Literary or entertaining

October 5, 2009 at 7:55 am (education, Writing)

Had an interesting conversation in my Fiction Class about literary short stories and their popularity (or lack there of) with the general populace. Historically, some of the most popular and well-known short-fiction writers – Poe, Twain, O’Henry, and others – were enjoyed by those outside academia. Like novelists, they were well known and widely-read. Somewhere along the line, however, writers of “serious” fiction, those stories published in literary magazine and the like, seem to have increasingly left the mainstream and often circulate mainly in the world of academia. In class we’ve commented many times on the unique style of this modern, literary fiction: it often lacks a plot and/or action and leaves the reader with a very ambiguous taste in their mouth.

As I’ve thought about this, two things strike me. One is that it’s very unfortunate that the “best” of narrative fiction is so often unattractive to the common reader . It seems that many of these stories have forgotten what a “story” is. Human beings are enthralled by good stories, captivated by them, and when a work is so obtuse that only intellectuals can enjoy it – and I use “enjoy” fairly loosely here – it has wandered from the latent power of narrative fiction and has in some ways ceased to be a “story.”

Secondly, I have realized that I have little interest in writing this brand of literary fiction. In the past – recent past – I’ve been very intimidated by this “high-brow” writing and felt that my work was far below many of these literary publications. But I’ve realized that the reason I love writing, the thing that has drawn me from childhood to put stories down on paper, is just that: STORY! To create, imagine, to build. To enthrall my reader, to take them somewhere new. I want those who read my stories to love the characters and the plot; to be entertained on the surface and be caused to think about life – their life! – at a deeper level.

That’s why I love writing. And if I’m never published by those in academia, so be it.

NOTE: Obviously, I’m making some broad generalizations here about literary fiction. This post is meant more as an expression of what I’m learning and thinking through as a writer than as a real analysis and critique of literary short fiction.



  1. Ken said,

    So are there any recognized Poe, Twain, O’Henry types today at all out there? Is it a dead or dying breed?

    • slowlyascending said,

      There are plenty of “entertaining” short story writers out there. It just seems like the academically respected writers – those published in literary journals and taught in modern writing classes – are usually character heavy stories with little plot or action.

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