I sincerely hope I never write literary fiction again.
Literary fiction is, when done correctly, gorgeous. It explores deeply the complexities of a character, showing in a different light all the disgusting glory of human existence. It insults, weeps, and delights itself. Again, when done correctly, literary fiction is gorgeous.
I don’t want it.
A couple days ago, someone presented me with a visual prompt: the sun behind a pair of mountains behind a grove of trees, all frozen solid. So I wrote a piece of flash fiction, and since I was on the spot and currently reading Thomas Wolfe, I wrote it in that style. I wrote about choices, and change, and the affect of beauty on the mind. It sounds so pretentious here, but it was only 200 words, and I showed as much as I could. It was good practice for description and emotion.
The next day, I realized how much I loathed what I had written.
It was good. I have to say, I think the piece worked. The metaphors and turns of phrase I attempted did what they had to, I think, and the characters, while barely sketched, were enough. It wouldn’t have won any awards, but it was good for a first attempt. And yet, blech. I hated it so much I grew depressed, thinking that I was now the stereotypical white male writer who goes to a liberal arts college, gets a writing degree, and spends the next thirty years drinking until they realize their recalcitrant Muse never really existed. Yes, many have managed to escape this. Yet for me, as the curve of my life approaches the Guy in your MFA Twitter account, depression increases to infinity.
I’ve always wanted to be able to write any genre I read. So far, I’ve been pretty good at that. I consider myself a fantasy writer, but I’ve written all across the board, trying different things all the time. However, I don’t think I’ll come back to literary fiction. The literary mind and the fantasy mind are two sides of the same coin, and I much prefer the fantasy side.
This realization came to me on Friday, when I kicked a bedpost. Traitor, I accused it. Immediately, I began thinking of how I could use that idea in a description to show a character’s emotion. A year ago, I would have used that as a story seed: a bed that eats the sleeper, or steals the dreamer’s thoughts and blabs them to secret organizations. Literary fiction personifies an object to describe it; fantasy personifies to build a world.
That scared me, that I would immediately jump to the literary interpretation. I used to generate millions of plot bunnies at once, just by reading a book— now they turn into metaphors for the human condition. I don’t want to write metaphors for the human condition, unless they include unhealthy amounts of dragons and magic.
Literary fiction describes a character, whose tiny world is enormous in their eyes and the eyes of the reader. All the author’s creative energy is devoted to describing that world, placing a lamp just so to illuminate the crags and shadows of their perception of the world. Fantasy describes a character moving through an enormous world, full of magic and wonder and heroism. The author’s creative energy is devoted to making everything look awesome.
I would much rather make a world look awesome, with magic no one has considered and implications no one expects, creating a character that any literary writer would be proud to own yet leaving them in the background as I describe beasts and wars and how politics work when your opponent can shoot fire from their ears. I would rather not spend my time describing the complexities of a changing human as they move through the same world I’m living in. Yes, the prose is gorgeous. The art of including and excluding images that affect them is intricate and beautiful. I just don’t want it.
That’s my decision. I have said that I want to write every genre under the sun— I have written literary fiction, and I have decided that I don’t want to write any more. On the other hand, I have also written epic poetry, and decided that I enjoy it. Just comparing those two, I think I can tell which one to avoid.
So with that prompt I was given, I’m going to rethink the way I approach. Rather than looking at change, and beauty, and the perishability of a single moment in time, I’m going to write about a dragon who accidentally licked a frozen iron deposit during the Ice Age and gets stuck until it can melt (unfortunately, he keeps sleeping through summer, and thus sticks around for millennia until he becomes a mountain range). I’m going to imagine a bed that deliberately walks over and trips you when you’re not looking, or holds you down when you’re too tired to fight free. Yes, it means more plot bunnies. But it means more fun for me.
How could this be just about me, though? Try genres all over the place, by all means. But make sure you aren’t enslaved to a genre you hate. Write everything, but know your opinion on each. When you have the opportunity to write what you really love, make sure you decide on the right thing.