Thursday, July 4, 2019

Writers Independence Day

Known for its celebration of Independence Day in the U.S., the month of July inspired this discussion about a different kind of independence—one desired by a number of fiction writers. This Independence Day, however, is not observed on a specific date. It is celebrated any time an author chooses to step outside the proverbial box when writing a story from the heart.

What exactly is Writers Independence Day?

A recent BRP comment comparing genre fiction to literary fiction made me revisit those diverse methods of story writing. The person who wrote the comment stated she had not to date found a literary fiction book that engaged her sufficiently to make her finish it. No words exploded off the page to keep her reading. In what way does literary fiction differ from genre fiction?

Several years ago, when I began researching how a book qualifies as being one genre or another, I discovered that specific rules dictate the writing of a genre story. These formulaic guidelines had to be followed for a manuscript to be accepted in a given genre by a big publishing house. Being a bit of a nonconformist, I rebelled at the thought of adhering to certain rules. Nonetheless, I couldn't argue against the successes of books written by guideline-following authors. For generations those books have been extremely popular with huge numbers of loyal readers.

Called escapism by some reviewers, genre fiction entertains its readers in a world of make believe. Typically plot-driven stories do not require strong, three-dimensional characters, although they're welcomed. Great writing is a plus and often recommends a story on just that merit. I have dubbed genre fiction as extroverted fiction. Why? It lures the reader out of himself/herself and into a place where personal problems can be temporarily put aside.

Literary fiction doesn't do that. Powerful characters bare souls and secrets, pulling readers into their emotional journeys. Happy endings may occur, but they're not guaranteed. Rather than allowing readers to escape the rigors of reality, literary fiction draws them into characters' lives and circumstances that may parallel a reader's own situation. Often eloquently written, its carefully chosen words can profoundly affect readers by granting them unexpected and occasionally disconcerting personal insight and self-realization. I call literary fiction introverted fiction because of its effect on the reader's (and writer's) self.

As noted previously, genre fiction usually follows rules that determine when, where, and how a particular event occurs and what obstacles lie between the beginning and end of a book. In other words, the author may not be allowed free rein regarding the tale's development, trajectory, and ending.

Writers of literary fiction have a free hand in developing their stories.This freedom—or independence from publishers' rules—allows the author and the characters to journey from beginning to end without imposed inclusions or restrictions. However, that independence imposes heavy writer responsibility to readers. The author must keep theme, characters, trajectory, and purpose from going astray.

The above is not intended to discourage anyone from writing a literary novel. To the contrary, I prefer literary writing. Just keep in mind that, while hard and fast guidelines may be nonexistent, the rules of good writing always apply. In fact, literary prose may indeed be a beautiful work of word art, painting a picture in the reader's mind so vivid and so real that it reduces that reader to laughter or tears as though he or she were a participant or close observer in the depicted scene.

It's important to remember that traditional houses may not be open to accepting literary works for publication. Historically, such books are often not great sellers. If a work is rejected on this basis, what's a literary writer to do? Some smaller publishers may not enforce the guidelines of the past and therefore may be viable options. Self-publishing, sometimes referred to as independent publishing, might also be a possibility.

Authors who opt to write literary novels control story content and trajectory in order to create a work in the best possible way to convey their message. Those who take the leap into this uncharted territory—silently celebrating their self-declared Writers Independence Day—must always bring to their readers a well-written, memorable tale.

One final thought: Boredom is not a requirement. A literary story can be as exciting, compelling, and dynamic as any genre novel. It's all up to the author.

Do you know the differences between genre and literary fiction? (See the list below for articles that discuss several dissimilarities.) Have you ever written a literary work? Do you read literary fiction? If so, who are your favorite authors?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thriller stories. You can contact her at her websites: and


  1. Have a safe and peaceful holiday. team.

  2. In Story Building Blocks, I have come up with a Literary genre definition meaning "dramas." These stories can have up, down, or unresolved endings. They can have a full story arc or be slices of life. They are not the same as "Literature" as art form. I too can struggle with "artsy" literature. Sometimes I enjoy the excellent word craft with a paper thin story line. More often, I find a plodding progression or deconstructed tale hard to stick with. People love different things: in art they may prefer Rembrandt or Monet or Picasso or a single colored circle on a white canvas. All are considered art. Every artist has an audience who appreciates them. You don't have to please everyone. But fiction genres exist for a reason: they have built-in audiences of ardent fans with base expectations. There's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't lessen the imagination or word craft of the writers.

    1. A great read is a great read, no matter whether genre or literary in nature. Just as are other forms of art, it's a matter of personal preference. As you noted, genre fiction, more than its literary counterpart, has many loyal readers. Perhaps this is due in part to the lack of structure in literary fiction that genre guidelines provide; this is further suggested by the fact that literary novels are more likely to be overly verbose and wander all over the place in lieu of moving the story forward. I have struggled to read so-called literary books; in fact, I don't remember finishing many of them because they didn’t hold my interest. On the other hand, I enjoy genre fiction and have read some very memorable stories. Why can’t we, as writers, draw the best from both? Why can’t literary novels be as engrossing as genre stories?
      One final thought: I like Monet. 😊

  3. I want to be drawn in to the story. Interestingly, I came upon a question on social media: What is more important: a captivating story with fair writing, or a not so interesting story with great writing. Most answered the former. I think we as writers tend to be more nit-picky, but most readers want to be drawn into the story and turn the page to find out what happens. If that happens in literary fiction, great. Genre fiction, also great. I've seen a lot of bestsellers where other writers criticize the writing. I'm not sure if it's jealousy because that writer just made more money than most writers will ever earn. Good for them. I usually tune out the writing and enjoy the imagination of the story.

    1. Exactly! The most beautifully written prose falls short if it doesn't invite readers into its pages and keeps them there until the end. Whether genre or literary in style, engaging story trumps mediocre writing every time.

  4. Great post, Linda. So sorry to be reading it so late, but I was out of town with no Internet over the Fourth. I enjoy literary novels. The Kite Runner is one I've read and enjoyed, and there are also some mysteries that have a literary style, such as Mystic River by Dennis Lehane and the books by Louise Penny. I like to write short stories that are more literary than genre, and I'd classify my short story collection, The Wisdom of Ages, as literary, along with The Gift and The Last Dollar. Or maybe they're just mainstream and I'm missing the point. LOL

  5. I enjoy the freedom and the challenge of literary writing. However, I will always choose a story to read based on content and presentation, nothing more. By the way, thank you for the titles you mentioned. They will go on my to-read list. :-)


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