If there’s a term more contentious in writing circles, I’m not sure what it might be. People define literary fiction in a number of different ways. Some argue that it’s any work that has literary merit. Hack work cranked out for profit, or things specifically designed to appeal to a mass market, isn’t considered “literary”. Others say that literary writers have to have certain bona fides, degrees in English or a Masters in Fine Arts with an emphasis on writing. A few assert that literary writers have patrons, or support themselves in academia, whereas “genre” writers are able to support themselves through their writing alone.
What most people seem to agree on is that literary fiction actively engages in social commentary. It may be making a point about the present day, relative to the time it is written and released. The novel might be speaking to some universal truth about the human condition. Literary fiction tends to be slower paced, less focused on plot, and willing to experiment with structure and form. The tone tends to be darker, more serious, and driven by the emotional needs of the characters.
What is Literary Fiction?
When I say that my current work-in-progress leans towards literary fiction, I want to be clear about what that means. I’m not an academic, nor am I trying to be pretentious. My intention is to write something that will be considered to be objectively good. I want to be able to take my time in writing it. Concern for the quality of the writing takes precedence over commercial considerations. There are things that I want to say, ideas that I want to explore, that either don’t fit into my typical writing work, or can’t be shoehorned into its limitations.
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