What is Literary Writing?
Literary works are primarily distinguishable from other pieces of writing by their creative, or artistic intent.
A piece of literature differs from a specialised treatises on astronomy, political economy, philosophy, or even history, in part because it appeals, not to a particular class of readers only, but to men and women; and in part because, while the object of the treatise is simply to impart knowledge, one ideal end of the piece of literature, whether it also imparts knowledge or not, is to yield aesthetic satisfaction by the manner of which it handles its theme.
The writer of this passage emphasises the distinction between writing of didactic purpose and literary writing which has that other, aesthetic, dimension. In fundamental terms literature is 'an expression of life through the medium of language' , but language used more profoundly than when used simply to convey information.
The following two extracts, for example, both describing one partner's response to marital problems, are different in both their form and their intent:
Many critics date the crumbling of their marriage back to that unfortunate episode, but David was delighted when he heard that Lynne had produced a daughter from her marriage to an American doctor.
Her writing hand stopped. She sat still for a moment; then she slowly turned in her chair and rested her elbow on its curved back. Her face, disfigured by her emotion, was not a pretty sight as she stared at my legs and said . .
The first piece, from a newspaper, gives a typical tabloid account of a broken marriage. It plainly states the position of the two parties involved, (but with an attitude akin to 'gossip'). The tone of the second piece is less factual and more descriptive. Here the writer is sets out to depict a particular scene, that of a woman distressed by the discovery of some unsavoury information concerning her husband, and employs such devices as the use of emotive words, such as 'disfigured', the gradual increase of dramatic tension, 'slowly turned in her chair', and then in the last line a humorous deflation of this tension, 'her face . . . was not a pretty sight'. The author shows a mixture of intentions here, the structure and the use of language showing a different approach and purpose to the first piece's straightforward account of the everyday world. In contrast to such a plain factual account -
Literature is a vital record of what men have seen in life; what they have experienced of it, what they have thought and felt about those aspects of it which have the most immediate and enduring interest for all of us.
So literary writing, having creative and artistic intent, is more carefully structured and uses words for the rhetorical effect of their flow, their sound, and their emotive and descriptive qualities. Literary writers can also employ tone, rhyme, rhythm, irony, dialogue and its variations such as dialects and slang, and a host of other devices in the construction of a particular prose work, poem, or play.
All fiction is a kind of magic and trickery, a confidence trick, trying to make people believe something is true that isn't. And the novelist, in a particular, is trying to convince the reader that he is seeing society as a whole.
Literary writing is, in essence, a 'response', a subjective personal view which the writer expresses through his themes, ideas, thoughts, reminiscences, using his armoury of words to try to evoke, or provoke, a response in his reader.
. . . it is not only a question of the artist looking into himself but also the of his looking into others with the experience he has of himself. He writes with sympathy because he feels that the other man is like him.
In Welsh Hill Country, R. S. Thomas conveys his response to a landscape:
Too far for you to see
The fluke and the foot-rot and the fat maggot
Gnawing the skin from the small bones,
The sheep are grazing at Bwlch-y-Fedwen,
Arranged romantically in the usual manner
On a bleak background of bald stone.
Here the powerful evocation of desolation, of the stark brutality, even indifference, of the countryside is captured by Thomas through a pointed use of language which also conveys his grim mood.
In contrast, Keat's To Autumn conveys a soft, sensuous depiction of this season which captured his imagination:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless