This week, in connection with something unrelated to this blog, I came across a lot of book descriptors. By that, I mean the kind of words that are supposed to identify types and genres of fiction. Now I think I know what’s meant by romance or historical or saga. But some of the others? Um. Not so much.
So this blog is about a failing in my education. I need to get my head around these new and unfamiliar words to describe fiction. Who knows, I may even be writing some of them?
But if I don’t understand the book descriptors, how will I ever know?
Uplit, or Up-Lit, or Up Lit (Take your pick on spelling)
One of the first book descriptors I fell over was Uplit. I tried the dictionary. Nope. (It asked me if I’d meant to type uplift. Sigh.)
I tried Wikipedia. It suggested I might like to create a page for up-lit (with hyphen). No, I don’t! Argh!
But it produced one single reference in its page on Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine where I found this:
The novel has been identified as a notable example of “up lit”, referring to uplifting literature which features stories of kindness, compassion, and hope. It has also been credited with raising the popularity of uplifting literature among the public, as since its publication a marked rise has been observed in the number of up lit novels making best-seller lists.
Hmm. I’m prepared to accept that uplit stories feature kindness, compassion and hope. But, when I read Eleanor Oliphant, I found it grim and depressing. More misery-lit than up-lit. Some readers and reviewers raved about it. I’m not one of them.
I know I’ll find kindness and compassion and hope — also love — in those. And Marian Keyes agrees that Mills & Boon is an “escape from sorrow”. Sounds uplifting to me.
Or I could go for a cosy crime from hive friend Lesley Cookman, with a community of supportive characters and a villain brought to book at the end. That, to me, is uplifting.
[But of course some people would say none of these choices qualify as uplifting literature. More on that topic below.]
So maybe I’ve failed the uplit test? What about you? What books would you class as uplit?
My next challenging descriptor was upmarket. What, I asked myself, is an upmarket book?
The dictionary didn’t completely fail this time. Upmarket is in there, defined as “relatively expensive and designed to appeal to affluent consumers”. But as book descriptors go, I don’t think that’s helpful. Unless I were to buy all my books in hardback?
I don’t. (Scottish skinflint, who me?)
Since the dictionary wasn’t exactly helping with upmarket, I tried downmarket. Defining something by its opposite can work. And I struck gold. Towards or relating to the cheaper or less prestigious sector of the market.
Ah yes, I see. Upmarket books are the ones that do not go for the cheaper, less prestigious end of the market. Not trashy, in other words. And I was vividly reminded of being asked, not long after I was first published by Mills & Boon, whether I was going to stop writing trash and start writing “a proper book”.
So the kind of escapist and heart-warming stories that I would class as uplifting are not only not-uplit, they’re not-upmarket either. Gee thanks, guys.
I suspect that upmarket books may be the kind that readers flaunt. You know, like War and Peace (which I loved) or Ulysses (which I could barely start, far less finish). Or one of the serious—and sometimes pretentious—modern book choices of book group readers.
(Book group books is another book descriptor that’s often used, but I think I know what that one means, so I’m not going to waste blog space by exploring it here.)
I made the classic mistake with the third of my book descriptors: high-concept. I assumed I knew what it meant. I’d made associations with the words. I though of concept as meaning an idea. And high as meaning, well, high.
So high-concept should mean something like highbrow, no? As in highbrow art? Intellectual? Rarefied in taste? (Possibly with nudes?)
No. Totally, completely wrong. 😉
Once I had looked it up, my trusty dictionary gave me this: (especially of a film or television plot) having a striking and easily communicable idea.
And Wikipedia went further. It has a whole article on it:
High concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise. It can be contrasted with low concept, which is more concerned with character development and other subtleties that are not as easily summarized.
and there’s more, too:
A movie described as being “high-concept” is considered easy to sell to a wide audience because it delivers upon an easy-to-grasp idea. This simple narrative can often be summed up with a single iconic image, such as the theme park logo from Jurassic Park.
So… high-concept means simple, plot-driven, not subtle, easy to sell to the masses?
Might even be called trashy?
Then again, most of the books I like (and the ones I try to write, too) are strongly character-based. That rules me out on the high-concept front, too. Ah well.
Book descriptors 3 : Joanna 0
At least I’ve sort of nailed down these popular book descriptors, even if I can’t find a way of fitting my own books into them. So my education has improved. Just a fraction.
What about the kind of books you like? Or those you write?