For a long time I thought there was a war between people who write literary fiction and those who write for the commercial market. I’ve grown past that childish belief but I belong to a literary writers’ group so I’m sensitive to the differences between the two and have given that difference a lot of thought. This post is the beginning of an explanation of those differences as I see them.
The difference is all about the reader. But it isn’t what you might think.
A friend who writes in the literary genre once defined the act of writing literary fiction as ‘writing around the story’. There is a story in what may appear to be nothing more than pages of description in which nothing happens. But there is a story! There is! But, since it’s not clearly laid out, the reader must find the story for him or herself.
That’s where things get wonky. Literary writers tell stories through references, allusions, indirect descriptions and anything else they can think of that will nudge the reader towards the actual story without directly telling the reader much of anything.
Think about it. Literary writers carefully choose words that they hope will give the reader the same mental pictures that are in the writer’s head. They hope the reader will then form those same mental pictures and make an intuitive leap into the story the writer is actually writing.
Problem is, every writer’s arsenal of words is limited to words from their own world. Their own background. Those words work fine for readers from a similar background. From their world.
But readers from a different background might interpret those references, allusions and indirect descriptions … those words they chose so carefully … in a different way. And end up reading a completely different story.
Think about this as you go about your day. In my next post, I’ll illustrate what I’m talking about with a concrete example that happened about the time I joined that literary group and began wrestling with the difference between the literary and commercial genres.