Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now (#113) -- Literature (With a Capital 'L')

A few days ago, you said you incorporated literary fiction into your genre writing.
What do you mean specifically when you refer to literary fiction?

Front and back of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
That's actually part of what I was saying in my previous blog post, only without coming out and actually asking the question. If so-called "literary" stuff is all over genre fiction, then what's the distinction anymore? That's my take, anyway.

But, to actually try to answer the question wholesale for the sake of this question in particular, I'll first share the answers that I've experienced during in my writing career, the ones that aren't taught per se, but implied with great and fervent gusto.

1. Literary fiction is what they teach in school.

2. Literary fiction is the opposite of genre fiction.

3. Literary fiction is intrinsically better than all other forms of fiction.

Of course, I disagree strongly all three of these statements.

My personal definition is this:

Literary fiction is that work that transcends its immediate classification or genre to resonate with a generation to the point that it becomes ingrained as part of that culture. Because of that, it outlives the rest of the fiction of its time.

Okay, you ask, but what does it look like? What does that usually entail?

1. It usually seems to be set in the contemporary time of its generation (Gatsby, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Americans, Seven Gables,etc.).

2. It begins as a "genre" work of its time and doesn't set out to be "literary" for the sake of being "literary."

3. It usually breaks the "genre rules" to the degree that it also connects with those who don't normally read that genre (Oates' doomed romance of Black Water, family drama of Smiley's A Thousand Acres, horror of Faulkner's "A Rose for Miss Emily," the southern fiction of Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, the sci-fi of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451).

4. It only becomes "literary" after the fact because the people with whom it resonated become teachers and professors and make it so by teaching it as such.

5. Although it gels with a single generation to become "canon" it has the ability to live on and still impact and affect subsequent generations too. If not it within a generation or two or three, it fades from it's "literary" podium and becomes forgotten (as many have, including several that I grew up having to read that my kids and the generation between them and me have never heard of and are no longer taught).

6. Much of what is touted as "literary fiction" within a current generation will fade away. It is simply a classification to sell books without having to subject them to the stigma of what genre they actually are -- romantic drama or coming of age stories or thrillers (etc.)

But that's just my opinion on it. You're mileage may vary.