Here in the northern hemisphere, February is the time of year when asphalt crumbs can be found sprinkled amidst gray-colored slush that is plowed against street curbs. It was also the month when I guided Write Anything readers on a virtual walking tour of the 1400 block of Patterson Street, a key setting within my work-in-progress of the literary fiction genre. It was then I briefly introduced readers to my story’s brown-haired protagonist, a young twenty-something man named Jim.
The month of April brought forward more comfortable temperatures and flowering blossoms, and in that month’s update on my story I discussed my need to push forward, write out-of-sequence, and to skip ahead by adding placeholders where necessary.
Since April I steadily worked on my story. I frantically scribbled down paragraphs of narrative and dialog between sips of darkened French roast coffee. And a funny thing happened—I ended up with a first draft of the completed story near the end of June.
I learned first-hand during the past six months that writing literary fiction can be dull. Story arcs tend to be flatter than that of commercial fiction and chapters can end without compelling the reader to turn the page. If you’ve never attempted to write literary fiction, consider the fact I now compare it to re-painting a white ceiling. When finished you briefly acknowledge you’ve accomplished a task, but there’s very little to show for it.
What went so terribly wrong for me?
I think the biggest issue right now with my first draft lies with an overly-flat story arc that didn’t appear so flat during the outlining stage. Recognizing there are steps I can take to amplify the action and steepen the arc, I need to approach this with care if I wish to preserve the literary fiction pacing.
Where do I go from here?
First and foremost, I acknowledge that this is a first draft; an objective eye during the editing process will reveal several weak and strong areas that can be improved upon during a re-write. Short of that, there are some other possibilities for me that I’m currently exploring:
- Revisit the story arc and decide how much additional action to insert, but risk changing the story to one that reads more of commercial fiction than literary fiction.
- Shorten the format from a novel or novella length to that of a short story. That will naturally steepen the story arc and yet preserve the literary aspect of the work.
- Consider using the story as a sub-plot to a larger piece of commercial fiction.
While I haven’t given up entirely on this story, I have decided to take a hiatus and plan a new angle of attack to get this work completed. As I mentioned in January, this is a story that I’ve carried with me since 2009, so I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel.