Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Literary?" Update

During the IWSG last week, I came across a writer's insecurity about writing or not writing "literary" work.

I understand the literary insecurity cycle. It's a tough one.

But, what does literary really mean?

Literary is from the old Latin word literra which became litterarius which became the English word literary. The original definition means: relating to the letters of the alphabet.

Do you use the alphabet when you write? I do.

I guess that means we're literary authors.

Okay, I know what you're thinking: but that's not what "literary" really means!

It means . . . what? Something of snob value? Something that a bunch of college professors decided meets certain qualities or fits certain trends?

Again, looking at the definition, we get: concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form.

My question has been for many years, as a Secondary Education and English major (I took literature criticism classes) and as a writer, who decides what is considered "quality of form?"

It seems we often think genres like romance, science fiction, fantasy, or mystery can't possibly be "literary" works. But, is that really true?

What about Sense and Sensibility? Is that not romance?

What about Kurt Vonnegut's short story, "Harrison Bergeron?" Is that not science fiction?

What about The Hobbit by Tolkien? Is that not fantasy?

What about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock stories and novels? Are those not mysteries?

Did the authors of these works think they were literary writers?
Probably not.

Who decided they had "quality of form?"
We did. By reading them on repeat, we decided they had quality of form.

So, don't let the "literary" insecurity get to you.

Just write. Write your best. Write more. Keep writing.

Let the readers of the ages sort out the rest.

Publication - I had a hint fiction story included in the Best of 2018 edition of Nail Polish Stories: A Tiny and Colorful Literary Journal. You can read my tiny story here: "Breakfast in Red."

Out on submission: four poems and five hint fiction stories.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Well said, Tyrean. No one can really write literary fiction now because time will tell if it sticks as literary fiction or not.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks, Alex!

Damyanti said...

I write what I write--it is only later I figure out what genre it is.

Thanks for the food for thought, Tyrean.

Heather R. Holden said...

Very wise post! The genres I adore tend to be the ones most looked down upon by literary snobs--horror, for example--so I've learned to shrug them off. I like what I like, and there should be no shame in that for me or anyone else.

And many congrats on your hint fic story being listed as one of the best! Just checked it out and loved it. ^_^

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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tyrean - Happy New Year ... and yes we need to write, and continue to do so .. building up our own style. Wonderful post - I'll be back to re-read - cheers Hilary

The Cynical Sailor said...

Great post! People do have this conception about literary fiction. I like how you've raised questions about what it really is. And your advice to just keep writing is spot on.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Congrats on the story, Tyrean! It had a Game of Thrones feel to it - of course, that might just be me because I'm re-watching the show again. My point is, I liked your story! :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

So true, Tyrean. And congrats on your story. That's awesome.

Mark said...

I definitely agree. Low art and high art are constructs that don't necessarily reflect reality.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Congrats on the publishing credit. I have a 'thing' about the literary label. I roll my eyes so often when the discussion comes up. I think if we updated some of the required reading in schools, we might create more readers among our youth.

krystal jane said...

I love your hint fiction! I don't know if I told you or not. ^_^

This is really the problem I had with my writing classes in college. I actually had a good experience, but one of my teachers especially was always pushing me to write something more "literary" and "realistic" and that just isn't my style. We need all the styles!

H.R. Sinclair said...

Literary is illusive in terms of definition and writing it. You're right, just write.


Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine said...

You're spot on!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

It's always been my dream to only have my books read by kids who are being forced by their English teachers to open them. LOL.

Like we don't have enough insecurities to weigh us down....we are adding ourselves more? How unfair.

Christine Rains said...

Awesome post! I used to let that insecurity get to me. But these days, I'm happy to be a "pulp fiction" writer. I want to entertain people and help them escape reality, not be the author studied in a college English class.

mshatch said...

Excellent post!