is hard to explain literary fiction. But your Sacramento
definition isn't so far off the mark. It does tend to be
character driven. But the thing that makes it "literary"
is a thread of recognizable universal truth or humanity.
In children's literature, a good example is OUT OF THE DUST
by Karen Hesse and A SINGLE SHARD by Linda Sue Parks are
two of my favorites. But even THE GIVER would likely qualify.
In adult literature, Flannery O'Connor is one of the key
authors taught in college level literature classes. Joyce
Carol Oates' adult work is often considered literary. It
tends to be less "popular" or less "commercial"
than books with huge print runs like the works of Danielle
Steele or SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS titles.
Does that make sense? My beef with "literary fiction"
and the people who button hole books is the dismissal of
some very gifted writers because they have popular appeal.
But that's another discussion. : ) Hope this helps you understand
the genre a little better.
Underdown - The
don't think that the plot vs. character driven distinction
really holds water. Literary fiction is quality fiction--the
stuff that in our world wins Newberys, gets listed in the
ALA Notables, and gets good reviews in The Horn Book. It's
usually contrasted with popular or commercial fiction, which
is often published in paperback, not reviewed, and bought
by children and teens rather than libraries and schools.
I'm grossly oversimplifying, but I think you get the idea.
In the real world, of course, the two categories overlap.
If you want to read more about this, I discuss it at more
length in my Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's
Books, which you should be able to find in your local library.
dear. Watch out for a soapboax coming up.
Harold's definitions are good ones, and do check out his
articles on them.
I think the idea of "character driven" vs. "plot
driven" is a bit of a
misnomer - what people mean by it is that the character
you write about
solves the story problem or conflict in their own peculiar
way, and that
there is an inner conflict to match, reflect and may be
caused by the
outer conflict, or vice versa. You don't have an outline
of the story,
or know what happens until you start writing and the characters
begin interacting on the page.
Plot driven means that the character, whoever they may be,
a series of pre-planned convolutions to a pre-determined
outcomes are determined by you, not by the character's interactions
In my experience what actually happens is a combination
of both - as you
write the story, your knowledge of the character, and their
affects whatever the story arc and problem are - even if
you know how
the story has to come out at the end. This is borne out
by reading a lot
of other writers on the subject - everybody has some idea
of where the
story is going, even if they never write it down as an outline,
best writers let their characters dictate what the exact
shape and feel
As for literary fiction - for me, that's the best writing
I can do,
using all the techniques I've learned and been taught over
of my writing life. It's considering what the theme is before
but being open to whatever happens in the first draft and
refining to bring out either the original theme, or a stronger
that happens during the book. It's looking to see what universal
I'm trying to express, and how I can do that through symbolism,
and motif. It's being careful in the naming of the characters,
express through name what and who they are. But most important,
it's making sure that none of those things override the
and that the characters are real, believable and human,
problems are real, human and balanced against the rest of
My character may have a major moral choice to make, but
she still has to
get to class on time, do her homework, try not to fight
with her little
sister too much, and be polite to her mom and dad. She still
has a life
to live, in other words, and that has to be shown in balance
problem she's grappling with in a realistic and believable
In some ways, it's a very indirect approach to writing -
the motifs and the symbolism should be underlying the book.
there and you feel their effects in that the book seems
more layered than a similar book, but they aren't front
and centre, they
don't have neon signs pointing to them saying "Theme
here!" "Oh, look an
extended metaphor that links to the theme!". If you
look for it, you can
find it but if you don't 'get' it consciously, you lose
nothing, and the
read is still as good as if you did see all that I put there.
I hope this helps. And sorry for the soapbox, if that's
what it was.
Actually it wasn't, I was very good and didn't go off on
literary vs. commercial rant.