You want to write literary fiction? Here’s a brief checklist.
A creative character — artist, photographer, novelist. Use these to quote from other, more famous writers in order to show your parents that their contribution to your MFA was not wasted.
An urban setting — because nobody who reads literary fiction is interested in what happens in the countryside. It’ll also provide you with an opportunity to describe the deeply happening scene that you experience living in Brooklyn/Dalston/Bastille/Highland Park.
Avoid using chapters or, at the very least, ensure your chapters are extremely long. Alternatively, divide your book into ‘parts’. This makes it seem weighty and important.
A character either studying at or graduating from an elite university — because nobody who reads literary fiction is interested in middle-tier universities. And, as is likely, if you attended an elite university, it’s a good way of showing your readers that you attended an elite university. And, if you didn’t, your readers might think you did.
Ideally, your book will be about a group of friends that met at an elite university.
Don’t shy away from describing sex. It makes your book seem edgy and adult.
First person perspective and minimalist prose — there’s no greater way of getting inside your protagonist’s head than using the word ‘I’. In fact, ‘I’ is your favourite word. And your parents didn’t spend all those thousands of dollars on your MFA for you to employ flowery language. Minimalise it: make Carver blush.
Leave the working class to write about the working class. You’re better qualified to explore how middle-class life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, the middle-classes hide all kinds of dark secrets — like smoking dope and having affairs, for instance.
Your protagonist, or focaliser, must either be a twenty-something woman or a thirty-something man. Either way, one must have an affair with the other. Men in literary fiction never have affairs with older women, women never cheat with younger, unmarried men. Break this rule and see your book fail.
Include multiple time-lines — particularly to show how a young, arrogant, talented character amounts to nothing later on in their life and how the young, shy, awkward character (a proxy for you) becomes a successful literary novelist.
Avoid any humour that’s not ironic. Because 1) you were born in the 1990s, so no other humour exists and 2) there’s nothing funny about the content of your book — i.e. the dark secrets that hide behind middle-class existence.
Ensure there’s a scene set at a poetry reading — again, people who read literary fiction don’t want to be reading literary fiction which doesn’t include scenes set at poetry readings. It validates their attendance at poetry readings.
Contact a reviewer you know through university to describe you as ‘Faulkner for the Facebook generation’.
Buy some fancy glasses for your promotional picture. And never, ever smile during the shoot.