Tucson's picture
Tucson from Belgium is reading Late Essays - J.M. Coetzee December 3, 2018 - 2:32am

I'm writing a novel and I have a group of 8 who gives feedback on my text every week. They say it's quite heavy and dark and I'm losing faith in my own text. Besides that, I think it doesn't have enough literary qualities. 


Do you ever experience this? How to make text more literary? How to keep faith in your own text?



helpfulsnowman's picture
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helpfulsnowman from Colorado is reading But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman December 3, 2018 - 11:14am

Of course! Most days there's some level of this. 

As far as making it more literary, I'm not sure. I think if your book doesn't fit the definition of literary, that's okay. Lots of things don't. And lots of things, when they were created, weren't seen as literary because they pushed the boundaries of what was considered literary.

As for keeping faith, sometimes I think you can transfer your faith in the text to having faith that finishing is worth your time. Finishing a novel is always worth your time. Learning how to finish a novel is a tough thing to learn without just, well, doing it. 

Max's picture
Max from Texas is reading goosebumps December 4, 2018 - 12:29am

My best advice is to not let anyone read it until at least the first draft is finished. Having others critique it as you go seems like you're setting yourself up for a crushed spirit. I also think "doesn't have enough literary qualities" is nonsense and terrible feedback. Do not listen to them. Write the book in a bubble and don't let anyone look at it until a) the first draft is finished and b) you've had time to go back through it at least once.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann December 7, 2018 - 5:53pm

I'll answer in two quotes and an academic breakdown of metaphor.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. ... [There is no] satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching on and makes us more alive than the others.”

      — Martha Graham


The idea tells you everything. Lots of times I get ideas, I fall in love with them. Those ones you fall in love with are really special ideas. And, in some ways, I always say, when something's abstract, the abstractions are hard to put into words unless you're a poet. These ideas you somehow know. And cinema is a language that can say abstractions. I love stories, but I love stories that hold abstractions--that can hold abstractions. And cinema can say these difficult-to-say-in-words things. A lot of times, I don't know the meaning of the idea, and it drives me crazy. I think we should know the meaning of the idea. I think about them, and I tell this story about my first feature Eraserhead. I did not know what these things meant to me--really meant. And on that particular film, I started reading the Bible. And I'm reading the Bible, going along, and suddenly--there was a sentence. And I said, forget it! That's it. That's this thing. And so, I should know the meaning for me, but when things get abstract, it does me no good to say what it is. All viewers on the surface are all different. And we see something, and that's another place where intuition kicks in: an inner-knowingness. And so, you see a thing, you think about it, and you feel it, and you go and you sort of know something inside. And you can rely on that. Another thing I say is, if you go--after a film, withholding abstractions--to a coffee place--having coffee with your friends, someone will say something, and immediately you'll say “No, no, no, no, that's not what that was about.” You know? “This is what it was about.” And so many things come out, it's surprising. So you do know. For yourself. And what you know is valid.

David Lynch


Regarding how to make something more literary:

Literary fiction has a great depth of unspoken meaning. This is usually communicated in part through metaphor and rhetorical nuance. A good thing would be to ask yourself what you're trying to communicate with your story or what your story means to you. Then you can consider in what symbolic ways you could signify those things—what elements of prose, what symbols, what visual elements would communicate those things. You can ask yourself if anything in the story might be detracting from or at odds with that, and then better refine the small details to complement these bigger things.

Tropes of comparison, such as metaphor and simile, are the most basic tools of literary fiction. You can analyze any trope of comparison with the following heuristic, as taught to me by one of my professors:

Target Domain:  This is the subject of the comparison.
Source Domain: This is the concrete imagery. The thing the subject is being compared to. It Reframes the target domain and puts it into new context. It's the source of new associations.
Basis of Similarities: This is the obvious link-up between the Target and Source.
Field of Revisions: This is where you look for "surprises."

So. "She's like a rose."

Target Domain:  She, the woman/girl.
Source Domain: A rose
Basis of Similarities: They're both beautiful.
Field of Revisions: Roses have thorns, they can make you bleed if you don't touch them right, they're finicky, high-maintenance, prone to disease, only bloom if particular needs are met, etc.

That field of revisions is where the gold is. You want that stuff and you don't want to make it explicit. You want it implied. You want it to be a haze that colors the story.

Tropes of comparison (metaphors) can have:

Explicit Target, Explicit Source
Sharon is a rose

Implicit Target, Explicit Source
He saw a budding rose

Explicit Target, Implicit Source
Sharon, a thorny beauty, held her ground

Implicit Target, Implicit Source
A thorny beauty stared him down

As a general rule, the more implicit a metaphor is, the more powerful it is.

The unspoken and the implicit most powerfully generate meaning. The more implicit and abstract a thing is, the more "literary" it becomes. It evokes stronger feelings. It engages intuition and makes the reader feel. It asks the reader to engage in an intuitive search for meaning in the vision of the world you present them with. Literary fiction and abstract film require mental effort on the part of the audience, which is both why they tend to endure over time and why certain people dislike them. Popular fiction and popular film are explicit; they hand everything to the audience and don't ask them to do much thinking. That's why they appeal to the masses.

"Popular" isn't fundamentally at odds with "literary." Those are just convenient names I'm using for the sake of simplicity. A lot of popular things with mass appeal are very literary and carry an endless wealth of implicit meaning that you can go mining for. e.g., popular serial fiction like the Lord of the Rings.


Another thing that exemplifies literary fiction is, as I mentioned earlier, what you could maybe call rhetorical nuance. You choose particular words and particular grammatical elements to augment your intended meanings. I can go into it more if it's of interest to anyone. Basically, the construction of a sentence, the order of the words, and the words themselves are all chosen with a goal of aiding the communication of/signifying implicit meaning. A quick example would be how in the opening of A Clockwork Orange, when Alex refers to himself, he doesn't use the first person "I," which would make him a grammatical subject of the sentence. A subject has agency, is conscious, thinking, powerful. He uses "me," making himself the grammatical object. An object is acted on, unconscious, powerless. A subject is a mind; an object is a body. This is in line with/augments the way he basically views and treats himself and others as an object. Everything is physical, material, devoid of agency, devoid of ideal meaning. etc. etc. Literary fiction gets into the nitty-gritty with this kinda shit a lot.

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim.

This is why you can close read literary fiction to aid in understanding its meaning. That level of work has been put into it.


My experience is that the best art is done intuitively first (i.e. it's inspired), and is then subjected to the dry work like this. At first in small portions to aid intuition, and then done much more heavily in the editing and revising stages. You don't need to be able to put things in words every step of the way. But you need artistic instinct: knowing on a gut level, an un- or sub-conscious level, what you're trying to do. When you're familiar and comfortable with these elements of writing, instinct determines what tools you're drawn to. That's how it is for me.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 10, 2018 - 10:52pm

So, very few people end up with a superb piece of work on their first book. Let alone their first draft. Does it really matter? Are you not having fun? Revisions can happen later to make it good, for now, just actually make it!

Also... you have to be careful who you take advice from, and which advice you take. For example, what if a guy has a small group of people telling him his work is... not literary enough. Well, what if that's not what he wants? Most writers don't make things overly "literary" and do just fine. 

Or, let's say some people give feedback that a work is, oh I don't know, quite dark and heavy. And let's assume they're saying that as if it's negative. What if the writer wants it to be dark and heavy? Should he change it for them? Obviously not.

My vote, for what it's worth, is to not worry about keeping faith in your work in progress (key word), but enjoy it! Just like shooting a basketball or playing the piano, the quality will come the more you do it.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami February 2, 2019 - 1:35pm

It really depends honestly: I was originally intending my GameLit/LitRPG to be Literary a while back, back when it was merely a story about a family of close knit orphans, until that story arc became the crux of something like Sword Art Online, and other Isekai, and permanently changed the trajectory of that particular book. Now it's just a weirdly dark Isekai.

But sometimes a book you don't really intend as literary, becomes such, even if one intended it as a Vampire Romance. Although in my case, both are in the same continuity. (Think Final Fantasy or Lufia, and less books with direct sequels.)

What I do is take time between different stages of the book, and just see what direction it might take.