Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is a category of novels that emphasize style, character, and theme over plot. We often define Lit Fic in contrast to genre fiction and commercial fiction, which involve certain tropes and expectations for the storyline; literary fiction has no such plot-based hallmarks.

Engaging with literary fiction is thought to be active; it asks readers to search for meaning and produce their own perspectives and involves complex characters. Popular fiction, on the other hand, is passive; it provides meaning for the readers and is more concerned with plot than characters.

books in shelf inside room. Literary Novels
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The world of fiction writing can be split into two categories: literary fiction vs. genre fiction. Literary fiction (lit fic) generally describes work that’s character-driven and realistic, whereas genre fiction generally describes work that’s plot-driven and based on specific tropes.

A Harvard research in neuroscience suggests that you might look to the library for solutions; reading literary fiction helps people develop empathy, theory of mind, and critical thinking.

Unlike genre fiction, literary fiction can’t be sub-categorized; it doesn’t break down further into genres.

Literary Fiction


No categorization

Tells a story using complex characters, themes, and literary devices.


  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Lit Genre Fiction

Interesting plot and relatable characters

Borrows from other genres and has lessons and deeper meanings


  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Genre Fiction


Categorized into specific genres

Tells a story based on tropes, plots, structure and genre conventions.


  • It by Stephen King
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Harry Potter by J K Rowling

How long is a literary novel?

If you’re writing your first novel, the general rule of thumb for novel writing is a word count in the 80,000 to 100,000 range. While anything over 40,000 words can fall into the novel category, 50,000 is considered the minimum novel length. Anything over 110,000 words is considered too long for a fiction novel.

literary fiction books

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Published in 1946, Camus’ tale of an ordinary man who commits murder still compels readers today. In this book, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd”.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Breaking bestselling records even today, this dystopian society hits uncomfortably close to home. A world where handmaids are prized for their fertility and the price of rebellion is unthinkable.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

A dystopian vision of surveillance, privacy and invasive technology. Mae Holland starts working at The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. At first she’s impressed and delighted by the amenities and status, but soon begins to wonder about larger implications of total online control.

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

In this poignant novel by renowned author Lydia Millet, a man named Gil walks from New York to Arizona in attempt to heal his broken heart. Soon after he arrives, new neighbors move into the glass-walled house next door, and Gil finds his life blending with theirs. A tender, funny, and heartwarming story of one man’s commitment to do good, Dinosaurs is an exploration of hope, community, and the experiences that tie us together.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Frida Liu is having a very bad day, and because of one moment of poor judgement, she must prove that she can be a good mother or she will lose her daughter. She doesn’t have the support she needs: a career that is not worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices, and a husband that refuses to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Her daughter, Harriet, is the only thing that Frida has done right, and now she must risk it all to be redeemed. A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love.

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Trust by Hernan Diaz

In 1920s New York, everyone has heard of the powerfully wealthy Benjamin and Helen Rask, but no one quite understands how they acquired such immense fortune. The 1937 novel Bonds explores this mystery, but there are many versions of this intriguing tale. Trust is a compilation and study of these narratives, investigated by a woman determined to uncover the truth. Full of thrilling revelations, Trust flawlessly captures deceptive relationships, reality-warping wealth, and the manipulation of facts by those in power.

The Long Song: A Novel

The gripping, award-winning novel The Long Song is written as a memoir by an elderly Jamaican woman who’s living in early 19th century Jamaica while the country makes the difficult transition from slavery to freedom. It was also Andrea Levy’s final novel, as she passed away almost a decade later from breast cancer.

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