What is literary fiction?
This isn’t a post that starts with a rhetorical question I’ll answer further down. This is a question borne of genuine curiosity.
Why is a book, for example, Pride and Prejudice, considered literary fiction and others are not? (Especially since Pride and Prejudice could be classified as a romance novel…wasn’t it back in the day??)
I started by having the argument with myself because in the Creative Writing/Fiction Writing courses I’m taking all strive to have the students produce “literary fiction, not that genre fiction stuff”. I’m doing an independent study/directed reading next semester and I’m going to have to “produce a work of literary merit” which would be totally fine, if I KNEW WHAT THAT MEANT.
I Googled it. Yep, I did, thinking: “Trusty ol’ Google will help me out!”
This is what I found:
*Literary fiction is a term that has come into common usage since around 1960, principally to distinguish serious fiction (that is, work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature). In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, the plot may or may not be important. Mainstream commercial fiction focuses more on narrative and plot.
Then, I scrolled down and it said:
*“What distinguishes literary fiction from other genres is somewhat subjective, and as in other artistic media, genres may overlap. Even so, literary fiction is generally characterized as distinctive based on its content and style (“literariness”, the concern to be “writerly”). The term literary fiction is considered hard to define very precisely but is commonly associated with the criteria used in literary awards and marketing of certain kinds of novels, since literary prizes usually concern themselves with literary fiction, and their shortlists can give a working definition.”
Then, I scrolled down some MORE and under the heading “Limitation”, it said:
*“ To understand what literary fiction is, it’s probably easier to look at what it isn’t. Literary fiction is not about chick lit, mystery, science fiction or horror although they are marvellous literature in themselves and literary fiction can incorporate certain aspects of them.
My understanding as of now is it has a definition, but it doesn’t. I guess it’s like asking someone how to write a good book.
But, my questions are: What exactly is literary fiction? What is wrong with genre fiction? Why does there have to be a division between Literary and Genre fiction?
While I was having this argument within myself (and eventually with Google), a Professor I work with (as a tutor for his class) walked in (laughed at me -__-) and then said, “It’s an interesting question. No, really, think about it. Why is there a division? Is it because of elitists who think some literature is better than others?”
Now, I’ll admit, some books that are published are simple, but I’ve read a lot of “genre fiction” that touch on subjects “literary fiction” rarely does, navigate the human psyche, and explore character development – all while having a good narrative voice AND a plot.
Personally, I think more people are reached through “genre fiction” because it’s read for leisure/entertainment and it’s a subtle way for ideals to be expressed or to cause people to think about their society – not that all literature should preach or attempt to convert the masses, either blatantly or subliminally. However, my questions still stand:
What exactly is literary fiction?
What is wrong with genre fiction?
Why does there have to be a division between Literary and Genre fiction?
I’m not going to run off and write about sparkly vampires, but even they have literary significance.
Oh, one thing that bothered me while I was Googling was I stumbled across an article that said: “Literary fiction is character driven and appeals to a smaller, more intellectual audience.”
More intellectual? Really? How insulting!
Anyone have answers for me? I mean, I already have a plot in my head that I think fits (what I was told was) “literary fiction”. But, I’d still like to know what it means.
BTW, this is a pretty interesting article: http://www.shellythacker.com/marketsavvy.htm