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LITERARY VERSUS ACTION WRITING PART 2

September 11, 2013

             Since this is from my perspective, I’m going to give the official definition right along with my opinion of literary fiction. Literary fiction is considered fiction that holds literary merit, work that is character-driven, that focuses more on the subjects of the story (people) rather than the plot. Where the plot may be the ultimate goal, or the stopping point, the focus is on the development of the characters themselves, rather than how they get there. The subjects are more serious and harder to categorize than genre fiction. In my view, the story moves much slower and dwells too much on the character’s inner thoughts and feelings. Not only that, but the subjects are usually ones I have little interest in and they’re told in more complex language. There’s much less dialogue and more advanced and more complicated sentence structure. I’ve talked before about keeping things simple, writing to a sixth grade level and not trying to dazzle your reader with your language skills. In literary writing, you can throw that out the window. The idea is to go for the brass ring (to borrow a tired cliché): to go for the literary word masterpiece.

            Literary fiction is the type of writing likely to win the highbrow writing prizes. However, for the average reader, these tomes aren’t usually something for a quick summer read. They tend to be looked upon as serious works of art, while leaving all other writing as nothing more than pulp trash for the masses. In other words, everything I or probably most of you write, is pure juvenile garbage. You’ll never see us mentioned in any serious literature magazines or at the back of news magazines in the entertainment sections.

I used action writing in the title but what I was really talking about was genre writing. I did this deliberately just to mix things up and to make a point. In literary fiction, there isn’t much action. There’s plenty of description. Page-after-page describing character’s feelings, minute details of their drive to the store, how they walked into the store from the parking lot, introspection of how they felt about that walk, reminiscing about someone they met there six months ago, some product on the shelf that reminded them of their aunt who just recently died, the clerk who reminded them of their best friend who died of something just before they graduated…

This whole scene may take two chapters yet it never moves the plot anywhere.

Genre writing moves much faster. Genre writing is about types of goals and focusing on that goal. The characters follow that goal (the plot) to the conclusion. They’re driven by that plot and they do all they can to achieve that plot (goal).

The key to any story, though I didn’t emphasize it clearly enough in the last article (thanks Tammy), is that despite genre fiction moving faster, using simpler language and being plot driven, it’s still about the characters. Without the characters to care about, there is no story! Action (genre) stories are not all action, not all plot. The stories are still about people and you, as a writer and/or a reader, still have to care about the characters in the story. That means you have to draw interesting and believable characters that people will like and want to follow to the end. The difference between action and literary stories is that you don’t dwell on their feelings and inner turmoil for full chapters and with complex and flowery language in action (genre) fiction. You parse it out in bits and pieces but keep the story moving. Yet, you can’t skimp on the characters. Without them, you have no story!

There’s a huge difference between the two styles. I’m not condemning literary fiction. I just don’t personally prefer to read it. I don’t like the subjects presented (as with many genres also), don’t like the deep characterizations and the slow moving plots. I don’t want to discourage any of you from pursuing that style if it’s for you. You’re more likely to gain respect in the literary world than I ever will. Just don’t expect me to ever buy your book!

There’s another subset of fiction called literary genre fiction, where an author tries to mix it up. I once read a literary horror novel that bored me to tears and left me scratching my head. Two hundred and thirty pages in hard cover and absolutely nothing happened. The only thing I got out of the book was a perfect description of the dusty West Texas countryside and how untrustworthy Chows (a dog breed) can be. There was no horror at all.

As always, I encourage you to follow your muse, no matter which direction it takes you. If literary is your direction, go for it. On the other hand, if you are like me and prefer genre writing, prepare to never win any awards but if successful, probably make more money!

That’s it for now. Happy writing!

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