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Why Literary Fiction Isn’t Boring

Have you ever wanted to savor a meal because you’ve never tasted anything so good? Well, if you’re new to literary fiction, or can never seem to “get into it,” this is how you should try approaching it. Think of the book as a meal with intricate scents, flavors and textures that you can’t quite recognize unless you spend a little more time with it, and give it some undivided attention. Because, trust me, sitting down a little longer than usual, to enjoy your meal, can be liberating, especially if accompanied by a great glass of red.

Have you ever wanted to savor a meal because you’ve never tasted anything so good? Well, if you’re new to literary fiction, or can never seem to “get into it,” this is how you should try approaching it.

Think of the book as a meal with intricate scents, flavors and textures that you can’t quite recognize unless you spend a little more time with it, and give it some undivided attention. Because, trust me, sitting down a little longer than usual, to enjoy your meal, can be liberating, especially if accompanied by a great glass of red.

(Getting specific: Agents explain what they want to get RIGHT NOW.)

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If guest columnist Jessica Bell could choose only one creative
mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music
and lyrics. And not because she currently lives in Greece, either.
The Australian-native author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist
has her roots firmly planted in music, and admits inspiration often
stems from lyrics she’s written. She is the Co-Publishing Editor of
the acclaimedVine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the
Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop with Chuck Sambuchino
of Writer’s Digest. Her debut collection of poems, Twisted Velvet Chains
and novel, String Bridge, are available at all fine booksellers.
Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sensory information is, more often than not, a huge focus in literary works. Literary fiction, unfortunately, gets a bad wrap for all the description it uses. This makes me sad because I adore it. I never used to. Until I realized how much there is to appreciate.

I’m convinced that some people think literary fiction is boring because they have the wrong expectations. Most literary works are not heavy on plot. It exists, but it is not usually the main focus. Primarily, the focus is on character and theme. So you cannot expect to pick up a literary novel and become so caught up in the story that you can’t bear to put it down. But so what? Each reading experience should be different, and inspire you in different ways. They should trigger questions, stimulate learning curves and general intrigue for the new. So, before you dismiss the idea of picking up another literary novel, because you didn’t get the thrilling ride of the last suspense you read, try taking a different approach.

(What types of novel beginnings get an agent or editor to keep reading?)

Try to focus on smaller elements rather than the book as a whole. Allow yourself to not finish the book “this week” because you’ve signed up to the Goodreads Book Challenge and need to reach your self-inflicted magic number. Give yourself that extra week to read a literary novel and you’ll discover the abundant beauty and importance of unique phrasing, character development, theme and symbolism, and how all these elements can effortlessly blend together to create a masterpiece; to create an atmosphere rarely found in the commercial works that can be gobbled up in one sitting. Focusing on these things is going to make your writing better. And you can learn to entwine, even if in the smallest of doses, a little more magic into your prose. And you never know, by not reading something for the storyline, you may actually start to enjoy a book that lacks the pace you’re used to. If you give your brain the opportunity to accept the difference, you give it room to enjoy the difference, too.

Take this amazing line from Marilynne Robinson’s, Housekeeping, which is well-known among my peers, as my most favorite book of all time:

“It was the kind of loneliness that made clocks seem
slow and loud and made voices sound like voices across water.”

Isn’t this just so beautiful?

Read it again. Slowly. Out loud. Now, feel it. What senses does this conjure? Can you hear the loud and slow clock ticking? Its echo crossing a flat lake trying to reach the disappearing voices of loved ones you wished existed? The still and stifling warm air at dusk? Your heartbeat in your ears? The emptiness in your chest? The melancholia you can’t seem to place? An amazing comparison to loneliness, don’t you think? The clocks, the voices, the loudness of heartache. *sigh* …

You can do this in your work. By reading a bit more literary fiction, you can discover small beauties like this one. You can then practice taking someone’s breath away in your own writing. Give your manuscript that extra touch of character, of magic, of prose so well crafted that others will wish they could write like you. Now … wouldn’t that be an amazing accomplishment? To write a page turner that makes a reader’s mouth water as well?

Tell me, do you read literary fiction? Why/Why not? If you’ve given up on literary fiction in the past, do you think you might like to give it another shot?

(How to project your future platform abilities when talking with an agent.)

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