In music, you have genres such as Country, Jazz, and Metal. Each has its own sub-genre like Love Metal or Death Metal, or sometimes genres are combined like Country-pop. It’s the same with the written word. There are many genres in writing, and as I did research for this article, I found they’re not so easy to categorise. But you’ll need to figure out which category your story falls into before submitting it otherwise you run the risk of rejection just for subbing the wrong sort of story to the wrong type of magazine.
First of all, let’s define a genre. It’s a way of categorising literature and art. So if your Country song seems a little upbeat, or your Metal song has affectionate lyrics, then someone has successfully crossed genres. Can the same be done in writing?
It can and it’s done through defining them. But finding a nice little box for them to call home is not so easy. For instance, historical fiction. It’s semi-defined as being set in the past, a story told around a historical event. The Halifax Explosion, WWII, and Hurricane Katrina are all past events. These events range from 1917 to 2005. So, are they all historical? Well…
Historical Fiction is also defined as taking place during a notable period in history. But what makes the period notable? The history, the event that took place. What is a historic period? Given that a generation is defined as 25-27 years, one could take from that definition that the Halifax Explosion and WWII are both historic, but Katrina isn’t. Not yet.
So let’s take a look at other writing genres and see if they too can be defined.
What Is A Genre?
I know what you’re thinking. We already answered that question in defining a genre. You’re right. A more appropriate question would be “What Are The Types Of Genres?” A poem. A research paper. A newspaper editorial. Plays, diaries, cartoons, songs, billboards. Those are all genres, and easily identifiable, or defined. There are many more Non-Fiction and Fiction genres and many are confusing. For instance, some people have trouble seeing the difference between Sci-fi and Fantasy, and what’s Steampunk?
Let’s start with something easily identifiable. Many of these will be familiar to you, many perhaps not.
Children’s: Whether or not you have kids, you know what a children’s book looks like, what a children’s story sounds like. These types of stories come in both Non-Fiction and Fiction. Children’s books include—
–Picture books: more pictures than words for young readers
–Early Reader: These are chapter books for young readers, helping them transition from picture books to chapter books. Early Readers have a few pictures.
–Mid-grade: Chapter books for those who want more than an early reader but are not yet ready for the young adult books. Pre-teen to early teen.
–Young Adult: These chapter books target teenagers and, well, young adults to about 21 years of age. They deal with the problems of this age group such as peer pressure or music.
–Hi-Lo: Hi interest/Low readability. These target readers who read below their grade level and therefore can’t find books they can read that are of interest to them. Hi-Lo books are written at the interest level of the reader’s grade, but at the lower readability level.
The following genres are fairly simple and generally self-explanatory since the name indicates the kind of writing or story type.
–Christian: This genre includes Inspirational, Faith, Bible Studies. There can be cross-genres too, such as Christian Fantasy.
–Romance: Not to be confused with erotica. Romance features two people (obviously) who develop feelings for one another and work to build a relationship. The conflict and climax of the novel are directly related to the romantic relationship theme, though there can be subplots. Falling in love, emotion, and commitment are the core of these books.
–Erotica: Romance on steroids (RICK ADDS: or hormones anyway). These books have more sexual content and often blunt language rather than euphemisms. The focus here is more on sex but should not to be confused with pornography. Erotic novels include well-developed characters and a plot that could exist without the sex scenes. (RICK ADDS: Some folks say that erotica is romance with more sex and not much plot.)
–Guy Lit: Written by guys about guys for guys. Guy Lit is apparently much more simple than Chick Lit (defined below). Often written for male teens. (RICK ADDS: Change one letter in “guy” and you have yet another genre.)
–Hip-hop Lit: African American Urban literature.
–Historical: This genre is defined in its opening paragraphs, which means the setting is described in those paragraphs to set the scene so a reader knows generally which era the story is taking place in. However, because historical is difficult to define (if you remember something that happened in the 1940s, you may not agree that it’s “historical”), the question is, is it historical because it’s written in the past, or does the past play a pivotal role in the story? Historical fiction may be written to emphasize a real event with fictional characters, it may be written to show another lifestyle, or it may be written around themes that are still relevant today. What is or is not historical fiction may be up for debate, but writing a good, historically correct story is not.
–Interactive: The “you choose” stories.
–Literary: Literary Fiction is difficult to define. Generally it’s serious fiction that focuses on style, character, and psychological depth. The plot may or may not be important, as opposed to Genre Fiction where the emphasis is on plot. AKA “non-genre fiction”. Think “slice-of-life” stories.
–Maritime: Pirates, sailors; fiction taking place on the sea or about the sea.
–Regional: Pretty much self-explanatory. Regional stories can take place anywhere but are specific to a certain region. For example, Maritime Canada, Southern USA, the Outback.
–Speculative Fiction: Spec Fic is an umbrella term. It includes the more imaginative fiction genres such as Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Fiction that is set somewhere other than Earth is often referred to as Spec Fic. (RICK ADDS: Spec Fic is a broader genre than this. It can include anything that falls outside or borders on known or established reality.)
–Sports: Again, self-explanatory. I think you all know what a sport is.
–Tokusatsu: A Japanese term applying to live-action featuring superheroes and special effects. Translation of Tokusatsu = special filming. Often taking the form of science fiction, fantasy or horror, it can be done with other genres. Godzilla is an example.
–Verse Novels: Novel length narrative poetry. Multiple voices are used along with dialogue, narration, description and action in either simple or complex stanzas.
–Wuxia: Chinese Fiction which features martial artists in ancient China. Possibly a type of Historical Fiction.
–Western Fiction: Generally set in the second half of the 19th century and features heroic cowboys.
Word Count Genres
The following types of writing have to do with word count rather than genre. These types of stories can come in just about any genre so long as they fall into a certain word count category.
–Drabble: Exactly 100 words
–Flash: Under 500 or 1000 words, depending on what the editor wants. A Flash Fiction story would rarely be more than 1000 words.
–Microfic: Fiction under 100 words. If it’s over then you’ve got yourself a Flash Fiction.
–Pinhead: Stories under 50 words. If it’s over then you’ve got yourself a Microfic.
–Twitterfic: If you’ve ever Tweeted anything, you know you have a certain number of characters, not words. Twitterfic is Fiction under 140 characters. That’s less than the number in this description.
Genres with sub-genres
While there are many genres and sub-genres, I’ve tried to simplify it as much as I can while including as much as I can. The following are genres with particularly diverse sub-genres.
–Adventure: A main character must live by wits and skill in dangerous situations. Subgenres include Action, Quests, Military.
–Chick Lit: This genre addresses the issues of women. Sub-genres include Bigger Girl, Mom, Wedding, Mystery, Glamour.
–Experimental or Lucid Fiction: Breaking the rules, leaving the norm behind (no plots based on problems or drama, forbidden subjects). Sub-genres include–
—–Absurdism: Character experiences without a purpose. Meaningless actions and events take place. Satire and dark humour fit into this category.
—–Surrealism: This features elements of surprise. It’s absurd to the point of humour and has unexpected applications.
—–Bizarro: This is simply weird or cultish.
–Fantasy: Can include the use of magic and/or the supernatural. There is no science fact to explain “impossible” events. Often features mythical beings (as opposed to aliens). While it often takes place in medieval times on Earth, it can take place anywhere at any time. Sub-genres include:
—–Fables: The teaching of a moral lesson.
—–Fairy Tales: Stories often about princes and princesses. They always have happy endings.
—–Arthurian: Mythical or legendary stories involving King Arthur and the myths that surround him.
—–Celtic: Involves Celtic mythology.
—–Dark: This kind of fantasy blends with horror or Goth genres.
—–Mannerpunk: Has an urban setting involving a hierarchal social structure.
—–Feghoot: Another blend of genres, this one using humour and ending with a pun.
—–Heroic: This is your Sword and Sorcery, your tales of heroes.
—–High or Epic: This particular sub-genre takes place in parallel worlds.
—–Bangsian: Named for John Kendrick Bangs, it involves the interactions of famous people in the afterlife.
—–Low: As opposed to High Fantasy, Low Fantasy takes place in real world settings and uses traditional fantasy elements.
—–Medieval: This genre is common among role playing games.
—–Mythpunk: Starts out in myth or folklore but adds in elements of postmodern fantasy techniques.
—–Urban: Can be set in any time period. However rather than having a country setting, it takes place within a city, as its name suggests.
–Science Fiction (Sci-Fi): As its name suggests, it’s fiction with science. While Fantasy doesn’t include science facts, Sci-Fi is based on them. Magic doesn’t exist in Sci-Fi. Instead there’s some sort of logical explanation. Sci-Fi includes themes such as aliens, alternate histories, and AIs (Artificial Intelligence). Sub-genres include–
—–Biopunk: Focus on biotech and subversives
—–Cyberpunk: Dark, urban sci-fi with the focus on high tech/low life, featuring advanced sciences and a breakdown or change in society. Can be/include a mix of cyberspace and real life.
—–New wave: Sci-fi characterized by experimental form and content.
—–Space opera: Features romantic, melodramatic adventure set in outer space and usually involves conflict between characters who possess certain technologies or abilities.
—–Xenofiction: Classes as either sci-fi or fantasy, this sub-genre features stories set among non-humans and non-human societies.
–Horror: The scary stuff. It includes several self-explanatory sub-genres.
—–Ghost/Paranormal or Supernatural
And some not-so-self-explanatory ones.
—–Splatterpunk: Graphic, gory horror with no limits on the explicit violence and bloody gore which characterize the story from beginning to end. These stories often feature technology.
—–Noir: Cynical characters in gritty urban settings.
—–Rampant: Animals or tech out of control such as in Cujo or Maximum Overdrive.
–Mystery: We all know what a mystery is. Many of you have probably read the basic Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries. But there are different kinds of mysteries. Sub-genres include:
—–Detective: MC is, of course, a detective. These stories rely on logic so rarely do supernatural elements enter into them. The detective could be a PI, cop or an amateur but usually this person has nothing to gain from solving the mystery/crime.
—–Cozy: Mysteries set in English country houses, villages or some other similar environment. These feature little violence aside for some gory details of the murder. The Jane Marple novels would be typical of this genre.
—–Hardboiled: Gritty, realistic detective story featuring a professional investigator.
—–Whodunit: In this sub-genre, there is still a detective and the solving of a crime but there is challenge for the reader. The primary emphasis is on the characters (emotions and reactions).
—–Thriller: Full of action and tension. Emphasis on the plot and the protagonist in danger. A “James Bond” type where, rather than solving a crime, one is prevented due to the hero or heroine.
The following genres are particular combinations.
–Gothic: Simply put: horror and romance combined. Characters include, but are not limited to “monsters” such as vampires, demons and dragons.
–Science Fantasy: Combines Science Fiction with Fantasy, but you need to know what Science Fiction and Fantasy are before you can write in this combined genre.
–Slipstream: Non-realistic fiction that crosses the conventional boundaries between Sci-Fi or Fantasy and Literary Fiction.
–Steampunk: Works set in an era (or other world) where steam power is used and that use elements of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Think Jules Verne or the TV series and the movie Wild Wild West.
–Humour: Includes comedy and parody. Can be blended with almost any other genre.
You may not have had any idea that there were so many different genres and are feeling overwhelmed. Take some time to absorb it, then think about the key elements in your story. If you still can’t find a category that suits your story, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong somewhere. Maybe I simply haven’t included it.
There are many more categories and genres such as, sage (creative non-fiction popular in the Victorian Era), anthropomorphism (talking animals), prompt (not so much a genre as an element; this is where a theme, word, or line is used somewhere in the story.)
But whether you’ve created a new cross-genre or you’re following the trail of an old one, keep looking. You’ll find a home for your story sooner or later.
(Rick says: Don’t worry about genre in the beginning. Just tell a damn good story first and figure out what type of story it is later.)