My writing group had our brunch meeting yesterday, and although our numbers were a little down (being only four) we were in fine form on the discussion front.
One of the things we talked about was the definition of commercial fiction and its merits. So what is commercial fiction? Fiction that sells. Is it possible to have commercial genre fiction? Absolutely! The majority of fantasy out there on the shelves at the moment is 'commercial'. It sells very well. We may scoff at 'the quality' of much of it, but we have to face the fact that the general public is happy to read it. Sometimes, when we hobnob with other writers, critiquing each others' work, we can lose sight of the fact that maybe most readers just don't care about some of the things we agonise over for days on end.
Most of the writers in my writing group are purists -- we want to write the best we possibly can. Good story, original ideas and good craft. So far so good. None of that is specifically non-commercial. However, we are all aware that not all commercial fiction exhibits good craft. It's just not the key element in the equation.
Story wins every time, and I suppose that's fine. But what I want to know is why, if there are writers out there willing to hone their craft as well as all the other story-telling aspects, there's any need to publish fiction that is not well written. Surely that extra degree of finesse should make a novel all the more marketable?
I know the immediate comeback to this question is what I've already mentioned -- most readers don't care about craft. They simply can't identify when something is badly written. But to counteract this, I know plenty of people who can, and many of them are not writers.
And also, what about the authors? Why don't they care about it? Why aren't today's mega best selling authors taking the trouble to be the best they possibly can? Why do they sell out just because they can? If the writers in my writing group care about craft, why don't all the authors out there as well?
I've talked a bit about MR on this blog recently, with most of the reader comments tending towards the sentiment: would you really want to write like him? Of course the answer is no. But why does HE want to write like him?
Looking at my writing group again, I think most of us are writing (or trying to write) fiction that is fairly commercial. Only a couple of us have a distinctly literary style. Most of us are trying to tell a good story in moderate language that will appeal to most readers of our chosen genre, whether traditional science fiction, epic fantasy, horror or a variation thereof. But unlike many of the published 'commercial' SF authors out there, we do care about craft.
And this is because we are readers too, and I for one am sick of reading commercial fiction that scores high on the story front, but bombs out when it comes to craft. Sure, sometimes I can overlook when something is badly written and still enjoy the story. But why should I have to?