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eforest
04-03-2009, 09:49 PM
Is literary writing more passive? More tell than show? I am throwing out this passage I'm working on as an example. I guess I'm not sure what my writing style is? This is a barking rough draft, so...

Her focal point blurred because of the bruise. The blood underneath her skin felt squishy. Not having a mirror, she relied on touch. Only the cheekbone on the upper side of her face felt sensitive. When she slept, she rested on her right side. Except when she heard him leave food at the bottom of the stair, then shed purposely turned toward the wall. The damage he physically saw kept him away. Sarah wondered why shed never provoked him?

Dave.C.Robinson
04-03-2009, 11:05 PM
Literary writing (IMHO) is more self-aware. In genre fiction it's very common for writers to seek to emulate Asimov's "transparent" style where he actively deleted sentences because they were too good and drew the reader's attention away from the story and toward the writing.

Literary fiction is often more layered, and the writing plays a bigger part than in genre fiction. The writing can be more passive because the writer isn't relying on the headlong rush of plot to carry the reader's interest. However even as the writing may be more passive on one level, it often has to carry more meaning on other levels than in genre fiction.

selkn.asrai
04-03-2009, 11:10 PM
I always thought that literary writing is a term applied after reviewing the whole for multiple elements, so I don't know if one excerpt would suffice.

blacbird
04-03-2009, 11:14 PM
Literary writing (IMHO) is more self-aware. In genre fiction it's very common for writers to seek to emulate Asimov's "transparent" style where he actively deleted sentences because they were too good and drew the reader's attention away from the story and toward the writing.

Which also explains why Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury are much better writers than Isaac Asimov.

caw

Ken
04-03-2009, 11:27 PM
...literary works often have alienated MCs. The passive voice works well in describing them and also in putting readers to sleep, if not handled correctly.

euclid
04-03-2009, 11:29 PM
Which also explains why Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury are much better writers than Isaac Asimov.

caw

Just what I was going to say.

eforest
04-03-2009, 11:44 PM
I looked around on the web for clearer definition and I think my style runs more literary than 'the headlong rush of plot' At least with this book I am noticing a difference. Do you think certain stories can draw in the writer to a particular style it wants to be written in? Does that make sense? I have heard of the character of the voice drawing in a writer but never a style or maybe Im getting this whole thing mixed up.

I'm not familiar with Asimov, but to me it's seems rather indulgent to say, what was purposely edited out as "too good and drew away from the story." If such is the case, did he kill his precious prose and give them proper burial so that others could regard such brilliance? A collection for the dead, perhaps? Mood stories left behind for remembrance and respect.

eforest
04-04-2009, 12:06 AM
My bad. Apparently Mr. Isaac Asimov has written a few. And his death day is coming up. So I offer up a toast, "May your work continue to travel through the galaxies of youth, to glean what was planted and lay fallow to the rest and to forever inspire us to create a better tomorrow.
She looks to the group and said with a raised glass, "To Mr. Asimov," then drinks her crystal light.

Willowmound
04-04-2009, 02:18 AM
I've read every single novel Asimov wrote. And no, he wasn't that good. ;)

veinglory
04-04-2009, 02:58 AM
I would say "literary" is a genre rather than a style. The overall book will tned to comment on the human condition or experience--it may be written in any style. So while literary writing tend to be more wordy and passive this is more of an emergent property than a defining one.

maestrowork
04-04-2009, 06:32 AM
IMHO, "literary" has nothing to do with passive voice or show vs. tell, etc. -- those applies to any fiction. Good literary fiction can be very active and full of vivid details of "show."

Personally, I think "literary" is an overall style that is deep about the human condition and less about a defining plot (it's not to say literary fiction doesn't have plot!) But point A to B is not the #1 priority... instead, the priority is to explore certain themes and issues and philosophy and what have you.

It's not to say genres don't - I mean, science fiction, for example, often explores deep themes, political or social issues and philosophies as well. But that's why a lot of science fiction actually crosses over. One can argue that Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury write literary (yes, they do), albeit the subject matters of their stuff.

It's also about word choices, the play with words and constructs and structures, etc. I think literary works definitely pay more attention to the language itself, and sometimes even at the cost of the story (but not always). I can't really think of any literary work that does not pay keen attention to the language.

However, it's dangerous and unfair to say genre writers/works do not have great prose, or literary works, by definition, do not have great plot. That's absolutely not true. You can indeed have both.

maestrowork
04-04-2009, 06:47 AM
Is literary writing more passive? More tell than show? I am throwing out this passage I'm working on as an example. I guess I'm not sure what my writing style is? This is a barking rough draft, so...

Her focal point blurred because of the bruise. The blood underneath her skin felt squishy. Not having a mirror, she relied on touch. Only the cheekbone on the upper side of her face felt sensitive. When she slept, she rested on her right side. Except when she heard him leave food at the bottom of the stair, then shed purposely turned toward the wall. The damage he physically saw kept him away. Sarah wondered why shed never provoked him?


Me think (strictly my opinion) that if you're trying to figure out if you're writing "literary," or if you're trying to sound "literary," then you may be trying too hard to be "writerly."

Focus on your own voice, your own style, and the stories you're trying to tell.

Let other people judge if your work is literary or not.

KikiteNeko
04-05-2009, 01:16 AM
Literary writing (IMHO) is more self-aware. In genre fiction it's very common for writers to seek to emulate Asimov's "transparent" style where he actively deleted sentences because they were too good and drew the reader's attention away from the story and toward the writing.

Literary fiction is often more layered, and the writing plays a bigger part than in genre fiction. The writing can be more passive because the writer isn't relying on the headlong rush of plot to carry the reader's interest. However even as the writing may be more passive on one level, it often has to carry more meaning on other levels than in genre fiction.

This is my impression of Literary Fiction, too, and it's what I write. Something can be literary and also have a genre attached, such as "literary suspense." Literary isn't a genre so much as it's a style of writing. It's a very fine, close look at the characters and humanity. There is a big difference between that and just being very descriptive. Be careful, because over-description comes across as "purple."

The passage you provided doesn't strike me as literary. Here's a good example of literary:

He came back to us with stories of bedrooms filled with crumpled panties, of stuffed animals hugged to death by the passion of the girls, of a crucifix draped with a brassiere, of gauzy chambers of canopied beds, and of the effluvia of so many young girls becoming women together in the same cramped space. In the bathroom, running the faucet to cloak the sounds of his search, Peter Sissen found Mary Lisbon's secret cache of cosmetics tied up in a sock under the sink: tubes of red lipstick and the second skin of blush and base, and the depilatory wax that informed us she had a mustache we had never seen. --Taken from The Virgin Suicides

Vostro
04-05-2009, 03:50 AM
Try this (it's long but worth reading):

http://209.85.173.132/search?q=cache:LwqBwAXA494J:www.literature-study-online.com/essays/literary.html+what+is+literary%3F&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

"Literary" fiction: "The Grapes of Wrath" / "On The Road" / anything by Amy Hempel. The authors aren't trying to be "literary," they've practiced a lot and their work just is literary.

"Literary" nonfiction: Michael Herr's "Dispatches" / "The Cliff Walk" by
Don J. Snyder / "Wanderer" by Sterling Hayden / Anything by William Least Heat-Moon / "Rythm [sic] Oil" by Stanley booth / "Truck Stop" by Marc F. Wise and Bryan Di Salvatore / Richard Rhodes' "The Making of the Atomic Bomb."

All of the above are literary. None of the above are anywhere near each other in style.

NatJM
04-05-2009, 04:09 AM
My favourite author is Paul Auster, and I consider that he writes with a literary style.

If I had to describe his writing style in terms of grammar and vocabulary, I would say that he doesn't shy away from using big words and long sentences, but he doesn't just flaunt his wit for the sake of it.

But the most defining aspect of his style is the themes. Not only are his books centred around themes rather than plots, but the themes have all to do with our existence and he approaches them from an intellectual point of view (a lot of analysis etc).

Yes, he sometimes uses the passive voice to carry this analysis across but I wouldn't say that using the passive voice is a sign that a novel belongs to the literary genre. It is a tool but it is how you use it that makes the difference.

Mr. Anonymous
04-05-2009, 04:43 AM
Literary really is hard to define, IMO. In general, the characterization of the protagonist (and to a lesser extent, the supporting characters) takes precedence over an overarching plot. This places a much greater emphasis on each sentence, each interaction, and the ability of the writer to keep the reader engaged on a moment by moment basis, because often times there isn't a "great evil" to be conquered or "wondrous journey" being undertaken.

As others have mentioned, literary works also tend to be more focused on the actual writing. With that said, Catcher in the Rye is considered literary, but to me, it was written fairly plainly (has a GREAT voice though.) This worked because it was written in first person, through the eyes of someone who wouldn't be keen on using flowery language, describing every detail, etc.

Delhomeboy
04-05-2009, 05:15 AM
Like maestrowork said, I think literary is more focused on character than plot. The focus is on the character's journey, not on what happens to the character, if that makes any sense.

The problem, though, is when people want to group things into "literary" or "genre/mainstream" just due to subject matter and the like.

SarahMacManus
04-05-2009, 05:49 AM
Here's a reasonably good entry on defining "literary fiction": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_fiction
Which will take you here: http://www.conknet.com/~fullerlibrary/ReadersAdvisory/A%20GUIDE%20TO%20LITERARY%20FICTION.htm

And provides an excellent definition.

Literary fiction is less about word style and voice than it is about writing purpose. Hemingway is laconic and Steinbeck is rich, but both are literary writers. Literary fiction addresses themes of universal truth in human existance, rather than relying on plot for it's story telling. It often examines the subtle changes in characters (and/or more expansively, societies and civilizations).

Should your poor beaten character begin to contemplate the motivation of the beatings, from both her own and her abusers point of view, contemplate the futility of avoiding beatings, liken it to some other unavoidable pain of life, perhaps an emotional one, and should both she and the abuser become changed by the beatings, and begin to wonder which one of them is actually being abused -- then, it's probably morphed into literary fiction.

selkn.asrai
04-05-2009, 08:16 AM
I can't really think of any literary work that does not pay keen attention to the language.


I disagree--Water for Elephants is considered literary and I think its language is poor indeed. :P

James D. Macdonald
04-05-2009, 09:25 AM
The difference between literary writing and commercial writing or genre writing is the publisher's logo on the spine.

MetalDog
04-05-2009, 02:40 PM
Hasn't quite a lot of stuff moved from being considered pretty trashy to being considered literature? It's always seemed to me that it's been heavily influenced by perceptions of the day and no small degree of snobbery. If a story is very entertaining and very popular, the chances of it being considered literary in its own time seem quite small no matter how well the language is wrought. It might get elevated a few decades later.

maestrowork
04-05-2009, 09:28 PM
If a story is very entertaining and very popular, the chances of it being considered literary in its own time seem quite small no matter how well the language is wrought. It might get elevated a few decades later.

Not completely true, and that's kind of snobbish as well. Plenty of "genres" became "literary" in their own time. A lot of science fiction is considered literary classics when they were published, crossing the genre boundary. Mystic River was often considered literary. Chabon has done some highly entertaining but literary stuff. Many of Stephen King's novellas have been considered literary. John Irving... The list goes on....

I really think there are biases on both sides. And both sides can show snobbery and misunderstanding. To me, it's really very simple:

Just write a good book.

MetalDog
04-06-2009, 12:30 AM
I'm actually pleased to be wrong at least on some counts =) A lot of the stuff lauded today was looked down on in its time, though.

Most of the literary opinion I've heard lately has been from newspaper columnists (which is probably where I'm going wrong) and the only stuff they seem to like are the sort of books where nothing is ever going to be 'wonky', it's going to be disturbingly slanted at a discordant angle from the harmonious lines of sanity. Which isn't my cup of tea.

Medievalist
04-06-2009, 12:45 AM
Hasn't quite a lot of stuff moved from being considered pretty trashy to being considered literature? It's always seemed to me that it's been heavily influenced by perceptions of the day and no small degree of snobbery. If a story is very entertaining and very popular, the chances of it being considered literary in its own time seem quite small no matter how well the language is wrought. It might get elevated a few decades later.

Most of the novels in the canon are genre; people like Twain, the Brontes, Mary Shelley, were all deemed "unsuitable," even trashy in their own era.

James D. Macdonald
04-06-2009, 08:32 AM
A lot of the stuff lauded today was looked down on in its time, though.

And a lot of the stuff looked down on today was lauded in its own time.

Medievalist
04-06-2009, 08:41 AM
The other difference between literary fiction and genre is, speaking broadly, lit fic gets you tenure, genre gets you readers.

Shweta
04-06-2009, 09:01 AM
Which also explains why Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury are much better writers than Isaac Asimov.

caw

Maybe.
But maybe Dick & Bradbury were just always better writers and that's why they didn't need to strive for transparency? A lot of Asimov's writing is best transparent because it clunks. (I say this having read all his novels, even Forward the Foundation)

I'm not familiar with Asimov, but to me it's seems rather indulgent to say, what was purposely edited out as "too good and drew away from the story."
Uh, I think he said this, or something like it, himself :)
I remember a line like it in one of his author notes (yes, I even read those).


Also... what Maestro and UJ said. All of it.

Danalynn
04-06-2009, 11:47 AM
This is a great thread. I've often wondered what is considered "Literary Fiction" myself.

Thanks to the OP for starting it!

:D

MetalDog
04-06-2009, 11:47 AM
And a lot of the stuff looked down on today was lauded in its own time.

Yep, definitely goes both ways. What I can't tell is how much of it transcends mere fashion. Some of the classics may only classics because we're repeatedly told they are.

eforest
04-07-2009, 09:29 PM
The comments here have been very helpful and interesting.

A good story is a good story wherever THEY place it. Just from reading the excerpt from the Virgin Suicides tells me, I dont think literary fiction is for me. Though, I have read what others considered the Classics (or at least some, The Monk is one of my favorites though first considered drivel when published at the time. -Yes, its melodramatic but it definitely has a biting sense of humor.)

My biggest pet peeve, are characters that contemplates too long before engaging in the action. If they thinking about consequences for more than three pages. I'm done.

Even in suspense fiction- if the hero debates about crossing the street, and wavers about the potential dangers. It's only a matter of time, when you might hear a women scream, (unless in NY,) "Just cross the street, you idiot!"
Ah-the love of words and thier meanings...

selkn.asrai
04-08-2009, 06:23 AM
The comments here have been very helpful and interesting.

A good story is a good story wherever THEY place it. Just from reading the excerpt from the Virgin Suicides tells me, I dont think literary fiction is for me. Though, I have read what others considered the Classics (or at least some, The Monk is one of my favorites though first considered drivel when published at the time. -Yes, its melodramatic but it definitely has a biting sense of humor.)

My biggest pet peeve, are characters that contemplates too long before engaging in the action. If they thinking about consequences for more than three pages. I'm done.

Even in suspense fiction- if the hero debates about crossing the street, and wavers about the potential dangers. It's only a matter of time, when you might hear a women scream, (unless in NY,) "Just cross the street, you idiot!"
Ah-the love of words and thier meanings...


I suppose you are of the school that finds Prince Hamlet a useless annoyance, then? :P

(For note: I adore him.)

eforest
04-08-2009, 08:08 PM
Thank you, Yes!
Wouldn’t you, after what he did to Ophelia? And I don't care if he was just trying to warn her though maintaining the presence of insanity. IMO- it was still a passive aggressive way to inflict or personify the means to damage his mother and stepfather. Why couldn’t he just drum up his own army and annihilate his family like every other noble prince at the time. God, did he even read the Old Testament? Absalom could have given him a few pointers. (Though I'd cut my hair first.)