Archive for June, 2012

Authors Competing with Story for Reader's Attention in Literary Fiction Editorial Opinion

Friday, June 15th, 2012
William H. Coles

To simplify a complex subject in order to identify a basic problem that needs to be addressed to improve literary fiction in general, consider there are two ways to deliver a story in literary fiction.  (1) Authorial dominated prose narration and (2) story-specific reader engagement through developed storytelling.  

An author has a story to tell.  The inexperienced writer writes with the false confidence that all that is needed is a description of the story–just write, feel free, get it on the page.  The result?  Narrative description in story present and back story without incorporating drama–conflict, action, resolution–and engaging the reader in scene to experience the story.  But what is often needed is the telling of story in a series of interrelated scenes (which are stories and mini stories with beginnings, middles and ends) that are dramatized with conflict, writing with momentum, and with characterization developed with in-story-present action as much as possible and not simply narrative description of things happening in past (or imagined to have happened in the past.)

This authorial dominance in fiction writing has isolated two sets of authors: (1) one set wants to show he or she is a great writer, believing authorial fancy language and flights of ideation will produce an equal effect a great story can generate); (2) one set wants to create the best literary fictional story within their capabilities, and let that be the focus of author-admiration, admiration that comes from great storytelling, reader perceived after the reading of the story is complete, enjoyed, and remembered.

Many wannabe fiction writers simply use the label of fiction to layer poetic; lyrical, if you will; metaphorical; abstract; static prose on the reader, expressing authorial ideas not related directly to story and characterization, with the purpose of keeping the reader's attention on the author and the author's self-perceived prose skills.  Story suffers.  Great literary fictional stories do not need authors competing with good storytelling by having the author relentlessly calling attention by writing hyperbolic, over intense, strained prose unrelated to story while ignoring the energy and drama of story.

The way to stop authorial dominance competing with story in the creation of a great literary stories?  Learn basics of storytelling–based on historical development of fictional stories; use narration that uses narrator and characters without authorial intrusion, strive for prose that promotes easy understanding of story and characterization, work for theme and meaning in story rather than admiration of poetic performance.

Recommended Readings:

The Quest for Greatness in Literary Fiction and the Failure of Authorial Self

The Three Pillars of Literary Fiction: Engagement, Entertainment, Enlightenment

Academic Fiction: A Distinct Genre


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