Experimental fiction typically refers to any type of literary fictional work that is experimental in nature, often playing with genre definitions or various conventions established within the literary canon. These works can be written in numerous forms, including poetry or prose or combinations of the two, and are often meant to express new ideas or explore established ideas in new ways. Such works may sometimes be considered offensive or without merit initially, though critical review may deem such works to have greater meaning in the long term. Experimental fiction is often found at the beginnings of a literary movement and frequently influences those writers that follow.
The exact nature of this type of fiction can vary quite a bit, depending on the purpose and message of an author. In general, however, such fiction is meant to try new things within the confines of literature and approach writing or the written word in new ways. A work of experimental fiction might consist only of internal monologue written in a stream of consciousness style, for example, creating a work that is difficult to understand and explores the separation between thought and reality. This type of work might also play with typical notions of linear storytelling and reveal a story in a way that breaks away from normal methods.
Experimental fiction can also express ideas that are startling or may be considered offensive by those within the established culture. Such works often use vulgar language or describe images and scenes that may be unsettling to some readers. This is often seen in counter-culture works of literature that are meant to challenge norms and social standards considered to be generally accepted. Experimental works of fiction such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Ulysses by James Joyce, and Naked Lunch by William Burroughs have all been received with shock and outrage by those who find their morals and ideals challenged by such works.
The very nature of literature and the process of storytelling through the written word can also be challenged by experimental fiction. Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, for example, consists of a 999 line poem written by a fictional poet. The novel that follows consists of a critical analysis of the poem written by a fictional friend of the poet, which reveals the story of the friend who is analyzing the poem and the last days of the poet himself. This type of experimental fiction serves to help the reader come to see the novel format as a literary device and creates new possibilities for storytelling in works of fiction.