Monday, March 28, 2011

Literary Fiction

What is literary fiction?

I dived into Google to find out. What I discovered is that no one really knows. One answer revolved around whether you could easily summarize it.

Another tongue in cheek definition suggested that if you look in a mirror after reading it, and your eyebrows have moved closer together, it is literary. Under this definition, literary means hard to read. David Foster Wallace, Ulyssus, and things they forced you to read in high school.

A third definition was that literary focused on the technique of writing more than telling a story. It was about fine words and a general aesthetic. This seems true of non-genre Workshop writers I've come across. I generally don't "get" this sort of thing.

Another is that literary fiction doesn't focus on the plot and the action like genre fiction: it focuses more on characters, characterization, etc. It is more aimed at giving the reader an emotional or insight experience than simply entertain. This one makes more sense. But how much genre stuff have we all read that is more literary? The Club Dumas, The Name of the Rose, almost anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Lord of the Flies. That's just off the top of my head.

A good example of this is the short story, Spar. The plot is so simple I could write it in one line.

People don't generally read literary. When I was in my twenties, I had grand dreams of writing stories about literary things, but in a way everyone could enjoy. I think this is the dream of many speculative fiction writers today. It is certainly the dream of many spec fic magazine editors. I've tried to make my stories about something, but also with a clear plot and interesting things happening. Sometimes it doesn't quite make it, and I have another trope story (which are fun, too). All a part of the learning curve.

1 comment:

  1. Great topic, as I've tried to define this myself in determining how to label my's clear to me that it's not commercial/genre/plot-driven fiction, yet it isn't as highbrow/sophisticated as what I would have traditionally considered "literary." So basically, what labeling my work "literary fiction" has come to mean for me is that it's terribly unmarketable :). Ah well, I'll still read it...