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Features of Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is a genre that focuses on style, character, and theme over plot. Though it's a hard category to describe, you can spot literary fiction with certainty once you know what to look for. This category is prestigious and often comes with an initial hardback release. It is also privy to prizes like the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Booker Prize. In this article, we discuss the various features that make literary fiction outstanding and remarkable.

1. It focuses on style and theme:  Literal fiction pays attention to style, which highlights essential themes. This style doesn't necessarily have hard-to-read, compound-complex sentences with ornate metaphors. Though these elements are common to literary fiction, a simple and easy-to-read narration technique is also applicable, as demonstrated by Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell. What matters most is that the style can explore the theme of the narrative.

2. It explores social, political, or psychological themes: Literary fiction explores serious themes about politics, social issues, and deep personal struggles with a higher level of detail and narrative depth than genre fiction. For example, Orwell’s Animal Farm is essentially a commentary on political structures. The plot and characters help build the novel’s all-embracing metaphor for the Russian Revolution, narrated from a satirical perspective. The level of nicety needed to explore momentous themes requires a great deal of time and effort on the writer’s part.

3. Explores themes extensively: Most genre fiction also explores serious social, political, and psychological issues. But these themes are not the core of these stories. They are often additions that make the actual plot more meaningful; or help garnish the whole action and suspense, which is the story's primary focus. However, with literary fiction, the theme is the center that holds the story together and drives it forward. Other elements are put in place to help highlight and demonstrate the message the writer is trying to explore. 

4. It is character-driven: Genre fiction is plot-driven, while literary fiction is character-driven. Of course, character development is crucial to every kind of fiction and is necessary to keep the reader engaged. But with literary fiction, the focus on character development supersedes what's obtainable in genre fiction. Literary fiction dives deeper into a character's strengths, weaknesses, and progress, like The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, which explores Holden Caulfield's personality and journey towards self-discovery.

5. The tone is often realistic and introspective: Literary fiction is often very introspective and focuses extensively on the character's internal conflict. Although the story may have a villain and other obstacles that stand in the hero's path, the primary conflict is usually internal. It often involves defining personal dilemmas that expose the moral struggle and humanity of the characters. Also, literary fiction is grounded in a certain realism. The emotions and reactions of the characters are very relatable and realistic.

6. It focuses more on the journey and often has an open end: Literary fiction often has a sad ending because the focus is more on the journey than a happily ever after. The uncertainty of a happy ending adds to the realism of this genre. In the end, readers get to reflect on what they have learned from the character's journey and the possibility that lies in their future. The ending makes the journey thought-provoking, evoking deep reflection in the reader about how the story applies to the real world. The closing is also often open-ended, which makes them more believable. 

7. It allows writers to experiment: Writers of literary fiction are allowed to experiment with their work because their readers tend to enjoy more challenging narratives. The readers of this genre are more relaxed in their initial expectations; they can endure a slow start, knowing it can still lead to a satisfying story. They often expect some level of experimentation that differs from the formal conventions of storytelling. Experimental or unusual structures challenge readers and help immerse them in the character or world of the book.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen