Sunday, November 24, 2013

What is Literary Fiction?

Many editors believe that one of the primary differences between literary fiction and mainstream fiction is that mainstream fiction tends to have a stronger emphasis on story or plot than on character.

This does not mean that plot is not important to literary fiction; narrative movement and a good story line are crucial and must include the elements that we commonly associate with stories.  The work must be kept together from start to finish.  

Some elements of literary fiction:

Complex and layered, with in-depth character studies
A focus on characters that drive the plot 
Usually enlist emotional involvement in the reader
Are primarily based in language and metaphorical
Concentrate on the senses

Some examples of popular literary fiction:

The Stranger by Albert Camus
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres

Whether or not literary fiction is called a "genre" is debatable.  It's all fiction, excerpt the literary style tends to be lyrical, takes risks and concentrates not on the climax but all the drama, before and after.

If you enjoy intrigue, plots and subplots, and novels filled with action, then mainstream fiction is what you want.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Be Honest--Write for Yourself

I'm paraphrasing from Writing to Save Your Life by Michele Weldon:

Write for yourself.  Even if in the back of your mind you're hoping to self-publish your book, or be discovered with a best seller.  Don't confuse your writing with the need for approval.  Write for honesty's sake.  Write for writing's sake.

Write for the you who is free from the fear of judgment.  Write for the you who comes in the door from work and wears the slouchiest sweatpants because they are soft and comfortable and you've worn them since college.  Write for the you who wakes up in the morning refreshed before remembering anything that needs to be done for anyone.

Write for the you who puts French fries between the buns of the cheeseburger in spite of jeers from friends.  Write for the you who plays 50s music and dances for hours. Write for the you who has cold lasagna for breakfast--straight out of the fridge, eating it with your hands.  Write for the you who sometimes doesn't want to dwell on what other people think.  Write for the you who is still innocent.  Don't censor yourself because limiting your words and stifling your truth will not help you heal.

Write freely.  Write to be free of the fear of what will happen when you write the truth. 
But write.

I realize this is a tall order.  If you are writing a memoir, write your life and turn it into art.   If you are writing fiction, write the lie that tells the truth.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Time Is On Your Side

  • P.D. James published her first book, Cover Her Face, at age 42.
  • Rachel Carson published her first book, Silent Spring, at age 54.
  • Annie Proulx published her first book, Postcards, at age 58.
  • Penelope Fitzgerald published her first novel, The Golden Child, at age 61.
  • Frank McCourt published his first book, Angela's Ashes, at age 66.
  • Peter Pouncey published his first book, Rules for Old Men Waiting, at age 67.
  • Harriet Doerr published her first book, Stones for Ibarra, at age 73.
  • Helen Hooven Santmyer published her first bestseller, "...And Ladies of the Club," at age 88.
You have time to live an entire life as something else, and then become a writer.

This has been the case for yours truly, who published her first short story, "The Bear in the Outhouse," at age 56.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Strange Phenomenons

Once you're into a story everything seems to apply--what you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you're writing.  Wherever you go, you meet part of your story.  I guess you're tuned in for it, and the right things are sort of magnetized.
                                                                      --Eudora Welty

Once you've committed to a story on which you're working, external forces seem to kick in. Something at the grocery story catches your eye, a conversation you hear at a restaurant, a film or magazine article speaks to you.  A friend visits a country you're including in your book.

You don't have to ask for any of this.  It all flows naturally toward you.  Trust this phenomenon.  As long as you work on your project regularly, what you need will come to you.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Keep Some Things to Yourself

Do you know folks who bombard you with intimate details of their life before you say hello?  And do you walk a mile out of your way to avoid them?

Voltaire says "The secret of being tiresome is to tell everything."  We say "too much information."

The same applies to writing.  Perhaps you've written exhaustive details of your characters.  The schools they attended, the foods they love and hate, the music they listen to in the car.  These do not have to be dutifully recited, just slipped in where they really matter in the story.

Separate what is essential for what you are now writing.  What you leave out is as important as what you leave in.

Details are important, but don't get bogged down writing them.

Progress On My Second Novel

The main problem in my second novel is drawing out the female protagonist. She is 21, admitted to a psych ward of a hospital after a suicide...