Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diagramming Fiction

Ever wondered the difference
 between genre and literary fiction?

Here's a helpful tool I stole from grad school. It's a bit simplistic, but I find it useful as a starting point.

In these diagrams, more weight is given to those elements located at the top of the triangle.

So, in genre fiction, the Plot element seems to be all-important, with Language and Character in hierarchically supporting roles.

In literary fiction, however, Character and Language map the bulk of the story's landscape, with Plot (or more often Conflict) rippling beneath the surface to produce a subtle momentum.

Commercial fiction, or "upmarket fiction," might look like the literary fiction triangle, but with Plot and Character taking the important top-most corners and Language taking back seat.

It's sometimes fun, when entering a new novel or short, to overlay it with the diagrams above, as with an old-school transparency sheet. You'll probably find your triangle needs turning or tilting, squashing, reforming, and/or re-labeling. But once the basic shape of the story comes into focus, it's easier to conceptualize how and to what degree the various elements of fiction fit into, on the one hand, the story itself, and on the other, the larger body of literature.