Postmodern Literary Techniques

Been asked to write something with a postmodern literary technique? Here’s a non-definitive list that might provide you with some ideas. If you want to seek out more examples of any of these techniques, or if you’d like to learn more about one, search for the technique on Wikipedia for starters.

Non-Traditional Plot Structures

   Repeated Action Plot

A character repeats the same actions with different results

   Repeated Event Plot

The same story is told from different perspectives

   Backwards Plot

Some or all of a story is told backwards

For example, Martin Amis wrote perhaps the most famous piece of literature with a backwards plot (also known as a reverse chronology). Time’s Arrow tells the story of a German Holocaust doctor in reverse. Read some reviews on goodreads.

   Ensemble Plot / Polyphonic Plot

Multiple characters’ storylines surrounding a certain place and time are shared and potentially intersect.

For example, Max Brooks’ novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War tells its narrative through a collection of characters’ accounts following a zombie apocalypse. It’s far more highly regarded than the follow up film – you can read some reviews on goodreads.

   Branching Plot

A single protagonist branches into two.

   Symbolic Juxtaposition Plot

A series of thematically related elements are viewed in the narrative, rather than following one major character or event.



When a character understands they are a character and refer to this understanding directly.

 Breaking the Fourth Wall

When a character speaks directly to the audience.

Temporal Distortion

A narrative with a non-linear timeline. That is, a story that does not follow a chronological order.

Some classic novels incorporate temporal distortion, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, both of which were novels that grew out of their authors’ experiences in World War II.

Intertextual References

While intertextuality can incorporate a broad range of ways in which one text may reference another, texts that are predominantly based on the utilisation of intertextual references – often through the use of appropriating characters or settings – are considered to be postmodern texts.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is a comedy following Thursday Next, a Literary Detective. Throughout this series of books, Thursday investigates crimes involving a range of literary characters. Fforde also has a Nursery Crime series which opens with The Big Over Easy, in which Detective Jack Spratt is charged with solving the murder of Humpty Dumpty.

Gregory Maguire’s novels are often based on intertextuality as well, with his most famous being Wicked in which he reveals the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Varied Design Layout

The pages in Mark Z Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves are bigger than the cover of the book, because it is a novel about a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Danielewski uses a wide range of page layouts – such as those you can find on Google Images – which include pages with very few words on them, pages where it feels like there is a window in the centre, pages where words overlap each other, and pages with different aspects of the story being told on different parts of the page.

Steven Hall’s Raw Shark Texts has fewer pages with varied designs, but occasionally the shark does start to swim out of the page towards the reader.

Experimentation with and synthesis of genre and form

When the content of a text is combined with a different genre or form to that which it is usually associated.

Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstor is a horror story told through the form of an Ikea catalogue. Seth Graham-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is fairly self-explanatory, incorporating zombies into the classic Jane Austen story.

District 9 is an alien story, presented in a documentary form: