The publishing world for fiction is driven not just by what is novel about a novel, but even more by what other novels a novel is like. That is, by what’s the same, not what’s different. In this paper, I examine how category arise. Drawing on the theory of heuristics and bias, the paper – published in the journal New Writing – shows how the many layers of the industry create dichotomies, based on the availability of a heuristic to the reader, how well the work represents the type, and how the author can create novelty by confounding the heuristic and its bias by shifting the anchor points.
Three dichotomies emerge from the analysis, with parallels but also differences, corresponding to three layers of the industry:
“Plot-led vs. character-led” – mainly in the domain of writing coaches
“Genre vs. literary“- mainly in the domain of mainstream criticism, publishers, agents and editors
“Philosophical vs. psychological” – mainly in the domain of academic criticism.
Philosophical fiction is often called the novel of ideas. Indeed, Wikipedia automatically re-routes novel of ideas to philosophical fiction. I’ll have more to say about that category in other papers.