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When is a fiction story a literary art form? Editorial Opinion

William H. Coles

Literature is written stories considered superior and of lasting merit–an art form. Fiction portrays imagined events and people. If you're a writer, you can't know what stories from today will be the literature of tomorrow, but you can write the best story possible using the techniques of past writers who've reached literary status: Austen, Flaubert, Chekhov, Homer, Tolstoy, Melville, Hawthorne, Woolf, Henry James, Babel, Twain, and the like. In the main, these authors have common, basic elements of story construction that may, for the contemporary writer, mature into meritorious longevity.

Who cares? "Fiction writers continue to evolve and their works may very well be literature without the 'contrived' constraints from the past," many might say. But in reality, literary fiction stories structured for artistic characterization, meaningful purpose, and enlightenment about the human condition, are infrequent, rarely published, and are increasingly difficult to access when they are available. Unfortunately, the "literary fiction" of today mostly masquerades as memoir, autobiography, "creative" writing, and the literature-of-self. How can literary fiction regain distinction? Here are important literary STORY ELEMENTS contemporary writers should assimilate if not master:

First, expert CHARACTERIZATION is the essential of a great literary fictional story; well-formed character traits reveal desires and motives that drive meaningful plots. Equally important is STRUCTURE with Aristotelian principles that allow transfer of ideas and images to enlighten readers, usually about the intricacies of human existence. DICTION must be clear and well-written to vitalize prose and story. Lyricism–when story-specific and character enhancing–can enrich story effects without diminishing essential importance of in-scene action and dramatic narration.

Most important? Great literary-fiction stories as art are IMAGINED and CREATED, not just remembered and described. True, memory stimulates imagination evoking reflections on life and living, but a self-important writer believing events and characters described from personal experience are equal to imagined and created stories usually fails to reach maximum potential as an artist.

And what is an ART form?
Art, in literature, is expressed by human creative skills and imagination that produce beauty and emotional power. Beautiful stories emerge by character uniqueness; a narrator's reliability and perception of the human condition; the creation of accurate story-related imagery and metaphor; reader engagement to sense story is happening rather than being told; and from writers concerned with their art, not their wealth or fame.

A confessional memoir and autobiography published as "fiction" for catharsis or forgiveness rarely reaches the threshold possible with imagined and created literary fiction. The literature-of-self is created mostly from the author's world view and experience. By contrast, great literary fiction evolves from 1) the author's  study and understanding of the possible worldviews of other humans and characters, 2) experienced and observed compassionate understanding of humanity, and 3) as often as possible, enlightenment about metaphysical questions that plague us all–who are we? why are we here? what is justice? what is love?

You can read six imagined and created SHORT STORIES (FREE) and a NOVEL, examples of literary stories that explore the complexities in the facets of LOVE (not just romance but the broader implications of affection, caring, and bonding that all humans experience with varying skills and extent).


Thanks for reading!
Literary Art Form

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