“Literary Fiction often has several or all of the following characteristics: slower-paced, advanced vocabulary, poetic or flowery language, longer and more complex sentences, an unusual story structure and/or writing style, character-driven instead of plot-driven, complex themes, highly original and/or intellectual ideas, and not-so-simple and/or less-than-happy endings.”

Mark Malatesta, “Literary Fiction Definition – Complete List of Book Genres

I have been working on this novel, which I’ve titled Cornflower Spring (I realize that could change, but for now, let’s go with it) for well over a year now. Given that the story is pregnant with fantastical beings and set during a specific period of global history, I struggle to categorize my genre. Additionally, I do not feel qualified to bestow upon my own work any identification with a category, which in my opinion, is worthy of the highest esteem. Alas, I’ve had an epiphany! The literary aspects of my work have been glaring me straight in the eyeballs, but I’ve been too timid to embrace that which, all along, has been apparent.

First, let me explain the trepidation I’ve had about calling my novel Literary. As noted by Mark Malastrapa in the aformentioned web article, “Books in the Literary Fiction genre tend to be more ‘sophisticated’ than books that are simply labeled as Commercial, Mainstream, or General Fiction.” “Sophisticated” connotes something elevated and superior to that from which it differs. I could not call my novel literary, because to do so would be to say it is better than the work of so many of my peers in the #WritingCommunity.

I’m not trying to be a book snob, here.

As it happens, I’ve mislabeled my genre because of the anxiety I feel towards attempting something as monumental as to create literary art. I’ve feared the condemnation of others, but only insofar as I’ve already condemned myself. I think others will consider me pretentious because somewhere within my psyche, I consider me pretentious. Likewise, this failure to accept the appropriate classification for my work has been a form of self-sabotage; for, if I misclassify my novel as Fantasy or Historical Fiction, or Horror, for that matter, then I am subject to the conditions and expectations requisite for writers of Commercial Fiction. Whereas, by embracing the literary essence of my work, I am appropriately classifying my novel, which will, hopefully, facilitate greater success with regard to future publication.

Additionally, the value I place on Literary Fiction, as the genre above all others, is completely subjective; it’s a matter of opinion. I prefer Literary Fiction, as I should. After all, I majored in the study of Literature in college, and furthered my studies through the initiation of graduate coursework of the same. I value Literary Fiction above all other genres because I have devoted a swathe of time to its study, to its interpretation and analysis. With that said, it would be strange for me to write something un-literary.

As a reader, I prefer Literary Fiction (or at least up-market fiction) to other genres for the very characteristics that set it apart. Wikipedia provides a comprehensive list of such distinguishing characteristics, as paraphrased below:

  • themes of great depth, highlighting universal conditions of the human experience
  • complex characters with conflict, internal strife, and relationships that drive the plot forward
  • elevated and complex style of writing
  • a rapid paced plot is not the focus
  • darker tone

Likewise, these are the traits I endeavor to employ in my writing. I purpose my novel to convey far more than the plot’s surface. It is my intent that my readers embark on an existential journey, alongside my characters. It is for this reason that, in spite of its historical setting and fantastical elements, my novel is Literary for the depth of its characters, as well as its thematic complexity.

About Author

Standing ground for desire through self-study of philosophy and psychoanalysis, self-reflection, and creative sublimation through the work of literary fiction.

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  1. Hi, Julie! Your struggle to categorize your novel’s genre makes me wonder. You state that “if I misclassify my novel as Fantasy or Historical Fiction, or Horror, for that matter, then I am subject to the conditions and expectations requisite for writers of Commercial Fiction.”

    But should you really be subject to these conditions? I suggest you write your novel exactly as you wish to — at least through the first draft. After that, with the completed draft in hand, you and your editor may decide that *for marketing purposes* a certain genre would serve you best. Often publishers want to position a book within one particular genre.

    And if the chosen genre has “conditions and expectations” that are unmet in the draft you have, then that can be addressed during revision. Hope this helps, Julie!

    -Amazing Blair

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