Story in Literary Fiction, by William H. Coles: #BookReview.


Subtitled ‘A Manual for Writers’, this is a scholarly work that attempts to analyse what makes a story ‘literary’ rather than ‘genre’ and advises on how to go about achieving this distinction.

Presented in two parts, after a brief introduction to the topic, the book looks first at ‘Structuring the Story’, in which the author tackles the practical elements of writing a piece that will fit the definition of literary fiction. The second part is headed, ‘Providing for the Reader’, an essential element in all writing, but here skewed for the specific type of writing the book addresses.

I found the nature of the writing rather dry, academic and reminiscent of an old style lecture. There are, rather ironically given the insistence on accuracy and correct language use, a few editing errors. Enough to cause the reader an occasional pause but insufficient to question the validity of the work.

There is a good deal of information here. Most of it is worth knowing, if Literary Fiction is your intention. Did I learn anything? Yes, or more accurately, I had previous knowledge, experience and learning emphasised and corroborated.

Interestingly, in such a work, there is no denigration of genre fiction. The author merely makes the distinction, explaining the difference in intent and approach when writing for a readership interested in this amorphous style. I will avoid specifics but, in common with everyone who reads broadly, I have come across books that have been sold as literary fiction only to find genre fiction poorly presented. Similarly, I have read genre fiction worthy of elevation to the literary shelf.

You will notice that I use no contractions in this review and those familiar with my usual style might wonder about that. It is, however, an almost unconscious habit of mine to write a review in a style that echoes that of the book’s author. Usually, I modify the first draft to make it my own. In this case, it felt more in keeping with the topic to retain that imitation.

So, is it worth reading? If you have completed a degree in creative writing, or its equivalent, you will have been given all the guidance and advice contained in this slim volume. If like me, however, you missed that opportunity either by choice or circumstance, I expect you will gain some worthwhile insight by reading this book.

You need to have a desire to write literary fiction, or some real curiosity about the subject, to tackle this work, however. It is not an ‘easy’ read; it requires concentration and application. I am, though, glad I made the effort.