Monday, February 4, 2013

What is Literary Fiction?

Some might define literary fiction as something they read in English lit classes as opposed to the grocery checkout line.  But what exactly is literary fiction?

Style, for one thing.  Voice is a big part of style.  That voice should be compelling, original and grab the reader from the beginning.

Language matters. Tightly-honed sentences, individual phrasing and paragraphs that flow are all part of style.  The use of timing helps.  Authentic, crisp dialogue also contributes to literary quality. 

Literary fiction is more than simply telling a story.  A great adventure is fine, but literary fiction gives reader a deeper look at human experience.

Generally, literary fiction focuses on character development and to a lesser degree on plot.    Symbolism (metaphors and similes) and sensory detail provide a glimpse into the characters' world.

However, if the work does not contain a plot, it won't hold the attention of the reader.  Narrative movement is essential.  This keeps the story together from start to finish.  It's the glue to making it work.  The first, middle and ending must must stay on course.  The crucial part is what matters in the story, and the writer has to build around that.

I'd like to consider myself a literary fiction writer.  But achieving that goal is an ongoing process.

Here is a short list of what I would consider literary fiction.  (Far from complete and in no particular order.)
       Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

 Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

 Staring at the Sun, by Julian Barnes

 Invisible by Paul Auster

 New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

 The Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor

 Tripmaster Monkey by Maxine Hong Kingston

 Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

 The Red and the Black by Stendhal

       Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut

 Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

 Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (first of a trilogy)

 Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
       Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

 The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murskami

 The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

 The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
       Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

       Possession by A.S. Byatt

       Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

       Beloved by Toni Morrison

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