How Fiction Works to read or reread things like this:
Detail like this—that enters a character but refuses to explain that character—makes us the writer as well as the reader; we seem like co-creators of the character’s existence.
Often, the excruciation of the stylist seems to be a front for writer’s block. This was the case with the marvelous American writer J.F. Powers, for instance, of whom Sean O’Faolain joked, in Wildean fashion, that he “spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon wondering whether or not he should replace it with a semicolon.”
Then I encounter or re-encounter things like this that make me want to go to Chabon’s Maps and Legends to rinse out my mind:
One way to tell slick genre writing from really interesting writing is to look, in the former case, for the absence of different registers.
Because “slick genre writing” may be interesting, but it is never really interesting, I guess? It is only ever a messenger for a story, the passage a narrative walks down from writer to reader. It is never the agonized work of a stylist nor does it offer the faceted detail of the literary novelist. I guess.
I grant you, that word slick is Wood’s escape hatch, the valve by which I forgive his generalization, but it didn’t stop me from ranting out loud and, then, here. So there’s that. Apparently I should conclude that really interesting writing is either not slick, not genre, or not both at the same time?
Never mind how blandly hollow the term “really interesting” is. All writing should be interesting, really. Interesting is a low, low bar. Shame that slick genre writing doesn’t meet it.
Most maddening, of course: that statement kicks off worthy advice about the value of mingling registers in prose, which is sure to impact what I’m writing now… because I want my writing to be considered “really interesting” regardless of genre.
And ‘round and ‘round we go.