In a recent blogpost, Chip MacGregor predicted that Christian fiction as we now know it will cease to exist. Namely, he stated, because the readers who demanded 100,000 copies of the latest Amish romance had “aged out.”
Chip (who knows this industry, folks), stated further that the few Christian houses still publishing fiction will now look for “high-quality literary or women’s stories for a broader people of faith … rather than clearly religious stories aimed only at the faithful.”
I’ll admit, I’m doing a happy dance over here.
Authors of Southern fiction have known for a while that our work is either about poking fun at our people (think Mary Kay Andrews (Hissy Fit)) or we dig into the darkest elements of who we are (Pat Conroy (South of Broad).
Southerners are a complex bunch of people. We can praise God from one side of our mouth while quoting superstitions from the other. We are white verandahs and dark shadows in the cluster of live oaks dripping with moss.
But how do we differentiate between “fiction” and “literary fiction”? And what makes literary fiction “southern”?
Fiction is literature with madeup stories and characters. Literary fiction is symbolic or thematic fiction and should comment on something significant (such as the human condition). Literary fiction isn’t meant simply to entertain—such as genre fiction, which is meant to help you escape your reality. Rather, literary fiction sparks discussion—arguments even—around the dinner table, the water cooler, and on social media because it comments on the realities of life.
Literary fiction usually has complex/complicated characters (which is why Southern Fiction can so easily fit right in). Complex/complicated characters are multi-layered and, when brought together between the bindings of one book, form an onion-like story filled with sub-plots told without any sense of rushing.
Who better to fit the proverbial example than Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind? Southern literary fiction at its finest. Not because it is set in the South, but because its complex characters embody the Southern experience.
Writing literary fiction is as simple as one-two-three. (Okay, we all know there is nothing simple about it.) But if I had to give you three steps to writing in the literary style, they would be:
1. Create characters who are complex. This means spending time working out the details of characters who are by nature one thing, but who have been shaped to something else by experience. Then, allow your characters to tell you a story that is bigger than you could have possibly imagined. Listen long. Listen hard. This won’t come in one sitting.
2. Concentrate as much on your tone and voice as you do the theme of the story. Take your time with word choice and don’t let anything sway you from those that come from your gut. That doesn’t mean you’ll use three adjectives to describe one noun and three adverbs to describe one verb, but more that the nouns and verbs pop on their own. (Not to say you can’t use adjectives and adverbs … just be careful.)
3. Take all the time you need. None of this will come overnight nor will it be written in a day. Or a week. And maybe not in a year. But when you are done—deliciously exhausted from the process—you’ll have something you’re proud of. You’ll say, “This is it. This is it.”