Books and Glasses

Fiction is NOT a Genre…

Recently, I was skimming through a fellow editor’s website (who shall remain nameless) and encountered a page where people were listing the titles of their manuscripts and their respective genres. OMG, the number of people that listed their genre as FICTION…

People, FICTION is NOT a genre. It tells us nothing about your story, except for the fact that it’s made up. And it’s not good enough to tell us the you write Young Adult or Middle-Grade either. All this tells us is who your target audience is.  Let’s face it, a science fiction story is very different to a western. (However, you could have a Western SciFi — Firefly is the perfect example of this sub-genre.) A Young Adult SciFi and a Middle-Grade SciFi, on the other hand, will contain similar elements, all related to the SciFi genre.

In my post Young Adult: A Category or a Genre?, I discussed the differences between Middle-Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and Adult, pointing out how these terms relate only to your target audience age bracket. However, it has become obvious to me that there seems to be even more confusion about this beast known as Genre.

According to Merriam-Webster, a genre is a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. I suppose one can successfully argue that fiction is a genre, because the content is made up, but it still tells me nothing about your story — it gives me no clue as to whether I might actually be interested in reading it. It gives no indication of what section in the bookstore that it will likely be shelved.

The main genres of fictional literature are as follows:

  • Romance
  • Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Mystery / Crime
  • Horror
  • Suspense/Thriller
  • Historical (i.e. Western, Edwardian, Medieval, etc.)

Each of these genres has a list of sub-genres and cross-overs that can seriously do the head in just thinking about it. Below is just a few of the sub-genres.


The main plot of a romance novel focuses on the romantic relationship between the hero and the heroine. The story must finish in a positive and optimistic way, or it can’t be classified a romance. (Romantic stories with a tragic ending are classified Woman’s Fiction.) There are so many sub-genres of romance that I’ve lost count, but here are just a few.

  • Contemporary romance involves any romance that takes place after World War II. However, contemporary settings are more commonly of the modern technological era.
  • Historical romance is a broad category as the historical period can be in any era, ranging from ancient societies through to the 19th century.
  • Romantic suspense is a romantic story that contains elements of mystery. Typically, the heroine is the victim of a crime, and works with the hero to solve the case and bring the real villain to justice.
  • Paranormal romance is a blend of fantasy and romance. Typically elements such as vampires, werewolves or the like are woven into the story.

Fantasy uses magical or other supernatural elements as a main plot element within the story. Many fantasy stories are set in imaginary worlds, but they don’t always have witches, elves, or magical rings. Again, there are many different flavors of fantasy that one can easily get confused.

  • Urban fantasy stories are traditionally set in a contemporary setting, most commonly within a city, but involve elements such as witches, vampires or werewolves. Any supernatural creature in your modern-day story, and you’re looking at this sub-genre. Contemporary fantasy includes stories that are outside of the city.
  • High fantasy (sometimes called epic fantasy) is where the stories are set in a “secondary” world, that may have elements that resemble our own, but for the most part is very different. High fantasy stories commonly involve elves, goblins, dwarfs, demons and other such like creatures.
  • Mystical realism will be a story set in the “real” world, however a small element will contain some magical quality. The magical element within this sub-genre will be subtle.
  • Fairytale retellings are just that. They draw on fairytale elements, twisting them to suit the story.
Science Fiction

As the name suggests, science fiction will contain scientific elements within its main plot. One can be talking about space travel, or virtual reality, or even just internet monsters who goggle up all the data on your computer. There is no need for science fiction to be filled with massive equations or big terms that no one understands, but the science background must be evident.

  • Dystopian is traditionally a post-apocalypse setting, where the characters are trying to build the world again. The science may be soft or hard, and in some dystopian stories, magic will play a role, bringing in the fantasy elements.
  • Steampunk examines worlds where the machines, architecture and clothing designs are based off of the 19-century industrial revolution.
  • Space opera outlines the epic dramatic space stories, often involving many fire fights between ships. (Star Trek and Star Wars are classic space operas.)
  • Time travel novels typically span across multiple time periods, where the main character is travelling through time, just as the name suggests.
  • Near-future science fiction will be all of the stories that talk about internet crimes, virtual reality, hover cars and the like. It will be based on all the technologies that are just around the corner.

Trying to keep track of all the sub-genres I think would give anyone a headache. The trick is to know which of the main genre categories your writing belongs to, and then get your head around the sub-genres of just that category.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Young Adult: A Category or a Genre?

Whenever someone tells me that they write young adult, my first response is always, “That’s nice. So what genre do you write?” More often than not, I get a blank stare in response. The look in their eyes says it all.

“I just told you. I write young adult.”

At this point, I normally chuckle. “So you write fantasy.” I tend to make this conclusion because most of those I meet who have made this young adult classification mistake do write fantasy of some flavour or another.

However, sometimes I’ll get that affronted look. “No. I write young adult.” To this, I bow my head in shame.

The confusion between genre and category is something that plagues every new writer. We’re told that we have to categorise this piece of work that we have spent months, if not years, working on, but we don’t want to fit into a box — we want to be in a circle. So… the question is, what does young adult really mean?

Young Adult is a Category

When talking about young adult, new adult, adult or even middle-grade, one is referring to the overall themes that span those categories. These categories generally align with the age of the target audience, and hence the subject matter and language usage will match accordingly. Each category could be thought of as follows:

  • Readers are typically aged from 8 – 12.
  • Subjects delve into stories about finding the crowd that we belong to, finding like-minded friends and not feeling so isolated.
  • Many stories have external factors that drive the story.
  • Sexual content is restricted to hand holding and possibly that first kiss (puppy love).
  • Examples: Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant, Dark Lord, Lemony Snicket, Alex Rider, etc.
Young Adult
  • Target audience is 12 – 18 years old.
  • Subjects tend to be about finding our sense of self. Who are we without the crowd? How can we shine on our own?
  • Stories are commonly on controversial subjects, and involve romantic story subplots.
  • Examples: Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Twilight, Divergent, Hunger Games, Eragon, etc.
New Adult
  • This particular category causes the most confusion. The term has only been around since 2009.
  • Target audience is 18 – 25 years old.
  • Stories are about finding our place in the world as a whole. We know who we are, but how can we contribute to society?
  • Common settings include college, newlyweds, pregnancy, etc.
  • While a large number of new adult books fall into the romance genre, it is not restricted to that genre. (However, you ask some agents/publishers and they will say that it is. Go figure.)
  • Examples: Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, Beautiful Disaster, etc.
  • Adult encompasses all of the above and much more.
  • No subject matter is out of bounds for adult stories.

There are some writers that will insist that protagonists need to be the age of the intended target, but this is a general trend and not a rule. What age should the protagonist of adult stories be? I have seen protagonists as young as five, granted it’s not that common, but why should I restrict my reading to characters that are 40 years old? Just because your character is of a certain age doesn’t mean that your story is automatically for a particular age-group audience.

The same can be said about any of the other categories. If a protagonist needs to be of a certain age for the character’s back story to be believable, then so be it. As long as the themes fit within the category, you will find that the story will still have its home.

Understanding this age category clarification is important within the publishing industry as it will define what section of the book store that your book will be found in. However, it should be noted that even these categories don’t always dictate where a book is placed. Within my local book store, new adult doesn’t have it’s own section. We have young reader, teen reader and adult. Within young reader, it’s either beginner readers or chapter books. Teen-reader books consist of anything from Vampire Academy and Eragon through to Alex Rider and Dark Lord, lumping middle-grade and young adult together in the same section.

To complicate matters, you encounter books such as Harry Potter, which starts as a middle-grade, but is definitely a young adult by the end of the series. However, in my local book store, it’s not a problem as the entire series would be classified teen reader.

In the end, you, as the writer, should think about the ages you would feel comfortable reading your stories. Anything that contains graphic violence or explicit sex should be categorised as new adult at least, however, given the shelving system in my local book store, I’d be inclined to use adult. Regardless, it definitely would not be middle-grade or young adult. There is no way I’d want something of that nature to be read by my own teenage children. And don’t be afraid to get the classification wrong. A publisher will have their own take on where a book should be shelved, they just use the author’s classification for some guidance.

Perhaps in the future, I will delve into the confusion about genre and sub-genres. Now that’s a topic that really brings on blank stares.

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P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ below. You can read other posts like it here.

© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016