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Author Topic: What exactly is 'literary fiction'?  (Read 9269 times)
Rev. Austin
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« on: October 29, 2009, 10:42:23 AM »

I honestly have no idea.  The first thing that comes to mind is the more verbose offerings of older writers like Lovecraft, and Ramsey Campbell.  Would that be accurate?
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« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2009, 11:14:35 AM »

I mostly write lit fic nowadays, or certainly aspire to. Not sure if that helps  scratch

Not sure how I'd define it, but I write as a poet who writes prose, so the actual feel of the words and their rhythm, texture etc takes precedence over things like plot. 
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« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2009, 12:26:08 PM »

I see what you mean - I consider myself a 'lyrical' writer, as I've spent longer writing songs than stories, and think this carries over to my work (with regards rhythm and phrases, etc).  Maybe *I'm* lit fic and didn't know it...?
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2009, 01:44:28 PM »

I don't think lyricism or poeticism particularly mean something moves from the genre camp to the literary camp, although I'd agree such facets of prose aren't found so often in the genres. For me, though, literary fiction is all about the poeticism and lyricism, often to the exclsuion of all else.

If the language is beautiful, and the prose sparkles with wonderful rhythms and enlightening insight into the human condition, if the characters are fully formed and have so many dimensions that the physicists are havingto rethink string theory, if an hours worth of reading can shine a light on just one second of your characters 'real' time, and... if you have a great horror/romance/sci-fi/crime plot then that's a good old genre story (*). But take out the plot and leave all else then you've yourself a literary piece  Wink

(*) My favourite books are the ones that do all of this (except for maybe the hours reading for one second of your character's life). Things like The Great Gatsby, The Naked And The Dead, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Fountainhead. But they're rare beasts.

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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2009, 01:57:49 PM »

Oh, don't get me started rolleyes Literary fiction is when you get to the end of the story and say, "Is that it?" and look on the other side of the page to see if there's more, or if perhaps there's been some mistake. Other dead giveaways are the exclamations of, "WTF was that about?" and, "Jesus I'm bored, I wonder what's on TV."

Basically, it's a story where nothing of interest happens. Often accompanied by copious quantities of pretentious drivel and derisory comments about genre fiction, too.
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delph_ambi
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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2009, 02:02:08 PM »

That's it precisely, Ed!

God, I love lit fic...  cheers
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« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2009, 05:03:18 PM »

Oh, don't get me started rolleyes Literary fiction is when you get to the end of the story and say, "Is that it?" and look on the other side of the page to see if there's more, or if perhaps there's been some mistake. Other dead giveaways are the exclamations of, "WTF was that about?" and, "Jesus I'm bored, I wonder what's on TV."

Basically, it's a story where nothing of interest happens. Often accompanied by copious quantities of pretentious drivel and derisory comments about genre fiction, too.

I could not have said it better myself.  Took a short story class one time and by the time I added in the pretentious drivel (similes, metaphors, etc) instead of saying what I meant straight out - I no longer recognized the story as mine.  smiley

Literary fiction should not be confused with great literature.  They are two separate creatures. 

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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2009, 05:48:05 PM »

Oh crikey.  Then it really says something about the current state of publishing that so many agents are looking for lit fic  bangh flipping heck!
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« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2009, 06:18:00 PM »

I don't think that something has to be pretentious or completely plotless to be literary.  But there's definitely an emphasis on the language and style.

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« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2009, 08:09:13 PM »

I wouldn't get too hung up on it, Rev. Just focus on writing well and it won't really matter in the end. I've had stuff published in literary zines and genre zines and I can't say that I approached them differently. In any case, I think the boundaries are blurring a bit. The likes of Every Day Fiction (even though they pay a token amount, they have a big audience) publish all sorts, and I can see that trend continuing.
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« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2009, 07:06:37 AM »

Fair point Jon - I've noticed a lot of the agents who ask for literary fiction also ask for horror/sci-fi/fantasy...
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« Reply #11 on: October 30, 2009, 08:06:21 AM »

I think there is a prejudice when someone starts throwing around a word like "Literary". To some it reeks of snobbery and stilted perfumed meaningless drivel - with memories of boring hours spent in English Lit classes.

I would heartly disagee. Some of the finest fiction I have read I think would fall under the mantel of Literary. That it lacks a plot (as a defining term) is ridiculous. The same can be said about a lot of offerings from today's "Bare Bones" version of writing. Story quality depends on the author - not the style.

There is a rhythmic quality to Literary writing that is rich in flavor and almost poetic. It paints with a broad discriptive brush that is very different from the modern school (King, Hemingway).

Tannith Lee is a (IMHO) a great example of such a literary writer - and her works certainly don't lack plots.
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« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2009, 01:12:25 PM »

Oh, don't get me started rolleyes Literary fiction is when you get to the end of the story and say, "Is that it?" and look on the other side of the page to see if there's more, or if perhaps there's been some mistake. Other dead giveaways are the exclamations of, "WTF was that about?" and, "Jesus I'm bored, I wonder what's on TV."

Basically, it's a story where nothing of interest happens. Often accompanied by copious quantities of pretentious drivel and derisory comments about genre fiction, too.

I could not have said it better myself.  Took a short story class one time and by the time I added in the pretentious drivel (similes, metaphors, etc) instead of saying what I meant straight out - I no longer recognized the story as mine.  smiley

Literary fiction should not be confused with great literature.  They are two separate creatures. 

My 1/4 cent

Kat

I remember hearing somewhere* that 'literary' first emerged as a genre about the time Creative Writing classes started being offered by most universities. Coincidence? I think not.

As I remember: *"Somewhere" is in the afterword of Richard S. Wheeler's autobiography 'An Accidental Novelist'. Wheeler is a genre western writer, but he argues that many of his stories have so-called 'literary' aspects, like themes (as opposed to straight action). He says, and I admit I agree, that the entire distinction between literary and other fiction is unnecessary, confusion, and often illusory. "Literary" stories can have plot, and genre stories can have literary elements.

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« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2009, 02:25:36 PM »

Yeah, I'd agree with that, actually. Personally, I prefer reading stories that leave me with something to think about, and I guess that's what literary is all about - exploration of the human condition, exploring a theme, etc. I need for something to happen in a story as well, though, which doesn't seem to be necessary in litfic.
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« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2009, 06:59:18 PM »

The bottom line (IMHO) is that we live in a time where too much emphasis is being placed on criteria and not enough on creativity.

Ah for the days when we just read a story and either loved it or didn't... Cry
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« Reply #15 on: November 05, 2009, 02:26:21 AM »

True, Frank, but I suppose it's par for the course when we're aspiring to be better writers, isn't it? Dissection and critique is necessary if we want to improve, and to accomplish that we need criteria for discussion. Trouble is, even a butterfly quickly loses its beauty when you take it apart to see how it works. The worst part is when you're up to your elbows in blood and guts (stretching this metaphor to breaking point - think massive buttefly) and you still can't figure the damn thing out scratch
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« Reply #16 on: November 05, 2009, 02:44:02 AM »

That's the difference between a literal butterfly and a metaphorical butterfly...
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« Reply #17 on: November 12, 2009, 05:27:59 PM »

Actually I recall reading a tale in an old copy of WHISPERS about a giant bloodsucking Moth...

I think that is the problem though Ed. any good magician will tell you the tricks don't work if you examine too closely. I believe it's the same with story telling. If you explain too much (as is popular in some circles today) the tale loses it's sense of mystery and is far less entertaining.

A literal Butterfly is one who whose beating wings may not knock you silly, but you can feel it's no metaphor... Cheesy
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