The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction – And Why They Matter



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. It is the blueprint for different types of stories. 

There
are general rules to follow, for example, manuscript length, character types, settings,
themes, and plots. For instance, certain settings suit specific genres. These
vary in type, details, intensity, and length of description. 
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 It 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.

17 Popular Fictional Genres 
  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. The setting should define the plot. There are many science fiction sub-genres.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Suspense/Thriller. A character in jeopardy dominates
    these stories. This genre involves pursuit and escape. 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. A Techno Thriller is a sub-genre. 
  7. 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,
    Twilight, and The Fault in our Stars
  8. 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. 
  9. 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. 
  10. 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.
  11. 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. 
  12. 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. 
  13. 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. 
  14. 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. 
  15. Women’s
    Fiction.
      These plot lines are characterised by female
    central 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. 
  16. 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.
  17. 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.

Genre Changes

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. 

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

Writing prompts are an excellent way to
exercise the writing muscle. If you want to receive a free daily prompt from
us, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the word DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to our mailing list. 

Source for image

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Pinterest,  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Google+,  LinkedIn, and  Twitter.

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This article has 0 comments

  1. Tam Francis

    This is wonderful and so easy to read. I wish there were more sub-genres and I guess there are, but it would be weird to list them, like steampunk, vintage, and Western could be in every category except maybe sci-fi. LOL!

    ~Tam Francis~
    http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com

  2. Amanda Patterson

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tam.
    Yes, I could have listed many sub-genres, but it would have been overwhelming.
    Thank you for the feedback.

  3. Robert Rapoza

    Amanda, thanks for the concise but telling descriptions. One question I have is about overlapping genres. Above, there are aspects of the Action Adventure genre that seem to overlap with the Thriller genre. It seems to me many stories have components of multiple genres and I assume you pick the one that fits best. Great article!

  4. Amanda Patterson

    Thank you, Robert. You are correct.
    Genres do bleed into each other, but it’s impossible to categorise everything perfectly. When we teach our courses, we talk about crossing genres. In point 5, I talk about how genres overlap, and they all do to some extent.
    You might find this article helpful. It deals with children’s fiction – which is an age group – not a genre, and it shows how many genres and grey areas one can find in this age group.
    http://imc.library.appstate.edu/bibliographies/genres
    I hope this helps.

  5. Kristen Stieffel

    Maybe this is just the difference between South Africa and North America, but here we use “speculative fiction” to encompass both Science Fiction and Fantasy and all their subgenres. So in the US and Canada we wouldn’t say that speculative overlaps SciFi or Fantasy. We’d say the set SciFi and the set Fantasy are both subsets of the set Speculative Fiction. For more info: http://whatisspecfic.com/

  6. Amanda Patterson

    Kristen, I do not think it is accepted as a fact anywhere in the world. There are many critics and writers who try to use speculative fiction as a blanket term, but there are just as many who reject it.
    ‘Margaret Atwood is one of these writers, and her use of the term “speculative fiction” generates strong reactions from her own readers as well as from science fiction readers in general. Atwood stresses the idea of speculative fiction is different from science fiction, for she sees science fiction as “filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that.” Atwood seems to view science fiction as inferior to speculative fiction in that science fiction seeks only to entertain, whereas speculative fiction attempts to make the reader rethink his or her own world based on the experiences described the novel. ‘
    http://www.gradesaver.com/the-handmaids-tale/study-guide/about-speculative-fiction
    I have included more links about how these genres are seen to differ below:
    http://annieneugebauer.com/2014/03/24/what-is-speculative-fiction/
    https://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm – This says that speculative fiction is a sub-genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy
    http://io9.gizmodo.com/5650396/margaret-atwood-and-ursula-k-le-guin-debate-science-fiction-vs-realism

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