You’re a literary writer? So that must mean you’re rich, privileged, and a graduate from an ivy-league school. No? Well then you can’t be a literary writer.
10 years ago, I fell into an email discussion with my writers organization about what literary meant. It astounded me that just a couple of weeks ago, the same damn debate surfaced with a similar group. All this technology, education, and savvy, and we still bump around in the dark, clueless to the meaning of a word.
By the end of this article, you’ll side with me to snuff the term altogether. But not before I milk it for the absurdity.
Let’s start in an obvious place, a dictionary. My 20-year-old, hardback Webster along with Dictionary.com define it as:
Of, relating to, or dealing with literature.
Thank you for that thorough explanation! Ergo (doesn’t that sound literary?), this prompts the look up of that snobby last word as well from the same sources:
Literature: A body of writings in prose or verse. Imaginative or creative writing especially of recognized artistic value.
Whew! I’m glad that’s cleared up. I mean…we all know what artistic and recognized is right? On the contrary, the adjective ‘artistic’ is so overused, abused, and cheapened it might as well be standing on Colfax with a bottle of gin.
Maybe literary is like love. We all know it, but can’t explain it.
If you fell for that, you’ve been disqualified. Wrong answer. It can be explained and I’ll gladly shoulder the burden. Even though I’ve not traced the Latin root of ‘lit’, it probably means something like light or truth. If you think about the word literal which basically means brazenly truthful, then literary is prose that emulates the real world, something that could truly happen.
I can hear the debates now.
Then why is James Bond not literary, spies are real? Because it’s not realistic to get shot at that many times and escape without even a hair out of place.
Then why is romance not literary, people fall in love every day? Real couples don’t fall in love like they do in romance yarns, ladies. (Yes, I’ve read lots of Harlequins in my pursuit for publication). Romance is fantasy. Men aren’t like that. Look at your adorable hubby who is scratching his privates while watching Duck Dynasty.
Of course literary is difficult to write because everyday life can be monotonous and the author better know how to use conflict well and explore emotions. And this leads to the elitism. Because literary is so difficult, a novice is not welcomed into the club of literary writers who are bankrolling their great grandchildren’s ivy-league educations from royalty checks. Pity.
So let’s use a term from centuries past that’s just as good: Drama. Nevermind that it usually pertains to plays. That’s more snobbery. A story that can really happen that explores the emotional highs and lows is quite simply a drama. No need for another label.