Literary fiction is hard to define, because many writers, published authors, editors and agents have a different definition for it. And if a type of novel is hard to define, then it gets even harder to write, because how can you be sure that what you’re writing will fit the genre? But, literary fiction, while often wrongly defined and described as eccentric (and even boring), puts great books on the shelves. Below, you will find the things a literary fiction novel needs to be classified as such when it hits the bookstore shelves.
Many writers think that to write literary fiction, is to write a story that has no plot. This is a very common misconception. Literary fiction needs to have a plot just as much as a genre novel. The only difference between the plot in genre fiction and the plot in literary fiction is that the plot in genre fiction is easily perceived, while the plot in literary fiction can, and most often is a lot more subtle. The plot in literary fiction can move at a slower pace, and sometimes, it can be in the mind of the protagonist, or in his or her emotions. In this case, the resolution, climax and the end of a literary novel can be quite anticlimactic, especially if the ending is focused on the emotions and thoughts of the protagonist, instead of a specific event.
2. Deep characterization
Characterization is important in both genre and literary fiction. However, genre fiction stories are focused on plot, action and thrill a lot more than literary fiction stories. This is why the strength of a literary novel lies in deep characterization, expressed by a writing style that many would call elegant. The protagonist and the other characters of a literary novel need to be explored a lot deeper, even if they are only supporting characters with minor roles in the overall plot.
3. Exploration of themes and ideas
A literary fiction story can have a plot that would fit in a genre: science fiction, mystery, speculative fiction, or any other genre. However, in literary fiction, often the plot revolves around a specific theme or idea, and said idea is explored deeply and from many aspects, from how it affects the protagonist, to how it affects the other characters, and even the world, if the theme is universal. It is that deep exploration of ideas and themes that leaves the reader feeling like they have learned something new about humanity, and what it means to be human.
4. Opinion without preaching
It goes without saying that some, if not most, of your opinions will show in your writing. However, while a genre novel might not be the right place for the characters to reflect on themselves, their behavior or the world in general, a literary novel could thrive that way, if the execution is done the right way. What you have to remember is that you should never preach in your writing, even in a literary fiction story. It’s still fiction, a form of escape, and the language and writing style should reflect that. If your novel reads like a textbook, or a guide, then the readers will not want to read it.
5. Elegant language
A literary fiction novel, as we said above, needs to have a plot around which the writer can explore ideas and themes that are universal. These key elements are accompanied by an elegant writing style that, while lyrical and elegant, is still be easy to read. The best way to achieve this is to avoid slang and the passive voice, and use a variation of short and long sentences in your prose.
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Image credit: Graham F. Scott/This Magazine on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/photo.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic.
As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.