Thursday, December 15, 2011


Ben Godby posted an interesting post, title: "Genre: literature's codpiece, foppish hat, &c" here, in which he said something or other about literature. (Quote not representative of entire piece.)
But the kind of thematic maturity and complexity that deserves (according to my superb and irrefutable aesthetic sense) the label "art," is not to be had by every writer, or even every work by any single writer.
I replied, as I often do, with a flippant remark about grants and literature is dumb or somesuch. But then he called me a SCALAWAG, except he spelled it wrong. That cur!

It got me thinking, though, that I'd kind of like to write a literary book—an 'novel', if you will—just to say that I can and have. So, what's a literary novel, as opposed to what I normally write (viz, slapdash fantasm)?

I'll take my definition from Dave Farland's excellent article "On Writing as a Fantasist" link, which I originally read as part of one of his Daily Kicks (to which you should probably subscribe!) As it is a 'negative' article, he doesn't lay out the exact limits of the literary genre, but I'll summarize for myself. Remember, I have no literary training! (quotation marks are direct quotes from the article, I'll add a ? when I'm unsure. ;comments in red)

• No "interesting" characters--such as famous historical figures or creatures of myth"
• No "exotic settings--places such as Rome or Pompeii."
• No "tales that [tell] of uncommon events.
"nobody murders or debauches anybody else; there is no arson or pillage of any sort; there is no ghost, or a ravening beast, or a hair-breadth escape, or a shipwreck, or a monster of self-sacrifice, or a lady five thousand years old in the course of the whole story."
• "[S]tories that [deal] with the everyday"
• No "tales with sexual innuendo" (?)
; I've read my fair share of literature, and there was a lot of sex. Maybe it just has to be ordinary sex and not erotica. Can do.
• "[S]tories about the plight of the 'common man,' just living an ordinary existence"

Elitists / Relativists
• "a certain opacity"
• "no absolute good or evil."
• "political correctness" (?)
; what, exactly, 'political correctness' means: this seems to be too broad and too diverse for me to include in my calibrations.

• "life is meaningless" 
• "Shit happens."

• "dissolution of form"
• Truncated Stories

Negative Exemplars (i.e. Don't Do This.)
• "Teacup Tragedies"
• "Manhattan Angst"

That sounds pretty dull at first glance, but it's not much more limiting than, say, writing a haiku. As long as I don't have to write ONLY haiku, I can give it a fair shot. I'm also going use the Lit Fic entry on for reference, because they know. 

So...I'm a Fantasist, apparently, by training and inclination. But I'm going to write a literary novel. Taking off from Ben Godby's cruel, hurtful jibe, I'll call it "Scalawag". Here's the cover:
I'll just write until I have sixty to ninety thousand words and am bored, then I'll get somebody else, with more literary verve, to edit it down to fifty thousand words. Then I'll release it unto the unwashed (viz, you).

This is going to be an interesting experience.

feel free to comment


  1. Knave! How dare ye besmurch my honour upon thine blog. Oh, well, it made me laugh. Now, to the serious:

    I think "literary" is a category, rather than a "genre," of writing, and the "mainstream" of reviewers, critics, and readers have confused the "realistic novel" with "literature." This is why there's always these confused debates about what "is" literature and what "is" genre. (There's also David Farland's idiotic attempt to describe literature as something utterly dry.)

    I rather think that it's like the distinction between "street art" and "graffiti:" a distinction purported by at least one (hopefully) rational human being giving reasons why something is qualified as a piece of art, and not just a piece of something. There is, in short, no objective standard.

    Obviously, though, this is a tough turn-about. I consider your "Jeremiad" "literary;" but if I call it "literary," what happens to its "science fictioness"?


  2. I do agree with the 'category' (perhaps, 'style'), instead of 'genre'. I'm just taking the negative, tightly-defined example Dave Farland presents (which meshes with most of the New York Times literature reviews) and running with it, as an exercise, mostly, in realism.

    (Also, it yielded a pretty interesting story idea, so I might as well go for it. I've already got the cover. Good call on the title, though.)

    In my opinion - Literature is defined, much like pornography, as "I know it when I see it."


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