Do you need some inspiration for your literary fiction novel? We’ve included 9 literary fiction plot ideas for you below!
1. Classic Picaresque Fiction
If you don’t know where to start when creating literary fiction, you can’t go wrong by taking inspiration from the most classical plot style of the genre: picaresque.
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Dating back to Spain in the 16th century, picaresque novels typically revolve around one main character we follow in a first-person autobiographical style. These characters are usually set apart from society in some way.
Usually, the hero or heroine in a picaresque novel is a loveable rogue, meaning that the story often contains satire and comedy directed towards the hypocritical or corrupt ideals of the society that they are in.
The central point of focus in the novel is the picaro themselves, and so there is no defined plot, but rather a series of episodes through which the character must navigate.
If this sounds appealing to you, consider the character you wish to create, or, conversely, start with the society or situation you wish the character to navigate and bring about criticism of.
Bildungsroman is a literary plot device and genre that is taken from German. The essential meaning is “a novel of education” or “a novel of formation”.
Usually, these types of plots revolve around one main character and follow them as they grow into adulthood. Rather than just focusing on physical changes, the bildungsroman is interested in how that character is growing morally and psychologically.
As a result, the characters in these types of stories often face a series of events or perhaps one large event that will encapsulate their growth into adulthood. Sometimes these stories start when the character is young, or it could be as they burgeon into adolescence.
3. An Epistolary Novel
Epistolary novels play with the idea of using the exchange of letters or other communication in order to present the narrative of the story.
This means that events within the story don’t unfold as they happen, but are instead told to the reader through the memories of the character that is currently writing. As a result, they are much more focused on that character’s personal experience, as well as their thoughts and feelings.
Often this format can seem outdated for the modern age, especially as it involves the exchanging of letters. However, authors in recent times have become more creative with this format, by making them into text or social media conversations, emails, or even journal entries.
4. A Tale of Many Perspectives
One way to build upon the personal character-driven nature of literary fiction is to employ the idea of having multiple character perspectives on the same event.
This allows you to be able to develop different characters and create complexity for your reader as each one offers their own interpretation of what has happened, which may be contradictory to the point of view of others.
By writing in this way you can move away from the didactic nature of storytelling and instead focus on character development in a way that feels more organic and that offers the reader a more active role in deciphering the perceived truth.
5. Non-linear Storytelling
When creating a plot for your story, consider not looking at it chronologically from beginning to end, but start to play with the narrative’s structure by following a non-linear trajectory.
It could be that you start at the end and work backward, or begin with a poignant moment from which the story will spiral out in all directions.
In literary fiction, it is often the main character that takes center stage, and you may find that by developing them further you see where the start point of your story feels natural for that character, and what events that follow they would prioritize.
6. Someone We Love to Hate
One of the great things about literary fiction is the fact that it is so character driven. This allows us to explore people and psyches that might seem more controversial in other forms of novels.
For example, it allows us to explore a “villain” in more detail and truly explore their motives, morals, and thoughts. This challenges the reader in a way that other novels might not.
One of the primary things to remember about literary fiction is that it is not geared toward a happy ending in the way that most mass-market fiction tends to be, making this a perfect plot idea for your literary fiction story.
7. The Great Allegory
Literary fiction enjoys playing around with allegories and grand metaphors that stretch across the entire breadth of the narrative. This allows them to be able to criticize what could be potentially dangerous ideas and societies.
As an example, think about Animal Farm by George Orwell, an allegorical exploration of communist Russia and communism as a whole.
Often, the more absurd the allegory or metaphor the better, so feel free to get creative!
8. Items Can Tell a Story
An interesting take on building a plot in literary fiction is not to focus on a character directly, but instead, tell their story through items that they own.
For example, this could be the contents of a handbag, or perhaps even pieces of furniture.
It provides a “fly on the wall” type of narrative experience for the reader, allowing them to connect with the experiences displayed in a new way that can often be brutally candid.
Metafiction is self-reflective fiction that draws attention to its own construction as a work of art. It acknowledges the artificiality of storytelling, blurring the line between reality and fiction. Metafiction often explores the role of the author, the act of writing, and the reader’s interaction with the text.
Ways in which a plot can play with this include the focal character themselves reading a novel, creating an embedded narrative if we are able to delve into the story with them, or consistently reminding them that they are reading a novel.
Metafiction provides a brilliant way to break the 4th wall and provide a self-reflective and critical look at various literary devices and the genre as a whole.