Genres In Fiction

Genre (Zähn-rə) 

  • A type or class.
  • A category of artistic composition.


If there is one thing which universally stymies new writers and authors, and even some experienced ones, it is the definition and borders of the genres into which works of fiction are classified.

Literary fiction, interestingly, is classed as being separate from “genre” fiction. There are some key differences between genre and literary fiction, of course, but this is all about genre fiction! There are many genres and sub-genres these days, but to save time we’ll cover the main ones. These are, broadly speaking;

  • Horror
  • Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Romance
  • Comedy


Genre Breakdowns

Of course, every single genre has a set of characteristics, subgenres, tropes, and boundaries which bear consideration when you are writing and, especially, when you are pitching your novel to agents and publishers.



Fiction designed to frighten, shock, repel, and invoke a sense of dread. Common themes are supernatural creatures, biblical horrors, human horrors (think serial killers etc), and psychological horrors.

Horror can overlap with science fiction and fantasy, any other genre at all really, but in order for it to be a horror the key motivator must be the “fear factor”.

Popular horror novels are; Bram Stokers Dracula, Stephen Kings It, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, and Clive Barkers The Damnation Game. 

If you want a small sampler for how to write horror, start here.



When you say fantasy, most people think of High Fantasy fiction such as the kind written by J. R. R. Tolkien which involves elves, dwarves, and epic heroism. But, in truth, fantasy is simply speculative fiction which contains a plot that could not happen in the world as we know it today. It is most common for fantasy to take place in worlds which resemble Medieval Europe in technological level and society, but this is a trope, not a boundary.

Famous fantasy novels (other than The Lord of the Rings) include Robin Hobbs The Liveship Traders, Joe Abercrombies The Blade Itself, and Lewis Carrolls Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 

You can find tips for writing in the fantasy genre right here.



Science Fiction

Science Fiction, much like Fantasy, is speculative in nature but differs in that its basis is most often in the future or an alternative history where technological advances make the impossible possible.

Common themes are space travel, genetic modification, and artificial intelligence. The focus is very often on how these advances alienate people, cause the creation of new moral problems, or on colonial themes.

Famous Science Fiction books include Michael Crichtons Jurassic Park, Ernest Clines Ready Player One, and H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds. You can find a few tips on writing Science Fiction right here.



Romance novels can come in many forms but revolve around the development and obstacles faced by a romantic relationship. Romantic novels can be supernatural, historical, or erotic, but no matter what their underlying themes the main focus is upon the relationship in question.

Good examples of romance novels are; Jane Austins Pride and Prejudice, Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights, Jojo Moyes Me Before You, and Jenny Hans To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. 

A short breakdown of writing Romance can be found here


Comedy may well be the most subtle and diverse of all genres, and while you may well have guessed that the aim of the game here is to amuse, many people find it hard to understand the lay of the land beyond that point.

Comedy writing may be dark, it may be satirical, political, vulgar, or even slapstick, but it is also most often a genre used to make some kind of commentary. Comedy does not always have a happy end, but more often than not is optimistic.

Good examples of comedy novels are; Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters (anything by Pratchett actually),  Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Anne Donovans Buddha Da, and Oscar Wildes The Importance Of Being Earnest.

You can find a crash course on comedy writing right here.


When it comes down to choosing an agent, creating a query,  and writing your synopsis you should have your genre firmly in mind.





3 Differences Between Genre And Literary Fiction

Literary fiction is popularly thought to be un-publishable; it’s too dull, too dry, too convoluted. This isn’t the truth, though. There are many published. successful authors who write literary fiction. Barbara Kingsolver, for example, has written The Poisonwood Bibleand The Lacunaamongst others, both of which are classed as literature.

These are seriously well-known and loved novels, too! The Poisonwood Bible was part of the Oprah Book Club for Christs sake!

So – where did this myth come from? I honestly don’t know, and that’s a question for another day. What I do know is how to tell whether your novel is literary or genre fiction!


The 3 Main Differences

  1. The Subject Matter: Literary fiction tends to deal with macro ideas and happenings. I.e. literary fiction deals with themes and ideals, not, generally speaking, the day to day milleu of life. If you write a literary novel about the Jacobite Rebellion it will most likely be a sweeping social commentary which covers the whole affair. If you write a genre novel on the same subject its more likely to be an action-packed, romance laced retelling of the most pressured events.
  2. The Pace; Genre fiction is quicker, more agile, and more compact, generally speaking. This doesn’t mean the number of pages, by the way, the inimitable and haunting The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (I know, I know, if I ever stop ranting about this book assume I’m dead) is a slim literary volume, but its pace is steady and calm. No, genre fiction tends to take place over a shorter period of time (in story), and will generally move between major plot points with more alacrity. Literary fiction, however, more commonly takes place over generational timescales and may play loosey-goosey with the very concept of a hard and fast plot point.
  3. The Character Plot Balance; the real, telltale sign however is the balance between plot and character. Genre fiction is most likely to lean towards being plot driven. In fact, in some minimalist genre fictions we may learn very little about the largest parts of the character cast. Consider Garth Nix’s Sabrielfor example. We spend a fair amount of time with Sabriel, but we don’t learn as much about her as we might have assumed. We know about her father, her schooling, and her magic, but we very rarely see into her mind. In Julian Barnes’ haunting novel The Sense Of An Endinghowever, the “plot” seems to be nothing more than an endless unravelling of the innermost fears and failures of the protagonist. Literary fiction is driven by the exploration of philosophies, ideas, and characters, whereas genre fiction is driven by the events of the plot.


Simple, no?

Now you just need to write the damn thing!