Is It Literary Fiction?
Wikipedia says “Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit.” But then, that opens the door to the argument as to what has or is of literary merit. Again, for many, this is considered too subjective and a vast number of opinions have been given in which many believe it elevates this style of writing to a level considered to be that of “scholarly elitists.” To categorize someone’s work as literary fiction blows the doors wide open for discussion and opposing viewpoints and all of the arguments are good ones.
For example, THE HELP was categorized on a few sites as being literary fiction, while others claimed it was commercial fiction. I’d lean more toward commercial fiction, yet I can understand why someone else would think otherwise. The position of many is, 1) if a book is well written – and for some this means exquisite language is used whereas for others it means understandable without the need to drag out a dictionary or thesaurus, 2) it isn’t plot driven, 3) it deals with the main character’s inner turmoil, and/or it deals with some important facet of today’s society, and 5) it shows that this character has changed or grown by the end of the book, equals literary fiction. I don’t think it means that the book has to be so profound or philosophical that you end up reading sentences over and over just to get the gist of them, but a story told eloquently, in which the character deals with an important issue – whether it’s their own or some social problem and then grows in some way. Yet, it’s this straightforward view that has been the cause of why there’s been so much debate about it because there are books that fall under one of the other genres, yet are so well written, you have to wonder where they fall in the grand scheme of categorization.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading about what is or what isn’t literary fiction because that tends to be the sort of books I read. It’s also what I believe are the types of books I’m writing. Sitting on my bookshelves are ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan, THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, Barbara Kingsolver, WE WERE THE MULVANEY’S by Joyce Carol Oates, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA by DorothyAllison, every book ever written by Kaye Gibbons … on and on …and many more, but you get the idea.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter that I think of my writing as lit fiction, because when it comes right down to it, and from what I’ve read, someone else may decide it isn’t. As I write this post today, it wouldn’t matter to me all that much if any of the books I’ve written were categorized as commercial fiction, for example. I’m just trying to write as well as I can and to tell a story in the way I would enjoy reading it, without thinking or over rotating too much on how it would be positioned. This idea that to claim one’s writing as literary fiction means one thinks their writing is better than the other genres is B.S. It simply means it’s not plot driven, it means I like to get into my protagonist’s head and see how they think and what they might do about this problem or issue I’ve stuck them with, and how they might change. That’s all, no more, no less.