Fiction is not black and white

All my life, I have struggled to understand the difference between literary and commercial fiction. With each new writing-minded person I encounter, they each have his or her own general opinion on what defines literary fiction from commercial fiction.

The consensus seems to agree that literary fiction is character driven and relies on the characters to tell the story where as commercial is plot driven and the characters go along for the ride. Literary prose tends to be more “flowery” (as I detest to describe) where the commercial voice is more clearly cut and forthright.

That general view I can follow and tend to agree with. Also with the notion that commercial sells in this day in age. However, after that definition, that is where I go grey.


Disclaimer – I do not agree at all with what I am about to express:

Literary fiction, while it is driven by character development and artistic prose, it tends to focus on being thought provoking and deep. This type of fiction evokes a sense of style over a flashy, eye-catching plot. Literary fiction has no genre as it is, in most cases, classified in its own genre.

Commercial fiction, as it is plot driven, tends to focus on more contemporary modern day situations. This type of fiction keeps the readers on the edge of their seats that is full of explosions, sex, terror, or mystery. Commercial fiction can be further broken down into the genres of horror, mystery / suspense, sci-fi / fantasy, romance, thriller, and etc.


I find that to be a horribly one sided and a sullen outlook on the true natured differentiation between literary and commercial. The fact that so many people agree that literary fiction cannot have a driving plot or genre, quite frankly, blows my mind. Is Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein not horror and Jane Austen’s Pride

Makes me want to scream!  (c) xenia

Makes me want to scream! (c) xenia

and Prejudice not romance? Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery and since she is in a genre, is she only considered commercial?  Her novel, And Then There Were None, was pretty heavy with plot and character growth.

How can we pigeonhole these great works into one type of fiction? I have witnessed arguments that climaxed on the verge of violence over whether Austen is literary or commercial all because she is considered “romance”. How can these three great authors, whose books are full of character development, plot, and “flowery” prose, not be considered literary just because they have a genre.  How can these mentioned works not be considered commercial because they all have engaging plots and captured the current events at the time of publication.

Do you see what kind of conundrum I am in?

So when I am asked what kind of fiction my current novel is (commercial or literary), I respond that it is a mixture of both. Oh boy, you should see the detesting looks that I receive with that answer!

I am hoping to shake up the world here.


Comment below on your thoughts