1 (edited by Dill Carver 2015-10-18 12:45:21)

Topic: Paraliterary Fiction v Literary Fiction

I know that the definition of 'Literary Fiction' as a classification across genres has been done to death in the tNBW forums over the years; and like most subjects that are debated by amateur creative writers (we, generally being used to writing fiction; i.e. without the constraint of fact and actuality or a nod to the de facto or de jure), can differ in our interpretation and delineation of the classification. But I was wondering if there are different definitions of Literary Fiction in America and Europe. I suppose like Football as defined by the rest of the world (played with the feet, in its current form since 1581, codified and regulated in London in 1863) and the Gridiron game derived from Rugby (played with the hands) known as Football in North America.   

Or is it just this site?

Are writers actually aware of the differences between paraliterature (or genre fiction) and literature of the recognized canon, or do some simply claim their paraliterary work to be literary fiction simply because the term sounds swanky and highbrow to us amateurs?

Re: Paraliterary Fiction v Literary Fiction

The terms are more a fiction themselves. They help publishers define the audience. Some of the most LITERATE fiction is written in genres. The guideline is that genre fiction follows certain guidelines so that a particular factor stands out. For instance, the most disrespected genre is "romance fiction." The novels in this category are often called "bodice rippers" because the work is defined by its heaving bosoms and rippling muscles. The prose is purple --- overwritten with treacly adjectives (heaving and rippling are two that come to mind because I just wrote them). At the same time, there are "love stories" that defy categorization and delve into the depths of the human soul.

In writing, you have choices. The first is: Are you writing for publication where someone else contracts your work for payment? If the answer is yes, you need to learn how the industry functions, its rules, its traditions, and how and when to bend or break them. You can break all the rules but you better have something that they believe they can sell and you better have gone to the publisher who is willing to break the barriers.

Literary fiction has no label. It is written about the human condition. The important issue is the characters in situ, not following a set course like "crime novel"  or "historical novel." There may be crimes, romance, a time and place not her and now, and elements of fantasy. But they are not the focus. The focus is the characters, what they say, think and do and how they react to each other and their situations. The characters are individuals, not stereotypes and the ending is unpredictable. People who read a variety of genre writing may enjoy it but it is written aiming up, not for the lowest common denominator of reader. It is like comparing Danielle Steele with Erica Jonge. Both write about women. Both write about love. Both are successful. But the way they approach their subject matter makes one a genre writer and the other a literary writer.

3 (edited by Charles_F_Bell 2015-10-18 19:37:33)

Re: Paraliterary Fiction v Literary Fiction

Dill Carver wrote:

I know that the definition of 'Literary Fiction' as a classification across genres has been done to death in the tNBW forums over the years;

Continental European (that is to say, to have also included Irish/U.K., James Joyce and Samuel Becket, et al.) literary fiction is 'experimental' and therefore non-commercial in the U.K and U.S. markets, and apart from Ayn Rand and John Updike, et al. in the the first half of the 20th century, I'd say there is no such thing as Literary Fiction, only commercial versus noncommercial to U.S. publishers. 'Literary Fiction' has to do, for the most part, with a diminished value of plot and 'characterization' and with exaggerated value of words for words' sake, theme and purpose. That is not 'literary' so  much as ars gratia artis and certainly not so much 'experimental' (Updike, to a degree an exception) but standing in class different than a TV or movie script. Such novels do not, in fact, make good movies unless stripped down to typical plot and characterization elements. I just saw the 1972 movie of A Separate Peace, based on the John Knowles novel of the same name and Charly based on Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and all the characters and plot elements were there, but the movies were not up to the quality for the same appreciation.

My standard for Literary fiction:

The skillful literary-fiction author, one who might just also be commercial,  is one who mimicks fiction to present to the intellectually intransigent the universe as it is, not how that obstinate ignoramus envisages it to be through his imprecise and distorted perceptions and self-delusions. This author will always fail to satisfy the ossified expectations of the intransigent but will incidentally leave behind a work of art for everyone else to enjoy. And yes, that is hierarchically 'good' over 'commercial'.

Dill Carver wrote:

Are writers actually aware of the differences between paraliterature (or genre fiction) and literature of the recognized canon,


I should add that mostly in the U.K in the 1960's there was an attempt to revive good versus commercial literature by that classification of 'Literary Fiction' somewhat by writing in the Olde Style meeting the criterion of strong theme and important rather than ordinary  or believable characters. That failed by the end of the 1980's.  The trend of increasing novel-purchasing readership by women to today's overwhelming proportions has much to do with this; even with the notable exception of Doris Lessing, but also whose best works ended by the 1980's.