Genre versus Literary Fiction

Are you still trying to figure out whether you write genre or literary fiction?

Largely, the answer depends on the nature of the prose, character development, and whether your novels are plot driven.  There’s also a third category of crossover fiction – fiction that has elements of both genre and literary fiction.

But what are the key elements that distinguish genre from literary fiction?   The differences are outlined (generally) in the table below. Keep in mind these are broad-brush differences that in some cases focus on the extremes of the categories and that disagreements abound. Many genre books have elements of literary fiction and vice versa and there is an increasing amount of books that fall into the third category of crossover fiction.


Many authors offer many points of debate on these differences. Many genre fiction novels have good character development and inner character life. Many of the characters in literary fiction novels have an exterior life. Some argue that the plot is incidental in literary fiction but others note that a plot is still necessary. Something still has to happen and indeed, many literary fiction novels do have a plot. The suggestion that genre fiction can be knocked off in six weeks while literary fiction takes years is also often contended.

So what are crossover novels? First of all there is little agreement even on the term to describe novels that successfully incorporate elements of both genre and literary fiction. They are called crossover, mainstream, commercial, commercial literary, between genre, cross-genre,  hybrid, up-market and genre buster novels to identify just a few of the terms utilized. But some argue that commercial fiction is just anything that sells whether literary or genre fiction and others argue that mainstream fiction is really genre fiction. Yet others argue that commercial fiction is really genre fiction. Ugh!

The distinction between genre and literary fiction is becoming less clear. Although most writers agree that the distinction still exists, some argue that literary fiction remains superior to genre fiction because it is art rather than escapism.

So the line between genre and literary fiction is very blurry and that many of the great writers from both sides are borrowing madly from the conventions of the other. Many literary fiction writers are writing science fiction and thrillers, while genre fiction writers are importing literary fiction techniques.

I am not sure if this post brings you any closer in determining what you write, or even what you want to be writing, but I hope you have a better picture of how these segments are determined by agents you may want to query.

Book MarksGenre Clarification

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