General fiction is the catch all term for novels and other literature that don't fit into a particular genre. Romance, Western, mystery, science fiction and other genres each have a particular theme that is fitting to its classification. General works, on the other hand, don't have enough elements of any one theme to be classified within a certain genre. The story and plot of general fiction is no less strong, and in many cases even stronger, than that of genre works.
For instance, in Betty Smith's popular novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the intricate story focuses on the life of the main character, or protagonist, Mary Frances (Francie) Nolan, who lives in a poorer part of New York. Francie's experiences with her family, friends and neighbors are related in interesting and heartfelt detail as she grows up from a little girl into a young woman. This type of "coming of age" story is common in general fiction, as the emphasis isn't on capturing only a love story as in romance novels or in spinning a murder "who done it" yarn with enough clues for the reader of a mystery book, but rather on the rich details of the main character's world.
JD Salinger's classic The Catcher in the Rye is another example of "coming of age" general fiction. In this novel, the protagonist is a male teenager named Holden Caulfield and unlike A Tree Grows in Brooklyn's time span of many years in the main character's life, The Catcher in the Rye concentrates on one month — December. Holden deals with feelings of alienation and rebelliousness as he experiences life at prep school. After a conflict with his roommate, Holden decides to check into a hotel rather than go home to his family. The novel delves into Holden's thought processes as he encounters different situations and people during his hotel stay.
Fiction without a specific theme doesn't necessarily have to be a "coming of age" story. The Lord of The Flies by William Golding is about British schoolboys who must vie for survival after their plane crashes on an uninhabited tropical island and they are the only survivors. The focus in this general fiction story is the conflict that occurs between trying to survive as an individual while also having to be part of a group.
General types of novels and short stories that lack a strong romance, mystery, fantasy or other element are also called uncategorized fiction. These uncategorized works are typically shelved in bookstores and libraries as general fiction. In this way, readers who aren't looking for specific genre books can discover a wide range of settings, characters and plots.