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On Genre: A Series

On Genre: Literary Genres – An Overview

Within fictional literature, there are many types of genres. While we can break different genres down into subgenres too, a writer must have a firm idea of the main overall genre in which they’re writing.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the main types of genres used in fiction writing. The descriptions are fairly brief, as we plan to cover each one in its own post at a later date.

What is Genre?

Before jumping into the types of genres used in fictional writing, we must first understand what we mean by this word. So, what is genre?

According to Merriam-Webster, genre is an agreed-upon category of art. It’s a term used in writing, music, and to a lesser extent, painting.

It comes from the French word for “kind” and is based on previously defined conventions. But, these conventions are slippery, and people have different definitions of genre.

For example, we could classify types of writing such as poetry, prose, fiction and non-fiction as genre, or as modes of writing. It really depends on how broad you want to go with the term.

In this article, we’re considering types of genres within fiction writing. Therefore, we define fiction as a mode or style of writing rather than a genre within itself.

Genres of Literature

Overall, there are 14 main genres within fictional literature. As mentioned, we can break these down into many more subgenres, but we won’t discuss these in this post.

Here are brief overviews of the types of genre within fictional writing.

1. Thriller

Thrillers are suspense- and narrative-driven novels. They include dark themes and cliffhangers and are generally easy to read. We could count crime novels as thrillers too.

Some thriller writers include:

· Dan Brown

· Lee Child

· John le Carre

2. Horror

Horror is one of the easiest genres of literature to define. They include scary themes and plots designed to disgust and shock the reader. We’d usually find things like werewolves, vampires, occult themes, and demons in horror literature.

Some horror writers include:

· H.P. Lovecraft

· Stephen King

· R.L. Stine

3. Mystery

Mystery novels involve some kind of plot or conspiracy for characters to solve. It might be a crime or a conspiracy. Mystery is one of the most formulaic genres in fiction, as it usually involves the plot being revealed to the reader early, or the writer dropping in clues so the reader can solve it in advance.

Mystery writers include:

· Agatha Christie

· Arthur Conan Doyle

· Ruth Rendell

4. Sci-Fi

Sci-fi is one of the most expansive types of genres. Stories include elements that don’t exist in real life but are based on “real” scientific principles (hence the name). We might find themes such as space exploration, time travel, and futuristic settings.

Sci-fi writers include:

· Philip K. Dick

· Frank Herbert

· Isaac Asimov

5. Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is a branch of sci-fi and fantasy literature. It incorporates themes from different genres of literature but aims at “what if” questions. Settings are somewhat real but different enough from our own.

Margaret Atwood is one of the most well-known writers of speculative fiction. Look for her Oryx & Crake series, and The Handmaid’s Tale.

6. Literary Fiction

Unlike other genres, literary fiction can include any type of literature. The difference is that they’re considered “high art” and often include political commentary and reflections on the human condition. They’re often character-driven and are the sorts of works you’d study at university.

Literary fiction writers include:

· James Joyce

· Virginia Woolf

· Toni Morrison

7. Historical

This is another one of the easiest types of writing to define. Historical novels take place in the past. They may be completely accurate or contain some artistic license to develop the plot.

Historical fiction writers include:

· Bernard Cornwell

· Philippa Gregory

8. Western

Western novels contain cowboys and are set in the Old West. They’re one of the most closely defined genres of fiction and rely on very set tropes. Western novels aren’t as popular as they used to be for this reason.

9. Romance

A romance novel centers on a developing relationship between two people. Again, they’re one of the most formulaic genres of literature and often include other elements from different genres. Romance stories usually have a happy ending and contain some conflict in the form of a love triangle.

Look for anything published by Mills & Boon.

10. Fantasy

Fantasy novels usually contain historical elements along with magic and mythology. But, they might also have contemporary settings depending on the story. Fantasy is one of the most expansive genres of literature, and, much like sci-fi, often includes other elements.

Fantasy writers include:

· J.K. Rowling

· JRR Tolkien

· George RR Martin

11. Dystopian

Dystopian can fall under the sci-fi genre, but can also stand on its own. A dystopian society is oppressive and forces its inhabitants to struggle with internal and external conflict. We might see it blended with different genres such as speculative fiction.

Dystopian writers include:

· George Orwell

· Suzanne Collins

· Margaret Atwood

12. Bildungsroman

A bildungsroman is a novel that follows the life of a character from youth to adulthood. It’s obviously very character-driven and is usually written in first-person. It uses psychology and emotional conflict to find resolution.

Bildungsroman writers include:

· Charlotte Bronte

· James Joyce

· Harper Lee

13. Realism

Realism is another of the most wide-reaching genres of literature. Essentially, it’s anything that takes place in a realistic setting or environment. Realism can be combined with other types of genres within a story (such as historical fiction).

Realism writers include:

· Charles Dickens

· George Eliot

· Fyodor Dostoevsky

14. Magical Realism

Magical realism features realistic worlds or settings but with added magic. Whereas fantasy uses entirely fictional settings, magical realism takes place in our world and has believable environments. The magical elements aren’t seen as strange in the setting, they’re simply part of the world.

Magical realism writers include:

· Toni Morrison (Beloved)

· Angela Carter

· Neil Gaiman


It helps to have an understanding of different types of writing if you’re planning to write your own fiction. Only by understanding genres and their tropes can you hope to use (or go against) them.

In the future, we’ll dig into the different types of genres in more detail to look at subgenres and extensive themes. For now, go and read up on some different genres!

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