If you’ve never actually spotted the “literary fiction” section at your local bookstore, there’s a good reason – it’s because there isn’t one. Since it’s not a recognizable genre, then what exactly is literary fiction?

And therein lies the rub: literary fiction is difficult to define. This is because “lit fic” isn’t a genre but a writing style. Most consider literary fiction to be highbrow, some might even say snobbish or irreverent – as a literary style that is heavy on prose and light on plot. If you are interested in literary fiction, this guide introduces you to the basics and its various types, along with some handy tips for writing a literary fiction book.

What is Literary Fiction?

So, what is literary fiction? It is not easy to describe literary fiction because it is a unique category that avoids the usual tropes associated with well-known genres. Indeed, a literary novel is not beholden to any particular genre, and may well feature the elements of fantasy, romance, suspense, or any fiction genre, in its storytelling.

What makes literary fiction recognizable is its focus on the creative elements of writing, such as literary style, creative writing, the human condition, and deep character dives. This renegade category allows authors to push the boundaries of conventional writing and explore introspective characters, social and political themes, rich vocabulary, and broader exposition. In some cases, the reader may not even be provided with an ending to the story. Realistic fiction can also fall into the category of literary fiction.

Literary Fiction’s History

Literary fiction emerged shortly after the advent of the novel in the fifteenth century. Upon studying the evolution of literary fiction over the centuries, it is evident that the literary fiction category has historically been used to explore contemporary social issues, morality, and the human experience.

Excellent examples of historical literary fiction classics include The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. 

Types of Literary Fiction

When asking, “What is literary fiction,” you’ll learn there are different paths a writer may choose when deciding to write a literary book. These include:

Experimental Literary Fiction

For the writer that prefers to eschew convention, the experimental literary fiction style may be a perfect fit. Using this untamed form of literary fiction writing, the highly creative author is free to play with their storytelling. 

Realistic Literary Fiction

Realistic literary fiction tends to include coming-of-age stories and biographical novels. An example is Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951), which featured the protagonist’s coming-of-age issues faced during the early 1950s.

Contemporary Literary Fiction

Contemporary literary fiction novels revolve around social issues or political movements that are taking place in current times. These stories tend to be more serious and philosophical in tone and theme. These books contain literary merit, meaning it brings something valuable to the literary world.

Tips for Writing a Literary Fiction Book

Use these handy tips to guide you in writing a literary fiction book:

  • Identify a theme or topic that interests you. When a writer tackles lit fic, he or she must be willing to study the topic. Explore a theme that you find fascinating or compelling, and then bore into the depths of that theme or topic.
  • Avoid moralistic lessons. Avoid the temptation to guide your reader to a particular viewpoint. Instead lay the table with a variety of perspectives and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.
  • Develop strong characters. Literary fiction is highly character driven. Flesh out interesting, flawed, multi-faceted characters that readers can feel. Delve into the main characters’ inner lives, their essence, and what drives them to elicit a reaction.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. The essence of literary fiction lies in its use of unconventional styles. Don’t shy away from taking risks and pushing the envelope.
  • Protagonists don’t have to be likable. Another way literary fiction goes against the grain of other fiction genres is that the protagonist doesn’t necessarily need to be likable or relatable. Creating a despicable or frightening protagonist brings tension to the story.

Work with Gatekeeper Press to Publish a Literary Fiction Book

If you are interested in diving into the literary fiction realm, you may benefit from some professional editorial guidance along the way. Gatekeeper Press provides a range of editing services, including developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading, to help you create a compelling, high-quality literary fiction novel. Contact us online today!