Monday, April 26, 2010

Attempting to List Genres

So the other day at book club, one of the ladies there said, "You know what I wish? I wish one of you bloggers would do a post explaining those genre things... because I can't keep them all straight!"

I thought that was an excellent idea. But who's to say I can keep them all straight either? In fact, I'm pretty sure I can't, but I thought it would be fun to try.

To begin with, there's two basic genres, fiction and non. Each one is broken down into their own sub genres and each of those has even more sub genres. But since I'd like to try and keep this list on the simple side, I'll probably skip many of them. Anyway, let's see how I do:

FICTION: a made up, not true, story
  • literary fiction: a realistic story in the present, familiar world, with high literary merit. (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)
  • contemporary fiction: basically the same as literary fiction, but more your normal "run of the mill" current novel (My Sister's Keeper)
  • fantasy: a story taking place in a made up world where magic rules the day (Lord of the Rings)
  • paranormal: a story where the some characters are supernatural (Twilight)
  • science fiction: a story where science and technolgoy rule the day (Ender's Game)
  • apocalyptic: a story about people who survive an "end of the world" event (The Road)
  • mystery: a story where the solving of a crime (usually) drives the plot (One for the Money). A popular sort of mystery, called a cozy mystery, is where there's very little graphic violence and stories end happily ever after.
  • classics: a book that's stood the test of time (Pride and Prejudice)
  • historical fiction: a true to life story that takes place in the past (The Help)
  • westerns: a story about the forging of the western frontier (Lonesome Dove)
  • romance: where relationships drive the plot (The Notebook)
  • women's fiction: also known as chick lit where the story is about a strong (usually) female character and her relationships and problems (Good Grief)
  • dystopia: a "what if" story about a future and/or alternate world (The Hunger Games)
  • horror: where something scary or shocking drives the story (The Shining)
  • thriller/suspense: where an exciting plot drives the story (The DaVinci Code)
  • picture book: where pictures are worth a thousand words! (Where the Wild Things Are)
  • fairy tales and folklore: tradition stories from all around the world (Beauty and the Beast)
  • drama: a story in play form (The Crucible)
  • short stories: a complete story in simple form (The Lottery)
  • poetry: telling an idea in verse form (The Road Not Taken)

NON FICTION: a real life, true story or as we call them at our house a "learning" book
  • memoirs: a person reflects on a part of their life
  • biographies: someone writes the live of someone else
  • autobiographies: a perons writes about their whole life, themselves
  • travel: real stories about the author's travel adventures
  • how to's: books that teach you how to do something!
  • true crime: books that tell you the real and true story of a famous (usually) crime
  • informational book: any non-fiction book that teaches you about something

There's also the marketing categories, or, a way to let booksellers and librarians know what section in which to shelf the book, and to let readers know a basic idea of what may be contained in the book.
  • General (adult) Fiction
  • YA (teen) Fiction: written for and about teens usually 12 to 14 and up
  • Middle Grade (juvenile) Fiction: written for and about kids 9 to 12
  • Intermediate Fiction: written for and about kids 5 to 9
  • Picture Books: written (and illustrated) for kids of all ages!
Some of the sources I used if you want to learn more:

Genres as defined by the California Department of Education
An interesting Wikipedia article on genre
An extensive list from Spark Notes

So, what do you think? Where did I go wrong? Or is this pretty much how you envision the genre layout too? I know I left sub genres out... which ones do you think I ought to include? Epic fantasy, urban fantasy, steam punk, space opera, family saga, historical romance, cozy mystery, Christian fiction, magic realism, etc? Do you think dystopian and apocalyptic should go under a certain category, or be their own? Did I leave out any major main genre category? I'd LOVE some feedback!

Updated to add: a category to separate contemporary fiction and literary fiction


  1. I think your definition of literary fiction and your example of My Sister's Keeper belong rather to the genre of contemporary fiction. TO me, literary fiction implies a certain level of "seriousness" and literary merit.

  2. See, now those two genres I sort of always thought were used interchangeably. Yet, I know they aren't really the same thing. But I have NO idea how to describe them.

  3. I think you did a good job here, Suey. Some libraries divide their fiction out between genres and some do not. There are, of course, sub-genres under these. Mystery is one I know quite a bit about. There might be cozies, police procedurals, historical, etc., etc.

    By the time you finish, you could be a book cataloguer. LOL

  4. Holy cow, it seems like you covered everything. I never knew there were so many subgenres. That's crazy.

    Great post, Suey! I'll have to refer back to this often.

  5. Definitely you don't want to start with subgenres - you could go one forever. Trust me. Good basic list though! I'm not sure about the literary fiction genre either, but I'm sure you'll figure that out!

  6. I agree with Lenore, I'd put "My Sister's Keeper" under 'Contemporary Fiction' or 'Women's Fiction,' not under 'Literary Fiction.' I'm not sure there is a great definition to differentiate, though, it is sort of a 'know it when I read it' sort of thing.

  7. What a wonderful list. I know you haven't put sub-genres but Cozy Mysteries are very popular. Agatha Christie, Deborah Crombie, M.C. Beaton.
    Thanks for putting this together.
    Ann Summerville
    Cozy In Texas

  8. A very comprehensive list. Amazing. I agree with the Contemporary Lit/Literary Fiction divide. Literary fiction to me is the sort of stuff that wins Booker/Pulitzer Prizes. Ian McEwan's books come to mind.

  9. I've edited my post to add separate categories for literary fiction and contemporary fiction. Very interesting to see you all bring that up. It's actually been a bit a puzzle to me, that very question of those two sorts of books!

    Editing to add a few more other categories too, based on your feedback. Thanks everyone!

  10. I never really thought of how many different genres there are within fiction. A lot is the answer!

  11. Wow there are so many! What a great job! No wonder your friend wanted some assistance :)

  12. I really like your descriptions. I tend to get apocalyptic stories and dystopias mixed up myself. You could mention urban fantasy. And I wonder exactly what falls within "speculative fiction" too.

  13. Interesting lists! I think I'd add "narrative nonfiction" or "literary journalism" to your nonfiction list, defined as nonfiction books that use the techniques of fiction to tell a story. Travel and True Crime can sometimes fit in that genre, but I think there are plenty of other nonfiction books that are more stylistic than informational that would fit into those categories.



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