East vs West: How Literature Differs in Fictional Writing

By Tayyaba Batool

In this modern age of discovery, when the world has turned into a global village, the Western culture and Eastern culture are blending. Western culture has influenced the culture of eastern countries in many ways, ranging from clothing and literature to entertainment. However, both cultures still have their unique features.

A writer must consider the cultural differences to attract many audiences, across borders. Here is a brief overview of some basic differences between Eastern and Western fiction.

Character Development

Main characters are different in Western and Eastern fiction. Western authors sometimes select characters like cowboys, gunfighters, frontiersmen. Characters in western fiction have limited and previously mentioned roles. For example, in a famous western classic The Big Sky, the writer Guthrie introduced her lead characters as three frontiersmen. Guthrie’s characters were not typical gunfighters; rather, they were hardworking travelers too. Horses also play a significant role in Western fiction as faithfully accompanying the human characters. Moreover, the western main characters share a common trait of skillfulness as presented by Guthrie in The Big Sky.

On the other hand, in eastern literature, a main character has exceptional power and mostly able to turn unfavorable situations into favorable with the help of other characters. Teamwork is present in the accomplishment of goals, representing the collectivistic culture of the East. Quratulain Hyder’s The River of Fire has four main characters, representing the lives of four different friends during and after British rule over the subcontinent.


If you are a regular reader of novels and other fictional stories, you may easily differentiate the eastern and western literature, based on dialogue. Dialogue is the strongest feature of eastern fiction.

Eastern authors mostly add implied ideas within dialogue. Considering the eastern cultural norms, the authors may not show feelings explicitly through dialogue. The writers also depict the collectivistic culture, with dialogue from The River of Fire suggesting that “together we could have challenged the galaxies.” They also give too much importance to religious values in their dialogue as the people of these countries give more importance to cultural norms and religion in the way they spend their lives. It is the dialogue that shows the characters vividly.

On the other hand, Western literature uses more inner monologue. Authors focus more on the similes to present the characters’ inner world. As a reader, you may feel that the western fictional characters are more vivid based on their dialogue. For instance, Irsi Murdoch in her novel Severed Head used beautiful dialogue that explicitly showed the feelings of different characters. An unfaithful wife says to her husband “it’s all or nothing” and her husband replied, “Let me recommend nothing,” which depicts how the characters are showing their feelings.

Themes of the Stories

The eastern and western fictions also differ in terms of storyline and theme. Eastern countries have mostly dealt with colonialism and oppression. Most of the historical novels have highlighted the issues related to foreign invasions and characters’ struggles for collective freedom, for instance. Moreover, eastern novels include eastern culture, socio-economic background, family values, religious beliefs as the central theme of their stories. In the masterpiece River of Fire, English translation of an Urdu novel written by Qurratulain Hyder, this novel presents the situation of the Indian subcontinent during the British rule with a story of 4 friends, who belonged to different ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Western fictions combine crimes, society, and actions. Most of the western classics are based on adventure and in some cases have been written by those who themselves worked as cowboys. An example of a western novel written by a cowboy is Bransford in Arcadia, written by Eugene Manove in 1914. The main character, a cowboy, refused to compromise with a woman he loves as he wanted to clear himself of murder charges.

Plots of Stories

The Eastern and Western fictional writing may not only differ in terms of writing methods but also differs based on the plot. Western fictional stories and novels mainly focus on a single character; however, eastern authors make characters that depend upon teamwork. You may find a various number of characters while reading an Eastern novel and in most of the cases, the main character may not be the same who was shown in the starting chapters of the novel. Western characters also rely on teamwork in some cases, but the authors mostly use a single character as a viewpoint for the whole novel or story. As a reader, you may also find that western novels mostly set around characters who are trying their best to achieve some dreams. On the other hand, eastern novels’ characters are considered as the source of making the world a better place. Eastern characters are mostly be seeking social justice. It has a historic basis as many eastern countries faced authoritarian regimes; thus, the authors write their fictions in the context of fighting for freedom and social justice.

Characters’ Emotions

In Western fiction, writers mostly give too much importance to the characters’ feelings which makes their readers understand the different aspects of a character. And Western writers directly tell the readers about the feelings of the characters. However, the emotions and feelings of characters may not be explicitly revealed by Eastern writers. In the Eastern novels and stories, the readers may find the emotions of characters in the form of some reactions of an outsider.

The above mentioned are only a few differences between the literature of east and west in terms of fictional writing. As the cultures of these two extremes becoming close to each other, the writing styles are also becoming similar. In modern times, most of the novels in the eastern region which are written in western styles are becoming popular. However, this change may result in making it difficult for eastern fictions to cater to unique features. Thus, while writing in this modern age when everyone can read your piece of writing, you must keep the cultural differences in mind.


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