Genres of Fiction

A genre is a style or category of art, music, or literature. ‘Horror ’is both a literary and film genre. Authors choose to write in a particular genre; and readers choose what they want to read by genre. Most people have a favourite genre, or a limited number of genres they read. I read historical fiction, spy thrillers and detective stories mostly.

Each genre has its own conventions and thus reader expectations. These will be related to book length, character types, setting and plots. Of course, an author might attempt to subvert these, and there can be crossovers between genres, and sub-genres characterised by certain specific elements which are key to the classification. A horror story set in space would be in the science fiction horror sub-genre; this is an example of a crossover sub-genre.

Genres develop as society develops. Science had to develop before we had science fiction. Steam punk had to come after punk; it couldn’t have come before.

Now, lets look at some popular literary genres.

Literary Fiction is focused on telling stories of people’s lives and the human condition and it is more concerned with the inner lives of characters and themes than plot.

Action-adventure stories focus on a hero who is in danger of some kind and has to use his or her skills to win through and outwit the bad guys or overcome the dangers. This genre has softer stories than those in the Suspense or Thriller genre.  In these the main character is in jeopardy from a conspiracy of some kind. There is usually some elements of pursuit and escape. The threats to the protagonist can be physical or psychological, or both, and the story is arranged episodically with cliff-hangers often occurring at the end of chapters.

Historical fiction is set at a specific time in the past and seeks to explore the lives of the main characters set in those times. The main characters can be real historical figures, or invented characters, with real people from the past appearing in the background or as minor or supporting characters. A sub-genre is Historical Romances which involve a doomed (or perhaps not) love relationship in a factual historical setting.

Family Sagas are a genre which tells the on-going stories of two or more generations of a family and their struggles to succeed in business, adventures, life and loves, and even overcoming family curses. These may be set wholly in historical times or may come up to the present.

Fantasy fiction (which may be set in space) deals with kingdoms and myths, dragons and other magical creatures, magic, prophecies, and the hero’s struggle to overcome the odds and create or regain a kingdom which has often been usurped by evil. These stories often come in trilogies or a longer series of books, and none of them are as good as The Lord of the Rings in terms of world-building and language creation.

Horror, Paranormal and Ghost story genres are all related to each other, with varying degrees of violence and elements of satanism. They are all written to scare you but could be viewed as being on a cline from less horrific ghost stories at one end to the truly scary stories of horror at the other end of the scale.

Mystery or Crime or Detective stories, also known as ‘whodunits’, are focused on revealing the identity of the person who committed a crime, usually a murder. The hero is often the detective, who might be an amateur or professional in the field. Police Procedurals are a sub-genre that involve a police officer or detective solving the crime. The focus is on how the police work to solve the crime and there are lots of technological details about forensics, the sorting and collecting evidence, interviewing suspects and witnesses as well as the legal aspects of criminology.

Romance novels are the biggest selling genre in the world.  These stories are about a romantic relationship between two people who at the beginning of the novel would seem to have little chance of a successful or harmonious relationship because of their characters or circumstances. Their desire seems doomed to failure before the denouement of the novel where everything is resolved. The Romance genre includes many sub-genres, such as paranormal, historical, contemporary, category, fantasy, and Gothic romances. 

Westerns are books set in the old American West, with cowboys, ranchers, mountain men, gamblers, gunfighters, lawmen, Indians, miners and gold prospectors, and the US cavalry struggling to survive on the harsh and dangerous frontier where love and honour are all.

Stories in the genre of Science Fiction can set in the future, the past, or other dimensions and are focused on scientific ideas and advanced technological concepts in a built-world setting which has to be explained to and explored by the readers. These stories usually have some kind of space travel element or are completely set in space in a spaceship or on a space station of some kind.

The genre of Magic Realism originated in Latin America, and it portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic setting (the real world); magical events and powers (such as levitation, telepathy, and telekinesis) are part of ordinary life and the characters do not see them as abnormal or unusual.

Young Adult fiction is written, published, and marketed to adolescents and young adults, between the ages of 12 and 18. The focus in such stories are generally the coming-of-age of the main character(s), and they often cross into the fantasy and science fiction genres. The protagonists facing changes and challenges which they learn to overcome.

© Robert Buckmaster 2022