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Gammer
02-27-2012, 03:30 AM
This isn't a rant or slamming literary fiction or anything like that, I'm just trying to figure out this hang up I have with literary fiction.

I want to be a writer (obviously hence being on this site) and taken several creative writing classes and in all of them we're not allowed to write genre fiction only literary fiction and we've read several of the greats like Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O' Connor, Gaberial Garcia Marquez, Tim O'Brien and so on and my teacher touted them as being one of the absolute best modern writers and we can learn a lot from them and so fourth. I read them....and.....nothing.

Reading through their stories, I was just bored. Nothing seemed to be happening and sometimes when something did happen there was such a giant leap in logic that I just couldn't follow and my teacher just said my confusion was a good thing, which I just don't get. Marquez, I did like because his stories were straight forward and pretty interesting. With "Innocent Erendira" being my favorite story we read. But everything else...I just couldn't get behind. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" my teacher said was the best short story he's ever read. I read it....and I just couldn't see what the hype was.

Then when I write my literary stories for the class my teacher said it was too direct and didn't say anything about the human condition. To which I said, "Why does every story need to have some grand message about being human? What's wrong with a story just being fun and exciting?" And my teacher said I don't have the mindset of an artist, which just confused me even more.

Am I just looking at literary fiction the wrong way? Or is it something else?

Literateparakeet
02-27-2012, 03:46 AM
Gammer, I love literary fiction, but I don't think it is for everyone and that's ok. I don't like sci-fi, but I don't lose any sleep over it. :) Of course, you have to write what your teachers want, but when you are not in class, write what you want! I don't see any reason to try and force yourself to like Lit.

I would suggest though, if you haven't already done it, experiment with different styles and genres. I tried Western for the contest here on site and was surprised that I liked it. I also tried fantasy (which I love to read) but that was a mess. I don't have the creativity needed for world building. Anyway if you have been "stuck" writing literary in your classes, you may not have found the genres you really love to write yet.

Toothpaste
02-27-2012, 03:49 AM
And of course you aren't going to read every literary work out there in one class. If your teacher is responsible for choosing what you read, it's just possible you don't have the same taste. There are certain kinds of literary fiction I can't read at all, and I used to think that that meant I didn't like it in general. But it's not so. I just didn't like those authors.

Don't force yourself to like anything you don't, but don't close yourself off to the possibility of discovering something you might like :) .

Xelebes
02-27-2012, 03:57 AM
Take what you can get. You're not going to be enamoured by every writer. You like Marquez. Run with that.

I think the key about being exposed to so many writers is so that you can be exposed to many styles. Many of these writers have been very influential in genre fiction.

jjdebenedictis
02-27-2012, 03:58 AM
Yeah, it sounds like you and your teacher just have different tastes.

However, the comment about you not having the mindset of an artist is petty snobbery. Your teacher obviously doesn't consider genre writers artists, and that's bollocks.

Novels are entertainment. However, literary fiction is aimed at people who entertained best (or perhaps I should say "excited") by careful explorations of the human condition.

Not everyone is. Wanting stories to be "fun and exciting" implies you're more likely to be entertained by genre fiction--which also explores the human condition, although that's not its primary goal.

WordCount
02-27-2012, 04:07 AM
All I can say is, "Your a person, and you have an opinion."

My teacher made us read "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros. I didn't like one word of it.

Then, we read Fahrenheit 451, and I fell in love. Bradbury is now my second favorite author because of it.

And, by the way, what exactly is the difference between literary fiction and mainstream. I've researched it, and can't seem to find a well detailed answer. It may not be obvious to me because all I read is mainstream, but from my understanding, the whole difference is theme. Is that correct? If so, then I can think of about ten Stephen King and Ray Bradbury novels that should be considered literary and aren't.

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 04:23 AM
And, by the way, what exactly is the difference between literary fiction and mainstream. I've researched it, and can't seem to find a well detailed answer. It may not be obvious to me because all I read is mainstream, but from my understanding, the whole difference is theme. Is that correct?

No.

I like this definition (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/02/what-makes-literary-fiction-literary.html) pretty well.

Cyia
02-27-2012, 04:25 AM
Forced reading has a habit of leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe you should look for something in the literary genre that you can read or put down at will without having someone grade you at completion.

CrastersBabies
02-27-2012, 04:35 AM
It depends on the author for me. Sometimes, I just got so sick of the emo bull$*** that you find in lit-fic. Oh my God, someone's dog died. Someone's kid died. Someone is dying from cancer. Someone is in a bad marriage, being molested, having the worst day ever and I WILL USE THE POWER OF INTROSPECTION to make everyone so painfully AWARE of it all.

It makes me want to jump off a bridge.

My only advice is not to give up. Flannery O'Connor isn't for everyone. I definitely came to appreciate her more over time. Alice Munro on the other hand I loathed and often found myself wondering why this chick was lauded so profusely.

Sorry, Alice.

You named some authors that I dig, but ya know what? It's preference. You're not smarter or dumber for not liking lit-fic.

Keep trying. Have you read Sherman Alexie? Denis Johnson? T.C. Boyle?

Some fiction (regardless of what type it is) IS boring. If you don't like it, no foul.

thothguard51
02-27-2012, 04:59 AM
As far as literary vs genre writing; it would be very boring if everyone wrote in the same genre, the same style, the same basic story over and over again...

Read what you like, write what you like, and don't worry about the rest.

WordCount
02-27-2012, 05:00 AM
No.

I like this definition (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/02/what-makes-literary-fiction-literary.html) pretty well.


Thanks, that answered about four months of questions.

So let me get this straight.

Commercial novels- Mostly about story; can have well-drawn characters, but they are seen doing things, not thinking about them in long detail.

Literary- Extremely layered and well-drawn character study; usually has little to no plot

Xelebes
02-27-2012, 05:02 AM
Thanks, that answered about four months of questions.

So let me get this straight.

Commercial novels- Mostly about story; can have well-drawn characters, but they are seen doing things, not thinking about them in long detail.

Literary- Extremely layered and well-drawn character study; usually has little to no plot

Literary certainly has plot. Character studies are character studies, not stories.

WordCount
02-27-2012, 05:06 AM
According to what I read in the above article, Nathan stated that half of the lit. novels he gets have next to no plot, and it's all working inside the mind of the character. It's based on small decisions, the facts of every-day life, etc.

Alessandra Kelley
02-27-2012, 05:24 AM
I disliked, and in some cases was rendered nearly suicidally despairing by, many of the authors I had to read in high school: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Flannery O'Conner, Arthur Miller, John Cheever, James Dickey, Melville, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. A friend called them "books to slit your wrists by."

Just once I would have liked to read something witty, or unfashionable-in-New-York, or light.

It says something that their idea of humorous reading was Dorothy Parker.

Since school my reading tastes have expanded to include some of what I was taught was Great Books (I still shudder at the phrase), and as long as I don't have to conform to somebody else's lesson plan of What They Have to Mean, I'm okay. But really, it's a matter of taste. You don't have to like a particular genre (and Literary Fiction is a genre, even if they pretend it isn't), and there's nothing wrong with that.


Yeah, it sounds like you and your teacher just have different tastes.

However, the comment about you not having the mindset of an artist is petty snobbery. Your teacher obviously doesn't consider genre writers artists, and that's bollocks.

Oh boy, I got a lot of that in art school. I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a serious and seriously conceptual art school (not exactly my favored style of artmaking). Some of my teachers were fantastic, irreplaceable, but some ...

Well, I had some hard moments.

Don't let snarky teachers get you down. Enjoy what you enjoy, and don't feel obligated to like anything.

HoneyBadger
02-27-2012, 05:27 AM
According to what I read in the above article, Nathan stated that half of the lit. novels he gets have next to no plot, and it's all working inside the mind of the character. It's based on small decisions, the facts of every-day life, etc.

No, the *bad* stuff is plotless.


First off, I'd like to bust one of the myths about literary fiction -- that it doesn't have a plot. Sooooooooo much literary fiction I get in the old query inbox is plotless. It's just a character musing about the vagaries and eccentricities of everyday existence. The prose is lush, the character detailed, but one problem -- absolutely nothing is happening and thus it's (forgive me) extremely boring. Good literary fiction has a plot. It starts in one place and ends in another. The characters face challenges and evolve. Even in quiet books like GILEAD (a seriously amazing book, btw), things happen. A literary novel might not end in a shootout or with the death of an albino, but there's a plot there.

There aren't a lot of universal truths regarding fiction, but one generally true-truth is that literary fiction requires more work from the reader than mainstream fiction does. I'm gonna call this a literary answer and let you, the reader, figure out what the hell I'm talking about because I'm too tired to think about this so much. ;)

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 05:30 AM
So let me get this straight.

Commercial novels- Mostly about story; can have well-drawn characters, but they are seen doing things, not thinking about them in long detail.

Literary- Extremely layered and well-drawn character study; usually has little to no plot

Err, not quite.

The way I like to think about it is that, if we're to describe "plot" as "material events that happen," then in commercial and straight-up genre fiction, the plot and the story are more or less the same.

In literary fiction, the plot and the story are different. The story happens beneath the plot. You can still have literary fiction with lots of plot. It's just that the plot is a vehicle for the story, rather than their being one-and-the-same.

That's not to say commercial fiction can't have lots of things going on under the surface of the plot. It can and very often does. But it's not the focus or driving force of the novel.

(I'm using the above terms for "story" and "plot" differently from Mr. Bransford does; this is just the way I like to think about it. Maybe it makes no sense to you.)

We really need a sticky on all this somewhere...


According to what I read in the above article, Nathan stated that half of the lit. novels he gets have next to no plot, and it's all working inside the mind of the character. It's based on small decisions, the facts of every-day life, etc.

Well, see the post above.

Xelebes
02-27-2012, 05:30 AM
According to what I read in the above article, Nathan stated that half of the lit. novels he gets have next to no plot, and it's all working inside the mind of the character. It's based on small decisions, the facts of every-day life, etc.

What he received as an agent. Doesn't mean he took any of the plotless on. In fact, I'd be safe to say he rejected the plotless character studies.

WordCount
02-27-2012, 05:36 AM
No, the *bad* stuff is plotless.



There aren't a lot of universal truths regarding fiction, but one generally true-truth is that literary fiction requires more work from the reader than mainstream fiction does. I'm gonna call this a literary answer and let you, the reader, figure out what the hell I'm talking about because I'm too tired to think about this so much. ;)

I think that's the best summary I've gotten.

To be honest, I think of novels the same way I think of movies.

There are the more intellectual ones like Inception.

And then, there are the less intellectual ones like Predator.

Of course, there are mixes of the two like the first two terminator films.

On the whole, I enjoy them all, but I read more things like Terminator than I do Inception or Premonition.

thothguard51
02-27-2012, 05:36 AM
Lots of genre fiction deal with the human condition as well, like Fahrenheit 451. They just don't dwell on it for 30 pages...

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 05:38 AM
(and Literary Fiction is a genre, even if they pretend it isn't)

It's not, and don't get me wrong, I don't mean that in a pretentious way, but it's like saying YA is a genre. Genres describe the content of a novel, something about what you can expect to happen. Categories like YA and literary don't. They inform you something about the style and the nature of the story.

buz
02-27-2012, 05:40 AM
To which I said, "Why does every story need to have some grand message about being human? What's wrong with a story just being fun and exciting?" And my teacher said I don't have the mindset of an artist, which just confused me even more.

He sounds like a pretentious ********.


Am I just looking at literary fiction the wrong way? Or is it something else?

You can appreciate it without liking it. If you don't like it (after trying more of it)...you can accept that, and say, okay, that was boring and I didn't like reading it, but the way in which it illuminated x was pretty brilliant. I dunno, that's kinda the way I feel about watching really old movies, or listening to strange indie music, or seeing an expressionist painting, or hearing someone play the saxophone. I have this entirely irrational stupid aversion to the noise a saxophone makes (I realize how dumb this is, believe me), and I hate listening to it, but I can appreciate what it's attempting to do for the sound of the song, if that makes sense.

I mean, the heart wants what the heart wants, and if you like entertainment more than grand statements about humanity, then that's what it is. Although it doesn't mean that literary novels have nothing to offer for you--you could, maybe, learn from them, even if you don't like them.

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 05:40 AM
I think that's the best summary I've gotten.

To be honest, I think of novels the same way I think of movies.

There are the more intellectual ones like Inception.

And then, there are the less intellectual ones like Predator.

I wouldn't think about literary vs commercial that way. I don't think of genre fiction as any less intellectual than literary fiction. Just because it can engage the reader in a different way doesn't make it more or less intellectual. And it's too shakily close to some people's mistaken idea that literary fiction of a certain genre is just "good" genre fiction that "transcends" its genre, which is just stupid.

WordCount
02-27-2012, 05:42 AM
Lots of genre fiction deal with the human condition as well, like Fahrenheit 451. They just don't dwell on it for 30 pages...

Fahrenheit is definitely a profound, wonderful read. If my copy wasn't marked up one side and down the other (my teacher believes in EXTREME annotation) I'd read my copy again. (I think I may just buy another copy.)

I love books that study on the happenings of people in certain locations (like Under the Dome did with small towns) but I'm not THAT interested with the human condition.

Also, I agree with what everyone above has said about literary snobbery, it's unnecessary. A good book is just that, a good book.

Alessandra Kelley
02-27-2012, 05:47 AM
It's not, and don't get me wrong, I don't mean that in a pretentious way, but it's like saying YA is a genre. Genres describe the content of a novel, something about what you can expect to happen. Categories like YA and literary don't. They inform you something about the style and the nature of the story.

Thanks. I think I have been sloppy in my thinking about books, and I have considered what you rightly call categories to be the equivalent of genres.

(Does that mean that "science fiction" is a category, not a genre, since it doesn't really tell you what you can expect in the story?)

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 05:50 AM
(Does that mean that "science fiction" is a category, not a genre, since it doesn't really tell you what you can expect in the story?)

It does tell you something about what you can expect from the content of it. You can expect that in whatever happens, science or technology will play some kind of forefront role in the plot. The more specific you get in the sub genres of spec fic, the more it informs you about the kind of settings, characters, tone, etc. you can expect, and all have various tropes associated with them.

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 05:57 AM
Eh, and it's not like lit fic has any kind of monopoly on saying stuff about "the human condition." That's crap. To be honest, I'd kind of expect any novel — literary, genre, commercial, whatever — to have something to say about "the human condition," but that's such a broad and nebulous idea that it means almost nil. Hell, even Dan Brown's novels do that much . . . in a very in-your-face manner.

HoneyBadger
02-27-2012, 06:03 AM
Eh, and it's not like lit fic has any kind of monopoly on saying stuff about "the human condition." That's crap. To be honest, I'd kind of expect any novel to have something to say about "the human condition," but that's such a broad and nebulous idea that it means almost nil.

Yeah.

Tons of extremely popular mainstream books focus largely on the human condition. The Shack, for example, is decidedly non-literary, but people eat it up with a spoon. It's no Satanic Verses, but that's fine. It doesn't have to be to move readers.

Your pulpiest overwrought novel is still going to address, on some basic level, what it is to be human.

HarryHoskins
02-27-2012, 06:56 AM
The following is my opinion. :)


Am I just looking at literary fiction the wrong way?

:)


Or is it something else?

Keep going until you find the literary stuff you can engage with. :)

Mr. Anonymous
02-27-2012, 07:04 AM
Yeah.

Tons of extremely popular mainstream books focus largely on the human condition. The Shack, for example, is decidedly non-literary, but people eat it up with a spoon. It's no Satanic Verses, but that's fine. It doesn't have to be to move readers.

Your pulpiest overwrought novel is still going to address, on some basic level, what it is to be human.

Eh, yes but I think this is an oversimplification.

A novel that focuses on characters, focuses on what it means to be human (IMO.) Now, a character may be funny, which readers may find entertaining. But again, is the focus of the novel on being funny, or on the character who happens to be funny? I think this is a crucial question, and as someone who writes a little humor here and there, I can attest to the fact that humor very often distorts, so that you may come to a point at which you have to choose between being funny, and staying true to your character.

A novel that focuses on plot/action (or straight out humor), focuses on what is entertaining, and this may come at the expense of character. If the plot has already been determined in advance, then the character has no real free will. He does what is required of him. A gifted writer can fashion the story in such a way as to disguise this fact (ie, Rowling--she's good at writing dialogue) but the disguise is not a perfect one.

Now, if you can focus on both character and entertainment, and do so to a reasonably high degree, like, say, George R. R. Martin (or Rowling), then kudos to you. But a lot of writers, in my opinion, don't pull off the half and half act as well as GRRM does. And though I think GRRM is great and love a lot of his characters (Tyrion and Jaime especially), in terms of sheer depth, I don't think they can stack up to a character like, say, Salinger's Holden Caulfield.

Also, I think it is misleading to say that all novels entertain. A lot of them do, sure. Catcher in the Rye is literary and also a ton of fun (IMO.) But Raymond Carver's A Small Good Thing? Cheever's The Swimmer? Conrad's Heart of Darkness? Golding's Lord of the Flies? No. Entertaining's not really the word I would use.

Absorbing =/ entertaining.

I'm not trying to suggest that literary is better than genre or genre is better than literary. And I do realize the difference between the two can be rather blurry, especially because literary is more of a style than a genre. A few of my favorite books, in fact, have been literary sci fi.

BUT.

I do think there is a difference between the approach commercial genre fiction takes, and the approach literary fiction takes. And I DO think the end-product tends to be rather different, and that this difference shouldn't be trivialized (for an example of what I mean, take The Island, and compare it to the book/movie version of Never Let Me Go. The premises are very similar, but the way they play out is completely different. The Island is commercial. NLMG is literary. The Island is, I think, more exciting in the traditional sense. But NLMG says more about its characters, and consequently, more about what it means to be human. IMO.)

And incidentally, while writers may downplay the difference between literary and genre/commercial, they are peculiar in this way, because they rely on editors and agents who tend to be REALLY concerned with where your book fits. Granted, some agents specifically say they like hard-to-categorize books, but 1) they're usually successful enough that they can afford to take such projects on 2) You can bet they're still going to look for comparable titles when they pitch to editors, to give editors an idea of exactly where this book will be in the bookstore.

Gammer
02-27-2012, 11:21 AM
It depends on the author for me. Sometimes, I just got so sick of the emo bull$*** that you find in lit-fic. Oh my God, someone's dog died. Someone's kid died. Someone is dying from cancer. Someone is in a bad marriage, being molested, having the worst day ever and I WILL USE THE POWER OF INTROSPECTION to make everyone so painfully AWARE of it all.

It makes me want to jump off a bridge.

My only advice is not to give up. Flannery O'Connor isn't for everyone. I definitely came to appreciate her more over time. Alice Munro on the other hand I loathed and often found myself wondering why this chick was lauded so profusely.

Sorry, Alice.

You named some authors that I dig, but ya know what? It's preference. You're not smarter or dumber for not liking lit-fic.

Keep trying. Have you read Sherman Alexie? Denis Johnson? T.C. Boyle?

Some fiction (regardless of what type it is) IS boring. If you don't like it, no foul.

That sums up perfectly what I didn't like about about what we read. A lot of them was literally just the character telling anyone who would listen or just the reader how much their life and by proxy the world sucks, so much so that nothing significant happens throughout the story.

I liked Marquez's works because his characters didn't do that. In Erenderia, the character actually develops and comes into her own to escape her situation plus the plot actually seemed to go somewhere.

gothicangel
02-27-2012, 12:46 PM
And science fiction, fantasy and military fiction doesn't do it for me. Do I lose sleep at night over it? No.

I wonder why you've decided to single out literary fiction. I bet there are other genres out there you don't get either.

Theo81
02-27-2012, 01:08 PM
Your teacher is an idiot and, to be honest, I think you should take some time to think about whether your should be taking this class at all. For a start, it's being taught by an idiot, second, it doesn't sound like it does the kind of learning you want to do.

That aside, try identifying what you *do* like reading. Litfic is a pretty broad category and there is something for everybody. That whole "solving stuff by the power of introspection" - nonsense, only in some. People having personal tragedies? No, only in some.

There are a significant number of Literary Genre writers about (Sarah Waters does Literary Romance (mainly so far), Kate Atkinson does Literary Crime); there are plenty more.

When you come to your class, think about why you don't like it. Explain what you do like and ask your professor for recommendations. Not all LitFic is good (or even interesting) and it suffers more than other categories from the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome (Life of Pi, anybody? Maybe it got better, but it was too dire for me to find out. Smug, self-important lecturing which could have been interesting if it hadn't been wrong).

What do you like in genre? What do you like about it? I think we can probably come up with some book recommendations.

Captcha
02-27-2012, 04:27 PM
I think there's also a time in your life for literary fiction, and maybe you're not at that time.

When I read the classics back when I was supposed to, I got through them, but they didn't mean much to me. They didn't reach my heart.

But then, with a few years more experience with life, I went back (on my own, not in a class) and browsed, and searched, and found greatness. Books I'd not cared about when I was younger, I savoured as an adult. I'd had experiences that I needed to think about and work through, and literary fiction helped me do that. Genre fiction distracted and entertained me, but it didn't speak to my heart, not anymore.

So, yeah, try to find some works right now that speak to you, but if you can't find them, or if you get tired of looking, try again in a few years. The books aren't going anywhere.

ViolettaVane
02-27-2012, 04:44 PM
I don't think of literary fiction as a genre that coheres according to internal qualities. There's an incredible erratic bar between "high" and "low" in fiction, and literary fiction just happens to fall above that bar. When he wrote his plays, Shakespeare was below it; now he's above.

I read almost no contemporary American literary fiction, except for T.C. Boyle and some Cormac McCarthy. I'm more attracted to big, epic stories with maximalist style, whose sense of humor I can appreciate (Chuck Palahniuk, erm, nooooooo). I love Joyce Carol Oates but my favorite stories by her are more horror genre, really.

I'm a genre writer in a genre with extremely strict conventions (HEA requirements often chafe me) so I'm kind of wistful for the story-telling freedoms of literary fiction.

I think one big difference in the literary fiction I enjoy the most is the style is not invisible. You learn to enjoy it like poetry. It's like art that shows its bones, a painting that doesn't try to deny it's a painting. I read the Naked Lunch by William Burroughs when I was 14 and loved it (the fact that it was chock full of crazier-than-hentai shit didn't hurt, either). The way a story is told is just as important, or more so, than the story that's told.

In a nutshell, lots of literary fiction does have the kind of "tits and explosions" that fire people up.

Phaeal
02-27-2012, 05:48 PM
First thought: Yikes! I'd look for another teacher.

shaldna
02-27-2012, 06:04 PM
I want to be a writer (obviously hence being on this site) and taken several creative writing classes and in all of them we're not allowed to write genre fiction only literary fiction

This is a problem I have seen with many creative writing courses. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful course that welcomes genre fiction. I don't feel that you can really learn about writing unless you are allowed to study multiple types of writing, both genre and literary. If you only study literary then it's a one sided lesson and I do wonder how many potentially wonderful genre writers are out there still trying to write literary novels because it's been drummed into them on courses that only literary novels have merit.



and we've read several of the greats like Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O' Connor, Gaberial Garcia Marquez, Tim O'Brien and so on and my teacher touted them as being one of the absolute best modern writers and we can learn a lot from them and so fourth. I read them....and.....nothing.

I've been here too. But what I did find was useful was looking at the book in a purely critical way, not just whether I like it, but look at the way those writers construct their work - the words, the timing, the things they don't say. Learn from that. You might find that the techniques are ones which you can apply to your own writing and see something different then.



Then when I write my literary stories for the class my teacher said it was too direct and didn't say anything about the human condition. To which I said, "Why does every story need to have some grand message about being human? What's wrong with a story just being fun and exciting?" And my teacher said I don't have the mindset of an artist, which just confused me even more.

You're teacher sounds like a tool.

There is a certain type of person, and sadly I've come across a lot of them, who look down on genre fiction. I've found that most of them have actually read very little of it though.

If literary doesn't do it for you then that's cool. Write things that you are excited about. Read the books that you are excited about.

And perhaps find a tutor who is more open to genre works - there are some out there.

elindsen
02-27-2012, 07:53 PM
I just plain don't get lit fic either. The stuff I've tried has just been soo....boring? Might not be the right word. I don't know how people do it.

Kitty27
02-27-2012, 08:00 PM
I have read literary fiction that was beautifully written but bored me to near madness. The books literally reeked of pretentious navel gazing and sniveling for untold amount of pages. Since I am the kind of reader who can't stop until I finish,it was a struggle!

I also have read some that moved me in a very deep way. For me to enjoy it,it depends on the author and how they tell the story.

Your teacher sounds like one of those "intellectual than thou" types. I've met many in online crit groups and it was quite trying dealing with these genre snobs.

CrastersBabies
02-27-2012, 08:04 PM
That sums up perfectly what I didn't like about about what we read. A lot of them was literally just the character telling anyone who would listen or just the reader how much their life and by proxy the world sucks, so much so that nothing significant happens throughout the story.

I liked Marquez's works because his characters didn't do that. In Erenderia, the character actually develops and comes into her own to escape her situation plus the plot actually seemed to go somewhere.

I honestly think that it's your instructor's choices here. There is some great lit fic that has nothing to do with the emo stuff, that HAS story. Alexie's "What You Pawn, I Will Redeem," has a pretty clear plot (and it's Sherman who is, imho, a writing god). :D

But, there are lit-fic stories that don't have much plot that I DO like: Denis Johnson's "Emergency," is a great story. Not a lot of arc, but you're fascinated.

I did come to appreciate literary fiction at the line-level. More than in genre, I stopped to admire a well-written line or phrase or to marvel at sensory detail. Unless you're reading GRRM or Ray Bradbury of course. Two genre writers who made me do a "double take" every other page because of their fabuloso writing.

A lot of literary fiction seems dark and dreary for the sake of being dark and dreary and it just gets old for me. How many women (or men) can I read about who do nothing about their crappy situation but have one small change (internally) and then martyr themselves to live a doomed, crappy life. Wow. What does that say about our society? How is that at all "fun" to read? Yay, a character that experiences very little change and whines the whole time?

Go shake things up. Read some Vonnegut. That'll clear your pallet. :)

I never had my students read Hemingway. I figure they did that in intro classes and in high school. So many instructors focus on early 1900s through the 60s and 70s and while I love me some Joyce Carol Oates ("Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?") and Raymond Carver is the end-all for me, I usually had students buy a literary magazine for their "textbook," that I pick from that year. I want them to read what's being published NOW. What's being accepted NOW. What is hot NOW. Then, I let the students decide what sucks and what doesn't. I find that whenever I took in stories that I LOVED, I ended up disappointed because my students didn't "get it." So, I dropped that technique. But, a lot of teachers present their "babies" in class because:

1. they've taught the story before and there's little to no prep work.
2. they like the story and want you to like it too.
3. their instructors taught the story and they feel they should too.

There's more than Marquez and you'll find it. :) But, you may have to wade through self-absorbed, emotionally masturbatory dreariness to find the shining gem.

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 08:07 PM
Yeah. Not all literary fiction is plotless and dark.

I'm not even sure most of it is.

HoneyBadger
02-27-2012, 08:17 PM
I'd argue that Vonnegut is totally literary, as is Bradbury.

Literary fiction encompasses far more authors than Joyce, Hemingway, and Faulkner.

CrastersBabies
02-27-2012, 08:19 PM
I have read literary fiction that was beautifully written but bored me to near madness. The books literally reeked of pretentious navel gazing and sniveling for untold amount of pages. Since I am the kind of reader who can't stop until I finish,it was a struggle!

I also have read some that moved me in a very deep way. For me to enjoy it,it depends on the author and how they tell the story.

Your teacher sounds like one of those "intellectual than thou" types. I've met many in online crit groups and it was quite trying dealing with these genre snobs.

I had an instructor who prided himself on loathing genre and he made sure the students were "aligned" with his literary belief system or they received lower grades. The genre writers huddled together like refugees. And while I get that some instructors have their tastes (same as me) the instructor developed a student-following of other genre-haters that "hated" for no other reason than they just didn't understand the conventions. But, because Mr. S. hated it, well, they will too.

Funny, I thought college was about critical thinking, not conformity? The teachers I've learned the most from are the ones that allowed me to push back on preferences, not the ones that drowned me in snobbery.

I remember reading a Flannery O'Connor story I HATED, and a (good) teacher asked folks their opinions. When I finally opened my mouth, her eyes lit up and she said, "oh good! Someone who didn't like it! Please talk. Let's hear this. I was hoping someone would have another opinion." And because of that encouragement, I respected her more as a teacher and allowed myself to think beyond the cookie cutter, "I love Hemingway" mentality. Good stuff!

CrastersBabies
02-27-2012, 08:28 PM
I'd argue that Vonnegut is totally literary, as is Bradbury.

Literary fiction encompasses far more authors than Joyce, Hemingway, and Faulkner.

No argument here!

Jamesaritchie
02-27-2012, 09:40 PM
I think it's important for a writer to read as much literary and classical fiction as possible, but appreciation for much of it comes with age.

When young, it's often best to concentrate on books called "classics", rather than "literary". I love the writers you mention, particularly Hemingway, but when I was young I preferred such classics as Kidnapped, Twenty thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Huckleberry Finn, Call of the Wild, and then moved on to more "adult" genre classics, though teacher would faint at calling many of them "genre" novels.

Love for the real literary classics came with time, and with life experience.

But I would say that all good writing is about the human condition. Having fun with a story is as it should be, but people are all that matter, and people are what make any story true, and story worth reading. This does not mean you must include some grand message, or any conscious message at all, but "story" and "human condition" are synonyms, even if you're writing about a dog.

I suspect your real problem is the "entertainment" factor. You may need explosions, bullets flying, fistfights, etc., to be entertained as you read. But below this surface action, the human condition is being portrayed. Without it, there is no story worthy of anything.

SomethingOrOther
02-27-2012, 10:16 PM
Every once in a while someone comes along and voices your exact opinion on a subject, with phrasing eerily similar to yours, and it's an experience that's at once exhilarating and frightening. Kuwisdelu did that to me throughout this thread.


I did come to appreciate literary fiction at the line-level. More than in genre, I stopped to admire a well-written line or phrase or to marvel at sensory detail. Unless you're reading GRRM or Ray Bradbury of course.

(This isn't related to the argument in this thread.) The funny part is I've read two Bradbury books--Fahrenheit 451 and Zen in the Art of Writing--and one short, and I hated his writing style. I suppose sparer prose for me is like your typical ham, steak, or chicken dinner: filling and rarely awful, but start eating enough of it, and you'll pay less attention to its taste and more attention to what your date is saying. And colorful prose can be like the set of very exotic foods: some will make you fall in love with them and shout to everyone you know, "Hey you've gotta try this!" and, even when they're clearly unimpressed, follow up by yelling "Good right?" (David Mitchell* for me); and some will rush back onto the plate in a torrent of gelatinous chunks.

*If literary and genre fiction were 2-D circles who said to each other, "Hey bro let's make a Venn diagram," the overlapping region would include authors such as him.

The Lonely One
02-27-2012, 10:35 PM
The best definition of literary fiction that I can think of is "a focus on language and psychological development of characters," not that there isn't a plot, but that that isn't necessarily the primary or only concern.

That definition comes almost directly from my understanding of modernism, a major crux of literary fiction's development, IMO. I think it's fair to say a large pool of contemporary/post-modern fic retains these elements brought down from influences like Freud and adopted by people like Woolf.

But also realize a classroom environment isn't always the best way to get access to fiction, especially at an undergraduate literature level. You're going to read freaking "Hills Like White Elephants" 8,000 times (we get it prof, it's an abortion), and get people like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Yeats, Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, and the like shoved down your throat.

Why? My theory, is that it's 'safe' to teach them. Because teachers can rely on all the essays written on these older writers, touted by the literati or 'rediscovered' or whatever. Their status in today's academia may be much more renowned then they were even in their own time, some of these authors dying in poverty, or considered a genre writer of their time.

Realize the politics of academia have control over which authors are "greats" and which aren't. Which end up being written about by all the copycat professors over and over, until there's nothing left to say about any of these handful of "greats." Meanwhile, current lit fic authors are the professors of MFA and creative writing programs that are publishing, it seems many obscurely, because literature programs for the most part wouldn't study them. Why? There's not a ton of scholarship written to make them 'safe' to teach.

Anyway, that's my opinion. But I would say go seek out some lit fic that is not 100 years old or more. People need to realize, especially teachers, that there is not only legitimate but brilliant writing going on right now, and a lot of it is not widely read.

I would say give current authors a shot. If that doesn't work, then it just means you aren't into the way the genre has developed generally, and that's okay. It's just a genre like any other.

CrastersBabies
02-27-2012, 10:42 PM
Every once in a while someone comes along and voices your exact opinion on a subject, with phrasing eerily similar to yours, and it's an experience that's at once exhilarating and frightening. Kuwisdelu did that to me throughout this thread.



(This isn't related to the argument in this thread.) The funny part is I've read two Bradbury books--Fahrenheit 451 and Zen in the Art of Writing--and one short, and I hated his writing style. I suppose sparer prose for me is like your typical ham, steak, or chicken dinner: filling and rarely awful, but start eating enough of it, and you'll pay less attention to its taste and more attention to what your date is saying. And colorful prose can be like the set of very exotic foods: some will make you fall in love with them and shout to everyone you know, "Hey you've gotta try this!" and, even when they're clearly unimpressed, follow up by yelling "Good right?" (David Mitchell* for me); and some will rush back onto the plate in a torrent of gelatinous chunks.

*If literary and genre fiction were 2-D circles who said to each other, "Hey bro let's make a Venn diagram," the overlapping region would include authors such as him.

I think it's hard to judge based on two books, given that the guy's written more than 500 stories and plays. :) And "Zen" is a collection of his essays, not his fictional work.

That said, his style isn't for everyone. I'd be reluctant to call anyone's writing hamburger over steak, though. You go there and you start insulting peoples' tastes, not just a writer's style. :D

The Lonely One
02-27-2012, 10:46 PM
I think it's hard to judge based on two books, given that the guy's written more than 500 stories and plays. :) And "Zen" is a collection of his essays, not his fictional work.

That said, his style isn't for everyone. I'd be reluctant to call anyone's writing hamburger over steak, though. You go there and you start insulting peoples' tastes, not just a writer's style. :D

His style is very hard to swallow if you don't like it. I love Bradbury, but there have been stories I'd rather have left behind, with corny, stilted dialogue riddled with exclamation marks. Winded, self-important language.

But when he's on, it's freakin' magic.

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 10:46 PM
Anyway, that's my opinion. But I would say go seek out some lit fic that is not 100 years old or more. People need to realize, especially teachers, that there is not only legitimate but brilliant writing going on right now, and a lot of it is not widely read.

To be fair, I also think that a lot of it also has to do with how the literary canon builds on what has come before. It's a more encompassing experience to read postmodernism having already read modernism, with an understanding of what it was a reaction to, and what influenced it.

But maybe that's filtered through the lens of how my high school English courses were taught... in my third-year British literature course, we started with Beowulf and Chaucer and eventually arrived at Joyce. My senior-year English course focused on postmodernism, and we started with Hamlet and made our way through Camus to Tim O'Brien.

The Lonely One
02-27-2012, 10:50 PM
No, I agree it makes sense to begin on a timeline in middle school, high school, early college. I think I disparaged the 'greats' without stating their value, which is at the very least a historic one. But it is a constructed history,in my opinion.

LindaJeanne
02-27-2012, 11:01 PM
I wonder why you've decided to single out literary fiction. I bet there are other genres out there you don't get either.
I imagine it's because the other genres he(?) doesn't enjoy, he's not reading, and hence has no reason to complain about them.

When you have to read stories for class, that's a different matter. You can't just ignore-them-and-they'll-go-away.

But again, lit-fic is too broad a category to judge by stories based on one person's taste (as the reading list for a course will be).

jjdebenedictis
02-27-2012, 11:08 PM
I think of William Gibson as a literary writer, but probably few others do.

He's an amazing prose stylist, his plots are subtle and abstract, and he has some amazingly esoteric and thoughtful things to say about being human.

It's just he does it within the framework of science fiction.

What does it mean to be human when you incorporate computers and technology into your flesh and mind? Can an AI make art that humans emotionally respond to? He explores some wild, wild stuff.

kuwisdelu
02-27-2012, 11:08 PM
No, I agree it makes sense to begin on a timeline in middle school, high school, early college. I think I disparaged the 'greats' without stating their value, which is at the very least a historic one. But it is a constructed history,in my opinion.

Well, it is in the same way that every history book is also a constructed history. That doesn't make it meaningless.

CrastersBabies
02-27-2012, 11:21 PM
His style is very hard to swallow if you don't like it. I love Bradbury, but there have been stories I'd rather have left behind, with corny, stilted dialogue riddled with exclamation marks. Winded, self-important language.

But when he's on, it's freakin' magic.

Agree 100%! He is not infallible by any means. When he hits it, I marvel. When he misses, I think, "huh, well, I guess a guy who's had 500 short stories can pretty much throw words on a page and get it published, no matter its quality."

:)

I read one of his recent short story collections and I was just not into it. Stilted dialogue really is a good critique. But, I can pick up a past story like "And There Will Come Soft Rains," or "The Veldt" and go "oooo! Pretty writing!"

Winterturn
02-28-2012, 01:12 AM
I took 3 creative writing classes at college and my teachers were like yours, they didn't care for genre fiction and didn't think much of it either. So I forced myself to fit in, wrote literary stuff which was what I thought the teachers wanted. I tried to care about the stories I was writing but the truth is I didn't, and I didn't learn much from the experience.

I went to Clarion West 4 years after I graduated, was able to write the kind of fiction I loved and talk to other people who liked reading and writing sf/fantasy too.

In retrospect, I wish I'd taken more literature or history classes instead of those creative writing classes at college. It would have been a better use of my money.

(Incidentally, I like reading literary fiction on occasion, but I only gained a taste for it after college through reading and discovering authors on my own.)

Libbie
02-28-2012, 12:09 PM
Am I just looking at literary fiction the wrong way? Or is it something else?

It's not for everybody, just like sci-fi and fantasy aren't for everybody. There's nothing wrong with not loving it.

However, as somebody else has no doubt already pointed out in this thread (but I am too lazy to look for it), it's good for you as a writer to study works in genres that aren't necessarily "your thing," and it's a great exercise to push yourself to write outside your comfort zone. Such exercises can only make you a stronger writer in the end. Stick with your classes and look at it as a challenge rather than a drudgery. It's just as good for you to stretch yourself creatively in this way as it would be for a person who wants to write literary fiction to push himself to write good sci-fi or fantasy.

gothicangel
02-28-2012, 12:58 PM
I imagine it's because the other genres he(?) doesn't enjoy, he's not reading, and hence has no reason to complain about them.

When you have to read stories for class, that's a different matter. You can't just ignore-them-and-they'll-go-away.


I have an English Lit degree. I had to read a lot of stuff I didn't like [right from French medieval love poetry, to 18th century Lit and right up to King's The Shining. But guess what? I don't regret those hours of forced reading, because the classes taught me about new aspects of literature, and the books taught me what I didn't like about those books.

Tip for reading books that you don't like for classes/uni: speed-reading. ;)

Words.Worth
02-29-2012, 12:35 PM
Well it's beneficial to read a lot of variety in any kind of literature. You broaden horizons and see what everything is out there. Some of it will be boring to death and waste of time. What did you read in literary fiction?

KellyAssauer
02-29-2012, 06:12 PM
Ah, here we go again... :)

I'm reminded of my dear friend who once said:
"Language is our biggest barrier to communication."
and I've never forgotten those words.

Right here, in AW and under our very noses
we have several Share Your Work areas.

Here's the link for Mainstream/Contemporary (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=73)
(password: vista)

and the one for Literary (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=74)
(password: vista)

"Mainstream, Literature, and Contemporary" aside...
"Categories" aside...
"Genre" aside...
"Book store shelf labels" aside...

I'll bet you can find a story and a writing style in both
of these two SYW areas that appeals to you!

When you find it?
Please, Please, name it this:

"A story I like."

If you can do that, it will set you free.
.
.