Wednesday, 30 April 2008

How Many Monkeys ..?

Do I want to write literary fiction or commercial fiction?
It's a question that many authors ask themselves.

It's something I've been mulling over since a friend of mine suggested that I should start writing simple stuff that people will get.
This thinking itself is terminally flawed, and is shared by most newbies: All you have to do is write a story that people like! You don't need to waste time on all that pretentious stuff like character arcs and acts and reveals!
Yes, do allow yourself a wry smile. It's our job to make writing look easy when actually it's incredibly difficult. But that's our little secret.

So, what is the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction?

Better start with a trawl through wikipedia.
It appears that there was no term 'literary fiction' until 1970, and that the term has since come to serve the marketing bods who embrace the notion of compartmentalising books; as such, literary fiction has become a genre.

Chatting with a colleague on the bus the other morning, we were considering the differences between lit fic and commercial fiction, attempting to discern a definition.
His first thoughts contained the idea of intent, but we quickly skipped this idea: surely an author can write something that will be considered lit fic without having ever intended to fit into that branding?
The idea of intent is an important consideration when contemplating the infinite monkey theorum (as we did), but more on that later.
My thinking was that an author who creates lit fic has applied an original, considered, perhaps experimental, application of his tools (taking originality as the original combination of non-original ideas). So he will arm himself with a vast array of tools (those techniques and mantras that we gather over the years), and then apply a personal and deliberate aesthetic to his employment of those tools.
Not too dissimilar to wikipedia's description (although wikipedia always describes stuff in a far more accessible way than me):

In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the 'pageturner') focuses more on narrative and plot.

The crucial word there is 'focuses'. The employment of certain tools over others determines whether we create something that can be described as literary fiction or commercial fiction.

Worth bearing in mind this distinction as we discuss description and detail, poeticisms and flowery prose.

By the way, here's the age-old disclaimer as presented to you by wikipedia:
What distinguishes literary fiction from other genres is subjective ...

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