Although implicit in many other types of fictional works, self-reflexivity often becomes the dominant subject of postmodern fiction.  The narrator of a metafictional work will call attention to the writing process itself.  The reader is never to forget that what she is reading is constructed--not natural, not "real."  She is never to get "lost" in the story.
Explicit use of metafictional technique stems from the modernist questioning of consciousness and 'reality.' Attempting to  defend twentieth century metafiction, theorists link metafictional technique to older literary works.  Some supporters trace self-reflexivity as far back as Miguel Cervantes' fifteenth century novel, DON QUIXOTE.   
Employing the term "metafiction" to refer to modern works that are radically self-reflexive as well as to works that contain only a few lines of self-consciousness creates ambiguitity.  In her review of Patricia Waugh's METAFICTION: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF SELF-CONSCIOUS FICTION (1984), Ann Jefferson argues that "the trouble is that Waugh cannot have it both ways, and present metafiction both as an inherent characteristic of narrative fiction and as a response to the contemporary social and cultural vision" (574). Other theorists often employ the same double definition of metafiction, which makes it difficult to know whether his or her definition refers to contemporary metafiction or to all works containing self-reflexivity.  John Barth contributes a short blanket definition of metafiction as being a "novel that imitates a novel rather than the real world" (qtd. in Currie 161).  
Patricia Waugh also provides a comprehensive definition by describing metafiction as "fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality" (2).  Metafictional works, she suggests, are those which "explore a theory of writing fiction through the practice of writing fiction" (2).  Mark Currie highlights current metafiction's self-critical tendency by depicting it as "a borderline discourse, a kind of writing which places itself on the border between fiction and criticism, which takes the border as its subject" (2).  Yet, he too encompasses works that are marginally metafictional by proposing that, "to see the dramatized narrator or novelist as metanarrative devices is to interpret a substantial proportion of
fiction as meta-fiction" (4).
Despite the subtle differences between their definitions, most theorists agree that metafiction cannot be classified as a genre nor as the definitive mode of postmodern fiction.  They suggest that metafiction display "a self-reflexivity prompted by the author's awareness of the theory underlying the construction of fictional works," without dividing contemporary metafiction from older works containing similar self-reflexive techniques (Waugh 2).  
Spectrum of Metafictional Techniques:  
Further individuating the differences between metafictional characteristics present in post-modern fiction becomes even more complicated because some self-reflexive works also fall under more radical definitions.  Some contemporary metafiction can also be called surfiction, antifiction, fabulation, neo-baroque fiction, post-modernist fiction, introverted narrative, irrealism, or as the self-begetting novel (Waugh 13).  
Although characteristics of metafiction vary as widely as the spectrum of techniques used within them, a pattern of several common traits can be traced.  These techniques often appear in combination, but also can appear singularly.  Metafiction often employs intertextual references and allusions by  
Authors of metafiction often violate narrative levels by  
Metafiction also uses unconventional and experimental techniques by  
Works Cited:  
Currie, Mark, ed. METAFICTION. New York: Longman, 1995.  
Jefferson. Ann.  "Patricia Waugh, Metafiction The Theory and Practice of Self-conscious Fiction." POETICS TODAY. 7:3 (1986): 574-6.  
Hutcheon, Linda.  " "The Pastime of Past Time": Fiction, History, Historiographic Metafiction." GENRE XX (Fall-Winter 1987).  
Ommundenson, Wenche.  METAFICTIONS? REFLEXIVITY IN CONTEMPORARY TEXTS.  Australia: Melbourne UP, 1993.  
Selected Bibliography:  
Barth, John. "The literature of exhaustion." METAFICTION. Ed.  Mark Currie. New York: Longman, 1995. 161-172.  
Dipple, Elizabeth. "A novel which is a machine for generating interpretations." METAFICTION.  Ed. Mark Currie. New York: Longman, 1995. 221-245.  
McCaffery, Larry. "The art of metafiction." METAFICTION.  Ed. Mark Currie. New York: Longman, 1995. 181-193.  
Scholes, Robert.  "Metafiction." METAFICTION  Ed. Mark Currie. New York:  Longman, 1995. 21-38.