Terms for genre can be very confusing. When I was a new writer, I had a great deal of difficulty identifying which genre my stories and novel fell into. It took a lot of reading and searching to figure it out.
I’ll share what I have learned over the past several years here.
What is a genre? Does my story have to fall into one?
Genre is a style or category of art, music, or literature.
As a writer, you will find that the genre of your story controls how you write your story or novel. The genre describes style and focus.
Additionally, it gives you a map for each genre. There are general rules to follow such as: manuscript length, character types, settings, themes, viewpoint choices and plots. Remember: certain settings suit specific genres. The world of your book will vary in type, details, intensity, and length. (Science-fiction genre stories involve much more detail in the setting than most other genres.)
When it comes to the tone and mood used by the writer, it is important that they also match the genre. Within each genre, there are often sub-genres. For instance, Thrillers can be mysteries, horror, or psychological.
Why Does It matter which genre my story is?
A genre sets up the reader for an experience they are looking for. When a writer chooses a specific genre, they need to remember to fulfill the readers’ expectations. Readers purchase certain books because of the familiarity of the story. Some readers enjoy being on familiar ground and there are reading groups that concentrate on one particular genre.
It is the READER you need to satisfy. Your story must conform to the standards of the genre.
A writer can use genre to their advantage because there are boundaries and models on which they can base their stories. Genres often reflect trends in our society, and they evolve when writers push the guidelines.
Below is a list of the current most popular genres in fiction.
Romance – generally speaking, these stories are about a romantic relationship between two people. The storylines are all about sensual tension, desire, and hope. In most cases, the storyline keeps the two MCs apart. The obstacles thrown in their way creates tension. There are many sub-genres of the romance storyline – paranormal, historical, contemporary, fantasy, and Gothic.
Action Adventure – these are the stories that put your protagonist in physical danger. There will be thrills, near misses, and courageous feats of danger. The pace is fast and with each second passing, the tension mounts. Finally, the story ends with an intense climax that puts all the fears to rest.
Science Fiction – in this type of story, the setting is set in the future, past, or other dimensions. Featured are scientific ideas and advanced technology. A writer who wishes to write these stories must be prepared to spend time building new worlds and using different language. There are many different science fiction sub-genres.
Fantasy – Not to be confused with science fiction, these stories deal with kingdoms rather than ‘other worlds.’ Again, writers will need to spend plenty of time on world building. These magic-based stories are based on mythical and otherworldly concepts, as well as specialized characters. Specific terminology applies to this genre, and the novice writer will want to study other stories written by well-known authors in the genre, as well as other resources.
Speculative Fiction-This genre usually overlaps one of the other genres such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural, or superhero and utopian fiction. Additionally, the apocalyptic fiction is considered as part of this genre, along with dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction and alternate history.
Suspense/Thriller. A character in jeopardy dominates these stories. This genre involves pursuit and escape. It is filled with cliffhangers and there are one or more ‘dark’ characters that the protagonist must escape from, fight against, or best in the story. The threats to the protagonist can be physical or psychological, or both. The setting is integral to the plot. This is often described as a gripping read. A Techno Thriller is a sub-genre.
Young Adult. Young Adult (YA) books are written, published, and marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of 12 and 18, but adults also read these books. These are generally coming-of-age stories, and often cross into the fantasy and science fiction genres. YA novels feature diverse protagonists facing changes and challenges. This genre has become more popular with the success of novels like The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, and Twilight.
New Adult. New Adult (NA) books feature college, rather than school-aged, characters and plotlines. It is the next age-category up from YA. It explores the challenges and uncertainties of leaving home and living independently for the first time. Many NA books focus on sex, blurring the boundary between romance and erotica.
Horror/Paranormal/Ghost. These are high-pitched scary stories involving pursuit and escape. The protagonist must overcome supernatural or demonic beings. Occult is a sub-genre that always uses satanic-type antagonists. (This genre is more difficult to write than one would first thing – tone and tension must be kept high throughout the story)
Mystery/Crime. These are also known as ‘whodunits’. The central issue is a question that must be answered, an identity revealed, a crime solved. This novel is characterised by clues leading to rising tension as the answer to the mystery is approached. There are many sub-genres in this category.
Police Procedurals are exciting mysteries that involve a police officer or detective solving the crime. The emphasis rests heavily on technological or forensic aspects of police work, sorting and collecting evidence, as well as the legal aspects of criminology.
Historical-These fictional stories take place against factual historical backdrops. Important historical figures are portrayed as fictional characters. Historical Romance is a sub-genre that involves a conflicted love relationship in a factual historical setting.
Westerns-set in the old American West, these stories are rich with setting. Plotlines include survival, romance, and adventures with characters of the time, for example, cowboys, frontiersmen, Indians, mountain men, and miners.
Family Saga-in this genre, plot lines with on-going stories of two or more generations of a given family are told in great detail. Plots are usually concerned with businesses, inheritances, and perhaps family curses. With the passing of time, the stories are primarily historical, but may bring resolutions into contemporary settings. There is usually a timeline involved in these stories.
Women’s Fiction-this genre encompasses plot lines that are populated with female characters who face challenges, difficulties, and crises that have a direct relationship to gender. This is inclusive of woman’s conflict with man, though not limited to that. It can include conflict with things such as the economy, family, society, art, politics, and religion.
Magic Realism–Within this specialized genre, magic and magical events are part of ordinary life. The characters – usually witches, warlocks, or other mystical creatures do not seem abnormal or unusual. They are simply part of the story.
Literary Fiction-While this genre focuses on the inner lives of the characters, and themes rather than plots, it is declining in popularity. So, it is difficult to sell and maintain a successful career.