What Is Popular Fiction?

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  • Written By: E. Reeder
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  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Popular fiction, also known as genre fiction, refers to the various fiction genres and types that have proved to be popular with wide audiences. This is opposite from literary fiction, which tends to be more academic, invites analyses and has a more narrow market among the scholarly. Also known as mass market fiction, this type of work is typically divided into genres such as mystery, romance, horror, adventure, science fiction and fantasy.

The focus of most popular fiction is the plot. Readers want to see a well-defined and interesting plot, with plenty of complications and conflicts to keep them entertained. The conflicts might be physical between characters or might involve problems that characters must solve. Characters in these types of works might be embroiled in verbal fights with one another or might have a murder mystery that they must solve.

Unlike some literary fiction, conflict in pop fiction must either be resolved totally or at least wind down toward a resolution by the end. It tends to have more of a clearly defined resolution of conflict by the end of the story. Literary fiction might end without any resolution whatsoever to the conflicts presented.


Since the purpose of popular fiction is to appeal to the general public, it has to be written in a way that sells. It is marketed toward the interests of the public. Pop fiction authors who are serious about being published might have to make sure that their writing conforms to the guidelines of publishers who develop their guidelines based on what the general public will buy.

The opposite of this type of fiction is literary fiction. Literary fiction can be said to come more from the writer than popular fiction, which comes directly from the desires of the general public to increase its sales. Also, literary fiction is concerned with ideas and deep thought, and it is a manifestation of self-expression for the author as opposed to being driven by popularity in the market. Literary fiction tends to focus more on the characters, giving them considerable psychological depth, and on the universal issues of life and existence, whereas popular fiction is more concerned with keeping audiences interested through the plot and might sometimes have characters who lack depth.


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Post 3

@umbra21 - There are books that are written specifically to appeal to the masses though. They all have to be about something, so they all fit into other categories. Stephen King's books are another example.

But the publisher markets them to the masses with mass advertising and they are bought by a lot of people.

And they aren't usually literary fiction. People might buy a lot of literary fiction as well, but popular fiction is like the junk food of reading. It's light and quick and easy to understand and easy to engage with. There's not much effort to them. And there's nothing wrong with that, quite frankly. Life doesn't always have to be difficult and some people prefer reading to be an escape from the heavier aspects of life.

Popular fiction books give them that escape.

Post 2

@pastanaga - I think it's just a really easy way of classifying books. I mean, there are all the different genres as well. You might stick the Twilight series in the "popular fiction" section, but it could just as easily go into romance, or more likely, fantasy or young adult.

But it often doesn't get put in those sections, just because it's popular. Just as the Lord of the Rings doesn't always get put into the fantasy section, but goes out with the popular fiction because it's been very well read over the years.

Post 1

I think both literary and popular fiction can be hard to pin down and there can be overlaps between the two. There are quite a few examples of a so-called literary novel becoming very popular. Catcher in the Rye is a good example, but there are more modern ones like "I Know This Much is True". I was working in a bookstore when that came out and it was difficult to keep it on the shelves even though it's massive and quite a dense read.

Now, if you're talking about fiction which is written and published solely for a certain demographic, I don't think there are many cases of that, or at least fewer than is in the popular imagination

. Every author at least starts out thinking they are writing the best book ever written, not just a book for people to read and throw away afterwards.

Fiction books are almost always someone's baby. They might have ended up being "only" popular fiction, but that's got more to do with the publisher rather than the author.

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