I've always thought I knew what literary fiction was, but recently I've been giving its definition more thought, mainly because I aspire to write it, and I felt it was surprisingly hard to pin down.
My thought so far:
1. Very good quality of writing overall, in terms of prose, structure, and all aspects.
2. Finely crafted prose, which is sometimes poetic.
3. Larger, more profound themes than "sex & shopping" fiction.
4. Usually (but not necessarily) a slightly slower pace than "sex & shopping" fiction, because readers are assumed to have long enough attention spans to let the characters and plot develop slowly and thoroughly rather than wanting instant action.
So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with any of my tentative points? What would you add?
How would you define literary fiction?
Those points describe a lot of good science fiction. It's a fine line, isn't it.
"Genre fiction" is not usually described as literary AIUI, but I would have thought it was just convention that beautifully written sci fi is described as sci-fi whereas beautifully written fiction which doesn't fall neatly into another genre is described as literary?
As for sci-fi, for me it falls into two distinct categories: profound and thoughtful fiction based on "what if?", which I often really enjoy, and jolly adventures in space and similar, which I often don't (although Captain Kirk was my first love, at age 5).
Out of interest why did you mention sci-fi particularly? Is it what you write? I've checked your profile and it isn't clear.
No, I was just reading the points and thought they applied to other types of writing too, so I'm at a loss as to what makes literary fiction. Should it be termed "intellectual" fiction? Is John Milton's Paradise lost literary fiction? At the time, there was probably not the language barrier that there is now, so does that mean that Philip Pullman's retelling of Paradise Lost, His Dark Materials, is literary fiction? Probably not, but in sixty or seventy years, if it stands the test of time, it might be.
Where's Emma when you need her; she'll be able to shed light on this.
My points (without too much thought)
1) Fiction with a high standard of English.
2) Fiction that requires a higher level of understanding, or a certain amount of work to see the bigger picture.
3) Fiction that has multiple layers, using the main story as a metaphor for the underlying theme.
4) Fiction that won't make you rich
|4) Fiction that won't make you rich |
I really like your definition - thanks. I also agree that it is often more "intellectual".
I'd imagine that most classic works would be deemed literary, even if they don't deserve it!
I guess the fact that they've stood the test of time means they have unusual merit in at least one respect.
I don't think my own writing is literary, BTW, if I didn't make that clear... <blush> However, I do aspire
to write literary fiction. That's what I'd really love to be able to do, which is one reason I want a definition!
Oh God, I've just realised... by these definition, and the fact that her books cause such a stir when released, have incredible sales and will probably never be forgotten, by default, Harry Potter will eventually be classed as literary fiction. Yikes.
|and jolly adventures in space|
I have seen this termed as Space Opera, which I suppose is another name for Sci-fi Soap.
What exactly is 'sex and shopping' fiction, are there only two types of fiction then, sex and shopping and literary?
Ok, I'm being mischevious now, but I suppose if we are going to be '50's about this, it could be defined as Contemporary Fiction written by middle class authors for middle class readers. Of course these days we've got chick-lit
|I have seen this termed as Space Opera|
I wish I knew that before I bought an Iain M Banks novel. It reads like an XBOX video game. Bang bang, run hide, bang bang.
Katerina, I didn't say that at all! Of course there are more genres than just literary and "sex & shopping". You can see that Colin and I have been discussing sci-fi, and obviously there are a number of others.
I was just using "sex & shopping" fiction as an example of something I would not class as literary, and where the themes tend not to be profound. Do you disagree?
You ask what I mean by "sex & shopping" fiction... well, I mean fiction where those themes feature quite prominently. Judging from the covers I'd have said quite a lot of chick lit falls into that category.
The "Sex and Shopping" term made me consider another alternative, and possibly a better, or more insulting term, depending on your perspective: "disposable fiction
But it is, really. A lot of good Horror titles from fifteen years ago are no longer on the shelves, the same with Childrens and Young Adult. If they don't continue to sell, the disappear. Times move on and new names and titles come up, keeping the machine rolling. Not every title has the longevity to remain on the shelves for 30+ years. You could probably go into a bookshop today, look at the new releases and categorise many as disposable, ie, Jade's biography, Pamela Anderson's novel...
Chick Lit is itself quite a broad genre, though. Yes, you have the lightweight end of this market, eg Sophie Kinsella, very humorous, not many profound issues, but many so-called 'Chick lit' novels - which, yes, involve sex and shopping - also seek to explore many more profound themes facing contemporary women, such as juggling a career with a family, post-natal depression, empty-nest syndrome, divorce - the sex and shopping is merely the cover for these issues.
because readers are assumed to have long enough attention spans to let the characters and plot develop slowly and thoroughly rather than wanting instant action.
erely a cover for those issues
Hmm. As a reader of chick lit, Deb, i'd say i had a pretty good attention span.
"sex and shopping" is actually quite a profound theme, I think, and an important one. A variation on the old love and death - how we stave off mortality by investing in the products we purchase. How we seek identity and a sense of belonging through our possessions. How we define ourselves by the things and the people we desire.
It's a theme I've tried to explore myself. Not that I would ever presume to claim the label 'literary fiction' for my writing.
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Maybe 'literary fiction' encounpases those novels which have not been read and disposed of by the masses. Their small but consistant print runs giving them an 'exclusive' tag.
As for Literary Sci-Fi, I would put Ursula Le Guin in that category. While JKR's HP is sure to become Classic Children's Fiction on a par with Tolkein and Kipling, (maybe even Dickens), but certainly not Literary.