Literariness of Literature

Everything a writer writes can’t be considered a good piece of literature
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What is, or what constitutes a literature, most of the readers understand it. There are hundreds of definitions of literature. After reading some of the best books of world literature, one easily grasps what literature is all about and how should a good novel, short story or poem look like and what is it made of.

A good critic or a “good reader of literature” can only tell a reader that what a good book should look like and after this, a reader has to feel it himself. And a good reader can only feel this when he has read a lot of world literature.

There have been hundreds of definitions of literature but one thing is clear, serious literature or high literature is different from a popular literature and vice versa.

As a movie can’t be compared with a stage drama and in the same way mediocre writers of popular literature and novels can’t and will never touch a class of big writers like Prem Chand, Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Gorki, Marquez, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Brecht, Maupassant, Chekhov etc.

To feel a difference between the writings of a popular writer and high or serious writer, a reader has to read a book each from these two groups one after the other. Then he can clearly come to his own opinion what serious or high literature means and what is it all about.

In the same way a common reader has to read big writers like mentioned above with small writers to know clearly what literariness of literature means.

And here one must know first, that the writers like Prem Chand are established in high esteem not only by some critics, but are revered by millions of readers world over through his original texts and translations.

Everything a writer writes can’t be considered a good piece of literature. Renowned writers world over have written good and bad literature as well.

For example Urdu short story writers Prem Chand and Manto have written hundreds of short stories, Prem Chand more than dozen novels also, but their every piece of writing doesn’t hold the same literary merit. These are called trend setters or classic writers in Urdu, but this can’t make their every piece of work a symbol of classicism.

Their every work will be evaluated and checked separately. And these writers have surely wrote some bad short stories also which are low when examined on the parameters of literariness.

Coming to the literariness of a literary piece in a true academic and critical sense, one has to know a bit about this to know in real sense what literariness means. As described above, every piece of work of a writer can’t hold to the high credentials of literariness.

For example there is a difference between a journalistic reporting and a literary piece. If we couldn’t keep the meaning of this difference in mind while writing, then there would be no difference in a newspaper writeup and short story.

A writer has to keep in his mind, while writing, that he is not just reporting the event or throwing the people, characters in a story, rather he must be well aware of the fact that he is novelist or short story writer.

He has to bring emotions, feelings and culture in his characters and language of a novel or short story, those emotions which could be felt after centuries also by readers of his piece.

A character of a novel or a short story has to be developed within the story. It is not like, you name some character and bring or throw dialogues between them.

A character should through his actions and dialogues make a reader to pause, to think, to delve into the character's soul and feel and understand him. A character has to make the reader feel the pain or happiness which he himself undergoes in the novel or short story.

And it is the basic task of the good writer to make a characters like this. And the eventually a good reader grasps the story or theme through these character. This can only be brought out in a literary piece when a writer has read a lot of world literature and has full command on language.

Urdu short story writer Saadat Hassan Manto has described in one of his essays that a story should shake the reader or make him to think. It means that any story told in novel, short story or drama has to be constructed carefully. Here every word and action of a character counts. A good writer has to be very cautious while making certain character to say something or during the dialogue between two or more characters.

A writer has to be careful in forming a plot of a short story or novel. And in the same way a writer has to take care of every word, and action in a story to make it interesting and intriguing.

Then there is the case of language. Language plays a major role in any literary piece. It's through language a writer brings out his story and it's through good language a reader enjoys any piece of literature - novel, short story etc. A writer has to be well versed in a language of his writing.  He must have a rich vocabulary.

Vocabulary doesn’t mean a writer should use heavy words but it means that a writer should be able to give a character language that a character demands.

There are too many words with the same meanings but having different contexts,  and only a good writer knows the suitable place of a word. Every word brings it with a certain expression and culture with it.

Here using dictionary for words doesn’t work  much. A writer should have a flow and this flow comes when you have a rich vocabulary at hand and fluency and command over language. 

At the end, every person who writes a short story , novel, poem, drama or anything literary  can be considered a writer but the merit of literariness has never been or can’t be compromised, and which is established by writers, critics and academicians. It is necessary for a writer, to know this to make his writings more beautiful, readable. We must give importance to literariness of literature to save literature from becoming a piece of propaganda, pamphleteering or sloganeering. And in this a writer also does a big favour to a reader.

Ashraf Lone, JNU, New Delhi. He can be reached at:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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