We have put together a list of the 17 most popular genres in fiction to help you with your writing.
What Is Genre?
Genre is a style or category of art, music, or literature. As an author, genre controls what you write and how you write it. It describes the style and focus of the novel you write. Genres give you blueprints for different types of stories.
There are general rules to follow, for example, manuscript length, character types, settings, themes, viewpoint choices, and plots. Certain settings suit specific genres. These will vary in type, details, intensity, and length of description. The tone employed by the author, and the mood created for the reader, must also suit the genre.
There are often sub-genres within genres, for example, a fantasy story with sinister, frightening elements would belong to the dark fantasy sub-genre.
Why Does Genre Matter?
Genres are great because they fulfil reader expectations. We buy certain books because we have enjoyed similar stories in the past. Reading these novels gives us a sense of belonging, of sitting down with an old friend and knowing we’re on familiar ground. There is also a camaraderie between readers who follow the same genres.
Writers can use this to their advantage because their boundaries are models on which to base stories. Genres reflect trends in society and they evolve when writers push the boundaries. Readers ultimately decide if the experiment has worked by buying these books.
The most important part of genre fiction, though, is that it fulfils our human need for good old-fashioned storytelling. We sometimes need stories we can rely on to blunt the harsh realities of life.
The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction
- Romance. These stories are about a romantic relationship between two people. They are characterised by sensual tension, desire, and idealism. The author keeps the two apart for most of the novel, but they do eventually end up together. There are many sub-genres, including paranormal, historical, contemporary, category, fantasy, and gothic.
- Action Adventure. Any story that puts the protagonist in physical danger, characterised by thrilling near misses, and courageous and daring feats, belongs to this genre. It is fast paced, the tension mounting as the clock ticks. There is always a climax that offers the reader some relief.
- Science Fiction. This genre incorporates any story set in the future, the past, or other dimensions. The story features scientific ideas and advanced technological concepts. Writers must be prepared to spend time building new worlds and using genre-specific words. The setting should define the plot. There are many science fiction sub-genres. There are also many tropes in the genre: 101 Sci-Fi Tropes For Writers
- Fantasy. These stories deal with kingdoms as opposed to sci-fi, which deals with universes. Writers must spend plenty of time on world building. Myths, otherworldly magic-based concepts, and ideas characterise these books. They frequently take cues from historical settings like The Dark Ages. There are also plenty of sub-genres here. There is also a specific terminology and many tropes in the genre and: 101 Fantasy Tropes For Writers
- Speculative Fiction. These stories are created in worlds unlike our real world in certain important ways. This genre usually overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic 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.
- 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 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. These books are specifically set in the old American West. Plotlines include survival, romance, and adventures with characters of the time, for example, cowboys, frontiersmen, Indians, mountain men, and miners.
- Family Saga. This genre is about on-going stories of two or more generations of a family. Plots revolve around things like businesses, acquisition, properties, adventures, and family curses. By their nature, these are primarily historical, often bringing the resolution in contemporary settings. There is usually a timeline involved in these books.
- Women’s Fiction. These plot lines are characterised by 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. Magical events are part of ordinary life in this genre. The characters do not see them as abnormal or unusual. They are a natural part of the story. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a classic in this genre.
- Literary Fiction. This genre focuses on the human condition and it is more concerned with the inner lives of characters and themes than plot. Literary fiction is difficult to sell and continues to decline in popularity.
Changes In Genres
With the advent of self-publishing and ebooks, these genre guidelines have become less strict. This is because a publisher does not have to produce thousands of physical copies of the book. However, if you want to publish traditionally, you should still consider genre requirements.
How To Become Generic
Isolate your target market, research it, and adapt your story if necessary. Look in bookshops – they are generic, sorting books into categories to make it easier for their busy readers to choose and buy whatever will guarantee them a good read.
Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.
by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson
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