Evey posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Which elements of style mark something as more literary or less? Word choice? Rhythm? More use of metaphor? Choice of theme?
Also, when in Fic 201 you say “10 hours minimum of writing to begin modeling habits of a Junior” do you mean strictly generation of new words, or revising your material, studying craft, reading fine examples etc. aswell? 10 hours is not enough to do all that! And if I can only grab 10 right now, how do I breakdown all the tasks of a professional writer for maximum effect? 75% new stuff? 10% revision, 5%craft study, 5% reading? 5% marketing?
Randy sez: It’s not very easy to define literary fiction. I’m tempted to avoid trying to define it by paraphrasing what a Supreme Court justice once said of another matter, “I don’t know how to define it but I know it when I see it.”
But let me take a stab at it. Literary fiction is art and therefore it’s defined by whatever the current generation of artists define it to be. Literary fiction these days tends to be “sentence driven,” or so I’m told. If I understand this term correctly, it means that every sentence needs to be well-written. Every word must be perfectly chosen. Some literary novelists are very good at rhythm or metaphor or their choice of theme or the beauty of the language.
I‘m not a particularly good person to ask about literary fiction because I don’t write it, although I do read some literary fiction when it’s also good strong commercial fiction. If you want to write literary fiction, I’d say your best bet is to first get a good foundation by reading a lot of it. Then, when you know what you like and who you aspire to be like, it’s probably a good idea to get a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from a school that has teachers who can teach you the kind of fiction you want to write. There are a number of schools these days with low-residency MFA programs.
As for those pesky 10 hours that I mention in my Fiction 201 course, I’m not saying that one block of 10 hours will do it! Of course not. I’m talking about 10 hours per week of work on your writing. If you want to be a professional writer, you need to be in the habit of spending 10 hours per week on your writing. Less than that is not going to cut it.
There is no easy way to break down how you spend your time. My own rule of thumb is pretty simple. Figure out what you’re strongest in and what you’re weakest in and then focus on trying to improve those two areas. Editors say “yes” because of your strengths. They say “no” because of your weaknesses.
One more point about your weaknesses: Your goal is NOT to improve your weaknesses so that you’re “best in class.” Your goal is to improve your weaknesses to be “acceptable.” In some cases (such as punctuation or spelling) your best strategy may be to outsource to somebody who’s good at it. I’ve met very good writers who just couldn’t spell or just couldn’t master the comma. Nobody’s perfect. Don’t try to be. Far better to spend your valuable time learning to be the best you can be on your strong points. If you look at all the wildly successful novelists, each of them excels at one thing and really delivers on it — that’s why their readers buy their books. So ask yourself what it is about your writing that your readers will LOVE and then focus on how to deliver that better.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.