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Janet Parke, FrActivity

Escape/Commercial and Interpretive/Literary Fiction

The focus of the first paper for English 101 is to determine whether this story is more interpretive/literary or more escapist/commercial. As the term implies, interpretive fiction is designed for the reader to apply to their own lives and understanding of human nature, rather than simply for entertainment, which of course is the focus of escapist/commercial fiction, so called because it allows the READER to escape and of course is commercially viable. People like fun, escapist stories and they buy them. (Whether the nature of the story has anything to do with the character escaping or living in a fantasy is irrelevant to this particular determination.)

To that end, you must examine character elements. Specifically, you must determine the relative roundness and flatness of characters, as well as discussing those characters' external conflicts, including man versus man and man versus nature for each character, with the exception of the primary character, for whom you must include all of the man versus nature conflicts, including man versus mother nature, man versus man-made environment, and man versus society.

Plot analysis must include a discussion of the plot itself, including foreshadowing, predictability, linear versus nonlinear plot and the use of suspense by the author. Included in the same plot paragraph is a discussion of the ending, including whether the ending is determinate or indeterminate, whether the ending is happy or unhappy and whether ending is manipulated or not. As part of that, you must also consider the overall elements of interpretive/literary versus escapist/commercial fiction. Consider the elements below in your evaluation.


  • Designed for entertainment
  • Simplistic, predictable, often linear plots with predictable story lines
  • Predictable, determinate, usually "happy" ending
  • Simplistic, predictable, flat characters
  • "MORAL" to story is often obvious and cliché
  • Vastly popular
  • Often called "plot-driven" because of its emphasis on action, rather than the development of characters
  • Characters are merely players in the action, the latter of which is the primary focus of author
  • Used most with "popular" fiction


  • Designed to make reader think
  • Plot more complicated, often non-linear
  • Ending often ambiguous (Indeterminate) or clearly "unhappy"
  • Characters less defined as either good or bad--"round"
  • "MORAL" may be non-existent
  • Often called "Character-driven" because of its emphasis on character development rather than exciting or continuous plot action
  • Plot becomes merely an aid to identifying character, rather than the focus of author's intent
  • Used more in "quality" fiction
  • Not a "yes/no" question
  • Sliding scale of more one than the other
  • Few extremes on either side
  • Perception often based on maturity of reader
    • Too Interpretive = Slow and boring
    • Too Escapist = Predictable and boring

© T. T. Eiland, January 1998
Last modified: November 2, 2012