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kelliewallace
10-26-2012, 01:26 PM
I have been submitting my crime fiction to publishers. A lot of them ask for literary fiction. As writers we all wish our works fit into that category but what defines literary fiction? Is it along the lines of Charles Dickens? One publisher said a ww2 fiction I wrote could be classified as literary fiction. I want to know what exactly defines it.

Cyia
10-26-2012, 02:52 PM
How do you draw air?

If you can answer that, you can answer the question of what literary fiction it - it's nearly as intangible. It has to do with language, voice, and style, rather than plot. But, it can also bleed over into genre fiction. Things like The Time Traveller's Wife or The Forest of Hands and Teeth were pitched as literary, but commercial.

Sometimes it means experimental. Sometimes it means pretty language. Sometimes it means vivid imagery. Sometimes it means highly acclaimed. Sometimes it means "Don't bother, you won't get it."

It's one of those "X-factor" things. You may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it.

Old Hack
10-26-2012, 04:26 PM
I'm going to move this to the Round Table, where it's a better fit. Kellie, there are already several existing threads on this very same subject knocking about, so you might want to do a bit of searching and reading through: it could help you work out what's what.

taylormillgirl
10-26-2012, 04:38 PM
Someone once told me that literary fiction is a snapshot, a rich experience, whereas commercial fiction tells a story from beginning to end with a generally satisfying conclusion. This isn't a catchall definition, because as Cyia said, it's a hard thing to define, but it's the best I've got to offer.

Theo81
10-26-2012, 05:29 PM
For the specific purposes of a Q, I think genre trumps everything, so you would definitely call it crime rather than literary fiction.

However, you could call it Literary Crime, or you could call it a crime novel with book club potential, (if either of those things are appropriate).

Jamesaritchie
10-26-2012, 05:49 PM
In short, it's about the way something is written, the type of characters, and what the story is about, but I think you're going to have to read several contemporary literary writers, and form your own definition.

A simple definition isn't going to help. If you read enough of it, you'll know, and you can't really write it without reading a lot of it, definition or not.

lacygnette
10-26-2012, 06:49 PM
I write lit fic (god help me). I'm right now actively querying, and my research tells me that lots of agents say they do lit fic, but usually it means they are looking for a genre novel that is wonderfully written. I base this comment after looking at what agents are selling in Publishers Marketplace. I figure if they haven't sold lit fic, they won't have the contacts they need.

I think Theo has the right idea. Sometimes I say my novel is literary women's fiction if that suits the agent. For those who have worked on true lit fic per my definition - more character-based than plot-base, wonderful writing - I just use lit fic.

And yes, James is also right: If you read a lot of it, you recognize it...

Rhoda Nightingale
10-26-2012, 07:52 PM
I have nothing to add except to point out that no, some of us don't really wish our work fit into the literary category. It's a fine category, but not necessary one that all writers either want or should aspire to.

gothicangel
10-26-2012, 07:58 PM
I have been submitting my crime fiction to publishers. A lot of them ask for literary fiction. As writers we all wish our works fit into that category but what defines literary fiction? Is it along the lines of Charles Dickens? One publisher said a ww2 fiction I wrote could be classified as literary fiction. I want to know what exactly defines it.

Have you ever read any James Ellory or David Peace? That's literary crime fiction.

Even as a reader of literary fiction, I can't explain it myself. I love reading genre [historical/gothic/crime] but literary always feels more satisfying. WWII fiction can just as easily be historical or military genre, as literary.

leahzero
10-27-2012, 04:07 AM
Literary fiction is as much a style as a genre. And yes, it's a genre. (http://www.themillions.com/2012/10/literary-fiction-is-a-genre-a-list.html)

When the prose has a lyrical lilt, when the metaphors are surprisingly novel and profound, when the inner lives of the characters are as important (often moreso) than the plot...it's probably literary fiction.

Maybe.

It's also a flexible, vague, overused, and misused term. I think there's more commercial fiction out there than actual literary fiction, but people want the veneer of prestige that the "literary" term grants.

If you're writing literary fiction, I think you know it. It's too stylized and rich not to know. However, I've seen a lot of commercial fiction mislabeled "literary."

Siri Kirpal
10-27-2012, 06:19 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

P.D. James is another literary crime author, if you need to read around to get your definition.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

kuwisdelu
10-27-2012, 06:42 AM
Literary fiction is as much a style as a genre. And yes, it's a genre. (http://www.themillions.com/2012/10/literary-fiction-is-a-genre-a-list.html)

Sorry, nope, don't buy it. Literary fiction ain't a genre.

And I self-identify as a literary fiction writer. Everything I write still has a genre, and it ain't "literary fiction." And lyrical prose and style doesn't necessarily imply literary fiction.


When the prose has a lyrical lilt, when the metaphors are surprisingly novel and profound, when the inner lives of the characters are as important (often moreso) than the plot...it's probably literary fiction.

Maybe.

Maybe, but it ain't what defines literary fiction.

I've blogged on my own thoughts on the definition. (http://kuwisdelu.blogspot.com/2012/02/on-literary-fiction.html)

To put it simply, it doesn't have to do with voice or style or "lyrical" prose, whatever that means. It has to do with the level at which the story takes place.

In what I like to call "straight-up" genre fiction, the action (plot) and the central conflict tend to coincide. Most (good) straight-up genre fiction also has internal conflicts that happens below the surface of the plot, but these conflicts either usually aren't the central conflict of the story, or they coincide with the story (often the case with romance).

In literary fiction, the central conflict and the action or plot can diverge. The external conflict is usually just a vehicle to explore an inner conflict, whereas in straight-up genre fiction, the inner conflict tends to exist to support the external conflict, rather than the other way around.

All good fiction will contain both kinds of conflict, but it's where the focus is that tends to distinguish whether a work is literary fiction or not.


It's also a flexible, vague, overused, and misused term. I think there's more commercial fiction out there than actual literary fiction, but people want the veneer of prestige that the "literary" term grants.

If you're writing literary fiction, I think you know it. It's too stylized and rich not to know. However, I've seen a lot of commercial fiction mislabeled "literary."

Ermmm, I'd disagree with that.

You can have literary fiction that uses simple, direct prose. Fancy prose has nothing to do with whether a novel is literary fiction or not. IMO.

And there's no reason you can't have fiction that's both commercial and literary.

theDolphin
10-27-2012, 08:32 PM
I have been submitting my crime fiction to publishers. A lot of them ask for literary fiction. As writers we all wish our works fit into that category but what defines literary fiction? Is it along the lines of Charles Dickens? One publisher said a ww2 fiction I wrote could be classified as literary fiction. I want to know what exactly defines it.

I really understand what you're up against. This question has been hotly debated for some time, and the debate continues today. This thread is a great example of the range of perceptions on the subject. The dissonant chorus of opinions, even within the industry, can make it extremely difficult for first time novelists today to figure out exactly where they fit, and whether or not they're literary.

In my opinion, the best you're going to be able to do is read as much information on the subject as possible from all sorts of sources, keep an open mind, and choosing from the sources you most trust, begin to formulate your own opinion. This thread is a great starting point. :)

Additionally, here are a few current and not so current articles I've found interesting and informative. There are many more out there in the ether to explore.

1. There was a great article by Arthur Krystal in the Newyorker this week that talks about the current debate. He arrives at specific conclusions that you may or may not agree with, but it will give you a perspective on the debate itself:

It's Genre. Not That There's Anything Wrong With It! (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/10/its-genre-fiction-not-that-theres-anything-wrong-with-it.html)

2. Another really intriguing article came out of the Huffington Post Canada last month which talks about the way the industry is currently marketing what they dub Literary Fiction. It's not the first to talk about the alleged "death" of literary fiction, but it does give a different perspective to the debate.:

The Death of Literary Fiction? (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-gaughran/the-death-of-literary-fiction_b_1892006.html)

3. Earlier this year Jane Friedman's blog published an article by author Sanjida O'Connell who offers her not unbiased perspective ;):

What is a Literary Novel (http://janefriedman.com/2012/03/27/what-is-a-literary-novel/)

4. Going even further back, in 2007 Nathan Bransford an author in LA who was an agent with Curtis Brown for a while, offered another industry perspective on literary here:

What Makes Literary Fiction Literary? (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/02/what-makes-literary-fiction-literary.html)

stormie
10-27-2012, 09:20 PM
Read any of Janet Evanovitch's novels. Then read and compare it to The Hours by Michael Cunningham. That might help give you some idea of what lit fic is.

ARoyce
10-27-2012, 09:57 PM
Literary fiction is as much a style as a genre. And yes, it's a genre. (http://www.themillions.com/2012/10/literary-fiction-is-a-genre-a-list.html)

um, leah, that Millions article seems to take a satirical stance, not a literal one.

But, as for the rest of your post and others here, literary fiction does tend to "do" more in terms of character depth and/or structure and/or POV and/or language than most commercial or genre fiction. And in some cases, it can seem like plot takes a back seat to such mastery of language and technique.

To the OP, one way to inductively understand what literary fiction is, especially since it's such a nebulous idea, is to search for winners of prestigious book awards like the Pulitzer and the Booker Awards. There are tons of literary authors, yet their writing is so different from each other that what they share in common is more about technique than anything else.

A few people have mentioned some literary authors...and literary/commercial crossovers. Here are a few more: Michael Chabon, Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Safran Foer, Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri...

One poster pointed out that not everyone strives to write literary fiction. That's very true. For one thing, while literary fiction garners the most prestige and can get higher advances than genre fiction, it's a harder market to get into and to sell. Still, literary writing is what most MFAs strive toward. I suppose that's part of what makes it harder to break into.

I think how you categorize your novel in a query depends at least in part on how you expect the book to be shelved or marketed.

Medievalist
10-27-2012, 10:19 PM
Literary fiction is as much a style as a genre. And yes, it's a genre. (http://www.themillions.com/2012/10/literary-fiction-is-a-genre-a-list.html)"

No, it's really not.

It's a marketing category. It is in fact a fairly new marketing category.

I note that if it were a genre it would not be so very difficult to isolate motifs and themes, and issues of form.

I also note that that article is satire.

Medievalist
10-27-2012, 10:21 PM
For one thing, while literary fiction garners the most prestige and can get higher advances than genre fiction, it's a harder market to get into and to sell.

Where on Earth did you get the idea the literary fiction garners higher advances?

The advance is tied to the book and the author.

Michael Chabon says he writes SF. His themes and motifs support that conclusion.

Buffysquirrel
10-27-2012, 10:26 PM
I've been told that you know it when you see it. Fat lot of help that is.

Dickens was writing commercial fiction. His books have now achieved the status of classics by virtue of having been around a long time and still being read. I wouldn't call them litfic.

tmesis
10-28-2012, 03:19 AM
To put it simply, it doesn't have to do with voice or style or "lyrical" prose, whatever that means. It has to do with the level at which the story takes place.

I agree. I find the differences between literary and genre fiction to be analogous to the differences between cryptic crosswords and general knowledge crosswords. To solve general knowledge crosswords you need to take the clues literally: if their wording doesn't lead to the most obvious conclusion then they're bad clues. But to solve a cryptic crossword, you have to ignore the most obvious meaning and look for metatextual hints to the answer. The clue refuses to be satisfied by the most straightforward interpretation.

I like both types of crossword, and both types of fiction. But I do think they're distinct, and the distinction only makes sense if you read them in a particular way. Not to say that there's no overlap: literary fiction can still have genre elements, and genre can still have literary elements. Same with crosswords.

(I know that 'literary fiction' can be used much more broadly to incorporate popular classics, but I'm talking about it in the much narrower sense of 'modern marketing category' here.)

Amadan
10-28-2012, 03:40 AM
Dickens was writing commercial fiction. His books have now achieved the status of classics by virtue of having been around a long time and still being read. I wouldn't call them litfic.

Sure they are. Dickens loaded his novels with metaphors, thematic depth, intentful characterization, and careful prose. He's not to everyone's tastes, especially today, but the notion of Dickens as a potboiler author who's only considered literary today because of historical inertia is purblind nonsense.

In Dickens' day, there wasn't a distinction between "commercial" fiction and "literary" fiction (though there were certainly authors who tossed off mediocre efforts for a quick buck, and literary critics who said so). Dickens was highly regarded not just because he was a bestseller, but because he was an important writer.

kuwisdelu
10-28-2012, 04:01 AM
I've been told that you know it when you see it. Fat lot of help that is.

Dickens was writing commercial fiction. His books have now achieved the status of classics by virtue of having been around a long time and still being read. I wouldn't call them litfic.


Sure they are. Dickens loaded his novels with metaphors, thematic depth, intentful characterization, and careful prose. He's not to everyone's tastes, especially today, but the notion of Dickens as a potboiler author who's only considered literary today because of historical inertia is purblind nonsense.

In Dickens' day, there wasn't a distinction between "commercial" fiction and "literary" fiction (though there were certainly authors who tossed off mediocre efforts for a quick buck, and literary critics who said so). Dickens was highly regarded not just because he was a bestseller, but because he was an important writer.

There are quite a few classics that I don't think are really "literary fiction" in modern terms so much as just straight-up really, really good genre fiction.

Mind you, I already described how I define literary fiction, and I don't define it by "metaphors, thematic depth, intentful characterization, and careful prose."

Those very well may make a novel "literature" (maybe, maybe not?) but not "literary fiction."

I also think it's a fallacy to confuse "literature" with "literary fiction."

Amadan
10-28-2012, 04:13 AM
I think the main difference is that nowadays, we have this distinction and it shows in how writers go about writing. Generally, literary authors think of themselves as writing "litfic." When they set out to write a book, there are certain expectations about the writing style and the execution that would be different than if they are writing a "genre" book. That doesn't mean the expectations or the quality is higher or lower, but certainly different. People expect a different sort of prose and a different sort of story.

But in Dickens' day, nobody drew such distinctions. Some of the best genre and literary authors today are the ones who similarly don't seem to categorize themselves like that, even if publishers and reviewers do.

Cyia
10-28-2012, 04:17 AM
There's plenty of overlap between genre and literary. My agent's pitch for my Steampunk describes it as literary with a commercial hook.

Ken
10-28-2012, 04:34 AM
_ _ _ literary fiction is greater than the sum of its parts.
Genre fiction is what it is, at least in theory.
In actuality things aren't quite so pat.

owlish
10-28-2012, 04:35 AM
So glad I stumbled upon this thread. I've been pondering the actual definition of "literary fiction" for some time now, and whether or not my work falls under that umbrella. :) Thanks, all!

Buffysquirrel
10-28-2012, 04:40 AM
Sure they are. Dickens loaded his novels with metaphors, thematic depth, intentful characterization, and careful prose.

And? So does UK Le Guin.

ARoyce
10-28-2012, 05:10 AM
Where on Earth did you get the idea the literary fiction garners higher advances?

The advance is tied to the book and the author.

Michael Chabon says he writes SF. His themes and motifs support that conclusion.

Yes, advances are tied to books and by extension their authors, but historically debut literary fiction authors have earned much higher advances than genre fiction. The Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2010 that this is changing, though: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703369704575461542987870022.html

And, sure, Chabon writes SF but not exclusively and with a significantly more "literary" bent than many other SF authors. Maybe I'm still stuck in the 20th century on this, but historically it was much more likely for a debut lit fic author to get a $50,000 advance than for a SF or mystery or romance author to do so. I'd have to take another look to be sure, but I think all those authors I mentioned garnered significantly higher advances for their debut novels than most genre-specific authors at that time.

ARoyce
10-28-2012, 05:16 AM
And? So does UK Le Guin.

She's also considered literary. :)

Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyers, on the other hand...

blacbird
10-28-2012, 05:20 AM
Anything people who pigeonhole themselves as "genre writers" don't like.

caw

stormie
10-28-2012, 05:36 AM
It's interesting how some aren't reading all the posts before posting their own thoughts. This could be debated until another thread is started by someone who didn't do a search to see if this has been discussed before.

And as I said, about the only way to definitively differentiate between literary fiction and all else, is to read two opposites: The Hours and say, anything written by J. Evanovich. Night and day.

There is a gray area, and that is what seems to be debatable. But in that case, all answers are grounded in opinion.

Xelebes
10-28-2012, 05:57 AM
book club potential,

That's probably the best definition of literary fiction.

BenPanced
10-28-2012, 07:52 AM
Yeah, this is gonna end in tears. Again.

Weirdmage
10-29-2012, 04:02 AM
I actually think "What defines lierary fiction?" is the wrong question. The right one would be "Who defines literary fiction?".
Every time I see someone try to define what defines literary fiction, I can honestly say I have seen the same thing in what is defined as genre fiction.

The answer to "Who defines literary fiction?", is the "Literary Establishment". Whatever they say is LitFic, is LitfFic. You can cite numerous examples of genre fiction that does the exact same thing, and you can cite numerous examples of books that are defined as LitFic that without a doubt is genre fiction. Just this week I saw someone state cathegorically that 1984 by Orwell was LitFic. Try to remove all Science Fiction elements from that, and see what you are left with...Nothing. -And that is what objectively defines Literary Fiction.

LeslieB
10-29-2012, 08:36 AM
Okay, here's another version of this question that I've wondered about. What is the difference, if any, between 'literary' fiction and contemporary fiction?

Old Hack
10-29-2012, 10:00 AM
The answer to "Who defines literary fiction?", is the "Literary Establishment". Whatever they say is LitFic, is LitfFic.

Who do you define as the Literary Establishment?

James D. Macdonald
10-29-2012, 10:27 AM
There are only four genres: Drama, poetry, rhetoric, and prose.

Everything else is a squabble over marketing categories.

ARoyce
10-29-2012, 05:25 PM
Okay, here's another version of this question that I've wondered about. What is the difference, if any, between 'literary' fiction and contemporary fiction?

Well, for one thing, if you look at the descriptions provided thus far in this thread, not all contemporary fiction does what literary fiction strives to do.

And, not all literary fiction is set in the present day (which is what defines contemporary fiction as a marketing category). Literary fiction can be historical (such as novels by Geraldine Brooks, etc.) or contemporary or futuristic.

If we could draw a Venn diagram here, the two categories would have some crossover but still have areas far apart from each other.

Weirdmage
10-29-2012, 08:27 PM
Who do you define as the Literary Establishment?

For the purpose of the question Who defines literary fiction?, and it's answer the "Literary Establishment", I would say the answer to your question is simply (, but perhaps not very helpfully,) those with the power to define what is, and what is not, Literary Fiction.

I'll try to expand a bit on that answer.

I don't think there's an entity that can be easily defined as The Literary Establishment, which is why I used "Literary Establishment. But looking at it from the outside, it looks obvious that there are some people who have the authority to define, or decline to define, a work of literature as LitFic*.
This group seems to consist of professional literary critics (, those who work for major papers or magazines) and people who work in the Literature field of academia. Publishers could also be a part of this "Literary Establishment", but I am not really sure they have much power to define something as LitFic without the approval of the two groups mentioned above.

Since I am more "embedded" in the SFF part of the litarary world, and therefore mostly looking at LitFic from the outside, I have noticed that there seems to be a consentration of power in LitFic circles. I can't remember ever seeing the kind of discussion of if something really belongs as LitFic, once it is said to belong there, that is par for the course in SFF. In SFF you'll frequently see discussions of if something is Science Fiction or Fantasy, and even more commonly what subgenre a work belongs in.
I'm simply not seeing that in LitFic, the judgement that something is LitFic seems to be met with unquestioned acceptance. This also happens when somebody points out that what is defined as LitFic is in reality genre, I can't think of an example where that doesn't get dismissed. And often with the genre fan/insider being dismissed as not competent to make the claim in the first place.
The original claim to the work being LitFic seems to be definive, no matter the reasoning behind the objection to it.

So, I'm basically back to where I started. The "Literary Establishment" are those that define what is, and what is not, LitFic.

And to expand a bit on what I said in my first post, I don't see the definition being used in a manner that makes any objective sense. 1984 by Orwell is defined as LitFic, but I have read several works of Science Fiction that would fit better with what I see people point to when they try to define LitFic, for instance Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker.
Taking that into account, I can't come to any other conclusion than it is not "what" that defines LitFic, but "who".

I hope that makes my position clearer, and that it at least tells you who I am speaking about when I say "Literary Establsihment".

*I use LitFic for the "genre", as opposed to Literary Fiction as a style. Since the style will, in my opinion, always belong to a genre, for example Literary Science Fiction.

kkbe
10-29-2012, 09:44 PM
Question: What defines literary fiction?


Potter Stewart. Miss Snark. Their comments seem tailor-made for this thread. To wit:

Potter Stewart* (Associate Justice of the Supreme Court):. . .perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly defining [hard-core pornography]. But. . .

Miss Snark**: I can't define [upmarket fiction] but. . .



Answer: I know it when I see it.

:)


*http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Potter_Stewart (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Potter_Stewart)
**Posted by Miss Snark (http://www.blogger.com/profile/01310015518327171251)at 3/11/2006 10:45:00 PM (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2006/03/up-down-market.html)

Laer Carroll
11-09-2012, 12:08 AM
To confuse things even more, I'll ask this question.

What's the difference between literary fiction and MAINSTREAM fiction? Mainstream includes contemporary and non-contemporary fiction, and can include fiction with genre elements which somehow gets married into the mainstream fold.

An example of the latter includes Stephen King's 11/22/63 and Under the Dome. Both are clearly science fiction. But they had appeal far beyond the SF/F genre readers. To the "mainstream" readers who rarely if ever dip into any genre (except maybe the mystery genre, which has long been made acceptable as something grownups read, unlike those propeller-beanie wearer geeks who read SF/F).

I think Weirdmage (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=53386) has it right when s/he says who defines litfic is The Literary Establishment. Who defines "mainstream" seems to be the publishers and bookstores, with the collusion of the NYTimes and other widely-read review sources.

When you get down to it, we're really doing our usual writerly-obsessive finicky parsing of words and phrases. Like theologians discussing the number of angels who can fit on the head of a pin.

Torgo
11-09-2012, 12:13 AM
Literary fiction is like pornography: it's really hard to define, but 'I know it when I see it.'

I feel that, because the term implies some kind of value judgement - 'literary' is in some way a term of approbation - then it's a bit ... presumptuous? to call your own work literary. I think it's a label affixed on you by other people, not something that - like a genre - is to some extent determined by the content of the book.

Amadan
11-09-2012, 01:13 AM
An example of the latter includes Stephen King's 11/22/63 and Under the Dome. Both are clearly science fiction. But they had appeal far beyond the SF/F genre readers. To the "mainstream" readers who rarely if ever dip into any genre (except maybe the mystery genre, which has long been made acceptable as something grownups read, unlike those propeller-beanie wearer geeks who read SF/F).


You're way behind the times. Stephen King has been mainstream for decades. How do you think he became a bestseller?

The notion of SF&F readers being perceived by the rest of the world as propeller-beanie-wearing geeks is one largely preserved by propeller-beanie-wearing geeks. Yes, you'll still get some sniffy condescension about SF from some segments of the literary establishment, but there is no SF&F ghetto.

Weirdmage
11-09-2012, 02:58 AM
To confuse things even more, I'll ask this question.

What's the difference between literary fiction and MAINSTREAM fiction? Mainstream includes contemporary and non-contemporary fiction, and can include fiction with genre elements which somehow gets married into the mainstream fold.

An example of the latter includes Stephen King's 11/22/63 and Under the Dome. Both are clearly science fiction. But they had appeal far beyond the SF/F genre readers. To the "mainstream" readers who rarely if ever dip into any genre (except maybe the mystery genre, which has long been made acceptable as something grownups read, unlike those propeller-beanie wearer geeks who read SF/F).

I think Weirdmage (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=53386) has it right when s/he says who defines litfic is The Literary Establishment. Who defines "mainstream" seems to be the publishers and bookstores, with the collusion of the NYTimes and other widely-read review sources.

When you get down to it, we're really doing our usual writerly-obsessive finicky parsing of words and phrases. Like theologians discussing the number of angels who can fit on the head of a pin.

First, I'm a he :)

Secondly, when it comes to mainstream...that is perhaps a bit harder. You could define mainstream as either something that does not require any special interest (, and for special interest in this context I mean an interest in history, science, etc), or as something that is popular with the majority.
In both cases, I don't think LitFic can be said to be mainstream. But what I do see is mainstream (,whatever mainstream is,) being lumped together with LitFic in sales statistic. I suspect this is to hide how little LitFic really sells, but I might be wrong about that.

The bestselling genre is romance, followed by, if I remember correctly, mystery/thriller and science fiction/fantasy. And if memory serves me, mainstream/LitFic is number two or three on that statistic, I know it's before SF/F.
But since we don't know what mainstream is that is really pointless, and it gets even more pointless when we don't have a working definition of Litfic.

So back to what mainstream is, it's a marketing cathegory. It should not include anything that is in any of the genre cathegories, but as with LitFic I suspect it does.
That means we're really back to mainstream being something that does not require any special interest, as I said above. With a healthy dose of something that is popular with the majority thrown in to make the definition meaningless as something other than a marketing cathegory. Especially since Stephen King is considered mainstream, when he is without a doubt (mostly) writing SFF.

kuwisdelu
11-09-2012, 03:10 AM
What's the difference between literary fiction and MAINSTREAM fiction? Mainstream includes contemporary and non-contemporary fiction, and can include fiction with genre elements which somehow gets married into the mainstream fold.

It's not a meaningful question, because they're not mutually exclusive categories.

And everyone, please repeat after me: anything categorized as "mainstream" or "literary fiction" also belongs to a genre. Repeat until it sticks.

kuwisdelu
11-09-2012, 03:12 AM
So back to what mainstream is, it's a marketing cathegory. It should not include anything that is in any of the genre cathegories, but as with LitFic I suspect it does.

Untrue. Whether a work is mainstream or literary fiction has nothing to do with what genre it is. Usually. (There are some genres that are difficult to write without resulting in literary fiction.)

Weirdmage
11-09-2012, 03:29 AM
Untrue. Whether a work is mainstream or literary fiction has nothing to do with what genre it is. Usually. (There are some genres that are difficult to write without resulting in literary fiction.)

I will say that I think Literary [insert genre] Fiction is a writing style, but what is defined as Literary doesn't always fit that definition. There are lots of Literary Science Fiction that is still defined as genre. I'm back to my earlier defintion of LitFic being whatever the "Literary Establishment" says it is.

With mainstream, it's different. Either it is a marketing cathegory that has no real definition beyond "appeals to a broad audience", or it is a genre. If it's the first, the term is meaningless, since it would be the sales figures after the fact that determines what is mainstream.
If it is a genre, it should also be able to be defined by not being any other genre. (With, of course, exceptions for cross-genre work.) There should at least be something that sets it apart and makes it mainstream, as opposed to anything else.

So, since you argue that, "Whether a work is mainstream or literary fiction has nothing to do with what genre it is. Usually.", I do wonder what you consider it is that makes a work mainstream (, or LitFic). And I'm also curious as to what genre it is difficult to write without resulting in it being literary fiction, because I can't think of any genre where that would be remotely the case.

kuwisdelu
11-09-2012, 03:40 AM
I will say that I think Literary [insert genre] Fiction is a writing style, but what is defined as Literary doesn't always fit that definition. There are lots of Literary Science Fiction that is still defined as genre. I'm back to my earlier defintion of LitFic being whatever the "Literary Establishment" says it is.

Don't confuse "literary fiction" with "literature." They are not the same.


With mainstream, it's different. Either it is a marketing cathegory that has no real definition beyond "appeals to a broad audience", or it is a genre. If it's the first, the term is meaningless, since it would be the sales figures after the fact that determines what is mainstream.
If it is a genre, it should also be able to be defined by not being any other genre. (With, of course, exceptions for cross-genre work.) There should at least be something that sets it apart and makes it mainstream, as opposed to anything else.

It's the former, but there is still meaning. Agents and editors can generally tell what has the potential to appeal to a broad audience and beyond its genre. That's why they emphasize stuff like "high concept" so much.


So, since you argue that, "Whether a work is mainstream or literary fiction has nothing to do with what genre it is. Usually.", I do wonder what you consider it is that makes a work mainstream (, or LitFic). And I'm also curious as to what genre it is difficult to write without resulting in it being literary fiction, because I can't think of any genre where that would be remotely the case.

Magic realism usually ends up as literary fic, because the action and the central conflict naturally diverge at some point. The true story usually happens beneath the action of the plot.

You can absolutely write fantasy and science fiction that functions in the exact same way, but because the motivation of the fantastical elements in magic realism generally comes from character and metaphor, it usually ends up as literary fiction.

That does not make it the same as literary fantasy. (You can absolutely write literary fantasy that isn't magic realism. It's a pet peeve of mine when people say otherwise.)

Weirdmage
11-09-2012, 02:56 PM
Don't confuse "literary fiction" with "literature." They are not the same.

I'm not confusing LitFic with literature, but I should have made that clearer by writing "[...]but what is defined as Literary Fiction doesn't always fit that definition."
The people who hail LitFic as objecticely better do confuse Literary with literature, or at least they claim that only LitFic is "worthy" of being Literature. Which is my point, LitFic in itself is meaningless, because it doesn't fall into any other definition than the highly subjective whatever the "Literary Establishment" says it is.


It's the former, but there is still meaning. Agents and editors can generally tell what has the potential to appeal to a broad audience and beyond its genre. That's why they emphasize stuff like "high concept" so much.

I agree that agents and editors are good at telling what can have a broad appeal, but I don't agree that makes it more meaningful. Unless "mainstream" is the same as "broad commercial appeal"?
And I don't see why "high concept" comes into it, that is usually reserved for genre works that are "literary", and therefore marketed as "should appeal to people who like LitFic", in my experience.


Magic realism usually ends up as literary fic, because the action and the central conflict naturally diverge at some point. The true story usually happens beneath the action of the plot.

You can absolutely write fantasy and science fiction that functions in the exact same way, but because the motivation of the fantastical elements in magic realism generally comes from character and metaphor, it usually ends up as literary fiction.

That does [I]not make it the same as literary fantasy. (You can absolutely write literary fantasy that isn't magic realism. It's a pet peeve of mine when people say otherwise.)

Well, in my experience, "Magic Realism" is what people call Urban Fantasy(/Contemporary Fantasy) when they don't want to call it Fantasy. I know there are some exceptions to that, but I usually see it used on books that could just as well be marketed as Fantasy. And usually Magic Realism is used to make the point that it is "better/more literary" than Fantasy.
But I actually agree with you. If you try to write Magic Realism, you are in essence trying to write Literary Urban(/Contemporary) Fantasy. So it would be extremly hard to not write it in LitFic style when you do that.

And to your last point. YES! I've read quite a few Literary Fantasy books that are far from being Magic Realism. And I think most would argue that Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books are Literary Fantasy, and they are certainly Secondary World(/Epic Fantasy).

Amadan
11-09-2012, 04:40 PM
The people who hail LitFic as objecticely better do confuse Literary with literature, or at least they claim that only LitFic is "worthy" of being Literature.

You know, I hear about these people, but they seem to exist largely in a handful of literary magazines and graduate programs. It's not like they are really significant nowadays. I mean, what exactly is this "Literary Establishment" you keep talking about?


And I don't see why "high concept" comes into it, that is usually reserved for genre works that are "literary", and therefore marketed as "should appeal to people who like LitFic", in my experience.

Er, I don't think you understand what high concept (http://www.writersstore.com/high-concept-defined-once-and-for-all/) means.


Well, in my experience, "Magic Realism" is what people call Urban Fantasy(/Contemporary Fantasy) when they don't want to call it Fantasy.

That doesn't describe Haruki Murakami or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Salman Rushdie at all.

Buffysquirrel
11-09-2012, 05:40 PM
She's also considered literary. :)

Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyers, on the other hand...

Heh, well, I'll believe that when Le Guin wins the Nobel.

Weirdmage
11-09-2012, 10:18 PM
You know, I hear about these people, but they seem to exist largely in a handful of literary magazines and graduate programs. It's not like they are really significant nowadays. I mean, what exactly is this "Literary Establishment" you keep talking about?

Scroll back to what I say in post #38 on this thread.


Er, I don't think you understand what high concept (http://www.writersstore.com/high-concept-defined-once-and-for-all/) means.

I'm not sure you noticed the words "in my experience" at the end of what I said about that. What I mean by that, is that is the types of books I have seen marketed as "high concept", especially genre books. Your link is about movies, and it doesn't fit with how I've seen it used about books. But I don't claim to have a monopoly on how "high concept" is used, in fact I don't use the term myself. I'm just referring to how I have seen it used. And from that it's obvious that the article you linked to either doesn't apply to book marketing, or is just one opinion about the definition.


That doesn't describe Haruki Murakami or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Salman Rushdie at all.

Here's the sentence right after the one you quoted, I've highlighted the relevant words:

I know there are some exceptions to that, but I usually see it used on books that could just as well be marketed as Fantasy.

Also:
Murakami has been marketed pretty heavily as Literary Science Fiction, to SFF fans.
I can't remember any instances of Marquez being classified as anything else than LitFic.
And when it comes to Rushdie, you might find it interesting that most of his books are in the Fantasy (and Science Fiction) shelves in my local library. (And as far as I know that would be the case at all libraries in Norway.)

So two of those are good examples of authors that could well be marketed as solely belonging to SFF.
Marquez, as I said, I can't remember being talked about as anything else than LitFic, but my memory isn't always perfect.

Amadan
11-09-2012, 10:29 PM
I'm not sure you noticed the words "in my experience" at the end of what I said about that. What I mean by that, is that is the types of books I have seen marketed as "high concept", especially genre books.

Then in your experience, either you've been using the term incorrectly (likely) or seeing other people doing so (less likely, at least in a widespread manner in professional publishing).


Your link is about movies, and it doesn't fit with how I've seen it used about books. But I don't claim to have a monopoly on how "high concept" is used, in fact I don't use the term myself. I'm just referring to how I have seen it used. And from that it's obvious that the article you linked to either doesn't apply to book marketing, or is just one opinion about the definition.

Then go read some more definitions. Yours is wrong.


Here's the sentence right after the one you quoted, I've highlighted the relevant words:

The problem is that you're saying I know there are some exceptions to that about arguably the defining authors in the genre.



Also:
Murakami has been marketed pretty heavily as Literary Science Fiction, to SFF fans.
I can't remember any instances of Marquez being classified as anything else than LitFic.
And when it comes to Rushdie, you might find it interesting that most of his books are in the Fantasy (and Science Fiction) shelves in my local library. (And as far as I know that would be the case at all libraries in Norway.)

So two of those are good examples of authors that could well be marketed as solely belonging to SFF.
Marquez, as I said, I can't remember being talked about as anything else than LitFic, but my memory isn't always perfect.

Murakami and Rushdie certainly write books that could be classified as SFF, but they are firmly in the litfic/magical realism category.

Weirdmage
11-09-2012, 11:09 PM
Then in your experience, either you've been using the term incorrectly (likely) or seeing other people doing so (less likely, at least in a widespread manner in professional publishing).

Then go read some more definitions. Yours is wrong

I said I don't use the term, and you even quoted me on that.

And I'm not defining anything here. As I said, I'm going by how I've seen it used. Since you strongly disagree with that use there's obviously not just one definition of the term.


The problem is that you're saying I know there are some exceptions to that about arguably the defining authors in the genre.

Murakami and Rushdie certainly write books that could be classified as SFF, but they are firmly in the litfic/magical realism category.

But that just proves my point about Magical Realism being used when you want to avoid classifying something as SFF, Rushdie and Murakami aren't exceptions (, Marquez I don't know enough about to comment on). In both those cases Magical Realism is used instead of classifying them as SFF, which even you say they could be. Why are they not SFF? Why are they "firmly in the litfic/magical realism category"?
With Murakami even the publisher has marketed it as SFF, so they don't seem to agree with your opinion.

Amadan
11-09-2012, 11:53 PM
Why are they not SFF? Why are they "firmly in the litfic/magical realism category"?

Because their writing is dramatically different from mainstream SFF.


With Murakami even the publisher has marketed it as SFF, so they don't seem to agree with your opinion.

Some publishers might do that for marketing reasons. I've never seen Murakami marketed as straight SF in the US, though.

kuwisdelu
11-10-2012, 12:10 AM
Well, in my experience, "Magic Realism" is what people call Urban Fantasy(/Contemporary Fantasy) when they don't want to call it Fantasy. I know there are some exceptions to that, but I usually see it used on books that could just as well be marketed as Fantasy. And usually Magic Realism is used to make the point that it is "better/more literary" than Fantasy.

Nope. They're different genres.


But I actually agree with you. If you try to write Magic Realism, you are in essence trying to write Literary Urban(/Contemporary) Fantasy. So it would be extremly hard to not write it in LitFic style when you do that.

No. You're not. I write both, and they're not the same genre.

You can write a novel that is both magic realism and fantasy, or magic realism and sci-fi. Just like you can have a science fantasy blending elements of fantasy and science fiction, or a sci-fi mystery, or a sci-fi romance, or whatever. But that doesn't make them the same genre.


And to your last point. YES! I've read quite a few Literary Fantasy books that are far from being Magic Realism. And I think most would argue that Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books are Literary Fantasy, and they are certainly Secondary World(/Epic Fantasy).

You've missed the point of my point, though. What bothers me about it is when fantasy writers use their misconceptions to dismiss magic realism as nothing more than SFF written by literary authors afraid to call it SFF. That's not the case.


But that just proves my point about Magical Realism being used when you want to avoid classifying something as SFF, Rushdie and Murakami aren't exceptions (, Marquez I don't know enough about to comment on). In both those cases Magical Realism is used instead of classifying them as SFF, which even you say they could be. Why are they not SFF? Why are they "firmly in the litfic/magical realism category"?
With Murakami even the publisher has marketed it as SFF, so they don't seem to agree with your opinion.

Like Amadan, I've never seen Murakami or Rushdie marketed as straight-up SFF. Magic realism may often use elements and tropes from SFF, and you can even have a story that's both MR and SFF, but that doesn't make them the same genre. The fantastical elements function in fundamentally different ways.

(And it's been pointed out to me before that I think Rushdie actually identifies more as a surrealist author than a magic realism author.)

ETA: If you're not sure what magic realism is, I've blogged on it before (http://kuwisdelu.blogspot.com/2012/03/musings-on-magical-realism-and.html).

gothicangel
11-10-2012, 12:29 AM
It always gets my hackles rising when its claimed that those who read and enjoy literary fiction only do so, because that it is somehow superior. Now I do not doubt that there is a small minority who do so, but I think the majority of literary fiction readers who read and enjoy it, just because they enjoy it. I place myself in the latter category, that doesn't make me a literary snob.

Although, it is quite possible for those making generalization about literary readers, to be suffering from a inverted snobbery.

kuwisdelu
11-10-2012, 12:38 AM
It always gets my hackles rising when its claimed that those who read and enjoy literary fiction only do so, because that it is somehow superior. Now I do not doubt that there is a small minority who do so, but I think the majority of literary fiction readers who read and enjoy it, just because they enjoy it. I place myself in the latter category, that doesn't make me a literary snob.

I enjoy reading literary fiction because it contains the kinds of conflicts I find most interesting.

Weirdmage
11-10-2012, 01:41 AM
Because their writing is dramatically different from mainstream SFF.

That is not my experience as a SFF reader who also reads LitFic. Going back to what I said in post #38, the definition of what is LitFic does not fit with what the content is in SFF books, I have read quite a few SFF books that fit better with the definition generally given for what is LitFic than those books who are said to be LitFic and not SFF. For example, Orwell's 1984 is far from being the most "Literary" SFF book that I've read, but I just recently saw someone state that it is without question SFF. There is no set rule as to what is defined as SFF and LitFic. You can certainly not point to the content of a novel and make that definition stick to everything.


Some publishers might do that for marketing reasons. I've never seen Murakami marketed as straight SF in the US, though.

The UK publisher has marketed it directly to SFF fans. The point is that the definition isn't set in stone.

kuwisdelu
11-10-2012, 01:51 AM
That is not my experience as a SFF reader who also reads LitFic. Going back to what I said in post #38, the definition of what is LitFic does not fit with what the content is in SFF books, I have read quite a few SFF books that fit better with the definition generally given for what is LitFic than those books who are said to be LitFic and not SFF. For example, Orwell's 1984 is far from being the most "Literary" SFF book that I've read, but I just recently saw someone state that it is without question SFF. There is no set rule as to what is defined as SFF and LitFic. You can certainly not point to the content of a novel and make that definition stick to everything.

Whether something is literary fiction doesn't really have much to do with the content of a story, which is why it's not a genre. You seem to be overthinking things.

If you're not sure what constitutes literary fiction, I've discussed my thoughts on how to define it over here (http://kuwisdelu.blogspot.com/2012/02/on-literary-fiction.html).


The UK publisher has marketed it directly to SFF fans. The point is that the definition isn't set in stone.

You may or may not have noticed that most bookstores don't have magic realism sections, just like they don't have bildungsroman sections, and most readers would just be confused by their presence anyway.

There are many times where a work's genre and what it's marketed as are inconsistent. And it's entirely possible belong to more than one genre. That does not make those genres the same.

Buffysquirrel
11-10-2012, 02:10 AM
It always gets my hackles rising when its claimed that those who read and enjoy literary fiction only do so, because that it is somehow superior. Now I do not doubt that there is a small minority who do so, but I think the majority of literary fiction readers who read and enjoy it, just because they enjoy it. I place myself in the latter category, that doesn't make me a literary snob.

I think to an extent that issue arises because people who predominantly read genre only encounter litfic readers when one of the latter a) makes some sneering remark about genre that is widely reported (see Ansible for endless examples of this) or b) comes into a genre space in order to sneer. So that small minority is then perceived as representative of the whole lot.

Weirdmage
11-10-2012, 02:44 AM
Nope. They're different genres.

No. You're not. I write both, and they're not the same genre.

Looking at it from someone who knows SFF, they are not different, except in who defines them. The confusion comes from your next two points.



You can write a novel that is both magic realism and fantasy, or magic realism and sci-fi. Just like you can have a science fantasy blending elements of fantasy and science fiction, or a sci-fi mystery, or a sci-fi romance, or whatever. But that doesn't make them the same genre.

I've seen what I call the "Literary Establishment" call Literary Science Fiction "Slipstream" in recent years. Are you dismissing that defintition, and calling all "Literary SFF" Magical Realism? If so you are at odds with what I see being used frequently enough that I would call it a common defintion.




You've missed the point of my point, though. What bothers me about it is when fantasy writers use their misconceptions to dismiss magic realism as nothing more than SFF written by literary authors afraid to call it SFF. That's not the case.

I've seen, and participated, in that debate several times. People who know SFF points out that this is SFF because of A-B-C, and the LitFic fans saying "NO! You're wrong!", without making any coherent claims to back that.
Why do you have a problem with it being SFF? What is wrong with something that has "literary value" being SFF?



Like Amadan, I've never seen Murakami or Rushdie marketed as straight-up SFF. Magic realism may often use elements and tropes from SFF, and you can even have a story that's both MR and SFF, but that doesn't make them the same genre. The fantastical elements function in fundamentally different ways.

Murakami's UK publisher has marketed 1Q84 extensively, and directly, to SFF fans as what can only be defined as Literary Science Fiction. That is a fact.
Another example here is Iain Banks, one of his novel was published in the US and UK as Iain M. Banks and Iain Banks respectivey. (Sorry, don't remember which now, and don't have time to loook it up ATM.) Banks with the M. is considered SFF, so marketing is different for different territories, and I don't think that can be used as a universal defintion of a genre.
I've never said Rushdie has been marketed as Fantasy, I just pointed out the way Norwegian libraries has chosen to shelve it, to make the point that the defintion of it as LitFic is not universal. And I have seen Rushdie's books being talked about as Fantasy often enough, they are frequently on popularly voted "Best Fantasy/SFF" lists.


ETA: If you're not sure what magic realism is, I've blogged on it before (http://kuwisdelu.blogspot.com/2012/03/musings-on-magical-realism-and.html).

I'm sorry I don't have time to read that know. I have it up on a tab in my browser, and will get to it sometime tomorrow.

kuwisdelu
11-10-2012, 03:11 AM
Looking at it from someone who knows SFF, they are not different, except in who defines them. The confusion comes from your next two points.

I enjoy science fiction, fantasy, and magic realism, and plenty of other genres, too. I can tell the difference between them as well.


I've seen what I call the "Literary Establishment" call Literary Science Fiction "Slipstream" in recent years.

Err, no. I'm familiar with slipstream, and it, too, is distinct from science fiction, though a fairly new one where the lines are blurred quite a bit more. Slipstream is not simply "literary science fiction." Literary science fiction is literary science fiction. There is no reason to call it anything other than literary science fiction. It's not that difficult.

If you believe that these other terms are simply synonyms for "literary science fiction" or "literary fantasy," you are — quite simply — wrong. They're separate terms because they describe other genres. Neither magic realism nor slipstream need be literary fiction, either. They just often are.


Are you dismissing that defintition, and calling all "Literary SFF" Magical Realism? If so you are at odds with what I see being used frequently enough that I would call it a common defintion.

I thought I'd made the point abundantly clear that magic realism is not "literary SFF." Literary SFF is literary SFF is not magic realism. (Unless, of course, it happens to be both SFF and magic realism, which is entirely possible. For example, I consider Pan's Labyrinth equal parts fantasy and magic realism.)

If you see someone equate magic realism with literary fantasy, they are simply wrong.


I've seen, and participated, in that debate several times. People who know SFF points out that this is SFF because of A-B-C, and the LitFic fans saying "NO! You're wrong!", without making any coherent claims to back that.
Why do you have a problem with it being SFF? What is wrong with something that has "literary value" being SFF?

You're mistaking me for someone else. I enjoy science fiction. I enjoy fantasy. I also enjoy magic realism. They can all have literary value.

You're also making the mistake that "literary fiction" = literary value. I mentioned earlier not to mistake literary fiction with literature, but you seem to be doing just that. I suppose "literary fiction" is an unfortunate term in that it's somewhat misleading. Simply put, a work being literary fiction has precious little to do with its literary value. There are plenty of classics in the canon that are straight-up genre fiction with recognized literary merit.

You can also certainly write literary science fiction or literary fantasy that fall into the category of literary fiction. That doesn't make them magic realism or slipstream or any other genre. They're still science fiction and fantasy, just science fiction or fantasy that happens to be literary fiction.

I consider myself a literary fiction writer. When I write magic realism, I call it that. When I write science fiction, I call it that. When I write fantasy, I call it that. If I ever write slipstream, I'll call it that, but I haven't dipped my fingers in that genre yet.


Murakami's UK publisher has marketed 1Q84 extensively, and directly, to SFF fans as what can only be defined as Literary Science Fiction. That is a fact.

I made my point about how what genre a book is and what it's marketed as can sometimes differ.

And in this case, well, there's really nothing that makes 1Q84 science fiction. I would certainly call it speculative fiction, as it involves alternate history and parallel worlds. And it's also magic realism.

Of course, it's not uncommon for other genres under the speculative fiction umbrella to get called science fiction or fantasy, since they're probably the terms more people are familiar with.