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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34 thoughts on “7 Tips for Literary Fiction Writers

  1. Thyank you for not posting the usual generic genre fiction advice then adding in a section about “emphasizing character development” as if except for that literary fiction and genre fiction are the exact same thing. They’re not and you make it very clear that literary fiction is the high-brow big brother to genre fiction without putting genre fiction down. I hate posts that make literary fiction sound like genre fiction with more character development or that make genre fiction sound like it only exists because, you know, some people just can’t seem to understand that they can’t write. Neither is the case. If you want consumption for the sake of consumption, then genre fiction might be your thing. I love Silent Movies and French New Wave and own (and have read Infinite Jest…David Foster Wallace, 1996), but I also own the 1998 classic (lol) Can’t Hardly Wait starring Seth Green and have read the novelization of Star Trek IV 4 times. If you want something with more substance and want something that reads like the author bleed onto the page, then literary fiction is your thing. I do understand that not everyone wants to devote the energy to an 800 book about whales or a 1000 page book mostly about tennis, I get it. I understand that there’s a place in this world for a 300 page book about a guy who talks to “god” in his shed or a wizzard with a scar or whatever, I just don’t want to write those books. I’m much happier writing a 700 page book that gets described as infinitely beautiful and is read bny no one than a book that’s read by everyone and poo-pooed by all the critics. Great post.

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  7. Oh no! You’ve got me pegged. I’ve been shuffling about the genres, not sure where exactly I belonged. I feared it was Lit/Fic, because it’s particularly hard to market as a newbie (and small press, too.) Just my luck, eh? But there it is; you’ve sealed my fate. It’ll be a difficult settling in. I don’t fit in with the high-brow–too much dirt under the fingernails, too practical. Okay, I’ll trade in my strong coffee for an upscale espresso drink–my Irish for a fine wine.

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  9. 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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  10. 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

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