What Is Literary Fiction? Main Characteristics Explained

Literary Fiction

The term literary fiction depicts the novels that have artistic merit. It is popular in the book trade and is one of the most commercial genres of fiction. However, there are no boundaries that can define the term adequately. This fiction genre has developed in recent decades, and there is no specific set of criteria that can bound it. However, there are a few characteristics that can help you to determine it. Read this post until the end to explore some important aspects of literary fiction. Let’s start!

Characteristics Of Literary Fiction

The term literary fiction indicates a work of fiction that has superior qualities. This fiction work revolves around social concerns, reflection on the human condition, and political criticism. Besides, it has a slower pace as compared to the other genre fiction. In addition to it, literary fiction is also different when it comes to the complexity of the writing style. Saricks defines it as elegantly written, lyrical, and layered. Some other essential qualities of this fiction form are originality, the excellence of writing, and artistic merit. When you develop in details, you can find the below-given attributes as the main characteristics of the literary work of fiction: 

1: It Is A More Creative Way Of Storytelling

Literary fiction is not bound to a specific set of rules, and therefore, the authors of this fiction are free to make their own rules as they proceed further with it. It never misses surprising the readers with its unpredictable nature. 

There are no specific rules to write. However, it is often more creative, complex, and layered. The authors utilize the freedom to push the limits of what’s acceptable, which sometimes yields extraordinary results. You can take an example of Italo Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.” It is written in the second person and elaborates on your attempt to read a novel. Imagine you are reading a novel about you reading a novel. Mind-boggling! Isn’t it?

2: It Explores The Human Conditions

Genre fiction aims to distract the reader by light entertainment. Contrarily, the objective of literary fiction is far more introspective and needs extra mind storming. By exploring the human condition, literary literature as a whole tries to make sense of the world around us.

Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance” best explains this characteristic of literary fiction. It demonstrates the fretful story of Indians in the 1970s and 1980s. The fiction revolves around the four characters finding a balance between hope and deep misery in their lives. The book was written many decades ago, yet, it is applicable in today’s life. It is a hallmark of the literary form of fiction that it is timeless. Where the genre fiction is focused on the plot, literary fiction includes in-depth studies on the characters. 

3: Literary Fiction Is Not Based On A Formula

Literary fiction does not adhere to any guidelines, unlike genre fiction, which follows a loose but predictable plot. For the reader, something can happen that can be both thrilling and startling. Sometimes, literary fiction picks a theme from the other form and turns it upside down. George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” can be taken as the best example in which the idea of good conquering evil is challenged. 

David Barnett’s article Nineteen Eighty-Four walks a subtle line between the two fiction, written for the Guardian. The contemporary critics perceived it to be genre fiction, what we consider classic literary fiction today. 

4: It Is More Complex To Read

Stories discussing the human condition aren’t very fun to read. By default, with unflinching sincerity, they have to deal with a challenging subject matter. When you, as the reader, want to escape, it can be slightly uneasy to think about these problems.

To express a deeper meaning, it can rely on symbolism or allegory. There is almost always a deeper takeaway than just a simple story.

5: Its Main Focus Is On The Protagonists

Unlike the genre fiction that often remains tied to the plot, literary fiction has this relationship with the characters. It explores and defines the characters, and that is the main driving force of the story. It doesn’t only show the protagonists in action but also shows how the action changes the characters. 

6: Its Ending Is Often Ambiguous

Typically, endings in the literary form of fiction are tragic, abrupt, or left up to your interpretation. Nothing is justifiable in it, which leaves the reader desperate to find sense in anything.

7: It Is A Critically Acclaimed Form Of Fiction

Literary fiction contains more artistic merits. Intellectual critics highly acknowledge this form of fiction. Besides, movies on this literature form bags more awards and accolades, as it pushes the limitations and involves a unique vision. Critics love this form of literature. However, you don’t need to spend your time and money on this fiction. You can develop a creative perspective even by reading other genres of fiction.

Primary Differences Between Genre And Literary Forms

The below-given list described the key differences between the two different forms of fiction:

  • Genre fiction has some specific rules, whereas literary fiction is free from rules, and it often offers a fresh perspective. 
  • You can read genre fiction to make your mood light and enjoy it. On the other hand, literary fiction is more complex and layered and can make you introspect deeply.
  • Where genre fiction is based on the plot, the other form often focuses on the characters.
  • In genre fiction, the truth often prevails over evil. However, the other form of fiction challenges the reader’s mind to find meaning in the ambiguous endings of the story.
  • Sometimes, it takes the plot of the genre fiction and changes it upside down to give a new perspective to the readers.

Final Words

This blog elaborates on the major characteristics of literary fiction and how this differs from genre fiction. If you liked reading this post and need to get more, visiting our blog section can help. 


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