Book Genres: An Overview of Fiction Categories

In an earlier blog post, I shared an overview of major non-fiction book genres to help aspiring writers determine which genre their text should fall under. While non-fiction book genres are pretty straightforward, the lines are a bit more blurred with fiction. What’s the difference between these two main categories? Read on to find out.

a stack of books

What’s your favorite fiction genre?

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Fiction literature is pure fantasy, written from the mind of the writer and created solely using their imagination. Any facts or research in fiction writing can be loosely based on real life, but the events taking place in the novel are not true. Although fiction books can be based on these facts, the author often invokes creative license to change past events or embellish details as they see fit. On the other hand, non-fiction is always factual. Read on for a guide to the most popular fiction book genres.

Major Fiction Genres

Action and Adventure

In action and adventure stories, the main character tends to take a risky turn near the beginning of the book, setting off a series of events where they must be heroic, battle foes and explore their environment. They must face some sort of mortal risk or danger, such as battling a dragon, on their quest to the end of the novel. The Action/Adventure fiction genre usually consists of two main characters: the protagonist and the antagonist:

a dragon

Fighting dragons is common in action/adventure/fantasy literature.

  • The Protagonist: The main character or hero of the story, the protagonist is the once who faces the challenges ahead. This character usually is strong, loyal, courageous and able to get out of complex situations using their quick thinking and wit. Good examples include Indiana Jones or Harry Potter.
  • The Antagonist: The opposition to the main character, the antagonist typically is an ingenious villain who tends to stay one step ahead of the protagonist. They tend to be evil, calculating or dark, but can also be charming or misleadingly friendly. Following our example, Indiana Jones’ antagonist would be the Nazis, and Harry Potter’s foe would be Lord Voldemort.

Crime/Mystery/Detective

Crime/Mystery/Detective stories are fun to read and equally fun to write! I recently published a novel called The Shaman and The Mafia, which is a mystery/detective story with a bit of romance. Reading a lot of mysteries can help you learn how to write one because most follow a specific formula. Here are three major elements to include when writing a mystery novel.

  1. The Crime: Start by mapping out the crime exactly as it happened, from start to finish. Imagine the characters who are involved and what their emotions are as the crime occurred. What does the crime scene look like? What time of day is it? Exactly how was the crime committed? This will help to make your novel as believable as possible when you craft the story. It will also help you “show” instead of “tell” your readers, which is important when writing a mystery novel.
  2. The Detective: The detective of your story, like any other protagonist, should be an easily-likeable character that readers will want to root for. The person solving the crime in the story will be doing the bulk of the action, so make this a friendly character with fewer flaws than the antagonist. This character should be intelligent, but not overly smart.
  3. Play Fair: There is a “fair play”rule in writing mystery novels which means you should never hide information from the readers. You don’t have to, and you shouldn’t, present everything to the audience up front, but your readers should be able to solve the puzzle by piecing together the same clues the detective and characters have access to. This way, they will be able to “play along” and solve the crime as the detective does.

Fairy Tales, Mythology and Legends

Typically shorter stories, fairy tales, mythology and legends can fall under the larger fiction genre of folklore. Stories that have been told and retold throughout the generations, these are untrue tales, but may once have been based upon a real event. They have been also been used as cautionary tales for children or as metaphors for life lessons that are passed down throughout society. Fairy tales are generally seen more in children’s literature than adult fiction, but the fantasy genre often includes themes from folklore.

Horror

Horror fiction is written with the readers specifically in mind; it seeks to disgust, startle, frighten or alienate the audience. It can be supernatural, or not. More than a book genre, Cuebon describes the horror subsection as, “The mood this genre seeks to invoke. From subtle anxiety to blood-splattered scenes, in these stories, something is just not right.” As Wikipedia describes, horror fiction is often interpreted as a metaphor for larger fears of a society or group of people.

a foggy trail

Horror is a common fiction genre.

While Action/Adventure fiction tends to end in the protagonists’ favor, the horror genre can be much different. Often, the evil antagonist wins at the end, or the author leaves a cliffhanger where the audience wonders how the struggle concluded. Either way, this genre evokes tons of fear, fright and scares.

Humor/Comedy

On a lighter note, the comedy genre is for the more faint of heart. It causes the reader to laugh by depicting humorous scenes or situations. The characters’ traits are often embellished to accentuate their flaws and the genres can include cartoons, plays, novels, short stories or even films based on books.

The comedy genre can be traced all the way back to Athens, Greece in the 5th century BCE. It is the counterpart to Tragedy, and both styles of storytelling were created to honor the god Dionysus. In fact, the word ‘comedy’ was taken from the Greek word ‘komos,’ which means ‘merry-making’ or ‘revelry.’ Modern day comedy or humorous fiction may include the use of common stock characters, which readers are able to easily stereotype and interpret; this helps to decrease the complexity of the story and increase the humorous element.

Romance

Everyone enjoys a good love story; that’s why the romance genre is so popular. According to Romance Writers of America, a romance novel must have “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” Here’s a breakdown of the two:

  • A Central Love Story: Two main characters overcome challenges to fall in love. They are generally from different worlds or have multiple setbacks on their path to happiness. It can include unlimited subplots as long as the love quest is the main focus of the romance novel.
  • An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: After all obstacles are overcome, the two lovers enjoy a lifetime of happiness with an uplifting and heartwarming ending. This leaves readers with the sense that all is right in the world and love can triumph over all.
two lovers on a beach

Star-crossed lovers always prevail in romance literature.

Some fiction critics say writing a love story today may be harder than it was for Shakespeare because in his time, it was easier for obstacles to be placed between two star-crossed lovers due to rigid class distinctions. We may have fewer class-based challenges in our society today, but writers can still place plenty of obstacles between two characters in the modern age to create a captivating love story. Here are four tips.

  1. Start an Adventure: Create a new world (or two!) in which your characters will live. Dream up lots of details for your characters to interact with including their environment, the time period and weather. Take some time outside observing the world around you before you write. Imagine as if you were the main character, longing to meet your true love. What details would you be paying attention to?
  2. Love at First Sight: Creating a first meeting for your characters is essential. Even if your characters don’t fall in love on their first meeting, create a memorable time in which they first begin to fall in love. Make the initial meeting something your characters will replay over and over in their heads; your readers will get lost in the moment as well.
  3. Let Go of Your Inhibitions: This is a love story, so really let yourself fall into it. Fully invest in the magical moments where the characters fall in love. Readers of love stories want to you to take them on the roller coaster ride with you; don’t be afraid to hold back and create suspense, even during the love scenes.
  4. The Final Stage of Love: Decide how you want your characters to culminate their relationship at the end of your story. Do you want them to ride off into the sunset together? Do they die tragically? Do they have children that will allow you to write an epilogue or sequel? You don’t have to set out writing a love story with this answer in mind, you can see how the story naturally progresses as you go.

These are only a few of the major fiction genres; there are hundreds more categories and subcategories including Coming of Age, Short Stories, Sports, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Thrillers, Westerns, Historical Fiction, Dystopian and more; we’ll dive into those later. If you’re looking for a great new fiction novel, stay tuned for details on my upcoming book, At Home Among Sinners, which will be published soon!

 

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