"There's no point in spending your life in the pursuit of something that's easy." - Alice Kuipers

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Beautiful Language Vs. A Great Story

You might have heard me rant a little on this before, but I've always had a hard time with literary fiction. I know that to many it's held in very high regard, and to that same many it's believed to be head and shoulders above main stream fiction. Part of me understands why, but the rest just shakes its head in disbelief.

Lately I've been reading ON BECOMING A NOVELIST by John Gardner, and I think it's helped me figure out what I dislike so much about literary fiction. In his book, Gardner talks about the importance of language. A writer's skill with language can be tantamount to their success, but it requires balance. When a writer becomes too obsessed with the language he's telling his story in, no matter how beautiful it may be, the story gets lost. Of course, neither should a writer neglect language. It adds depth to a piece that would otherwise be flat.

In a nutshell, I think that's why I find literary fiction so dry and boring. Too often I lose interest in the story because it seems to be a shadow in the background, a mere device to drive the language. The writer in question gets to hung up on his method and forgets about the story. First and foremost should always be the story, and the device, whether it be language, metaphor, symbolism, etc. should only be as useful as it is to making the story better. Once it starts to distract from the story, it's no longer useful and must be discarded.

So, what do you think? Am I way off base here? Obviously there are some excellent authors of literary fiction out there capable of telling a wonderful story, which are your favourites? What's more important to you? Beautiful language or a great story?


  1. what's literary fiction? Sorry I know this might be a dumb question but I don't know the difference between the two...

    1. Literary Fiction is a term used to describe fiction that's considered to have literary merit. To be considered literary it usually must be critically acclaimed and serious. It's considered more artistic and serious than mainstream fiction. Does that help?