What if you want to write beautifully AND still tell a gripping story? Is there a middle road that lets you do both?
Shiv posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
When I had first landed on your site, it was a steep learning curve for me. I Quickly learnt the fundamentals of fiction writing like POV and I’ll always be thankful to you for that. Your e-zines helped me overcome the initial “trash writing” period every newbie goes through.
But then, after a few months, I moved on. And thats when my problem started.
Since schooldays I have always read and loved literary fiction. But now when I am writing my own novel, I can’t and don’t want to write purely literary novel. At the same time I also don’t want to write “literary junk” I know the story will remain the same in both the case. But in what style I present the story, also matters. Can you help people like me who want to adopt a “middle path” – not compromising too much with the aesthetics of language and style and yet writing a gripping and entertaining story that provides Powerful Emotional Experience?
Randy sez: There is no reason that literary fiction has to be boring. There is no reason commercial fiction has to be trashy.
For some reason, many writers assume that the world of fiction is one-dimensional. On the far left, you have beautifully written literary fiction that is boring as sand and sells like dogpoop. On the far right, you have the shlocky stuff that’s fun to read and sells like Cheezits.
This is nonsense. In mathematical terms, you have two independent dimensions here. The literary quality has nothing to do with the entertainment value.
It’s entirely possible to write a highly literate novel that’s also massively entertaining. Here are a few (a very few) of my favorites, and I have a ton of them.
THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, by John LeCarre. This is, in the opinion of all right-thinking people, the very best spy novel ever written.
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, by Audrey Niffenegger. Literate and highly engaging. Read it.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, by Mark Haddon. This is told entirely in the voice of a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome. It’s a strong voice and a strong story.
GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, by Tracy Chevalier. Beautifully written. A compelling story.
MY NAME IS ASHER LEV, by Chaim Potok. Ditto and ditto.
THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins. The third book in the series comes out TODAY! Amazon tells me my copy shipped out yesterday, so I should be getting it today or tomorrow. Some people will ask if this series qualifies as “literary fiction.” Heck if I know. Heck if I care. I teach the craft of fiction writing, and on my first reading of this book, I couldn’t find a single sentence to quibble with. (I found a very few very minor quibbles on later readings.) Draw your own conclusions.
THE CHURCH LADIES, by Lisa Samson. Lisa is a friend of mine and writes Christian fiction. THE CHURCH LADIES was a risk for her–after writing 8 novels, she decided to take a new direction and write something more literary. She succeeded. This book will surprise you, because the title so completely fools you into thinking it’ll be about dull, boring church ladies.
THE LOVELY BONES, by Alice Sebold. Literate. Gripping. What more do you want?
THE KITE RUNNER, by Khaled Hosseini. An incredible look inside Afghanistan culture.
OUTLANDER, by Diana Gabaldon. Is this a literary novel? No, but it’s highly literate. Is this a romance novel? Yes, but it’s a whole lot more.
OK, that’s ten novels that rate high on the lit scale and the excitement scale. I’ll bet my Loyal Blog Readers could come up with another hundred. How about it, folks? Wrack your brains and name your favorites. The only rule is they need to be great writing and great reading. Leave a comment here telling which ones you like. We’ll all benefit, and maybe we’ll all line up a few books that we never heard of before.
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.