Lit Fic Check-In?

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ap123

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Hello All.

I'm curious, and maybe just a little bit lonely :tongue

Is there anyone currently active on AW who writes lit fic? Or the subcategories that sometimes fall under it, like satire, magical realism, absurdist, existentialist, umm, I dunno what else, and I'd love if someone else does.

Obviously many (most? all?) of the general writing thread discussions apply and are helpful regardless of what category or genre we write. That said, different categories and genres emphasize different aspects, and within the goal of wanting the reader to keep turning pages, have somewhat different expectations.

So if you write/are writing something that falls under the lit fic umbrella, please pop in and say hi.
 

Lakey

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Hello ap123,

I am not exactly sure who gets to decide whether one’s writing is literary or not, but perhaps I qualify. My writing style is not especially poetic (and indeed I am working on writing with more deceptively straightforward style, rather than trying to sound literary), but I am always striving for strong, layered metaphors; I love an overloaded symbol. I don’t experiment with form much, but my stories do tend to be more about what goes on between the characters’ ears than about big plot-driving events or happenings.

My inspirations are certainly literary, and perhaps my aspirations as well. Does that qualify?

:e2coffee:
 

ap123

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Hello ap123,

I am not exactly sure who gets to decide whether one’s writing is literary or not, but perhaps I qualify. My writing style is not especially poetic (and indeed I am working on writing with more deceptively straightforward style, rather than trying to sound literary), but I am always striving for strong, layered metaphors; I love an overloaded symbol. I don’t experiment with form much, but my stories do tend to be more about what goes on between the characters’ ears than about big plot-driving events or happenings.

My inspirations are certainly literary, and perhaps my aspirations as well. Does that qualify?

:e2coffee:

Thanks for joining, Lakey!

I'm not sure where your work goes, when you've got a short you're trying to place, are you looking at Glimmertrain type places or Ellery Queen/Strange Horizons type mags? When querying a full length mss, are you querying it as lit fic/mainstream/satire or mystery/thriller/historical/sff?

While I've seen that discussion before (who gets to decide something is literary), when querying, there are many agents who list lit fic as a category they rep, and I've queried work as literary. Gotten requests, gotten passes, never gotten reprimanded for using the category. :)

Poetic can encompass many different styles. I'm not a poet, but I know there's ee Cummings and there's Walt Whitman--both are poetry. I've seen excerpts of your work that I would classify as poetic, fwiw.

When I think of a somewhat recent, contemporary lit fic novel one of the first that jumps into my mind is Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham. (I've championed this one before, I'm a huge fan) It's absolutely stunning, definitely literary, and not at all the type of story/writing I often see people confuse for lit fic; neither confusing nor opaque, and not remotely flowery. :)

I don't *know,* but I think experimental would qualify as a subcategory of literary, not defining.
 

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*Raises hand*

I write literary fiction. At first, I didn't think I was good enough to write literary fiction (imposter syndrome) but then other writers, editors and other people told me my writing was literary and I decided to embrace it.

I don't believe writing has to be evocative or poetic to qualify as literary. Take for example Anna Burns' Milkman or Sally Rooney's novels, neither of their writing are poetic but they are both classified as literary fiction. Also writing doesn't have to be obscure and opaque to be literary, sometimes it comes down to the themes being explored and the level of depth into character's psyche and motivations.

Lakey — from what I have seen from what you posted in the Historical SYW section, I would say your writing is literary.
 

ap123

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*Raises hand*

I write literary fiction. At first, I didn't think I was good enough to write literary fiction (imposter syndrome) YES but then other writers, editors and other people told me my writing was literary and I decided to embrace it.

I don't believe writing has to be evocative or poetic to qualify as literary. YES Take for example Anna Burns' Milkman or Sally Rooney's novels, neither of their writing are poetic but they are both classified as literary fiction. Also writing doesn't have to be obscure and opaque to be literary, sometimes it comes down to the themes being explored and the level of depth into character's psyche and motivations. and YES

Lakey — from what I have seen from what you posted in the Historical SYW section, I would say your writing is literary.

Exactly what I'm talking about, Elle, thank you! I write what I write, but it is nice to see I'm not alone here on AW. :)
 

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A few folks tell me there are occasional lit-fic flairs within my writing. Some say it has an occasional magical realism feel. Others have said I am squarely journalistic. I don't aim for literary, as you know I'm writing climate fiction. But everything is always something else to me, and I think that peeks out from time to time.

I've sort of developed the idea that it's like the distinction between plotting and pantsing--any one of us is probably somewhere in between? You're closer to lit-fiction, for sure. Big ol' voice and cool new ideas, all beautifully told.
 

ap123

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A few folks tell me there are occasional lit-fic flairs within my writing. Some say it has an occasional magical realism feel. Others have said I am squarely journalistic. I don't aim for literary, as you know I'm writing climate fiction. But everything is always something else to me, and I think that peeks out from time to time.

I've sort of developed the idea that it's like the distinction between plotting and pantsing--any one of us is probably somewhere in between? You're closer to lit-fiction, for sure. Big ol' voice and cool new ideas, all beautifully told.

Hmm, I'm not sure about the comp to plotting/pantsing. Lit fic is a definite category unto itself. Yes, there are many wonderful novels that cross the boundaries and are categorized as literary SFF, or literary mystery, etc, but there is also such a thing as lit fic. The mss of mine that you read is one I squarely consider as spec fic, not lit fic. :)
 

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Ahh. I stand corrected. Then I have no idea. :)
 

Lakey

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I'm not sure where your work goes, when you've got a short you're trying to place, are you looking at Glimmertrain type places or Ellery Queen/Strange Horizons type mags? When querying a full length mss, are you querying it as lit fic/mainstream/satire or mystery/thriller/historical/sff?

To your first question, neither Ellery Queen or Strange Horizons would want anything to do with my writing. I don't write genre stuff - and I don't mean that as a dig of any kind, but none of my stories are mystery or SF or fantasy or spec fic or genre romance. That's definitely not what I do. But I don't know that the opposite of "genre" is "literary." I tend to submit my stories to university lit mag type places for what that is worth. But I don't have a huge track record, because I'm fairly new to fiction. I'm polishing up a piece now for the Columbia Journal annual competition and will submit it to some other journals as well. I'll let you know how that goes. ;)

As for the second question, again, I'm working on my first novel and I'm a long, long, LONG way from querying it. I won't query it as mystery/thriller/sff, obviously. Might I query it as historical? Maybe; it's set in 1951, and it draws on the political and social history of the time. It's a story about some women and the relationships they are trying to navigate. Might I query it as lit fic? I've no idea. Might I not query it at all? Quite possibly, if I don't think it's good enough.

I've seen excerpts of your work that I would classify as poetic, fwiw.
I do appreciate that, because as I said, metaphors are of great value to me. So there is that sense in which one might call my writing poetic, even if at the sentence level it is not especially so.

When I think of a somewhat recent, contemporary lit fic novel one of the first that jumps into my mind is Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham. (I've championed this one before, I'm a huge fan) It's absolutely stunning, definitely literary, and not at all the type of story/writing I often see people confuse for lit fic; neither confusing nor opaque, and not remotely flowery. :)

I don't *know,* but I think experimental would qualify as a subcategory of literary, not defining.

to be evocative or poetic to qualify as literary. Take for example Anna Burns' Milkman or Sally Rooney's novels, neither of their writing are poetic but they are both classified as literary fiction. Also writing doesn't have to be obscure and opaque to be literary, sometimes it comes down to the themes being explored and the level of depth into character's psyche and motivations.


I feel with literary that there is a bit of a Justice Stewart sort of test - one knows it when one sees it. And then it can be hard to put into words what makes it literary, because there is always something else that ALSO feels literary that is yet completely different.

Lakey — from what I have seen from what you posted in the Historical SYW section, I would say your writing is literary.

Thank you, Elle; I will take that from you, because you know your lit fic, both as a reader and as a writer.
 
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ap123

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To your first question, neither Ellery Queen or Strange Horizons would want anything to do with my writing. I don't write genre stuff - and I don't mean that as a dig of any kind, but none of my stories are mystery or SF or fantasy or spec fic or genre romance. That's definitely not what I do. But I don't know that the opposite of "genre" is "literary." I tend to submit my stories to university lit mag type places for what that is worth. But I don't have a huge track record, because I'm fairly new to fiction. I'm polishing up a piece now for the Columbia Journal annual competition and will submit it to some other journals as well. I'll let you know how that goes. ;)

As for the second question, again, I'm working on my first novel and I'm a long, long, LONG way from querying it. I won't query it as mystery/thriller/sff, obviously. Might I query it as historical? Maybe; it's set in 1951, and it draws on the political and social history of the time. It's a story about some women and the relationships they are trying to navigate. Might I query it as lit fic? I've no idea. Might I not query it at all? Quite possibly, if I don't think it's good enough.


I do appreciate that, because as I said, metaphors are of great value to me. So there is that sense in which one might call my writing poetic, even if at the sentence level it is not especially so.






I feel with literary that there is a bit of a Justice Stewart sort of test - one knows it when one sees it. And then it can be hard to put into words what makes it literary, because there is always something else that ALSO feels literary that is yet completely different.



Thank you, Elle; I will take that from you, because you know your lit fic, both as a reader and as a writer.

If the university lit fic mags feel like home, you're probably writing lit fic :)

I agree that literary is not the opposite of genre. They're different categories, though one can include the other (as mentioned above, literary SFF, etc). IMO one is not inherently better than the other, they're different, with appeal to different readers. Within each genre is a spectrum of styles, and I would say the same is true for lit fic. There are expectations for novels marketed as lit fic. While the definition can be (as I've said before on AW) squishy, there are definite expectations and goals to fit the category.
 

Ari Meermans

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Everything in literature is genre beginning with the five hierarchal groups: Poetry, Drama, Prose, Nonfiction, and Media, then drilling down to each of their genre subcategories—keeping in mind anything that isn't poetry is prose. In fiction, for example, those genre subcategories would include Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance, and others, which are then further subcategorized themselves.

Literary is a marketing category which indicates that the content focuses on the character and the character's inner world rather than on the conflict which sets the story in motion. It's simply the difference in content focus in the story you want to tell. The use of literary devices such as motifs, themes, and metaphors can (and often does) result in a more lyrical or poetic style and flow, but that isn't the aim. Master craftsmanship is in the use of language, even when the language is simple or to the point; it is by no means meant to be flowery or purple—it serves a distinct purpose in telling the story. Those who think big or fancy words distinguish whether the content is literary are missing the point and should be ignored.
 
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insolentlad

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Literary is a marketing category which indicates that the content focuses on the character and the character's inner world rather than on the conflict which sets the story in motion. It's simply the difference in content focus in the story you want to tell.
From the standpoint of 'genre' rather than marketing category, I prefer to call my stuff 'narrative realism.' That better describes what it actually is. Whether it better fits the 'Literary Fiction' market or the 'Upmarket Fiction' category, I can't really say—that's pretty much out of my hands.
 

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Exactly what I'm talking about, Elle, thank you! I write what I write, but it is nice to see I'm not alone here on AW. :)

It is indeed nice not be alone. I do sometimes feel isolated with all the SF and fantasy around. :Hug2:


Everything in literature is genre beginning with the five hierarchal groups: Poetry, Drama, Prose, Nonfiction, and Media, then drilling down to each of their genre subcategories—keeping in mind anything that isn't poetry is prose. In fiction, for example, those genre subcategories would include Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance, and others, which are then further subcategorized themselves.

Literary is a marketing category which indicates that the content focuses on the character and the character's inner world rather than on the conflict which sets the story in motion. It's simply the difference in content focus in the story you want to tell. The use of literary devices such as motifs, themes, and metaphors can (and often do) result in a more lyrical or poetic style and flow, but that isn't the aim. Master craftsmanship is in the use of language, even when the language is simple or to the point; it is by no means flowery or purple—it serves a distinct purpose in telling the story. Those who think big or fancy words distinguish whether the content is literary are missing the point and should be ignored.

That's a pretty accurate definition for me.

Another way to look at it for me is that in non-literary fiction the language and the words are there to get the story from A to B, whereas in literary fiction, the language and choice of words is as important as the story itself.
 
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Ari Meermans

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No, neither of you are alone. I too write with a literary bent; it's just who I am. If ever there was a defining question of my life it's why? And that's because I'm more easily immersed in the inner workings than in the questions of what? and how? Why do people think or feel this way? Why did a culture come to be that way? Why doesn't that watch run anymore?
 

ap123

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Everything in literature is genre beginning with the five hierarchal groups: Poetry, Drama, Prose, Nonfiction, and Media, then drilling down to each of their genre subcategories—keeping in mind anything that isn't poetry is prose. In fiction, for example, those genre subcategories would include Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance, and others, which are then further subcategorized themselves.

Literary is a marketing category which indicates that the content focuses on the character and the character's inner world rather than on the conflict which sets the story in motion. It's simply the difference in content focus in the story you want to tell. The use of literary devices such as motifs, themes, and metaphors can (and often do) result in a more lyrical or poetic style and flow, but that isn't the aim. Master craftsmanship is in the use of language, even when the language is simple or to the point; it is by no means flowery or purple—it serves a distinct purpose in telling the story. Those who think big or fancy words distinguish whether the content is literary are missing the point and should be ignored.

Feels right to me. :)

From the standpoint of 'genre' rather than marketing category, I prefer to call my stuff 'narrative realism.' That better describes what it actually is. Whether it better fits the 'Literary Fiction' market or the 'Upmarket Fiction' category, I can't really say—that's pretty much out of my hands.

As someone who queries without prior pub credits or degrees, I try to use the language/words I see agents specifically saying they rep to show I have *some* familiarity , so for me I'd shy from a term like narrative realism. :)
It is indeed nice not be alone. I do sometimes feel isolated with all the SF and fantasy around. :Hug2:




That's a pretty accurate definition for me.

Another way to look at it for me is that in non-literary fiction the language and the words are there to get the story from A to B, whereas in literary fiction, the language and choice of words is as important as the story itself.

:Hug2:
Agreed, re the importance of the journey through the use of language/word choice.
 

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As someone who queries without prior pub credits or degrees, I try to use the language/words I see agents specifically saying they rep to show I have *some* familiarity , so for me I'd shy from a term like narrative realism. :)

It is a quite widely used term. But I would use neither it nor literary fiction in a query — mainstream fiction or contemporary fiction works better, I think.
 

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Another way to look at it for me is that in non-literary fiction the language and the words are there to get the story from A to B, whereas in literary fiction, the language and choice of words is as important as the story itself.

I like this formulation; it articulates what I was trying to get at earlier when I said I was striving for a deceptively straightforward style.

:e2coffee:
 

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It is a quite widely used term. But I would use neither it nor literary fiction in a query — mainstream fiction or contemporary fiction works better, I think.

I don't know much about US agents but in the UK I have never come across the term narrative realism either on agency website or mentioned by agents are something they represent or look for. In my understanding mainstream fiction is commercial fiction so not related to literary fiction, contemporary kind of fit but it is very vague for an agent unless you can give them some comp title so they know where your MS stands. For example both "Eleonor Oliphant is Completely Fine" and "Everything Under" are both contemporary fiction but content and style wise they couldn't be more different.
 

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Literary is a marketing category which indicates that the content focuses on the character and the character's inner world rather than on the conflict which sets the story in motion. It's simply the difference in content focus in the story you want to tell. The use of literary devices such as motifs, themes, and metaphors can (and often do) result in a more lyrical or poetic style and flow, but that isn't the aim. Master craftsmanship is in the use of language, even when the language is simple or to the point; it is by no means flowery or purple—it serves a distinct purpose in telling the story. Those who think big or fancy words distinguish whether the content is literary are missing the point and should be ignored.
Can we sticky that somewhere? It's as neat a definition as I've heard for a while... :Sun:

- - - Updated - - -

Literary is a marketing category which indicates that the content focuses on the character and the character's inner world rather than on the conflict which sets the story in motion. It's simply the difference in content focus in the story you want to tell. The use of literary devices such as motifs, themes, and metaphors can (and often do) result in a more lyrical or poetic style and flow, but that isn't the aim. Master craftsmanship is in the use of language, even when the language is simple or to the point; it is by no means flowery or purple—it serves a distinct purpose in telling the story. Those who think big or fancy words distinguish whether the content is literary are missing the point and should be ignored.
Can we sticky that somewhere? It's as neat a definition as I've heard for a while... :Sun:
 

Chris P

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I too like Ari's definition. It brings to mind Roger Ebert, who once said "American movies are about situations; foreign movies are about people." I wonder if this is a corollary to that? That said, I'm not entirely ready yet to abandon my belief that literary is a style rather than a genre, as we can have literary sci-fi, literary romance, etc., and have those be about situations (literary where nothing happens is snoozville). But perhaps "style" is the wrong word in light of the definition Ari provides?

I aspire to write literary, but I've only had publishing success writing more genre-ey stuff. I love having fun with language, and presenting perspectives and illustrating what I want to say in creative ways. I have yet to get very far with publishing what I think is my best work. I do want to have something "important" published someday.
 

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Right. Literary is a marketing category, not a genre. Now, style—it's an interesting critter all on its own and so many elements go into defining style, which is why I tend to shy away from using the word except in discussing the works of an individual author. I wonder sometimes if our manner of labeling things lies more in our affinity for homogeneity than in anything else, such as calling so many different things "style". But to me, style is prismatic and varies according to the themes we explore, our choices from available literary devices, and our choices wrt words and their arrangements—the individual prisms with which we writers each explore and try to illuminate the human condition in all its fascinating lights. Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates are literary writers, yet you can easily tell a Toni Morrison story from a Joyce Carol Oates story because their prisms are different. Now this is just me musing, of course.
 
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ap123

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While it's true "literary" is more a category than genre, it's an accepted category for defining and querying purposes. When I research agents, it's listed along with romance, suspense, SFF, etc when and where agents lists what they do/don't rep. The voices and styles within the category vary, same as China Mieville, Ursula LeGuin, and Jim Butcher all write fantasy, but with distinctly different styles and voices.

What I was hoping for with this thread was to find others who write lit fic, because AW does tend to be more genre focused in the writing discussions.

the individual prisms with which we writers each explore and try to illuminate the human condition in all its fascinating lights.

I think this is a significant portion of how lit fic can be defined, that exploration/illumination of the human condition through the use of character and story, as opposed to works categorized more as genre fiction, where the primary is often more about the story. Obviously, there are shades of each in every book, regardless of genre or category.

SWest, I'll take a café con leche, please.
 

ap123

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you have limited space in a novel, regardless of wordcount or size. in writing genre fiction, most of the time, some of that space must be given over to other elements (worldbuilding for spec fic, structure for crime or thriller etc). in literary, all of the space can be given over to concept, pretty much.

I was just thinking of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh, a contemporary novel that pretty much exemplifies this.
 

mccardey

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While it's true "literary" is more a category than genre, it's an accepted category for defining and querying purposes.
This is also true - very true.

A couple of months ago, I was talking with an editor in the UK who said 'reading group fiction' was also a Thing - kind of mix between genre and straight-up lit-fic.
, there’s far more blurring of the boundaries between literary and commercial fiction over here than in Australia. While it’s widely acknowledged that literary fiction tends to be a harder sell, there’s a large middle ground, pitched as ‘reading group fiction.’ These are thought-provoking novels, which often play with structure and voices, that occupy the mid-ground for those readers who like to be challenged but who also want strong stories

That feels like a comfortable place to be.