This post, by Craig Lancaster, originally appeared on New Wave Authors on 7/30/12.
Listen up, kids. If you want to make the writing life even more difficult than it already is sometimes, have this for an answer when someone asks you what kind of stories you write:
"Um … well, they’re sort of literary, but … you know, a bunch of stuff happens, but it’s, like … you know … I guess it’s sort of family drama stuff. Sort of. You know?"
That’s, like, a direct quote or whatever.
And if you want to stump even people who write for a living, ask them to define for you, in a single sentence, what constitutes "literary fiction." A few bright souls might have a simple answer, but for the most part, expect some stumbling around.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately–as I try to tame my current work in progress into what I think it wants to be, as I read Dwight Allen’s bizarre complaint about Stephen King (accurately subtitled "a snob’s notes") and then cheer Sarah Langan’s astute takedown of that same piece.
(Let me stop right here to posit that I consider Stephen King a literary writer. Yes, also a horror and fantasy writer, but his best work illuminates the human condition, bringing the things we fear the most and love the most together and telling us some fundamental truth about them. That, to me, is the very essence of literary writing. If we cannot agree on this point, we’re not likely to agree on much else, so perhaps it’s best to part ways. I’ve gotta finish writing this post. Maybe you could go over here.)
When we’re not careful about how we define our terms, we tend to get bifurcated into these extreme points of view: Literary writing is about the beauty of language and the depth of character. Genre writing is about the pace and plot of the story.