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what's good fiction

edited September 2005 in - Reading


  • Here's the eternal question - how to judge what is good fiction and what is not? I mean this in the following line of thought: chicklit is usually said to be bad writing while literary fiction is good writing. I know there is well written chicklit, only I can't think of any badly written lit-fic, so they must be wright!
    But, what are the criteria for such distinction? Can any one put this fluently in words?
  • The criteria eludes me too. 

    I do know what you mean about chick-lit Gardenia.  While I enjoy reading the genre (and look forward to possibility writing in it too) I recognise some chick-lit as well written, some I believe is not.  This seems to be true of many "commercial" genres though. So I wonder why chick-lit seems to get the lions share of the criticism for poor writing in the media?

    Does it seem as though there is less poorly written literary fiction around because it is harder to get published in this less commercial genre perhaps? 

    Maybe it helps that few "celebs" attempt to write this when they bring out the abligatory book??? Never read literary fiction by a supermodel, ex-housemate or pop star!
  • Isn't that because they are models, pop stars etc. and not writers? Don't quite get the drift here.

    And don't forget also the 'obligatory books' referred to are mostly ghosted anyway.
  • Hi Neil, 

    That was suppose to be the point - that fiction by celebs who are NOT writers gets published, and that the quality may not be great because it doesn't have to be - publishers know it will sell anyway because a celeb's name is commercial. 

    I called the books "obligatory" (or meant to, have noticed the typo!) because some celebs seem to feel obliged to "write" a book because it will make them money and raise their profile, regardless of the fact they are not writers.  But they don't usually attempt literary fiction do they, ghost writers or not? Was just a tongue-in-cheek observation, not a serious point about the quality of the genres.


    Obviously some of these books must be ghosted, as you suggest, or co-written.
  • Think the whole "chick-Lit" thing is dismissed as useless fluff by the highbrows simply because it is aimed at young women who simply want to be entertained,  We don't all want or need to be enlightened every time we pick up a book. Literary fiction has its place but a well written (I interpret this as following the rules of grammar, an easy to read style, humour, pathos ...)popular novel reaches more people and means more to them!!
  • "...a well written (I interpret this as following the rules of grammar, an easy to read style, humour, pathos ...)popular novel reaches more people and means more to them!!"

    I don't think that's necessarily true.

    Dickens was a popularist author, yet his books are still read and still entertain, resonate and enlighten readers 170 years after they were first published.

    I don't see many of today's popularist authors beign able to do that in 2175.

    - Richard
  • Let me rewrite that last post (damn the inability to edit posts in this forum).

    In his time Dickens was seen as a popularist author - a hack. Yet, 170 years afterwards his work is still being read for entertainment and because people find it enlightening. I doubt that any of today's popular authors will still be read, be popular, and judged to be serious literature, in 2175.

    I think that good fiction is not only well written, but it has an interesting story that entertains the reader, but still challenges them - whether that's their beliefs and assumptions, or what they expect from a novel.

    And that doesn't always mean literary fiction. Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell are writers who create what I call good fiction, but I wouldn't say either are literary writers.

    - Richard
  • I think we should be objective about this.  Let's judge fiction within its context i.e. if someone is writing chick lit and it meets the publisher's requirements then it is good chick lit.  It may not be every reader's preferred read but it can be good of its type. 

    There are writers of all genres at all levels and their are readers of all genres at all levels.

    If the grammar rules are obeyed, if the book is  well plotted, has a theme and something to say then let it be good of its type whether literary or otherwise.
  • And so say all of us! Thank you Betsie. I love Somerset Maugham - derided by the literati
  • Good fiction is well written descriptive prose with some enticing clues if there is something ofthe dark sinister implied and it is not hard to find. I am reading a John Buchan historical novel  Blanket in the Dark' and he was a past master in both, just a question of knowing where to look. When you read his books, don't think of it in current context of political correctness but the fact he knew how to write a good yarn at the time. His character and world descriptions should be exemplary to any budding writer. Yes the language today might be ornate but study his sentence structure, you could do far worse.
  • Hello there, Richard Cosgrove!

    In response to your posting that states 'damn the inability to edit posts in this forum', please let me suggest that you slow down a bit!

    When a reply has been written, the unavoidable next step has to be a click on the 'Submit Reply' button. That click promptly displays a view of how the text will appear. Read it slowly and give yourself time to spot any errors, typos, cockups, -- the lot. When you spot one, move the cursor to a clear area and RIGHT-CLICK. At the dropdown panel clk BACK -- and you'll return the text to the editing window. Do as much editing as necessary. Then submit again -- and if necessary redo the rt-click routine until all's well.

    Once you're totally satisfied (and not before!), click on the SUBMIT button.

    Happy editing!
  • Hi all
    I think books fall prey to the same value judgements as other cultural pursuits, very often, chick-lit is ranked as low on the 'scale' of good fiction, in the same way as bingo may be rated in comparison to say, visiting an art gallery, so you have a scale, where intellectual hobbies and interests are put at the top and mass entertainment such as watching soaps would rank near the bottom. I believe that there is no such thing as high and low culture, and that what is important is the pleasure gained by the participants when they indulge in their interests. It also depends how you decide whether something is good, so if 9 million people watch Eastenders each episode, and only 200,000 listen to the afternoon play on R4, does that mean that  Eastenders is more successful? Possibly yes... But is the play better, or even, better for you, just because it is on R4? Who is to say.......
    It is much the same with books, in terms of numbers, literary fiction reaches only a small minority of the population, but a book by Dan Brown reaches out to millions, so if we are comparing the books purely in quantitative terms, yes, Brown rules, but if they are so different, why compare them?
    For me, a good book is one that moves me, and teaches me something about this world, my top ten would definately include some literary books, (not because they are literary, but because I love them) but would also include books that touched me incredibly that I read as a teenager, e.g. Love Story by Eric Segal.
    I suppose things are classified for practical reasons, but that doesnt mean we can't enjoy things from all genres and categories, we are free to choose....If I enjoy reading a 'bad' book, does that make it good? Who knows...
  • It's a subjective opinion, dependent on what you want from the read, and what standard of writing you,the reader,expect. After all Dickens was a 'hack' and many of those novels that are 'classics' appeared as serials in the newspapers. I doubt he actually had them written in advance. They were probably the 'Eastenders' scripts of the late 19th century.Does it matter?
  • There is an objective difference between well written and badly written, though.
    I remember once (once was enough!) reading a Barbara Cartland novel - and it was awful.  The period detail was either wrong or non-existant, the characters were cardboard cutouts....but Georgette Heyer got it right, with interesting characters and a wealth of correct historical detail that meant it didn't matter if the plot was slightly implausible.

    Personally, I think most literary fiction is dull as ditchwater, so I rarely read it.
  • I once read an Iain Banks novel followed immediately by a Phillip Pullman. The difference was that Pullman knew he wasn't writing great literature and therefore didn't dare bore me.
  • There's some very good epic fantasy around at the moment too - David Gemmell, for  instance, and George RR Martin - as well as the sort of thing that prompted Diana Wynne Jones to write The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. 
    For those who don't read fantasy, this was a dig at all those stories that take the superficial elements like magic swords, quests and pseudo-feudal societies and who have obviously never ridden a horse or sat round a campfire.
    But then, Sturgeon's Law states that 90% of anything is rubbish, so that would be about right.
  • Gary, it was Canal Dreams. The Pullman was The Subtle Knife. My comment was not about the overall quality of the books; just the impression I got from reading the two in quick succession. Canal Dreams was always the better book, but there were long passages that seemed worth skipping except that I was never sure they wouldn't have something important concealed in them. The Subtle Knife had only a few passages that totally engaged me but none that bored. I have since returned to Pullman a couple of times (The Tin Princess is a really good read) and I'll now follow up the Banks ones you recommend, Thanks.
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