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Lit Fic

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Lit Fic (short for "Literary Fiction") is a nebulous, broad term which emerged during the 1960s. Though it is usually contrasted with Genre Fiction ("Speculative Fiction", Mystery Fiction, Romance Novel, and so on), there's more to it than "any non-genre fiction"; in some respects, it is a genre unto itself, characterized by an aspiration to literary merit and a greater focus on style, theme and psychological depth—as opposed to the focus on plot and narrative typical of genre fiction.

From this you might infer that this is typically not the kind of work that provides one's daily fix of vampire-hunting, magically-transforming, banana-bending, mecha-piloting, super-powered, time-travelling teenagers beating the odds. A touch of Magical Realism might be allowed, but never to the point where it becomes the focus of the story. Rather, a piece of Lit Fic is much likelier to be about everyday people doing everyday things, dealing with everyday problems and eventually coming to realizations or personal transformations. A family struggles with cancer. A man struggles with death. A couple struggles with alcoholism. A child struggles to become an adult. Literary fiction is therefore sometimes criticized as "100,000 words in which nothing happens". Contrariwise, literary fiction writers dismiss genre works as childish wish fulfillment. Interestingly, this gives it much overlap with what is called Slice of Life fiction, which is similarly about people going on with their daily lives (although Slice of Life is in a very general sense perceived to be more lighthearted).

There is very little escapism or Wish-Fulfillment in Lit Fic. For some readers, this induces an instinctive aversion to the genre; they deem it pretentious and boring, an over-application of "write what you know" that is mainly capable of generating tales of middle-aged English professors contemplating adultery. For other readers, the contrast between the realism and the conventions of genre fiction is refreshing and makes stories more relatable. Lit Fic, more than any other genre, invests itself in real-life situations and real-life people. This is, generally, a good investment; in the end, even in the wackiest and most speculative adventures, the touch of real life—characters and their believable faults and struggles—is what ties everything together, carries the Willing Suspension of Disbelief and keeps the Eight Deadly Words at bay.

Ostensibly for this reason, and because lit fic is most likely to appeal to sensibilities of the the gatekeepers of "good" fiction, Lit fic has a reputation as the "mainstream" of fiction. It does not have the greatest market share and is overall not the most popular, but it aims at the center of mass of what storytelling is about, and as a result if a work of fiction is called a "classic", most of the time it’s a piece of Lit Fic. It's worth noting that the genre really only began to appear towards the end of the 19th century, when the corresponding genre fictions began to crystallize (one could argue that most works of fiction before the emergence of genre fic are essentially lit fic, but the term is generally used to refer to contemporary works).

Much like other things in life, the division between literary fiction and genre fiction is not a total binary dichotomy. The typical struggles of people just trying to find their place in the world comprise one aspect of storytelling; the speculation on what the world would be like if only it were slightly more fantastic is another aspect of storytelling. Various works will emphasize these two aspects to varying degrees, and as a result, sometimes the line between the two genres becomes blurred. To top it off, it is worth keeping in mind that works from both genres will often defy expectation and act wildly out of the stereotype expected of them. Some works dealing with "ordinary situations and ordinary people" will make you cry with laughter. Some works dealing with spaceship politics on the planet Xyrrzquilon VI will introduce situations that hit close to home and will make you pause and really think about your own life and where it is going.

Some established genres are remarkably prone to getting Out of the Ghetto. This is especially true of the heavier kind of Spy Literature, since its subject matter naturally raises questions about morality, politics, power, loyalty, and the nuances of man's psychenote . Science Fiction also can become "respectable" if a work explores its era's social and philosophical problemsnote . Interestingly, "literary" sci-fi novels often aren't accepted into the literary canon until long after their publication ... at which point they stop being considered sci-finote . Some commentators have proposed a category that they call "literary crime," since Crime Fiction, by looking under a moist log in the human psyche, lends itself to exploration of the human condition.

Getting out of the ghetto is also easier in genres that are strongly associated with an eminent author whom critics respect, thanks to that author's halo effect. Look no further than Sea Stories, which enjoy respectability-by-association with Moby-Dick. Detective Fiction also has a certain respectability, thanks to the legacies of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Edgar Allan Poe.

In general, Speculative Fiction novels that get Out of the Ghetto tend to be darker than other works in their genres. If it's Spy Literature, expect moments of action to be few and far between, and expect the ending to be bittersweet at best. If it's science fiction, the setting will probably be dystopian. It also helps if a work is old: after all, the concept of lit-fic didn't exist until the 1960s, so many older respected "speculative" authors got grandfathered into the literary canonnote . Publishers often use the term "upmarket fiction" to describe works that combine aspects of literary fiction and genre fiction.

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Archetypal authors include:


Examples of Lit Fic with pages on this wiki include:

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Alternative Title(s): Literary Fiction