Fiction Genres

Defining Genres

Fiction is normally divided into a range of categories that are referred to as genres. It will be the first way for readers and publishers to judge your novel, and every writer needs to select the genre of their own work. Despite that, many writers find it difficult to make that decision, even after completing the first draft. Many stories seem to fit into more than one category, making the choice even more difficult. This is a brief guideline to help you make that decision.

Fiction can be divided into two major subdivisions. These are literary and mainstream fiction, and genre fiction.

Literary fiction is generally character driven and cerebral, dominated by themes and ideas and with a more literary style of writing. Mainstream fiction, sometimes referred to as commercial fiction, is generally less “highbrow” and may include aspects of two or more genres and a strong storyline, but also has an emphasis on themes, ideas and elegant writing.

That brings us to the world of genre fiction. There are numerous genre categories and an extensive range of sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. The storyline is of major importance, and while all successful stories adhere to a standard plot structure, each genre has its own set of rules and conventions that writers should follow and readers have come to expect.

I will not attempt to give an exhaustive definition of every genre and sub-genre. Here, instead, is a list of the major categories.

Genre Fiction


Romance is the biggest-selling and most extensive genre, with a range of sub-categories including historical, erotic, contemporary, suspense and fantasy. The overriding feature of the storyline is the romance between two people and there is almost always a happy ending. Another genre that includes a love interest as a subplot would not be classed as a romance.

Science Fiction

Science fiction relates more to the setting of a story, rather than a storyline. Science and technology, or the social sciences such as anthropology or psychology, are central to the story. The world or setting created is a logical extension of our current scientific knowledge.


Fantasy fiction also relates more to the setting of a story. It involves the creation of imaginary worlds and places, often in great detail, and characters that may not be human but generally have very human emotions.


Horror stories are intended to startle and terrify the reader. They can involve nightmare worlds with supernatural or psychological elements that take the tale in all sorts of unexpected directions.


Mysteries involve a protagonist who is trying to solve a mystery. The reader goes on the journey with them, gathering clues but not solving the problem until close to the end of the story. This includes many popular categories such as crime and detective fiction.


Suspense stories are similar to mysteries, but involve more tension. The protagonist is confronted with some degree of danger on a regular basis. The reader may also be aware of the enemy and follows the story from both points of view.


Thrillers place the protagonist in great peril and provide excitement, danger and suspense from beginning to end. Readers follow the story through the eyes of both the hero and the enemy, and there will be a great deal at stake if the hero is not victorious.

Action and Adventure

This is a small genre but with a loyal following of fans. These stories involve plenty of physical action and violence and a fast-paced plot as the protagonist tries to achieve a goal in the face of great danger.

Children and Young Adults

Young Adult fiction can fit into any of the categories listed above, but it always involves teenagers or very young adults and the challenges they face. Children’s fiction is classed according to age and must contain suitable and age-appropriate themes and content.

Choosing the genre of your novel

You may be well aware of your favourite fiction genre, the one you most often choose for reading. If you are about to embark on writing a novel, you should select the genre before proceeding any further and then become an expert on it. Read as many well-crafted novels as you can and study all aspects of crafting fiction in that category.

What is your favourite fiction genre and sub-genre? When planning your novel, do you consider the conventions of that genre?

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11 thoughts on “Fiction Genres

  1. Gary

    Good advice and found from a reblog on a friends post. Spot on with the decision making process I’m having with choosing the best fit genre too. Thanks for sharing this !

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Gary

        I think maybe more than a few do initially; especially if work drifts across, or coukd fits to, several places. I never think things are as black and white as, in this case, genre listing unless, of course, one has started from the genre and built upward. I find sometimes the story takes me away in different directions. I also suspect genre fitting will, as you suggest, get easier down the line.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Toni Pike Post author

          I find it easier if I know where I’m headed, so I like to think about genre initially. But, of course, there are as many ways to write as there are individuals.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Gary

          That is a fair point and one I also agree with! Alas, now and then my characters argue things should not go how I want them to, but how they would do it. My writing often transgresses into psychological horror or suspense; definitely not gore…I guess that just sold a genre 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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