by Marie Valentine, Book Editor and Proofreader
Fiction is a narrative told in prose form about events not true to life. Many books include disclaimers that the work is made up solely by the author’s imagination, and any similarities the tale bears to real events are coincidences. Forms of fiction range in style, length, and depth; all these factors influence how editors and readers characterize the final piece.
Genre or Literary?
Popular fiction comes in many genres. Historical fiction, romance, and science fiction are a few examples of subtypes of fiction. Literary fiction does not encompass these terms, but stretches to included genres in certain cases, such as the classic Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of Baskervilles, literature that many would consider part of the detective or crime genres. The line between literary and genre can blur, and often it’s a matter of who you ask. Some other genres include action-adventure, fantasy, horror, mystery, Western and inspirational.
Some readers say literary fiction defies most genre classifications. Other readers say they just know it when they see it: a mark of quality that distinguishes popular fiction from literary fiction. The one thing all literary fiction has in common is good writing that exhibits a mastery of craft. Literary writers use devices, such as tone, foreshadowing, metaphor, and poetics of language, to tell their stories in an artful way.
Generally, literary fiction’s based on a canon of English language works considered notable for their mastery of craft. The authors included in this canon could be debated ad infinitum, but if I say Chaucer, that might give you an idea of where a canonical discussion might begin. Literary fiction today allows for infusion from diverse cultures and literary traditions and styles. Most fiction we read is mimetic – it represents some human experience told for the story’s inherent interest. Other works are didactic – stories with a point or moral, intended to change the world view of a writer.
Classifying fiction becomes important when selling or attempting to sell a work. How will it be consumed? Once your genre is identified, where to publish it becomes issue. Will the work stand on its own as a book, or be a part of a collection of works? If we think of fiction in a commodity sense, like clothing or beverages, we can classify tales by size – small, medium, and large: short stories, novellas, and novels.