Whichever view is taken of the originality of early twentieth century fiction it is still possible to identify certain characteristics which are all part of a general movement towards subjectivism and personalism in the modern novel. These include:
- Time and plot: a movement away from viewing characters in relation to 'Public external Time' or History, towards internalised and subjective experience of time, 'personal time' - for example, Joyce's or Woolf's emphasis on the moments of epiphany, the 'privileged moment'. This has implications for plot forms, seen, for example, in new forms of plot: the 'one day novel', or novels of the growth of consciousness or the individual 'soul'.
- Characterisation:a movement towards seeing character and the self as fluid, irreducible, elusive, interiorised, for example, Joyce's or Woolf's portrayal of the individual self.
- Narration: a general tendency towards unreliable or personified narration, and with narration being subjective, non-authoritative, interrogative, or disappearing from the scene (Joyce)
- Language and imagery/symbolism: a tendency towards greater depth and density, more reliance on symbolic and metaphorical modes (opposed to the metonymic strategies of Realist fiction), and hence more difficult to 'read' (in Barthes' terms, more 'writerly' than 'readerly')
- morality:again, more subjective, relative, provisional and ambiguous, less authoritative and 'public', more local and shifting
- new narrative modes which are anti- or post-Realist: the one-day novel, the use of myth as a structuring principle, the reliance on fable, allegory, dream or diary forms, stream of consciousness techniques.
The underlying tendencies within modernist fiction towards more elliptical, more concentrated, more difficult and fluid forms of writing can be seen in terms of a general tendecy towards subjectivism and immersion into the world of the private 'self'. Behind this can be seen wider social and cultural determining factors: relating to the position of the artist/writer within a more anonymous and less communally-based society, and to to wider creation of new mass industrial, bureaucratic and commercial civilisations.