I’m inventing a new genre.
To be more accurate, I’m inventing a name for an as-yet-unrecognized genre. Just like in music, literary genres evolve and change. Where once there was just rock & roll, it wasn’t long before artists began to experiment with the form, and names had to be created to describe their efforts: punk rock and indie rock and heavy metal and so forth.
Literary genres evolve the same way, and I think it’s worth keeping an eye on those trends. After all, the word “trend” is just a way of saying “something a lot of people like,” and writing something a lot of people like is always a good idea.
So. My new genre. I’m calling it “Alt-Fi,” short for “Alternative Fiction.” What defines alt-fi? Glad you asked.
In essence, it’s about a world that is very similar to ours, and yet which has one or two significant changes around which the story is rooted. Alt-fi is a cousin to sci-fi, but more populist, appealing to a broader audience. It’s also rather like speculative fiction, but here the emphasis is on a world which is otherwise almost completely recognizable.
And it’s a huge market.
Take the movie Inception. It’s usually described as science fiction, but that’s not accurate. Yes, in this movie it’s possible to enter and direct a dream. But otherwise, the world is almost identical to ours.
This is an important point. Framing things this way allows an artist to explore an idea in a fascinating way that is also enormously popular. Inception has grossed $300 million in domestic box office alone. That’s because it appeals to a wide audience—not just geeks like me, but also my wife, my mother, to boys and girls and men and women.
Alt-fi is for everyone.
Here are some other examples:
- Lost. A modern story, real people with richly detailed lives, stranded on a desert island by a plane crash. That’s a classic story archetype. But here, there’s a twist. This island is more than it appears to be…
- Audrey Niffenegger’s THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. One man doesn’t live linearly, but rather jumps back and forth across the length of his life. But Niffenegger makes the very cool—and audience-friendly—move of focusing not on the technicalities of time travel, but on his relationship with the love of his odd life.
- Or how about Inglorious Basterds? It’s a fun piece of storytelling on its own, and sure, who doesn’t like to see Nazis clubbed to death. But it’s the ending that gives the film meaning. Tarantino steps into alt-fi by rewriting history and ending World War Two in a stroke.
- Most vampire novels fit this definition too, although they really comprise their own subgenre. Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE, however, is more alt-fi than it is vampire novel. The “virals” in his book introduce a change to a world we otherwise recognize, and the rest of the novel is an exploration of what happens as a result.
- Then there’s a book called UNDER THE DOME by some dude named Stephen King. A small town is suddenly surrounded by an invisible force field. This single shift in reality changes all the rules for the people who live there.
- Michael Chabon’s THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
- Philip Roth’s THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA.
- The TV show Heroes.
- Scott Smith’s THE RUINS.
I think it’s interesting to note that all of these were huge successes. People flocked to them. I don’t think it’s hard to see why. We’re hungry for something new. We always are. Alt-fi feels fresh. It’s a way to explore issues while also entertaining. It promises an adventure, that most elemental clarion call to fiction, for which we are especially hungry in these rather gloomy times.
What do you think?
Read or seen anything that you think fits?