What IS Literary Fiction?
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I am new to all of these different genres. Can someone explain Please?

  • To me, literary fiction is about a sensibility, a state of mind, a subtle world-view that the characters occupy on the page.  The prose supports this sensibility.  Commercial fiction is firmly anchored in the visible world, and less in the private realm of one's thoughts and ruminations.  Not a clear divide, obviously.  There are many commercial authors who write very lyrically, and many literary authors with dynamite, fast-moving plots.  The question is, what is the author emphasising most?  Language (sensitiliby-driven) and character, or plot?  These, like many other distictions in the writing world, are for marketing purposes.  At some point we have to decide what to call what we've written.  I wouldn't worry too much about before the work is done, though.  Let you instinct be your guide, and name the result afterwards.

  • I think I would add one thing re literary fiction--the *way* it is told helps to tell the story. That is, any fancy writing serves some deeper purpose for the story being told. If its dreamlike, it's a dreamlike character, or perhaps a pre-languge child. Stuff like that.

    That said, what I got from editors at conferences was soooo mixed. Very clean and good writing that long ago would have been considered up-market fiction was called literary fiction by many, but not all.
  • I agree that CNF needs to be true.  My impression was that Shirley had written something true but had changed the names to avoid libel issues, assuming that the murderer has not been convicted.  Although I'm not a lawyer, and libel might still be an issue if the characters are identifiable. 

    One of the many, many reasons I write fiction is that it allows me to be more truthful than if I were writing nonfiction -- no fudging the truth to protect other people's feelings.


  •  Are you saying that Creative Non-fiction is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction? I wasn;t sure. If you are, I'm going to push back a little.

    CNF is non-fiction. Calling it CNF makes it clear that the writer understands that she is telling the story from her perspective, as opposed to a straight, journalistic attempt to get the facts "right."

    If that is what you are doing,Karen, it might be well called a book of CNF. You gotta be careful these days, calling something a memoir when you have changed elements. People have gotten in big trouble. {See: Frey, James.} Of course, no agents wants to try to sell something called creative nonfiction. they would probably try to get you to call it memoir. If so, be careful that it is.

    i have found that in the end, most readers don't care if a book is fiction or non-. I doubt many of them know the difference. They just want a GOOD story, well told.

  •  My feeling is that the sole difference has to do with use of language.

    It's like music: Define the sound of ock 'n roll. How does that definition differ from punk, or R&B. You can talk about it, but what you really have to do is LISTEN to it.

    Same with writing. Writing either sounds commercial or sounds literary. There is no way to describe either sound - and: neither sound it good or bad. One is not better or worse. Lit vs. comm. comes down to how you write what you write.

    I don't believe any of us can choose who we write what we write. We can only get better at it.

    Also, the genres exist on a continuum. Agents love books that breach the two genres, and there are more people to sell it to.

    By the way: a new, 3-post series: how to get into/benefit from "The Best American" Series, even if you aren't in it ... this year!


  • It sounds like you have lots of options for your book, including creative nonfiction if you want to go that route.  In the end, there's no one answer to where a book fits -- it's what you and your publisher are most comfortable with.

    So look for books that are like yours -- and every book, even though we all like to think ours is unique, is always similar to something if we really look for it.  See where their publishers slot them, and pitch your book accordingly.   It doesn't make finding a publisher easy, but it does make it a little easier.

    I'd be interested to hear what other SheWriters think defines literary fiction.

    Good luck!


  • Thanks, Katrin.

    I have a problem trying to fit my novel in anywhere. It is all true except for the names and places. It is fiction and non-fiction. It is about very horrible physical  and mental abuse, attempted murder, and murder. It has graphic language and violence.  So I have no idea what it is. Yes, i am new at this.