Literary fiction is supposed to be a category for beautifully written, moving fiction that crosses genres or otherwise doesn’t fit into the genre categories. It’s supposed to deal with ‘deeper’ themes than genre fiction, but that attitude can be elitist, since there is nothing to stop something that fits a genre category from dealing with such themes, and many do, especially in indie writing. The exploration of relevant and moving themes is not the exclusive domain of literary fiction. Granted, much genre fiction has little more than the story to recommend it, but to assume that none of it has anything more to offer is pure arrogance.
Take On the Soul of a Vampire by Krisi Keley—literary fantasy that uses the particular challenges faced by a character forced to murder to survive as the basis for an exploration of the human soul—or my own work; for example, the Diamond Peak Series which though it appears on the surface as contemporary fantasy has layers of psychological and spiritual meaning.
Unfortunately, the exploration of deeper themes sometimes manifests as self-indulgence with long rambling passages that, though they may be well written, seem more interested in showing off the authors prose than moving the story forward or adding particularly to the theme being explored. The literary label should not be an excuse for long-windedness.
Some writers like to think that the literary designation means that they can completely ignore the elements that make a popular novel. They think that the advice given by countless writing coaches does not apply to their work, and that readers who find their work lacking are somehow uneducated. But why should literary fiction ignore the very points that make a work most readable by the widest possible range of people? Why should literary fiction be boring when with the application of certain principles will save it from that fate? What are the elements of good fiction that they find so limiting?
Look at the classics; they meet all the requirements of popular fiction and were highly popular in their day. Popular does not mean lesser, and literary is not an excuse for boring.
The reality of our world is that readers have many options for entertainment. Few will struggle through something that doesn’t have the same elements of good entertainment as fiction’s biggest competition—movies and television. Yes, much television and many movies are puerile nonsense, and some popular novels are as well, but the most powerful are entertaining as well as moving and thought-provoking. Modern literary fiction gains nothing from using their designation as an excuse to ignore the sensibilities of the general reader, but has a lot to gain by embracing the elements of popular fiction. The most skilled writers embrace the elements of both literary and popular fiction. Take the works of Linda Gillard, for example.
Mainstream publishing is perhaps guilty of cementing this split, with their acquisition editors looking for books they can slot into one category or the other. Perhaps this is an area where indie writing is showing a new direction. I certainly find many indie books that embrace both. The authors do not ignore the elements that make a book most readable or see them as limiting constraints, they simply write books that are enjoyable as well as meaningful and thought-provoking.