1. FrozenLady
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    FrozenLady Member

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    Difference between Literary novels and ordinary novels?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by FrozenLady, May 2, 2015.

    Hi,

    I am new to this forum, English is my second language, and am not very well acquainted with English Literature either. What is the difference between the genre of what we define as 'literary' and the one ordinary or commercial novel which we find in local bookstores? What's so compelling about these kind of books and how to achieve this level of writing?

    F.L
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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  3. United
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    Literary works tend to focus primarily on:

    -Character and development (in other words, the growth of characters are more important than the plot)
    -Real-world social/cultural/political/etc. issues

    To elaborate on the second point, what I mean is that the issues present in your work should be explicit conflict in your story. For example, if you are writing a story revolving around the issue of PTSD/Soldiers/War, that should be the center of the conflict/dilemma/take-away of the story. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien would be a prime example of this.

    Like I said, literary works focus on characters more, so plots are generally not as action-packed and exciting as fantasy of sci-fi novels. Literary works focus on the character arc, and the relationship of the character with respect to society.

    Do you remember reading all those books back in high school for your literature/English class? Those are all literary works.

    Good examples of literary works:

    1. The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien)
    2. Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
    3. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
    4. Things Fall Apart (China Achebe)
    5. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
    6. Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) ---- works like these are blurred between the lines because they are blended between "otherworldly" and "our world" (Literary works favor "our world" because they offer deep and critical analysis of our own issues). Nonetheless, works like these still explicitly address pressing social issues. *In this case, the issue addressed is about the government, etc etc---interpret that how you wish*.

    The reason why the Dystopian sub-genre is so popular is because of the blend between the two.

    Once you read a variety of books and stories, you can start to tell which ones are literary and which ones are more for "entertainment".
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think your definition is defensible @United, but if The Hunger Games counts as a literary novel (even a blurred one), then almost any science fiction or fantasy novel does.
     
  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    It should be said that just because something is literary does not mean it's good, and vice versa.
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think that's a solid definition at all.

    I don't think SF/F could fit into it, b/c that's not "real world" issues, but most romance novels and chick lit could fit into that definition, and they certainly aren't considered literary.

    In general, I'd say the difference is a matter of goals, writing style and, honestly, marketing.

    Literary novels aspire to be art. Genre novels aspire to entertain. A good book can do both, of course, which is why there's not a clear line between literary and genre.

    Writing style is also an element. Genre fiction has to follow certain rules. People like to pretend that romance is more formulaic than other genres, but I don't think that's true - all genres are formulaic. That's what makes them genres. Again, though, there are literary novels that follow the rules of a specific genre.

    That's where I'd say the marketing comes in. Margaret Atwood often writes speculative fiction, but it's marketed as literary. Cormac McCarthy writes westerns, but, again, they're marketed as literary. Those are both great writers who put a lot of thought into their stories and who require at least a little effort from their readers, but the same can be said of other authors who are often marketed as genre.

    It's not a clear distinction, really, although we often try to pretend that it is.
     
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  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    In reality, the lines are blurred but from what I've heard:

    Literary novels typically focus on socio/political/economic issues we are experiencing in our world. It's an attempt to understand it through the lens of a fiction world and characters. Think Dickens for instance. He was using his characters to explain why certain things within British society at the time made absolutely no sense (ie, the Poor Laws).

    General/Entertainment novels typically focus more on the escapism. When you read this, there's no 'contemplate real world issues' message. Sure there may be morals, a theme, etc., but 'escapism' is the keyword here. These books don't attempt to lecture on the ills of our society.

    Keep in mind though that the lines can, and will, be very blurred. You can have a literary novel that espouses the evils of racism while still enabling the readers to escape into another world. The reverse is also true: you can have a novel dedicated entirely to escapism, yet have moments where certain things pertaining to real world issues are called out and questioned. It's not absolute black and white despite what the definition says.
     
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  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'd say literary fiction is defined primarily by two things. The first thing is that literary fiction is very character-driven rather than plot-driven. In literary fiction, the emphasis is on the thoughts/feelings/emotions of characters, and the development of the plot (e.g., plot twists, grand external conflicts) is of secondary importance. The second thing is that literary authors are very conscious of style and thus may only appeal to a small number of people. Though any book in any genre can be written in any style, I'd argue that literary fiction tends to use language in more imaginative ways and doesn't rely on formula or convention.

    Of course, this is just my opinion and is certainly debatable.
     
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  9. peachalulu
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    Sometimes I think literary fiction establishes more questions, more whys and less answers. Whereas genre never asks a question without establishing an answer.
     
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  10. jannert
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    I think another characteristic, in addition to the excellent ones mentioned above, is that most literary fiction nearly always deals with the world 'as it is' rather than an idealised world.

    By idealised, I don't necessarily mean utopia. Nor do I mean a fantasy world can't be literary. But in literary fiction there is an acceptance that the world doesn't ever come out perfectly right. You survive in the world, take your happy moments when they come, but there is no happy ever after. You can improve a situation, but you can't ever make it perfect. Characters never get everything they want, at least not without a great deal of sacrifice and lasting repercussions. There is no political solution to end all political solutions. No kind of life or place to live that doesn't contain hazards and problems. Literary fiction wants us to face these unpleasantries head-on, and deal with them. Nobody expects a perfect world in a piece of literary fiction.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2015
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  11. Mocheo Timo
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    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    Would Literary Novels then be more likely to become what they call "Classics"?
    Or are they completely separate things?
     
  12. daemon
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    I do not have much use for anyone else's distinction between "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction (by some definitions, "literary" is just as much of a genre as "science fiction"), but I do have my own ideas about what you might call "literary merit".

    Basically, if it keeps me thinking about interesting questions with no easy answers long after I finish reading, then it has literary merit. It does not really matter what these questions are about, as long as they are intellectually stimulating and emotionally impactful.

    My favorite kinds of questions posed by great fiction are the ones that challenge my most deeply held values and the ones that reveal the irrationality of my worst fears.

    As for "how to achieve this level of writing", it is really less about your techniques for stringing words together and more about the intellectual substance you bring from the realm outside writing into the realm of writing. Fiction with literary merit is written by people who would still be highly insightful and emotionally sensitive (in a good way) even if they had no talent for writing.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2015
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  13. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Sort of. A 'Classic' with a capital letter usually refers to the writings of the ancient world, like Homer. A 'classic' or classic of English Literature is stuff we still read published at least a century ago, like Jane Austin or something.

    How either have become books we still read despite their age is an interesting process of rereading by many people for what might be called 'applicability'. It usually happens with either the simple fact teachers find it useful to teach, has a national significance like Shakespeare, or someone publishing work on the text - and that can be in any mood. Even someone great, like Dante, is constantly having his place in history challenged, and his worth as a poet questioned. Now that the world is becoming more secular, what good really is a poet who was so fixed in Christianity? Yet Dante holds out strong, and is even being bought still by the public. That is greatness.
     
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