I recently participated in a forum in which the question was put forth, “Do literary novels intimidate consumers?”
I voiced my opinion that how a text is written is as important as what is written, that writers of literary novels focus on word choices and arrangement of words, and not just story. We’re challenged to use new words we’ve learned, but use them in such a way that the reader can infer their meaning; while other writers write to a sixth-grade level. We’re concerned about the turn of a phrase, the beauty of the prose, what Elmore Leonard calls “the writer butting into the story.” Mr. Leonard, forgive me, but you write with a screenplay mentality, and I’m underwhelmed by your work.
If I were writing to a genre, a formula, it would be a much quicker process: start with my last novel, change all the names of the characters, change the setting, maybe the period, toss in a couple different plot twists, and I’m ready to go to print in three months. The market seems huge for genre-specific novels that allow consumers to escape from their own mundane reality. While the publishing industry seems to think they must compete with Hollywood blockbuster action thrillers, requiring page-turning narrative designed to keep the reader in the story from start to finish.
But what about those of us who write “small” novels about everyday people dealing with the universal ideals of love, loss and regret? My protagonists don’t go on quests to prove that Jesus was indeed married and fathered a child; but I like to think that readers can connect with someone dealing with those universal ideals with which perhaps they, too, are grappling.
Does that mean that the consumer is put off by something labeled as “literary?” Do they fear it will be too deep for them, that the language will be too dense? I can’t say. I only know there is a market for what I write, because I seek for my own reading pleasure novels that are similar to my own. The world will either embrace my work, or eschew it. Nothing will ever change that. Hemingway had his detractors. I have mine. Art either connects with someone, or it doesn’t. Writers today are taught that if they want to be a bestseller, they must become a mercenary. Identify your audience and write to it. One of the largest audiences today seems to clamor for stories about vampires and werewolves.
I’d like to hear from other writers about their views on literary fiction: do you write with an audience in mind, perhaps dumbing down your text in an effort to appeal to the masses? Or do you write what you wish to write, following your heart, and hope that your audience finds you?