A couple of months ago I blogged about identifying literary fiction as opposed to commercial /mainstream. Since then I’ve been thinking about both forms of fiction and whether it's possible -- assuming you are not this way inclined at the start -- to turn yourself into a writer who produces literary works.
I think it is.
But I think it involves a great deal of work.
This may seem a simplistic thing to say. Any piece of (good) writing
involves a great deal of work, but what I'm getting at is that for a
work to be literary you have to say something that makes readers sit up
and take notice, or you have to say it in a way that makes them sit up
and take notice. It's not enough to simply tell a story - that's
One way of becoming more literary is to
work at the words. To look at how you use words, and whether you can
improve by changing the way you describe things.
done a little experimenting along these lines. I looked at literary
work that I love or admire in an effort to see what it was about that
work that grabbed me. Mostly it wasn't big ideas or topical subjects,
mostly it was a certain lyricism or a way of saying something that
caught me and held me.
For instance, in Daniel Woodrell's
Winter's Bone, which I blogged about recently, there's a sentence on the
last page that got me: "The birds had so much to say at dusk and said
it all together." Do you see what I mean about saying something in a
had a go at seeing if I could do this myself. In the story I'm working
on at the moment, the main character goes outside with his dog last
thing at night for the dog to pee.
At about ten he let the dog
out for his ablutions. He stood on the veranda’s lip with his hands
tucked in his armpits. The dog rummaged in the ragged grass. Overhead
the sky, thick and deep as the bottom of the ocean, sparkled with
phosphorus. The pine trees sighed. Ebbed and flowed like kelp. He closed
his eyes. He was fathoms underwater. Mute and deaf. Adrift.
get to this I put myself in the man's shoes, closed my eyes and
imagined I was outside under a night sky, and I thought, what does this
remind me of? Then I came up with the idea of the ocean. Obviously it
took a bit of work. Do you think it's worth it?