Do You Know Your Audience? Pt. 9

Sheenah Archive, Writing Advice 1 Comment

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Most of my favorite books are literary fiction. Like this one which I can’t recommend enough.

I’m seriously science-fictioned out. I think that’s part of the reason why I keep avoiding to write the blog post about it. Ironically, I’m a part of a sci-fi writers group because they happily welcome fantasy writers, too. But a question came up in the group today. What exactly is literary fiction? I know what it is, and yet, I couldn’t convey what it is. Literary fiction just is. I love literary fiction as much as Zeus loves sex (seriously Zeus, stop cheating on Hera and a lot of your problems wouldn’t have happened). I love literary fiction so much, I surprised myself when my series ended up being fantasy. And because I couldn’t properly explain what literary fiction is off the top of my head, today I talk about:

Literary Fiction

There’s something absolutely beautiful about literary fiction (to me, anyway). It’s not a genre, per se, but rather a style of writing. You either got it in you to write this way or you don’t and that’s fine. We need people who write simple and non-eloquently so that people can escape from the here and now and get lost in epic worlds of magic and mayhem, and we also need people who write poetically just because we do. Taken from Goodreads:

Literary fiction is a term that has come into common usage in the early 1960s. The term is principally used to distinguish “serious fiction” which is a work that claims to hold literary merit, in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction. The name literature is sometimes used for this genre, although it can also refer to a broader category of writing.

However, saying that literary fiction is more serious than some of the genre fiction out there is clearly an insult to genre fiction writers. I’ve read genre fiction where they weave the complexities of today’s societies and transform it into something that we can more clearly see. The only thing that stands in their way of winning every single literary award out there and being forced upon many children to analyze in school is the lack of poetic language. It’s not fair, I know, but hey, it’s the truth. Compare my examples:

Genre fiction:

The girl awoke. She was still angry with the boy. He didn’t want to have anything to do with her. What was so wrong with her? Nothing! Well… She supposed it didn’t help that her family consisted of a collection of so-called monsters.

Literary fiction:

The girl awoke from a fitful sleep. Her mind was anguished like the broiling sea after lava had oozed into it. The boy didn’t want anything to do with her and it left her feeling like a cicada shell, discarded because she was useless now. What was so wrong with her? Nothing! Well… She supposed it didn’t help that her family consisted of a myriad of so-called monsters.

Yes, my examples are a hyperbole, but that’s usually the difference between the typical genre fiction style and literary fiction style. But that’s not all that literary fiction is. Some people believe that the classics are also considered literary fiction (which would put many genre fiction titles into the mix, such as Frankenstein) and it can get confusing. But this is what most people can agree upon.

Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh

I have no idea what this book is about and the title and cover don’t help convey what’s inside either. But it still entices me.

Literary fiction characteristics (as taken from Wikipedia and Novel Writing Help)

  • Character comes before plot. Most literary fiction are character studies. They believe that the novel should be character-driven and sometimes that leads to nowhere and sometimes it does lead to somewhere.
  • Master thy words! You don’t need to write poetically as my example above. But you need to know the effect of every single word and use it to the best of your degree because every single word counts. Don’t take the easy road and tell your readers what’s going on (as genre fiction writers can get away with). You need to show your readers everything and make them feel everything.
  • Pacing is usually slower. Literary fiction tends to take things slow. Sometimes it goes off track. Because it’s not plot-centric, it doesn’t need to hurry to the next adventure because there’s usually no next adventure to run off to.
  • Themes are given more time. Every novel has a theme. Sometimes it’s harder to pinpoint the theme in genre fiction because there isn’t much time to bring it to the surface. Literary novels, on the other hand have more time to bring it to the surface because the pacing is slow and because it allows itself to take that time to ruminate on its themes.
  • This isn’t really a must-have, but most literary fiction covers are more artistic and eloquent than genre fiction, which tends to show exactly what the book is about and grabs you.

What do you think of literary fiction? Are you a fan?

[EDIT] Quick after note! For whatever reason, literary fiction tends to be darker than its genre fiction counterpart. For example, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire is technically fantasy because it’s a spin-off to The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The novel is this delicious, intricate character study of the Wicked Witch of the West (known as Elphaba) and is vastly darker in tone than its musical-counterpart, which is more light-hearted and parallels the movie unlike the novel. Upon reflection, I believe it’s put in the mainstream/general fiction area because it’s not fast-paced and plot-heavy like most fantasy novels are. [/EDIT]

Catch up on the latest “Audience” series and see what’s upcoming!

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  1. Pingback: Do You Know Your Audience? Pt. 1

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