1. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    Literary Fiction Just Doesn't Do it For Me and I'm not sure why

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Gammer, Feb 26, 2012.

    This isn't a rant or slamming literary fiction or anything like that, I'm just trying to figure out this hang up I have with literary fiction.

    I want to be a writer (obviously hence being on this site) and taken several creative writing classes and in all of them we're not allowed to write genre fiction only literary fiction and we've read several of the greats like Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O' Connor, Gaberial Garcia Marquez, Tim O'Brien and so on and my teacher touted them as being one of the absolute best modern writers and we can learn a lot from them and so fourth. I read them....and.....nothing.

    Reading through their stories, I was just bored. Nothing seemed to be happening and sometimes when something did happen there was such a giant leap in logic that I just couldn't follow and my teacher just said my confusion was a good thing, which I just don't get. Marquez, I did like because his stories were straight forward and pretty interesting. With "Innocent Erendira" being my favorite story we read. But everything else...I just couldn't get behind. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" my teacher said was the best short story he's ever read. I read it....and I just couldn't see what the hype was.

    Then when I write my literary stories for the class my teacher said it was too direct and didn't say anything about the human condition. To which I said, "Why does every story need to have some grand message about being human? What's wrong with a story just being fun and exciting?" And my teacher said I don't have the mindset of an artist, which just confused me even more.

    Am I just looking at literary fiction the wrong way? Or is it something else?
     
  2. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your teacher was a pretentious A-hole, that's what was wrong. Write what you love, not what someone tells you to love.
     
  3. AntisocialMoose
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    AntisocialMoose Member

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    A theme doesn't need to be about the human condition... I second Ashleigh.

    A story can be just fun and interesting - that's a good book! Literary novels have theme and symbolism and are deep, but your teacher/professor was being a jerk about the whole thing. Those books probably just aren't for you. If you could tell me what you're interested and what you'd like to read a book about I could try and think of some literary fiction for you.

    If you don't like it though, you don't like it. To each their own. Screw your teacher and write something fun.

    I also just cannot believe she said you don't have the mindset of the artist. Their head is too far up their hooha.
     
  4. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    I like a lot of adventure stories, like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Red Wolf Conspiracy. A lot of fantasy works and sci-fi with Time Machine being one of my favorites and supernatural young adult stories. Which why I liked Innocent Erenderia there was an adventure with a clear plot and development with a pretty cool ending that left questions but enough to make me wonder what the heck I just read.

    Yeah my teacher seems to think that any story that doesn't have some deeper meaning or some grand point about life and the world doesn't count as literature. Which always confused me because I always thought people read mainly because it was fun.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The problem with most literature/English classes (and writing classes) is that they tend to focus on literary fiction more than any other genre. This is more true in high school than in college, but the problem is there at any level of higher education really.
     
  6. AntisocialMoose
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    AntisocialMoose Member

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    If you like adventure and mystique and don't mind a long story, maybe The Count of Monte Cristo? Even in abbreviated form. That is one of my favorite novels though, so I'm extremely biased. Jules Verne is wonderful if you like sci fi and adventures. If you enjoy fantasy, this isn't an old classic but I would certainly consider it literary with the themes and so forth, The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Again, I'm biased because I love it.

    AS far as good, classic sci fi, I absolutely loved Frankenstein. Then, most of my high school class hated it. My Antonia is a good bildungsroman. East of Eden is a good drama. hmmm. I skimmed through my library on Shelfari and this is all I can come up with right now. I'll talk with my fiance when he gets home tonight, he was a lit major so he might have better insight on what you may enjoy.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm unimpressed with your teacher. You know the frequently cited principle that a visual artist needs to get his skills first, so that he can accurately depict people, objects, whatever, and then he can break those rules and start to express himself? I think that the same is true of a writer.

    Your teacher wants you to insert the deep meaning first, which to me is a strategy likely to create a lot of self-important, overwritten prose. I think that you'd do much better to first learn to write accurately and clearly, and to learn how to write an engaging (I don't know if exciting is required, but it's not bad, either) story. Only once those skills are well-developed do I think there's any particular value in aiming for deeper meaning. And in fact, once you've got those skills down, odds are that the deeper meaning is going to start coming out without you having to chase it.

    As for reading literary fiction, I think that someone as self-important and oblivious as your teacher is likely to think that all the world should share their precise taste in literature. I'd suggest trying a lot of different authors, both "literary" and ordinary authors, and seeing how your tastes develop.

    ChickenFreak
     
  8. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed.
    People enjoy different things. But I don't think every story should have some grand message about life and being human. Not everyone enjoys that.

    Read and write what you love. If a plot interests you then write/read it.
     
  9. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    "literary fiction" - (n) The crap pretentious people tell students is a great story, but is usually less than.

    Like the Great Gatsby. That book...ugh. Seriously, it needs to be replaced with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. There's nothing quite like Russian stories of bitter times to make one think.
     
  10. AntisocialMoose
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    AntisocialMoose Member

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    hehe, Genissa I like your reply. The funny thing is I would consider both the books you mentioned to be literary. To me, literary just means it can bee analyzed from a literary perspective. Pretty much EVERYTHING can be. It's just what do they choose to use in classes? It is all opinion. Does the professor like this book or hate it?
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps your teacher is trying to open the students to writing on several levels at once. It need not mean he expects you to choose to write literary fiction after the class, but as an exercise, it could open up new ways of approaching your writing.

    By directing the students into a particularly demanding writing category, he forces them out of their comfort zone. That ain't necessarily a bad thing.

    Just a thought.
     
  12. TheWritingWriter
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    TheWritingWriter Senior Member

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    I hated writing for teachers. I always have. Teachers spend incredibly too much time on how to write that they never allow any time or flexibility on what to write. A lot of times, students will write an essay to fit the format, just to please the teacher. In effect, the essay LOOKS the way it's supposed to, but never actually says anything.

    & teachers like yours expect there to be some grand message behind everything, and if there isn't, then you're a bad writer. People like that read into everything way too much and mistake their position & power as a certificate of correctness on all things & everything. You're right. There doesn't need to be a grand message behind everything. There's good writing & good story telling, but "good" is all up to opinion.

    To each his own. You don't have to enjoy anything you don't want to. You like what you like & you don't want you don't. Don't let some an uptight, over-opinionated teacher make you think you're reading wrong or something.
     
  13. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    While I think the human condition remark was extremely pretentious, I can understand the whole "genre fiction" thing because I've also been there.

    In college, I took three workshop classes (one per year) and in each one, the profs didn't want anyone to write stories involving supernatural elements of any kind.

    I once approached the prof to ask her why this rule existed. At the time I found it snobbish, and while I didn't use that exact wording, did mention (politely) that I didn't agree with the rule and asked what her reasoning was for having it there.

    She explained that, in a short story, introducing supernatural elements is enough to drive the plot forward on its own, and she wanted to teach us to drive the story forward through character issues.

    She didn't have a pretentious attitude about character-based fiction automatically being better, it's just that that was what her workshop strove to teach.

    It's like if you're in a math class, and you know how to solve an algebra problem with substitution, but your teacher wants you to solve it with graphing and therefore won't allow you to use substitution on your homework. It's not that the teacher has a snobbish attitude toward substitution or thinks it's an inferior way to do math -- he just thinks that it's important to learn the other way, too.

    While "genre fiction" elements, such as supernatural or magical happenings, can certainly do a lot to advance a story, you'll still have chapters and scenes and subplots that are character-driven, so you need to know that too.

    It's not about one kind being better, just about the importance of knowing both rather than just sticking to one.

    But, again, that comment about humanity WAS really self-righteous.
     
  14. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    That I can understand to a certain extent and I think maybe the books we were made to read were just over-hyped, like they usually are. In every English class I can remember in school all the classics were hailed by my teachers as the absolute best thing ever basically and I remember pretty much just hating everything we read because I just could not see the appeal.

    I also think it just boils down to the fact that I (ironically) just can't relate to a lot of literary/realistic fiction. Their messages and subtext are just so bleak and cynical that it just turns me off from the story. I'm not that big of an optimist but just reading about a character monologue and go on and on and on about their father issues or the disappointments the world has given them for 20+ pages at a time is just too much.
     
  15. KinkyCousin
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    KinkyCousin Member

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    I remember having to read books like this at university and they bored me, I get that some people love them but they just aren't my thing. My lecturer loved these books though and praised them a lot.l Luckily I never had to write any fiction based upon them.

    I think with creative writing it is really hard to write a genre you have no interest in. In my creative writing classes we sometimes had to write different genres to get us to at least try them but it was ok as we had freedom within there, we could still write a romance or a thriller in our own style. If I had to write something in the style of Hemingway I'd simply get bored.
     
  16. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I also think that the more "profound" something claims to be, the more obnoxious it comes across as. It's like how when a movie is overhyped, it will almost always be disappointing, because you expect too much. Except with "my writing is profound," you get a heavy dose of arrogance in addition.
     
  17. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    I don't like that style of teaching either. Seems to imply a stiff, uninspired way of teaching and doesn't really open anyone up to art beyond the tired forms of past writers. I mean, yeah, they are good writers but they only get older and while some may agree that they find deeper meanings in it it may come off as particularly boring to others...explaining all the slumped bodies in the chairs.

    But, in their defense, letting people cut loose with fiction can result in a teacher being forced to read some pretty strange and confusing works. Maybe it just makes teachers lives easier...though education shouldn't be about making the teacher's life easier, necessarily.
     
  18. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Keep in mind, though, you can still write purely character-based "literary fiction" that takes place in circumstances that you could later use for a more plot-driven story (if that's what floats your boat).

    Literary fiction doesn't all have to be about, say, someone riding on a train and seeing a pretty tree out the window and then having some melodramatic inner monologue about their childhood. (Not that that can't be made interesting, of course, but you know what I mean...)
     
  19. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Literary fiction is like greek statues and renaissance paintings -- you begin to appreciate it once you've become jaded by everything else life has to offer. ;)

    No seriously, if you think it's boring then don't waste energy on it. You'll certainly not gain anything from it, if it puts you to sleep. Write about what fascinates you, and reconcile with the fact there'll be old men in tweed jackets who disapprove of your writing.
     
  20. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Literary fiction is the sort of thing that takes a while to really appreciate. I wouldn't worry about it though, not everyone 'gets' it right away.
     
  21. TDFuhringer
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    Be aware of Literary Fiction, know its aspects so you can add them to your palette, and then write what you love. :)
     
  22. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    My problem is, who gets to define what literary is? Isn't it just mildly depressing (or extremely depressing, in some cases) expressions of certain people's opinions? Think about it. They never choose optimistic stories or even stories only mildly contented in tone. Think about all the books you had to read for school -- they all are sad in tone, have indistinct antagonism that can't be easily overcome (or overcome at all), and often have sort of annoying protagonists.
     
  23. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, perhaps that is where the link is to the human condition, which in essense is tragic. Happy ever after doesn't say much about life, because it's an escapist fantasy, and while it serves a purpose in itself as a break from reality, it doesn't make us wiser.
     
  24. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    Why is depressing more realistic than optimism? Are they not both equally misleading? Besides, reading depressing things makes one focus on those depressing things rather than how to make them better.
     
  25. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    That's always been my question/issue with literary fiction as well. Who decided that cynicism and seeing the world as crap was more "realistic". That's not say bad things don't happen, but in a lot of the works I've read they made it seem that anyone even remotely believes in hope or making things better is just deluding themselves, which just completely turns off from the character and the story.
     

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