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Genres Defined, Part I

What is a genre in relation to books and the publishing business? A genre is a category of literature, a way to organize and define various types of fiction. Writers are familiar with the main genres, such as romance or mystery, and readers are most familiar with them.

The term “genre fiction” refers to the most widely read commercial fiction in the world, and every reader has a favorite. But the lines of genre are blurry, and new categories and subcategories are evolving all the time. Writing that does not fall into a strict genre may be considered literary or mainstream fiction.

The following are some of the best-known categories and their subgenres, and it is by no means a comprehensive list.

ROMANCE GENRE: A romance is a love story in which the central focus is on the development of the love relationship between the lead character and a love interest. The romance itself is the key element, as is the emotional engagement of the reader. The book should have a happy or satisfying ending.

Subgenres include:

Contemporary

Gay and lesbian romance

Romantic mysteries

Historical romance

Regency romance

Victorian romance

Ethnic/multicultural romance

Inspirational romance

SCIENCE FICTION GENRE: Science is the star of this show. Science fiction often takes place in the future and is based on technological advances, both real and imagined, and how they influence the characters and their world.

Subgenres include:

Hard science fiction

Soft science fiction

Cyberpunk

Time travel

FANTASY GENRE: Often grouped together with science fiction, fantasy tales are based on heroes, myths, folklore, fairy tales, and magic. The Lord of the Rings is a good example of fantasy fiction.

Subgenres include:

Fairy tales

Saga, myth, and legend

Dark fantasy

Sword and sorcery

Time travel

Paranormal powers

WOMEN’S FICTION GENRE: These are books that focus on women’s issues and relationships and are written and read primarily by women. While there are often romantic elements, the focus is not necessarily on one partner, and the endings are more realistic than the happily ever-after endings of the strictly romance division. Think Bridget Jones’s Diary. Often called "Chick Lit" or "Chic Lit," women’s fiction has birthed spin-offs such as "Mommy Lit" (focusing on motherhood) and "Chica Lit" (which focuses on Latinas).

HISTORICAL FICTION GENRE: This type of fiction is set against historical backdrops, where the setting is as important as the plot. While considerable research goes into these books, historical accuracy is not the immediate goal.

HORROR GENRE: This genre involves the supernatural, the monsters in the closet, and the fear of the unknown. The goal is to scare or unsettle the reader, and Stephen King has a corner on this market.

Subgenres include:

Medical thrillers

Supernatural thrillers

Psychological horror

Vampires and werewolves

Demonic possession

Mythological monsters

Splatterpunk

MYSTERIES GENRE: A mystery usually involves a crime (most often murder), the investigative process, and the resolution of the crime. The main character is often a police officer or a detective, and the reader is given clues, both real and false, to help solve the mystery.

Subgenres include:

Hard-boiled detective fiction

Crime fiction

Supernatural mysteries

ADVENTURE/SUSPENSE: Also called "thrillers," this category often combines elements from other genres. Readers of this genre can expect action, and lots of it. The main character will have to face a villain of some sort, and obstacle after obstacle will be thrown our protagonist’s way.

CHRISTIAN FICTION: This is fiction that reflects Christian views and focuses on the relationship between the main character and God. Christian can include any of the major genres, such as romance or science fiction.

TEEN FICTION: Teen fiction encompasses all genres but focuses on characters near a teenager’s own age who deal with issues that are important to their age group, like relationships, teachers, and decisions about their futures.

Writer’s Relief helps writers of all genres target the literary agents and editors who will be most likely to appreciate their writing.

7 Responses to Genres Defined, Part I

  1. Another omission is Urban Fantasy, which is huge right now, especially under the YA umbrella. This genre can also be called Paranormal Fiction, and many have elements of Romance as well (hence “Paranormal Romance” in some cases).

  2. Trixy, Thanks for your comment! You’re right: contemporary fantasy is not listed here. Alas, the list in this post is not exhaustive (it would have to be an extremely long article if we touched on every single subgenre!).

    We composed this article to give writers a general idea of subgenres, as opposed to being a full list of every single one. Perhaps, to make it clearer, we should have written, “genres include but are not limited to.”

    Thanks for bringing up your genre as an important subgenre of fantasy! Wishing you all the best with your writing and many magical inspirations!

    Writer’s Relief

  3. I noticed that you do not have contemporary fantasy as a subgenre. That’s not really fair, you know! Us authors who write about magical events in the real world have a place too, don’t we?

  4. I find all these articles helpful. I too gained added knowledge in your definition of genre, a new term to me about 8 years ago when I decided to become a writer.

  5. Thank you for the definition of genres. Sometimes I would get mysteries and suspense confused. Since fiction, suspense and horror are my main genres for writing, I appreciate the help.

    Thanks, again.

  6. I enjoyed this informative article on genres. My own genre is historical romance and my immediate goal IS historical accuracy because I want the story to ring true. If I put my protagonist in a setting with Kit Carson, Mr. Carson had to be there on that day in that place! I couple that immediate goal with the immediate goal of making the story as colorful and exciting as possible. Golden Siblings, Wagons South!, Children of a Dark Secret and His Fiery Equal are my four novels found on my above website. A reader has left a glowing comment on His Fiery Equal on Amazon.com. Read and enjoy!
    Adora Mitchell Bayles, Author

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