How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel

ye olde book spines

Do you sometimes wake up feeling like life is too ridiculous to be sublime? That the truth is stranger than fiction? Or that your life, if made into a book, would be in danger of running into cliché, if it didn’t have so many beautiful-sounding words in it?

Is it possible that you – Dear Reader – are in fact not real at all, but rather a character in a Lit-Fic novel?

(Presuming, of course, that you’ve already ruled out being either a Chick-Lit heroine or a cop in a crime novel.)

In any case – how would you know?

Here are 10 Ways to Determine if You’re the Main Character in a Literary Fiction Novel:

1.   Your name is highly unusual, and commonly misspelled

2.   Your name is so common that it elicits raised eyebrows from people who believe you to be using an alias (that would be you, Jonathan Smith)

3.   Your entire life – nay, existence – set course from a singular point in your childhood (much like a black hole, simultaneously expanding outwards, and yet sucking you back in), wherein you were scarred for life by an incident with your

a) Emotionally unavailable father
b) Absent mother
c) Scandalously much older lover, who, through your inappropriate liaison, indoctrinated you into an adult world of passion, pain, and a pathological aversion to Puccini

4.   Everyone thinks as you do. You don’t know why, but you appear to be something of an Everyman, whose internal conflicts are, in a microcosmically fortunate sense, the conflicts of humanity

5.   You are surrounded by metaphor. Nothing more accurately represents the drag of the past than your lunch, today. Even your coat stands for humankind’s futile and pathetic war against forces greater than we. And don’t even get me started on the coal-scuttle your parents had when you were a child; we’d be here all week

6.   At least once a week, on the way into your job (which you hate), you see someone on the street who reminds you – vividly – of your

a) Emotionally unavailable father
b) Absent mother
c) Scandalously much older lover, who, through your inappropriate liaison, indoctrinated you into an adult world of passion, pain, and a pathological aversion to Puccini

This reminder will set you on course for a flashback which, if you were a real person, would take up your entire day; perhaps even the rest of the week. However, for some reason, you’re capable of getting through it in just the three minutes you have left before you start work

7.   You are haunted by the memories of one of your ancestors, who went to war in some place other than the country in which you live. Nobody has ever explained to you how you frequently lapse into the reverie of somebody else’s memories, let alone how you have access to them in the first place, but you’re comfortable enough with the phenomenon



… Sorry. I meant to have something here, but I was suddenly affected by a crippling wave of ennui, which rendered it pointless

9.   Your car is ironic

10.   You’re fairly sure there is no happy ending. You are fine with this. A happy ending would ruin everything.


So how did you score?

0-2:   You may be a real person. Alternatively, it’s also possible that you are shortly about to be made into a TV mini-series. Start thinking about who should play you.

3-7:   You are a character in a novel which has more than 5 words in the title. Congratulations!

8-9:   Are you here? Am I here? Oh, cripes. Hang on – does anything exist at all? Just keep us away from fire, that’s all I’m saying

10:   You are lying. This was a trick question, because you can’t be both 1 and 2. (Someone has to check if people are actually reading the lit-fic they say they read)


Go on. I’ve missed a few. Come and tell us what they are!

  15 comments for “How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel

  1. June 9, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Oh that’s me, me, me. I want an ironic car. People always call me Lorraine or Eileen, and only yesterday I was swept by a wave of ennui at the idea of unstacking the dishwasher (which also serves as a metaphor for a life full of incident that I can’t bear to analyse). I’d like Les Dawson to play me, even though he’s dead, because I’ve always wanted to play the piano. And that in, itself, m’lud is why I am entirely fictional. Love it, Tara. What are you going to come up with next?


    • June 9, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      But I don’t know, now that I realise someone else has been working on Dishwasher Ennui – the novel I was SURE was going to take over from Chick Noir as the next blockbuster! Look, I’ll give you the ennui, just as long as I can keep the ironic car? I’m still reeling from the genius of the Les Dawson reference (because of the obvious connection to my great-grandmother’s war crimes). Then I’ll deal with the next step just as soon as I stop staring blindly into the bleak abyss of my own lost potential…

      Or perhaps I could just move on to another genre. Any suggestions? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • June 9, 2014 at 4:12 pm

        there’s detective novels. there’s 1960s northern realist dramas; sci fi; 1930s American realist novels (Have you seen Alan Coren’s parody of Hemingway? The Pooh also Rises; brilliant) there’s free form poetry. showbusiness autobiographies. political autobiographies, young adult stuff/ ghost/horror/paranormal; historical romances/detective fiction; SAS gung ho; Racing thrillers, Victorian bodice rippers oh and James bond, of course…


  2. June 9, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    “Oh, undoubtedly,” she said. “That’s what’s so easy and fun about writing my own Lit-Fic novels: all I have to do is record the shenanigans that are going on in other parts of the Parallel Universe than the one my author is writing about.”


  3. June 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm
  4. August 12, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Oh my god, I just realized that I might *be* a character in a literary novel, and I’m also *writing* a literary novel, masquerading as a steampunk adventure story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 12, 2015 at 11:52 pm

      Oh, dear. Sounds like you’ve meta’d yourself right into your novel there. On the plus side, there can only be one outcome in a literary fiction novel, so you have complete freedom to do whatever the hell you like on the way. Score!


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