What are the main genres and why is it important that authors know about them? This article, along with our video Book Genres Explained, answers these questions.
In this video we talk about book genres, why authors need them, and what readers expect from each, and at the end, Tahlia shares the name of a genre that I bet you have never heard of. Just for fun we dressed up for the occasion and wore some of our fantasy garb.
The article below the video gives further information on what we talk about in the video, but does not cover everything we share in the video, so we hope you will watch the video as well as reading this article.
Why is it important that authors know about genre?
Marketing. You need to be aware of genres so you can sell your book to publishers and readers.
The reader needs to know what kind of book it is, and that’s your first entrance for a sale.
Do you have to write in one particular genre?
No. The knowledge of genres shouldn’t be a restriction on your writing, and you can have cross-genre and multi-genre writing. Contemporary fiction and historical fiction often have several genres in them, and literary fiction is also cross genre.
Non-fiction should be fact or real or true stories. Informative non-fiction should be well researched and have references at the end. Non-fiction includes books on:
- Biographies and autobiographies
- Travel Writing
- Religion and Spirituality
- Food, Drink & Cooking
- Computers And Software
- Health And Fitness
- Political Science
- Business and Economics
- Parenting and Family
- And more.
When non-fiction isn’t really non-fiction.
Not everything labelled as non-fiction in books is actually non-fiction. There’s a lot of opinion in the non-fiction category, and as a reader you have to check the authors credentials and the references they’ve used so you know whether you’re reading opinion or fact.
Some people write what they think is non-fiction, but really it’s fiction – like those pedalling popular conspiracy theories. Such books may have references, but the references won’t be to real experts or valid research or the writer or pseudo expert may have misunderstood or applied the science incorrectly. Often, such authors assume causal relationships between facts when such a relationship hasn’t been established through further research. The conclusions of two research papers that are thematically related don’t immediately imply a causal relationship, but people wanting to prove their theory of causation between things often make erroneous assumptions and draw unsubstantiated conclusions from data.
Over-all fiction categories
There are two main categories. Genre fiction (sometimes called commercial fiction) and literary fiction.
Different people and bookstores categorise the main genre categories differently, however.
On the left is a screenshot of Amazons main fiction categorisation.
Literary fiction is more than just a book that doesn’t fit into a genre. To be called literary fiction, it has to go deeply into its themes and characters; the themes should be meaningful to readers; it should be moving and beautifully written.
Genre fiction genres
The main genre fiction categories are:
- Thrillers and Mysteries
- Speculative fiction – Science fiction and fantasy.
- Contemporary fiction
- Historical fiction
- Juvenile fiction – children’s and young adult stories.
With secondary genres (that can combine with the main genres) such as:
- Metaphysical and visionary fiction
- Magical realism
- Coming of age
- Women’s fiction
The main fiction genres and their characteristics
Refer to the video for our discussion on what elements readers want to have in these books in order not to be disappointed.
The thriller genre generally has a fast-paced storyline and tension and suspense from beginning to end. There are many sub-genres within the thriller genre such as the psychological, political and spy variety to name a few. Some characteristics of the thriller genre include:
- Suspense incorporated throughout the novel
- Plot twists to keep the readers guessing as they read
- Cliffhangers at the end of each chapter that leaves the plotline at a climactic moment in the story
- Ending climax to answer the questions readers build up throughout the story
Mystery is a genre of fiction that focuses on solving crimes and mysterious events. Ordinarily, the protagonist is a detective, and the remaining characters are suspects until proven otherwise. Common characteristics of the mystery genre include:
- A mysterious crime or death that needs to be solved
- Suspects that have motives that the detective must evaluate
- Clues left by the author that show the reader possible outcomes about who the murderer might be red herrings, or clues that lead the reader to false conclusions about the murder
Science fiction stories often take place in the future and involve fictional aspects of science and technology. Characteristics of science fiction include:
- Space or time travel
- Futuristic setting or alternate history
- Advanced technology
- Exploration of societal issues within our current societal model (Dystopian society)
Fantasy is a type of fiction that focuses on magical and supernatural elements that do not exist in the actual world. There can be elements of romance, action and mystery in fantasy, and typically include the following characteristics:
- Magical elements or characters of magic, like sorcerers, witches or werewolves
- Conflict involving good versus evil
- Imaginary worlds, often similar to medieval settings
- Mythical characters or beings like elves, dragons or talking animals
Historical fiction is a story that takes readers to a particular time and place in the past, typically at least 50 years or more in order for it to be considered historical fiction. Although the story takes place in the past, the plot itself is one that didn’t actually happen in history.
Common characteristics of historical fiction include:
- A combination of historical and fictional experiences
- A setting that exists in a historical time and place in the past
- Mostly fictionalized characters, but occasionally there is a character that is based on a historical figure from that time period
Contemporary fiction, (sometimes called realistic fiction) is when a story could easily happen in today’s society. It contains believable characters and events and takes place in an actual setting, but the storyline itself is one that has never actually happened. Characteristics of contemporary fiction include:
- Conflicts that the reader could face in everyday life
- A setting that takes place in the present-day and is an actual location or a fictional place that could be real
- Characters that seem like actual people you might encounter
- Conflicts that are solved realistically
The romance genre can take place during any time period and may contain a realistic plot line or have magical elements, but the primary element of a romance novel is that there is a central love story throughout the novel. Other characteristics include:
- A hero or main protagonist with whom the other main character falls in love
- Many conflicts throughout the story making it difficult for the characters to be together
- An emotionally satisfying conclusion
Writers create and market young adult fiction to readers between the ages of 12 and 18. The plotline can be realistic or can contain magical elements, but in most young adult fiction the protagonist faces challenges and changes that are relatable to an adolescent. Common elements in the young adult fiction genre include:
- A teenage protagonist
- A love triangle in which the protagonist must choose between two potential love interests
- Conflicts in the story that are age-appropriate for the audience such as trying to feel like they belong, succeeding in a sport or having a romantic relationship
The horror genre’s purpose is to create feelings of terror and excitement in the reader. Common characteristics include:
- Explorations into the darker aspects of humanity
- Main characters who readers can identify with and who often have haunted pasts and emotional traumas
- Supernatural elements such as ghosts or demonic forces
- A goal to provoke terror in their readers
Metaphysical fiction and visionary fiction
Metaphysical fiction deals with stories with aspects that are beyond the normal tangible world, usually spiritual and supernational elements. Visionary fiction is usually the story of someone’s awakening.
In metaphysical fiction, though the philosophy underlies the story, the story takes precedence over expression of the philosophy; in visionary fiction the expression of the philosophy is more important than the story.
The book has a real-world setting while also including magical elements, often blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. It’s a different genre from fantasy because magical realism uses a substantial amount of realistic detail and employs magical elements to make a point about reality, while fantasy stories are often separated from reality. In magical realism the magical elements are extended metaphors – words and imagery used as representative or symbolic of something else – that often are symbolic of a character’s emotions and inner world.
Coming of age
The story focuses on the growth of a protagonist (typically a teenager) from childhood to adulthood. Coming-of-age stories tend to emphasize dialogue or internal monologue over action and are often set in the past. The plot points are usually emotional changes within the characters.
An umbrella term for women-centered books that focus on women’s life experience and marketed to female readers.
defines it as:
“Our stories may include romance, or they may not. They can be contemporary or historical and have magical, mystery, thriller, or other elements. Whereas the driving force of a romance novel is a love story, a mystery’s is the exposure of an event, a thriller’s is a fear-inducing chase or escape, etc., the driving force of women’s fiction is the protagonist’s journey toward a more fulfilled self. “Women’s fiction as defined by WFWA is reflected in our guiding statement: Women’s Fiction Writers Association is an inclusive organization of writers creating layered stories in which the plot is driven by the main character’s emotional journey.” The Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association
And many more
In terms of being specific and niching down your book to help to sell, the more specific you can be with the genre the better it’s going to do within that Amazon category. Refer to the video to hear about the main subgenres and others, like Steampunk – a sub-genre of speculative fiction, featuring a late 19th century or early 20th century setting, but with steam-powered and clockwork inventions and machines.
If you like this article and its accompanying video, please share them around and like and subscribe, as we will be continuing this series on novel writing tips, and you really don’t want to miss any of the videos in the series because by the end we will have covered the whole author’s journey from conception to publication.
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“What is Women’s Fiction?”. Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association. 13 October 2022.