What is a “serious” novel? Some writers need to know so they can be seen doing “serious” work. My advice: Don’t think in such terms. Tell a story honestly and well and the coveted “serious” appellation may well find its way to your book.
All kinds of novels qualify as serious. Commercial fiction regularly offers up stories of significant import in genres that appeal to a broad cross-section of readers. Literary fiction also is home to important writing, with transcendent messages that can transform individuals and communities.
Yet literary stylists sometimes choose to sacrifice clarity to stylistic considerations, thereby catering to a select readership. Mark Twain would say phooey to that and I’m with Mark. I believe a serious fiction writer should aim… wide. The goal should be to attract a broad readership.
Wait a minute! That sounds like pandering or dumbing down, like populism or—horrors!—selling out. It isn’t any of that. To be read is the aspiration of every writer. (Even you. C’mon, admit it!) Heck, I suspect authors of private diaries want their scribblings discovered. The common hope is to influence gobs of people through our words.
I have authored a middle-grades historical novel and a contemporary mystery. Neither shatters the earth with profound implications for all mankind. Yet characters come alive and linger in minds. Story lines engage readers and carry them to a denouement, leaving them at book’s end with an inkling of having been transported to another place. All in all, the novels connect.
Please note: I do not suggest standards should be prostituted to popularity. Whether commercial or literary, good fiction always is composed of clear and original writing. Central ideas in them are fresh if not downright newborn. If their words don’t zing, they at least sing. All serious fiction is a product of talent and hard work.
I only suggest that a serious writer should write inclusively, as well, with language that is broadly accessible and embraceable. Don’t limit your potential readership. Write for the world.
Gillespie Lamb is the author of two novels to date—The Beamy Courage of Gerta Scholler and The Junkyard Dick.
A retired journalist, Lamb has embarked on a new writing journey. His purpose is to author stories for ordinary people—that’s all of us—about ordinary people. The commonplace can become extraordinary when properly crafted and Lamb hopes to become such a craftsman.