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What is Fiction?

Fiction as a genre vs Literary Fiction

“The term Fiction is used to differentiate literary prose genres of short-story, novella and novel from drama and poetry” (Mario Klarer; An Introduction to Literary Studies).

However this is not all there is to be said about fiction. Wikipedia tells us that:
“Fiction describes peoples, places, events and/or complete narrative works derived from imagination, in addition to, or rather than, from history or fact.”
But Literary fiction, according to Wikipedia, is something else again:
“They are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.”

Steven Petite from the Huffingtonpost did a good job however in defining both types of Fiction:
“The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses.”

For now, in order to ‘define’ fiction, let’s keep it simple: Fiction is often comes from the writer’s imagination and doesn’t, always, come from history or fact. Genre Fiction gives the reader a way to escape reality.
When used in Literary Studies it’s a term to draw the line between the short-story/novella/novel and drama/poetry or: Literary Fiction is a way for readers to ‘see’ the world or particular problem in another light, it is not used to escape reality but to dive even further into it.

But no matter how you look at it. In my opinion the authors of both types of Fiction still need the same things to make a work of prose.

What might be important to know before you continue reading this post: most of the information that I use comes from An Introduction to Literary Studies by Mario Klarer.
This because I need to use this book for my studies and so is the main source of my information about most things Literary.

The setting

This is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of a good novel or any work of fiction (Literary or not). One does not simply write a book without a setting.
The setting is the dimension of a text and this includes the time and place of action. It also indirectly supports the plot, characters and the narrative situation.

The Plot

Plot (term): combination of different elements of action in a literary text. (Mario Klarer)
In a linear plot (this being just a regular; go from point A to point B plot) has
four stages:

  1. Exposition, or the initial situation of the enfolding action (story).
  2. Complication or the conflict. This is a traditional plot element during which the initial situation changes in order to develop into stage 3.
  3. Climax. The crisis or turning point in which the action (story) undergoes decisive changes.
  4. Resolution/denouement is the last element of a linear plot, the complication is then resolved after the climax.

In the plot there can be flashbacks (events from the past that are used in an otherwise linear narrative) and foreshadowings (information from the future used in the current action).

The characters

Characters (term): Figures presented in a Literary text. These include the main
character/protagonist and minor character(s). (Mario Klarer)

Basically there are two types of characters:

  1. Flat character: a character which shows one dominant feature. This can also be referred to as typification, meaning that the character only displays one dominant feature which often represents an abstract idea/general traits of a group of people.
  2. Round character: A more complex character, a figure who has a number of different character traits. This can also be referred to as individualization, meaning that there is an emphasis on a multiplicity of character traits rather than one dominant trait.

After the characters are created after the above, they can be called a main character or a minor character.
The difference is actually very simple and doesn’t need much explaining but just to be clear:
– a minor character is not necessarily a flat character. A minor character is just a figure in a text who is less important than the main character and so doesn’t occupy the centre of attention.
– a main character is the character who is the centre of attention. This character’s technical term is: The protagonist.

Narrative situations

Narrative situation (term): Focuses on the narrative voice (who speaks) and the
focalizations (who sees).

I’ve often seen this in reviews on Goodreads or other Blogs (and I probably did it myself once or twice) but here’s a word of caution for those of you who used to think that the protagonist and the narrator are the same. Yes, I agree that it can be possible for a protagonist to be the narrator of a story but this is not necessarily so.
There are a number of different narrative situations. Here’s a short line-up:

  • Heterodiegetic narrator: the narrator is not part of the story world and so has unlimited knowledge and authority.
  • Homodiegetic narrator: the narrator is part of the story world and so has only a limited view of the action and particularly of the other character’s thoughts.
  • Omniscient 3rd person narrator (authorial narrative situation): this narrator describes the action from a godlike perspective. The narrator had complete/unlimited knowledge, awareness or understanding and can perceive all things. This narrator refers to the Protagonist in 3rd person (so uses he, she or it).
  • 1st person narrator: one of the characters, who is a part of the plot, tells the story and refers to him/herself in 1st person singular.
  • Figural narrator: the narrator moves into the background and so suggests that the plot is revealed only through the actions of the characters in the text. Here there’s no intervening commentator.

and then there is something that is: Focalization

Focalization (term): through whose eyes the reader experiences the plot.
The character through whose eyes the plot is followed is the Focalizer
or the reflector.
A narrative using internal focalization: assumes a characters point of view and knowledge.
A narrative using external focalization: here the narrator is less knowledgeable than the characters.
A narrative using zero focalization: is close to a omniscient narrator. The narrator knows more than the characters.

Let’s make things a bit more interesting shall we?
To make the narrator even more of a complex feature there are 3 other ‘types’ of narrators. One being a reliable, the other unreliable and the third a fallible narrator. The reliable one is obviously (or at least I’d like to think so) a very reliable narrator, this being that the narrator won’t tell you anything that’ll turn out to be untrue in the end. A reliable narrator gives a ‘trustworthy’ kind of vibe.
The unreliable narrator is less obvious, why? Well, let me explain:

  • first of all an unreliable narrator isn’t always that easy to detect. Unreliable in this case can be a bit of a pain. The narrator can start as a, seemingly, reliable storyteller. But in the end, it may turn out to be complete bullshit.
  • Here’s an example:
    ‘For many years I’ve been most certain of my cause. I was going to plan my own destiny, I wouldn’t stay in this godforsaken place, I would be going on an adventure of cosmic scale’.
    (imagine like 500 pages between these first few lines and the next)
    ‘In the end, it turned out differently. The whole adventure, all the things I’ve been through these past years… all was simply inside my mind’.
  • And so dear ladies and gentlemen, you can be tricked by a narrator without you knowing it.

An unreliable narrator can deceive you on purpose or can be deceiving you without knowing it because he/she is either mad/a lunatic or doesn’t know any better. They can also deceive themselves.

The fallible narrator is often written in 1st person and tells us how they’ve seen or are seeing certain events. Since 1st person, however, has it’s limitations, it can turn out to be not really the truth because the narrator has some knowledge gaps. Mind that this person is not out to be deceiving but simply is telling the story from his/hers point of view.


As you can see all of the above is in both Fiction and Literary Fiction. The only difference between the two is that the genre tends to lean more towards the imaginary, unlike the literary fiction. Both need a setting, a plot, characters (or otherwise it will turn out to be a very empty story) and a narrative situation (without a narrator, a book is very hard to read I think).
There’s a lot to know about writing a novel or anything else. Even as a reviewer you need to be aware of how a book is put together and what the thing is all about. There are so many things you’ve got to take into account when writing a review and as for Fiction.. well… it’s something different altogether.
I hope that you’ve found this post useful! For questions or feedback (or just something nice) please leave a comment ^_^

Enjoy your day!


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