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c2ckim
11-12-2006, 06:19 PM
This is another stupid question but what is literary fiction? as opposed to regular fiction or any other kind of fiction? I've never understood the meaning of the term literary fiction.

Nickie
11-12-2006, 08:18 PM
As for me, literary fiction is that kind of book which I wouldn't want to read... Stuff like "Ulysses" and others... We were obliged to read all these titles of great literature when I was at uni, but as soon as I came home, I took up a romance or thriller .. much more enjoyable!


Nickie

ChaosTitan
11-12-2006, 10:23 PM
Try searching the forums using the handy "Search" feature. It may turn up a few threads. I know it's been discussed in the last few months, maybe in Novel Writing.

Dave.C.Robinson
11-12-2006, 10:34 PM
IMHO Literary fiction is a kind of fiction where style and character have far more importance than plot or narrative. Think of long novels with a lot of depth of character, multi-layered meanings, and very little actually happening.

I'm not a real fan of the "genre" but I would say a defining aspect is that it's more about telling a story well than telling a good story. It's not the book you could not put down because the story drew you in even when the writing wasn't the best. It's the book which (in theory) drew you in because the writing was so good.

I hope this helps.

K1P1
11-12-2006, 10:44 PM
IMHO Literary fiction is a kind of fiction where style and character have far more importance than plot or narrative. Think of long novels with a lot of depth of character, multi-layered meanings, and very little actually happening.

I'm not a real fan of the "genre" but I would say a defining aspect is that it's more about telling a story well than telling a good story. It's not the book you could not put down because the story drew you in even when the writing wasn't the best. It's the book which (in theory) drew you in because the writing was so good.

I'd say that this is a definition of mediocre literary fiction, not all literary ficiton.

You can find definitions of this and other genres here: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=322536&highlight=literary#post322536

ETA: Although I enjoy a lot of what the marketing people classify as "literary fiction," I've never been able to get through Ulysses... The best literary fiction can be as action packed and enjoyable as any thriller or romance, but so well written you can get drunk on the language.

c2ckim
11-12-2006, 11:23 PM
Thanks everyone, I've seen so many ads for literary fiction but couldn't figure out what that term meant as opposed to regular fiction. Me, I'd rather read and write regular fiction. Its not as boring. I rather like the passion of the plot

K1P1
11-13-2006, 01:18 AM
I'm sorry that literary fiction seems to be equated with "boring" fiction. It really isn't. No doubt it's because some of it was forced on people in school. But please don't condemn all literary fiction just because what you've encountered wasn't to your taste. I could say the same about SF, romance and fantasy. I dislike most of what I run across on a casual basis because it's not well-written, but I don't condemn it out of hand. I just assume that I haven't encountered the best of it.

James D. Macdonald
11-13-2006, 02:11 AM
"Literary fiction" is a marketing category. The difference between "literary fiction" and any other fiction is the logo on the spine of the book.

Bubastes
11-13-2006, 02:14 AM
What K1P1 said. Good literary fiction can be breathtaking. What constitutes "good," however, seems to be as taste-dependent as any other genre. I personally hated "The Shipping News" and loved "The Hours" and "Interpreter of Maladies," for example, but I'm sure that others would disagree vehemently with me.

I enjoy litfic and romance. I honestly don't think the genre issue is an either/or situation. Any story can be boring, regardless of genre.

K1P1
11-13-2006, 02:39 AM
"Literary fiction" is a marketing category. The difference between "literary fiction" and any other fiction is the logo on the spine of the book.

That being the case, do the publishers label it "literary fiction" if they don't expect it to be popular? :) I can see how this might be the kiss of death for a title. It would be an interesting marketing study, to sell a book in two different categories to see whether the genre label affected how people received it. Personally, I pay no attention to how the publisher labels a work.

Dave.C.Robinson
11-13-2006, 02:49 AM
Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I wanted to be earlier.

I don't consider all literary fiction boring. I do stand by my statement that it's character driven, not plot driven, and in fact that a literary novel does not require much in the way of action to succeed. It's fiction that is supposed to succeed on the strength of the writing not the story. It's about not using action as a crutch.

I still don't care for it as much as a number of other genres, but that doesn't make it bad or boring. It makes it not to my taste.

Of course I like the works of EE "Doc" Smith and the early Doc Savage pulps too.

janetbellinger
11-13-2006, 02:51 AM
I love literary fiction.

engmajor2005
11-13-2006, 03:11 AM
What is marketed as literary fiction tends to be "slice of life" kind of stuff; very realistic or minimal magic realism, usually working-class characters, and a fairly uncomplicated plot. One could say that literary fiction is anything not defined by genres of mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, horror, or thriller.

With that being said, the term literary fiction implies that anything not literary fiction is not literature. I would think that anything you can buy that's not a text or reference book would be literature. Now we can fuss over what's good and bad literature all day; but to say that only a certain narrow part of today's creative writing is literary is a bit snobbish.

Which brings me to this point: the source of the term is either in the publishing industry or in academia, where pipe-smoking and tweed sweater-wearing English professors with Ivy League degrees wanted something to make them feel good about the fact that their books were only selling because they were on the reading lists of the classes they taught, while the genre writers were making serious cake.

c2ckim
11-13-2006, 04:01 AM
My mistake, please forgive me, I didn't mean boring as in BORING, I meant that litereary fiction isn't sometimes as passionate as plotwise fiction or suspense, thriller, romance, or fantasy ficition. Literary fiction is wonderfull and it teachs us a lot but its not as fast as any other fiction I've read.
I certainly didn't mean to insult anyone with my question, I just wanted to know what the difference was between literary fiction and any other fiction.
Please forgive me.

Scribhneoir
11-14-2006, 04:09 AM
The best literary fiction can be as action packed and enjoyable as any thriller or romance, but so well written you can get drunk on the language.

Could you suggest an action-packed literary fiction title? I don't believe I've ever come across such a beast. Normally I don't care for literary fiction precisely because the writers often seem to be drunk on the language much to the detriment of telling a story. I'd love to read something that truly offers both.

engmajor2005
11-14-2006, 04:21 AM
Could you suggest an action-packed literary fiction title?

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe
Anything featuring Sherlock Holmes
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Oh wait...these aren't "literary" given the definition of "literary fiction."

Oh well, they're classics and they're fun; maybe not "literary" but definitely action-packed and well-written.

KTC
11-14-2006, 05:21 AM
I think I started a thread with this question before? I had 7 betas tell me my MS was literary fiction. Turns out my favourite readings are literary. I had to ask them what it was, then I wasn't satisfied with their answers and I've seen it asked over and over again here. Sounds linke Engmajor has summed it up pretty good. But somebody will be along any minute to offer their own completely different definition. That's the frustration in defining it...everybody has their own idea of what it is?

aruna
11-14-2006, 09:35 AM
Could you suggest an action-packed literary fiction title?

I suggest most of the novels of John LeCarre. Yes, he;s a spy thriller writer, but his books are not only edge of your seat: the characters are four-dimensional, the themes will have you deliberating for weeks, and the writing is stellar. An example: The Little Drummer Girl.

OK, the first or two chapters are very slow, but once it gets gong it has you holding your breath. What could be more exciting than a normal civilian actress recruited by the Israeli Secret Service to let herself be recruited by Palestinian terrorists, in order to hunt down the top Palestinian terrorist as a counter spy?
And Lecarre's Geoge Smiley is defintely a character who deserves to live forever.

Éclairer
11-14-2006, 11:43 PM
I love literary fiction.

I write literary fiction.

Scribhneoir
11-15-2006, 12:16 AM
I suggest most of the novels of John LeCarre. Yes, he;s a spy thriller writer, but his books are not only edge of your seat: the characters are four-dimensional, the themes will have you deliberating for weeks, and the writing is stellar. An example: The Little Drummer Girl.


Thanks, Aruna. I'll check them out. I've never read any LeCarre before, but I've heard only good things about him.

However, when K1P1 commented on action-packed literary fiction, I was wondering what titles, shelved in the literary fiction area of the bookstore, were action-packed. I was thinking of something published within, say, the past ten years, and that is categorized by the publisher/bookseller as "literary" as opposed to "thriller."

Classics such as engmajor2005's suggestions don't really fit my criteria because they've stood the test of time as stories, and often were the pop culture/genre fiction of their time anyway. Dickens might be studied in English Lit classes today as "literature", but he wasn't marketed as such in his own era. He supplied entertainment for the masses.

So, does anyone know of any action-packed literary fiction that is categorized and shelved as "literary"? I really would like to read some. Or is this just going to send us deeper into the "what is literary fiction" thicket?

David McAfee
11-15-2006, 01:52 AM
Just curious if Crime and Punishment falls into the "Literary Fiction" category. I love that book, myself.

Carmy
11-15-2006, 08:18 AM
I've read and enjoyed LeCarre without knowing his work was considered 'literary'. I would have classed it as spy or thriller.

Of the books I've read that I know to be classed as literary, I have always reached the last page and been seriously disappointed for having wasted my time. Maybe I'm reading the wrong literary authors but I object to having to supply the ending to a novel that is 'left up in the air'. I consider it cheating.

K1P1
11-15-2006, 08:53 AM
Could you suggest an action-packed literary fiction title? I don't believe I've ever come across such a beast. Normally I don't care for literary fiction precisely because the writers often seem to be drunk on the language much to the detriment of telling a story. I'd love to read something that truly offers both.

Sorry, I didn't see this until now.

How about, Barth, Pynchon, Sayers (at least her later novels, not the early ones) ...

ETA: some of A.S. Byatt, not all. And how about Jane Smiley? As to whether the publisher classes these as literary fiction, I have no idea. Do you?

K1P1
11-15-2006, 08:56 AM
However, when K1P1 commented on action-packed literary fiction, I was wondering what titles, shelved in the literary fiction area of the bookstore, were action-packed. I was thinking of something published within, say, the past ten years, and that is categorized by the publisher/bookseller as "literary" as opposed to "thriller."

Who knows? The difficulty is that an author may write a work of literary fiction, but the publisher decides how to categorize it. So, I can answer what I think is a piece of literary fiction that has plenty of action, but that may not be what the publisher called it.

Is there actually a section of the bookstore called "literary fiction"? I've never seen one in the bookstores I frequent. Usually there are "novels" or "fiction" and "mysteries."

ETA: It seems to me that there's really no determining answer to this argument. If you've defined "literary fiction" as novels with a lot of description and no action, then by definition if there's action then it's not a work of literary fiction. It comes down to semantics. It sounds like what you call LF, Scribhneoir, and what I call LF may be two different things.

kmm8n
11-16-2006, 06:25 AM
This is sort of off-topic, so forgive me...

Has anyone heard of "Literary Non Fiction"?

That's the current writing unit I am supposed to be teaching and I don't see a difference between what is being called "literary non fiction" and plain old non fiction.

Bubastes
11-16-2006, 07:33 AM
This is sort of off-topic, so forgive me...

Has anyone heard of "Literary Non Fiction"?

That's the current writing unit I am supposed to be teaching and I don't see a difference between what is being called "literary non fiction" and plain old non fiction.

Yes. If I recall correctly, literary non-fiction is non-fiction using literary storytelling techniques. John McPhee is one author to check out.

J. Weiland
11-16-2006, 12:22 PM
I've once read a definition that said 'literary fiction' includes avant-garde and experimental novels, fiction by writers best known for their styles, re-creations of classic styles...

Scribhneoir
11-16-2006, 11:19 PM
Who knows? The difficulty is that an author may write a work of literary fiction, but the publisher decides how to categorize it. So, I can answer what I think is a piece of literary fiction that has plenty of action, but that may not be what the publisher called it.

Hence the reason threads about the definition of literary fiction keep popping up. I think there's also a feeling among some literary fiction aficionados that genre fiction can't also be literary and vice versa, but perhaps that's just my impression.


Is there actually a section of the bookstore called "literary fiction"? I've never seen one in the bookstores I frequent. Usually there are "novels" or "fiction" and "mysteries."

My local Borders has "Literature/Fiction" as a shelving category. That's where you'll find the authors you mentioned, but not John LeCarre as Aruna mentioned. He'd be in "Mystery/Thriller", along with Raymond Chandler, whom I consider to be literary, but who will only be found in the mystery section. Borders has gotten very precise in their shelving, too. Separate categories for "African American Fiction" and "Christian Fiction" and so on. I'm not sure if "Literature" would trump other categories if the work was both. For instance, would a literary fiction work by a black author be shelved as "Literature" or "African American"? And what effect would that have on their sales?


It seems to me that there's really no determining answer to this argument. ... It comes down to semantics. It sounds like what you call LF, Scribhneoir, and what I call LF may be two different things.

It may indeed.

Anyway, your mention of Jane Smiley reminded me of The All True Travels and Adventures of Liddie Newton, which I read several years ago. That would qualify as "action-packed" although the ending fizzled for me and left me unsatisfied. But, it definitely had more action than something like The Lovely Bones, which mostly bored me.

K1P1
11-17-2006, 12:44 AM
Perhaps the answer is that "literary fiction" when written well, is enjoyable. When not so well done, like any other "genre," not so enjoyable. :)

For the most part, I avoid the big box stores so am unfamiliar with their categories. We don't have a Borders near here. There is a Barnes & Nobel in the next town. I frequent a small independent bookstore. Limited space means limited categories, I suspect.