Friday, May 13, 2016

Blog Romanticism Vs. Realism Vs. Naturalism in Fiction by Jacqueline Seewald

Back in the dark ages when I was an undergrad majoring in English, our Contemporary American Lit professor made an interesting statement. He said one way to think of literary isms was in descriptive terms. For instance, the romantic writer creates a woman with a straight perfection of a nose while the realist describes the nose with a wart on it. Next, we have the naturalist who describes that nose with a hair growing out of the wart. You get the picture.

Let’s consider traditional mysteries divided by type. First, we have the cozy which generally avoids gore, provides amusing and/or eccentric main characters, and has a somewhat predictable plot. There is often a slight romantic element. They also tend to feature an amateur sleuth. Think Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes.

Then there are mysteries that are dark and more serious in nature, often police procedurals or P.I. detective fiction. These usually center on men. P. D. James wrote wonderful realistic police procedurals as has Joseph Wambaugh. Women private investigators became popular in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Think Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton. Some of these authors are deeply concerned with social issues. Think Sara Paretsky whose early novels in her series tend to be more hard-boiled. Writers like Jan Christensen continue the woman P.I. tradition.

Third, we have the noir novel which is dark and often explores the sleazy underbelly of society. Some of these are hard-boiled detective stories and more naturalistic. However, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Modern noir is more violent, at times featuring serial killers and lots of gore. They can also be thrillers. Elmore Leonard wrote successful noir.

Some features, of course, are common to all three types of mysteries, others just to that particular one.

Romances are even more conventional than mystery fiction. However, not all romances these days fit into neat categories or formulas. I’ll use the example of Western fiction since my latest novel THE KILLING LAND is an historical Western that Five Star/Cengage labeled as a romance novel.

The historical Western generally occurs between the Civil War and the 1890’s, roughly the time when the frontier vanished. The conventional Western novel features a central male figure who is manly and triumphs over his antagonists. Very few women are portrayed as anything but secondary figures. The heroes are poker-faced and stoic. These action stories are geared to guy readers as in the classic Louis L’Amour formula.

The central character in my novel is a woman. Both my main characters, male and female, have flaws and are less than perfect. They may be romantically involved but they are realistically drawn. Today novelists are willing to research and write about the real Western frontier, using realistic characters and true information integrated into their books. This was my goal in writing THE KILLING LAND.

A lot of what happens in the plot comes from reality and, yes, some of it is even naturalistic. It’s a novel meant to appeal to a wider reading audience both male and female alike. What I strived to do was create depth in characterization as well as realism in plot and theme. Has it worked? Readers will need to decide that for themselves.

Today’s fiction combines various elements. It is in essence a new frontier. Short fiction, as well as novels, are often more experimental in nature and a mash-up of more than one genre and style.

As a reader do you have a preference? Do you prefer romance, realism, naturalism or a combination in the fiction you read? If you are an author what sort of novels or short stories do you write?


Susan Oleksiw said...

Very interesting post, Jacquie. Lately I've heard readers ask about the differences between genres, and you've supplied a clear answer for them.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Very interesting information Jacquie!
thanks for sharing.
Good luck and God's blessings.

Susan Coryell said...

I love and write cross-genre and appreciate other authors who do the same. The Killing Land is a nice mix of realism, romance and history with plenty of page-turning action. Thanks for another thoughtful post.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Susan,

It was easier to distinguish between genres in the 20th century because there were definite boundaries. Not so today.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the blog.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

I appreciate your good words about THE KILLING LAND and the fact that you both read and reviewed this novel.

Janis Patterson said...

That is as good an explanation of genre divisions as I've ever read. Great! I am so glad that at least in the self-publishing world the genres are able to meld. At last it seems that the traditional publishers are starting to catch on. Readers don't - in general - like to be pigeonholded. Thanks for a great post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks, Janis,

I agree. As both a reader and a writer, I will read and write a variety of different types of books. I enjoy diversity. I think that is one of the great things about today's fiction--the fact that it is open to new and varied concepts.

D'Ann said...

Very interesting and your book sounds great!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi D'Ann,

Thanks for dropping by. I know you write excellent contemporary Westerns.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

I have to admit that I read contemporary mystery/suspense novels more often than not but I absolutely loved "The Killing Land."

I've always struggled, trying to fit my Malone mysteries into a category. After reading your post, I've decided not to worry about that. :)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Patricia,

Thank you for your response to The Killing Land. It's much appreciated. One of the things writers don't get enough of is feedback from readers. It's so important!

Publishers and reviewers always want to categorize. It's kind of Medieval. Just saying that you've written a mystery series really should be enough.

BJ Bourg said...

Great stuff! I know next to nothing about writing romance or romance writers, so every bit of information is helpful. I liked the way you described the nose three different ways from the three different points of views.

I write realistic crime fiction, so I guess I fall into the "realism" category. As for women, I always have strong female characters in my police procedurals. I've worked with a lot of strong and intelligent female cops over the years and a little of each of them go into my female characters, as does MMA fighter Gina Carano. :-)

Oh, and you had me at "Louis L'Amour". I tell anyone who'll listen that he raised me to be the man I am today.

Best of luck with your book!

Betty Gordon said...

I love your profesor's comment on 'isms' - a visual I won't soon get out of my head. I've commented so many times on "The Killing Land" and how I love it - suffice to say now that I am looking forward to reading it again.

Sorry for being late with comment - health issues.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


Thanks for commenting. Love getting the male perspective. I think policemen who write like you and Wambaugh produce the best realistic procedurals.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Betty,

Thanks so much for reading and reviewing The Killing Land. Your comments are valued. I know about healthy problems. Right now I'm trying to recover from major root canal--ughh!

Bonnie Tharp said...

Hi Jacqui,
Another great blog with tons of good information. I haven't read The Killing Land yet, but I'm going to. It's on my Kindle now. As a reader I enjoy all genres (except maybe horror, which keeps me up at night). I enjoy writing women's fiction that incorporates romance and suspense. A bit of humor is vital in reading and writing for me - the really dark stuff brings me down. I like a "satisfying" ending. Looking forward to reading The Killing Land.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Bonnie,

Thanks for commenting--always appreciated! I hope you enjoy The Killing Land.

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