Every one of my literature and creative writing professors began class with the question 'what makes great literature great.' Not until I began reading more prose for my own benefit and less for class was I able to solidly define what great literature is to me.
Great literature is defined by effective character development and the efficacious use of metaphors, similes, and other literary devises. A great piece of prose must entail layers that the reader has to recognize and peel away. If a reader is not allowed to think, to search for truths, then the reading becomes mundane and lifeless. I want to finish a book, a poem, a short story and feel disappointment and a sense of accomplishment simultaneously.
I do not want the author to give me the answers, but rather make me want to search further, dig deeper, and start asking the questions to understand the truths that the character may never fully realize.
Please do not misunderstand me. I don't like when the author confuses the reader with inconsistent plot development, vague descriptions, and confusing characters. Instead, a great piece of literature entails clear and succinct prose, the effective use of symbols, imagery, metaphors, as well as other literary devises, and cogent character development.
Unfortunately, good and bad literature outweighs great literature. As a result, I continue my quest to find the great literature that I know exists.
To initiate discussion, I would like to ask you to add comments describing what great literature entails. The elements of what makes great literature great is purely subjective, and no wrong answers exist. So you tell me, what makes a great piece of literature great?