Defining the Fiction Genres

If there is one aspect of writing that boggles my mind, it is the ever pervading meaning of ‘genre’.

Fiction and Non-Fiction are the simple ones. We all get those.

YA is also pretty easy to figure – books for “young adults”. Children’s books – yeah, those are for the munchkins.

But the rest? Not so easy.

The fiction genres are a wide category.

Fantasy. Horror. Mystery/Crime. Romance. Science Fiction. Thriller/Suspense/Adventure.







But from here, they all spider…

Dark Fantasy. Urban Fantasy.

Erotic Horror. Gothic Horror.

Supernatural Mystery. True Crime.

Historical Romance. Paranormal Romance.

Dystopian Science Fiction. Steampunk Science Fiction.


The list goes on and on! If you’re a serious writer, I’m sure you know.

But what sends me into an irate, red vision frenzy (ending in a lot of reading, tv shows, venting, and chocolate) is the fact that no one can seem to peg down an agreeable list! Everyone has their own opinion on this. Or at the very least – a slight variation.

Then there’s the fact that some literary agents have their own little considerations. Like when they say they consider “vampire” as its own genre. In these cases, however, they normally almost always state things like this on their website – so go look!

And don’t even get me started on everyone’s definitions of commercial, literary, mainstream, etc. That’s just setting yourself up for a thorazine drip and a nice comfy jacket with lots of buckles. I’ll tackle these later.


I write genre fiction as you well know. This means, I need to know which genre(s) and sub genre(s) my novel fits into before I begin typing up queries. In all reality, I need to know before then so I can find out whether or not I should even be sending a query to that particular literary agent. And if you want to take it a step further than that, I should know well before then because I need to know my intended audience before I begin writing.

So in honor of how much a writer tends to have to put into this, I’m now going to do my very best to define the genres and their subgenres. Limiting myself to ONE major fiction genre and its sub-genres per post. Or I might just implode.


I’m going to stick with these as the Fiction Genres:

  1. Fantasy
  2. Horror
  3. Mystery
  4. Romance
  5. Science Fiction
  6. Thriller

I’ll probably have a “loose ends post”, so to say, when I’m done. There, I’ll explain any problems I came up against and answer/address any questions/concerns I receive via comments.

And as normal, I’ll not do every post one right after the other. So for any of you not interested in this, don’t worry – I’m not going to obsess over it.  These posts will be interspersed just like the trickster research posts.


Do you have any good/favorite reference sites that you go by when it comes to genres and their sub-genres for fiction?

Anyone have issue with the list of 6 genres I have above?



Filed under The Odd Bit

25 responses to “Defining the Fiction Genres

  1. Pingback: Difference Between Preternatural, Supernatural, and Paranormal? | DaphneShadows

  2. Pingback: Define the Thriller Genre | DaphneShadows

  3. Erica

    This has given me a headache as well. I’ve been assuming that my novel is high fantasy, because it takes place in a separate world from Earth and in a pre-industrial (sword and sorcery style) society where magic plays a major role in the story and where the stakes are more than simply personal.

    BUT, I’ve been told it’s not high fantasy for various reasons, ranging from my naturalistic/mechanistic (rather than intuitive/supernatural) approach to magic, to the fact that my world is not “medieval” enough.

    I’ve even been told that something isn’t HF unless there is a particular type of lyrical use of language and voice to the work. The person saying this didn’t elaborate about what that would be, but since my character voices (I aim for a deep/immersive limited third pov) are closer to “gritty modern” than “flowery faux medieval,” I assume they don’t qualify.

    So I’m confused and frustrated too, and I imagine people writing in other subgenres are as well.

    I’d like to know what qualifies a work as HF, since it would be good to know whether an agent who says “no high fantasy” is simply saying, “no elves and dragons” or is saying, “nothing written in that old-fashioned, stilted pseudo-medieval tone” or is saying, “nothing set in a magical alternative world–I only want urban/contemporary type stories.”

    And if my novel isn’t HF, what subgenre is it? None of the others seem to fit either.

    • ….No pressure though right? 😉

      Yes, VERY frustrating. I write fantasy – which subgenre hasn’t been determined yet – but it can be a crazy mess! I don’t know when I plan on doing the fantasy post because I don’t have a set order, but I’ll definitely get to it! And I hope that it will help you out. Let me know if it doesn’t when I post it and I’ll see if I can tweak it to help out. 😀

  4. Pingback: Define the Romance Genre | daphneshadows

  5. Subgenres are where it quickly gets murky, and also cross-genres. I like to think: Where would my fans be more likely to look? I.E. If it’s a sci-fi mystery, it would probably be more popular in a sci-fi section than mystery, however it could still be marketed to both.

    That being said, here are some links I found about genre: – a simplistic form, but could be a good base – It’s from Yale. It must be good. – From CA department of Education. Very basic, and probably not that helpful.

    Seems like a good project to work on.

  6. Miss Rosen

    genres are marketing tactics. what have they do do with art ?

    • I’m posting on the genre subject because once I get a novel written and ready to be submitted to an agent, I then have to know the business side to it.
      Maybe my posts will help another writer out. We all need to have some idea of what genre our work goes under so we can market it, when we write “commercial fiction”.

      I don’t just blog about the art of writing – but everything I learn as I go. 😉

      • Miss Rosen

        ahh thank you for the clarification. i guess my approach is to keep the creation of art and commerce separate, but what works for me is certainly not one size fits all.

  7. And if that’s not bad enough, some publishers want you to tell them which famous book yours is comparable to. This can be a bit disheartening – particularly if you think you’re unique (like yours truly) 😀

  8. I’m afraid I am one of those genre jumpers. My first was a gothic ghost story and now I am having a hoot writing a bit of chick lit. Hmmm, what does that say about me.

  9. I think one that doesn’t quite fit into any of the genres you’ve listed is the ‘coming of age’ novel. I’ve seen a lot of those – focusing on childhood, growing up, etc… what would you call that?

    • Miss Rosen

      “contemporary fiction”

    • I think that’s more along the lines of the novel’s theme, not its genre.

      I would say, by the age of the main character, it’d be more YA. Agents say most ‘adult fiction’ should be with main characters 18 years and older. Although, you might have to go with a more broad term, if the main character is only under the age of 18 during part of the novel.

      Literary agents and publishers tell you to think of where your book would be on the book shelves of a store, and it might even end up depending on your agent’s and publisher’s opinions.

  10. Commander

    Genres are confusing when they create sub genres.
    I wouldn’t consider vampires as a genre or sub genre. There are horror vampires and now, thanks to twilight, more and more romance vampires. Lumping the two into one genre isn’t cool. I could almost scream. Yes they are vampires, a common theme, but they are different beasts.

    Good luck with your endeavour. I look forward to reading your posts on genres.

  11. averyfrost93

    I would definitely like to see you break the genres down! They are so tricky to figure out :/

    Though I would argue that YA isn’t as simple as it seems. I actually hear it argued about the most. Why are 13 and 18 year olds lumped together, when there’s such a giant difference in maturity and interests? The problem has gotten so bad that they’re considering making something called new-adult fiction.

    Interesting post 😀

    • Oh yes, I agree. YA has more sub-genres and controversy than you could shake a stick at! But that’s why I’m not going to address it – I don’t write YA so I don’t really know anything about it. I’m sure not going to try and give info on something that I don’t know about.
      I simply meant, as a genre – when someone says “YA”, you know what it means. People hear “horror” for example, and one person thinks scary, when another thinks there has to be naked women and guts every ten pages. 😉 YA is distinct.

      Thanks. It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. 😀

  12. bwtaylor75

    All I can say is good luck. You would think the process of writing would have been simplified by now, but alas, poor Daphne, it hasn’t. Like you said, sometimes agents have a different idea what we do when it comes to genres. I call my manuscript horror, but it could just as easily be called urban fantasy, dark fantasy, or just plain fantasy.

    I wish I knew a place where they break down every genre and sub-genre logically. I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Good luck.

    • Thanks. I love the diversity in writing, but this is one thing I would love to have pegged down. But then again, I don’t think you’d be able to ‘peg down’ some books, so its quite contradictory. Oh well, I’m giving it my best shot. 😉

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