Genre tips / writers tips

7 Tips for Literary Fiction Writers

literary fictionEvery genre is different when you’re an author. Romance stories don’t follow the same rules as mysteries, or westerns. I didn’t know that for a long time. Sure, I knew each genre had a favored word count, from 45,000 for YA (at the low end) to 120,000 for thrillers. But I didn’t know there was so much difference in voice, pacing, plotting–well, every element that makes a great story.

Over the next few weeks few months year, I’m going to share with you what the best in each genre consider critical to penning a blockbuster. I’ll start with Literary Fiction because that is the most popular (with thrillers a near second). Literary Fiction includes novels such as The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi, The Handmade’s Tale. They’re books that you savor, take weeks to read, and mull over with friends while eating leisurely dinners in five-star restaurants. Here are seven organic bits of advice from Writers Digest, Absolute Write, and others that you need to embrace if you’re a Lit Fic writer:

  1. aim for transcendency–make your story bigger than the plot. It’s about ideas, not action. If you see yourself as that writer hunched over his/her computer, thinking deep thoughts that explain why characters do this or that, you have a LitFic soul. If you’re a James Bond fan, well, there’s always the possibility of a new genre–the LitFic thriller.
  2. develop characters well–LitFic is more likely character-driven than other genres. Make your characters interesting, unusual, appealing, vulnerable, relatable. Spend time on them. Have them reflect on circumstances, share with readers what makes them do whatever they do. Internal monologues are common and critical in LitFic.
  3. theme is as important as plot. What is your theme? Good vs. evil? Individual vs. Big Government? Human forgiveness? Whatever it is, develop it well with setting, dialogue, characters, and all other story pieces. Make it central to your novel.
  4. share opinions, but don’t get preachy. LitFic is more likely to have complicated ideas that are thoroughly discussed throughout the plot. Don’t be afraid to state your thoughts, but do give all sides to the idea. Otherwise, you’ll appeal only to the choir, not the Renaissance readers who favor Literary Fiction novels.
  5. understand that LitFic is as much about producing a tome that is cerebrally beautiful as popular. Embrace that. Don’t worry if it takes you a while to get that concept down on paper. Expect it to. You’ll know when you’ve finished.
  6. expect your writing to be described as ‘elegant’, ‘lyrical’, ‘thought-provoking’, or ‘high-brow’. If it is, and you like that, you are probably a literary fiction writer.
  7. take time in the plot to thoroughly explore characters, ideas, motivation, feelings. That means, your plot will be slower than other genres. Accept that. It’s a good thing if this is your genre.

Do these sound like you? If not, keep reading my blog as I spotlight other options for the writer in you. The genre you select is critical. It must fit your voice, your personality, your reasons for putting keyboard to doc. Otherwise you risk getting an Amazon review like my efriend Kort Kramer recently wrote in a Vine review: “…I couldn’t help but think, ‘The covers of this book are too far apart.’”

This is the first in a Monday series of tips that are genre-specific.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a weekly columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is  editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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14 thoughts on “7 Tips for Literary Fiction Writers

  1. Another great piece Jacqui!

    I love what you write and I love you Jacqui for sharing these with us. You should be teaching at the UK’s premier Creative Writing universities like the University of East Anglia [who are responsible for creating so many great and good writers]. Arun

    • Thanks, Kath. I love research so when my writing didn’t seem to resonate with agents, I dug around to figure out why. It’s like clothing styles, or building a house that fits the neighborhood–pretty common sense once you know the rules.

  2. Thank you for writing this post. I’ve never read literary fiction so succinctly described. I feel more comfortable now about what I write. Going to print this and tack it to the wall.

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