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Monday, June 3, 2013

Literary Fiction

I enjoy reading "literary fiction," loosely defined as a novel that is more character driven than plot driven and where the reader is expected to do a little work, read between the lines and be engaged in something more than simply "who done it." In literary fiction, readers are asked to discern hidden meanings and nuance while experiencing both the external and internal lives of main characters. Every word counts in literary fiction. Authors are careful about such things as foreshadowing, word choice, metaphor, atmosphere and internal conflict.

To me, there is little surprise any longer in commercial 'thriller' fiction, stories in which we are presented with a plot puzzle as to who committed the murder and/or how the culprit can be brought to justice. I really don't care anymore.

Of course, the author will attempt to surprise us and lead us in the wrong direction. This, to me, is formulaic, and offers little surprise regardless of the outcome. We understand that we will know the answer by the end. These novels all read about the same to me. Read one of these and you've read them all. I can't remember one from the other after little more than a week.

Give me Olive Kitteridge, The English Patient, Love in the Time of Cholera, Suttree, All the Pretty Horses, Affliction, The Human Stain etc etc. If you want a murder in your story try, "We Need to Talk about Kevin."

There is a reason crime novelists can crank em out by the dozens. Once they have the formula, they just plug in different scenarios and voila, another generic novel gets published. It's up to us readers to demand better than pablum. Let's read literary fiction and kill dumbed down writing.

...and then there is 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels...writing doesn't get much worse than as exhibited in those novels. Even steamy sex can be hard to enjoy with writing this bad. Certainly, these books have garnered huge success, which speaks volumes about the degree to which horrible writing is accepted by the reading public these days. Surely we, as writers, can demand higher standards, standards created by the authors of literary fiction.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Craft of Writing

I began to write fiction in 2010. As a retired trial lawyer with three decades of experience, I knew how to write. Didn't I? Legal arguments, opening and closing statements for trial, correspondence, memorandums, briefs and on and on. How hard could it be to write good fiction?

Turns out, I had no idea how difficult writing fiction would be. I bought the books. I tried my hand at a few stories, concocted some scenes. Even wrote a poem or two. Stuff you can't throw away fast enough for fear someone might read it.

When I look back at that early writing--the stuff I forgot to delete--I am aghast at the poor quality. Embarrassing stuff, filled with adverbs and telling, point of view all over the place, misplaced modifiers and overwritten passages that did little else but call attention to itself.

After three years of study and effort, I am still deleting some but saving some. I have reached the conclusion that writing fiction is beyond mastery for anyone, the greats included. Which is why writing is such a wonderful thing. You can never become good enough at it to quit. You can never say, with honesty, that you have mastered the craft of writing, not wholly, literally, utterly. Can't be done. They say golf is hard to master. I've played golf. It's not even close.

The muses, after all, are quite fickle maidens. You just keep working, editing and rewriting, with the hope that eventually something will sing.