Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where's the story?

Today is a ranting day -- or night. It's late here.

Lately I've been reading quite a bit of literary fiction...oh yes, you can see where this is going. I've never been able to see the hype about literary, or why people get snobbish over it. I don't hate literary, but I don't find it enjoyable for the most part; it's like the author was so focused on the deeper layers of their story that they forgot that reading should be somewhat entertaining. If I have to decode each sentence in order to understand the next one and the one after that, then forget it.

But what really bugs me about literary fiction is that often times, there's no story. None. Nada. Zip.

Now let's lay the foundation for what a story actually is. A story is a work of fictional prose with a beginning, middle, and end. Then we have vignettes which are fictional prose of a single scene.

I'd say a lot of the literary I read falls into the vignette zone, and sometimes not even that. There's this trend where the literary work is nothing more than a giant metaphor, usually something to do with parents. Maybe this is some sort of resentment the author carries for all the times their parent's told them to clean their room. Regardless, a metaphor is not a story. Not even close.

I get that the whole point of literary is to make the reader think, but most the time, all I'm thinking is: WTF??? (not a good WTF, mind you) Or in the lesser extreme cases: Well, that's interesting...but where's the story?

You've got a beginning, you've something that could be a middle, though it looks more like filer, then it tapers off. Or more like the author quit writing because they had nothing else to say or the word limit cut them off. And for what? To impart upon the reader some deep conventional wisdom? No, sorry, I don't want to read about your so-called "wisdom" because it's neither conventional nor deep. Shit. I knew that already, give me something different, something exciting. Give me a goddamn story!

Again, I don't hate literary, and I certainly don't hate experimenting with writing, which I think most literary is. I just wish these literary guys would stop trying to be Hemingway, supposedly deep and thoughtful. There is some value to mainstream writing that you shouldn't forget while experimenting. The best literary, in my opinion, has been the stuff that combined mainstream mechanics with beautiful prose. I myself always aim for a beginning, middle, and end, even when the story is less than 500 words. And by virtue of the subject matter, layers develop all on their own. But I always remember that a story should be enjoyable to read on the surface level, and, more importantly, understandable.


  1. You're ahead of me! I don't even know what literary fiction is. For a while I thought it was stuff by dead people. But then I found out it wasn't.

  2. Ha! After reading what people call "literary" I sort of get the idea that's it's more about style than substance, much like how Hollywood films are more about action/special effects than story. Which is why I won't go to see The Immortals.