What is Literary?

22 03 2012

So literary.

Pretty books– picture from http://www.nomisblog.com
It’s a term that gets tossed around a lot, a term that gets ridiculed and celebrated. People say that literary books are the most boring books of all time. People say that literary books are the best books the world have ever created, and isn’t it obvious that literary books tend to wind awards? People say that commercial is better than literary or vice versa (and I’m not going to get into that debate, but there are some nice posts on the topic here and here). 
But what on earth is it?
As always, we’ll start with a definition and expand from there. This definition comes from dictionary.com.

.

  • pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings,especially those classed as literatureliterary history.
  • pertaining to authorship: literary style
  • versed in or acquainted with literature well-read.
  • engaged in or having the profession of literature  or writing:a literary man.
  • characterized by an excessive or affected display oflearning; stilted; pedantic.
These definition(s) show a lot of the different feelings over literary and what it means. Some people think that it is a good thing (i.e, well-read), or horrible (stilted, pedantic). So obviously there are many differing opinions on the term literary.
Literary in itself is defined as writing about literature. Now, some literary books have bases in literature, whether these be allusions to literature or literature being a major plot point.
Another key part of literary books is that the characters seem to be more prevelant, the plot important but shadowed by the characters.
But these are broad, reaching terms. 
Literary in its essence seems to be based around characters and their emotions and feelings. Characters are important to the story. But does that mean there cannot be a plot to the story? Of course not. And does the story have to be based in or around literature, or even have references to great literary works?
No.
So the definition is almost arbitrary. 
And books can fall in between literary and commercial. For me, personally, when I write literary books, I focus much more on the characters and how they interact with each other, and the writing. However, that does not mean my experience with writing literary fiction is the same of any one else’s. Terms like these, that describe an entire genre, are hard to determine. There are always exceptions and always books that fall in between.
Personally, I’m going to say that my definition of literary is this:
a story faced more around characters and with more literature based intentions.
That is my personal definition. Do you agree? Do you want to murder me? What do you think of the definition of literary? Comment below.
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