Literary Fiction is a term used in the book-trade to distinguish novels that are regarded as having literary merit, from most commercial or “genre fiction”.
The style of literary fiction is often described as “elegantly written, lyrical, and … layered”. The tone of literary fiction can be darker than genre fiction, while the pacing of literary fiction may be slower than popular fiction. As Terrence Rafferty notes, “literary fiction, by its nature, allows itself to dawdle, to linger on stray beauties even at the risk of losing its way”.
Literary fiction often involves social commentary, political criticism, or reflection on the human condition. In general it focuses on “introspective, in-depth character studies” of “interesting, complex and developed” characters. This contrasts with genre fiction where plot is the central concern. Usually in literary fiction the focus is on the “inner story” of the characters who drive the plot, with detailed motivations to elicit “emotional involvement” in the reader.