Archive for July 30, 2009

Experimental Fiction vs Bizarro

Posted in Bizarro Fiction on July 30, 2009 by carltonmellick

I’ve heard of a few people who think bizarro fiction is just a new term for experimental fiction, but this isn’t the case at all. They are practically opposites. Basically, the difference is that bizarro fiction is weirdness of plot and experimental fiction is weirdness of style.

I have to say that I really like a lot of stuff that is labeled experimental fiction. I love Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, and pretty much everything published by FC2. But one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that experimental fiction is actually a genre, just like horror, science-fiction, or romance. It has its limitations, its rules, its cliches, and its conventions. And its audience (though small) has expectations for what experimental fiction should be. So having a crazy writing style might not be enough for the experimental fiction fan (but then again just being weird isn’t enough for a bizarro fan).

Unfortunately, experimental fiction gets a bad rap. For starters, the term “experimental” is a bit insulting. Who wants their work to be called experimental? It’s like calling your work unready fiction or just messing around with something new fiction. When publishers reject manuscripts that are sloppily plotted, they’ll often call them “too experimental” as if experimental is a bad thing. Some people think it is all just plotless style with no substance. Some people think it’s just inaccessible masturbatory crap that’s too far up its own ass to to be of any worth to more than a handful of pseudo-intellectual college kids. I disagree with all of these statements, but I do think it should be called something besides experimental fiction (perhaps exploratory fiction or stylistic fiction). It’s for people who are really interested in new styles (just like bizarro fans read bizarro because they are interested in new ideas). Some books are worth reading for their style alone, even when the plot is pretty much nonexistent.

Before they called themselves bizarro, many of the bizarro authors had one foot in the experimental lit scene and one foot in the horror scene (and a big toe in the sci-fi/fantasy scene). So we owe a lot to the experimental scene…even though we aren’t associated anymore.

It is possible to write experimental fiction that is also bizarro fiction. That is when a book has a weird style as well as a weird plot. Some bizarro writers who can pull this off are Jeremy C. Shipp, Eckhard Gerdes, Steve Beard, and pretty much all of the bizarros published through Raw Dog Screaming Press. Some of these authors still have one foot (or a big toe) in the experimental scene, even though they are labeled bizarro. A couple of my books are on the experimental side as well (like Razor Wire Pubic Hair). However, in my opinion, bizarro works best when the unusual writing style doesn’t overwhelm the plot. Weird plots are why people read bizarro, so plot can’t take a backseat to the style.

Unfortunately, even though some experimental fiction can also be bizarro, most bizarro (especially mine) usually can’t be experimental fiction. Even if the unique style is there, if it is too quirky, too trashy, too goofy, or not literary or “serious” enough, then readers and publishers of experimental fiction aren’t going to be interested in it. Because of this, it is possible for someone to write fiction that is too experimental for the bizarro fans and too bizarro for the experimental lit fans. These authors are probably going to have a hell of a time trying to get published.

In any case, it is usually very easy to draw the line between bizarro and experimental. In addition to the plot vs. style argument, bizarro writers tend to not take themselves as seriously. Also, bizarro books tend to be a lot more fun to read (but I guess that’s just my opinion).