How does one write a work of literary fiction? What is literary fiction? Literary fiction is much like regular fiction except for one key distinction, it’s better, much better, and important. If it were a drink it would be a fine Vermouth with sweet, nutty undertones. Thankfully there is a formula; a strict procedure anyone can follow to elevate their work to literary status!
Step One: It is essential that you don’t start writing too early. Firstly there are forms to fill out, lots of forms. Earnest Hemingway was famous for his adoration of paperwork. Once notarized, color-coded, burned, trasmutated, re-notarized, digitized and emailed you are ready to move on to Step Two.
It is essential in Step Two that you continue to resist the urge to write; it is still too early in the process! The first step in Step Two is a virginal (gluten free) sacrifice to the current editor of The New Yorker. Once The Formidable One has been satiated it is time to adopt the proper attire: a faded tweed jacket, carefully splotched with ink and coffee for charming effect. Next there are the affectations befitting of a literary writer; adopt a smoking habit, shaky slender hands, a twinge of alcoholism, haunted smoky blue eyes, and most crucially an insatiable yearning for parental approval. At this point you should look the part, smell the part and feel the part (so empty…). You are now ready for Step Three; Step Three is the final step in the process where you put everything together!
Step Three: write an acclaimed work of literature.
The distinction between genre and literary fiction is really a question of degrees. Genre fiction in the modern sense is a loose collection of concepts and tropes that we have come to accept as defining elements of a genre. The various designations of literary or genre fiction effect my experience of a work in so far as it colors my expectations of it before reading. However I often find that these expectations melt away as I actually experience the work. Genre fiction is a category that is created by our expectations; in a sci-fi novel for example you would expect prominent science fiction elements and maybe even plot points, based solely on the genre. Conversely literary fiction is defined by either its lack of expected elements, or the reconfiguration of those elements. Commonly when genre elements are appropriated within literary fiction, they take on a more ambiguous role. Little Big by John Crowley is an excellent example of a more subdued approach to genre mixing. Little Big has all the elements of a fairytale subtly layered in amongst a sprawling narrative framework that takes on a variety of other subjects. The fantasy is so subtle at times in the story it could be completely overlooked.
Ultimately the designation of a work as literary is an artifice of categorization, a box designed posthumously for writing that does not fit cleanly into other pre-existing categories. Perhaps in times past the Genre Fiction box was seen as too confining for some writers that sought to create more substantive works. However in recent times the already blurry distinctions between genre fiction and fiction in general have become even harder to discern. As all the little boxes fade away, ideally we will be left with one big box for the only category that really matters, great stories.