What’s the Word on Genres?

Depending on where you look for the information, genre is defined as “a literary species or form,” “a distinctive type or category, especially of literary composition,” and “a style of literary, musical or artistic work.”

“All of the arts consist of genres. To name some of the outstanding types: in painting, there are the landscape, the still life, the portrait; in music there are the sonata, the symphony, the song; in film we have the domestic comedy, the horror/thriller, the Western.”* Did you notice this excerpt doesn’t attempt to break down literary genre? It isn’t easy. I have several lists detailing the components of various genres, no two of them identical. Even if we could create a comprehensive list, many of us would probably be hard pressed to figure out exactly where our novels fit, anyway.

Wordle: Genre

For purposes of entering their Genesis Contest the American Christian Fiction Writers website breaks fiction down to these categories:

  • Contemporary Fiction
  • Contemporary Romance (includes romantic comedy)
  • Historical Fiction (not romance)
  • Historical Romance
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Speculative Fiction
  • Women’s Fiction
  • Young Adult

A description of each category is on the ACFW website FAQ page, item #19.

Lucienne Diver is an agent at The Knight Agency. Over on her Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings blog way back in January 2009 she blogged about “Genres and Subgenres and Memes, Oh My!” The post doesn’t include non-fiction but is a detailed look at the breakdown of most major adult fiction genres (excluding YA).

These are just two places offering information to demystify genres. I know there are many others. My point is, we need to know where our writing fits in, if for no other reason than to correctly identify the right agent to represent it, the right place to market it, and in which bookstore section it will be located once buyers begin to look for it.

Have you identified your book’s appropriate genre? What will you do if it crosses two or more genres?


*A Guide to the Study of Literature: A Companion Text for Core Studies 6, Landmarks of Literature, English Department, Brooklyn College.
** Word Cloud designed at Wordle.net


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

13 thoughts on “What’s the Word on Genres?

  1. Interesting question. My novel fits into the mystery genre but it is also a story about a family, a Christian family, a genre of its own. I think, because it is about family and the main character is an eight-year-old boy, it may find its readership primarily to be women of all ages, including young girls and teenage girls. I am hoping that my novel will crossover into mainstream mystery and be made into a movie. I hope. Ha! It is action packed and boy meets dog, too.

  2. Carol, Thanks for the post and the links. They may help me to figure out the definitions. I really get confused by the terms. Deciphering between fiction and non-fiction is about as far as I go.

    Carol Ann, I love your comment. My current WIP is about a Quaker family during the American Revolution. Although it fits into historical, it is really more about the family dynamics when circumstances find members with differing convictions regarding a course of action. And it includes two romances as well. I’m just sure there’s a movie in there somewhere.

  3. I’m in the Mystery/Suspence/Thriller genre. But I’m branching out with my current WIP. God has always had a presence in my stories, but this book is more concerned with character development than the previous ones and how their angry toward God has brought them to this point in their lives. Though, I didn’t realize that until just lately. LOL. I’m not very objective when it comes to my own writing.

    Over at Alexandra Sokoloff’s blog, she’s talking about theme this week. Great blogger that Alex. Anyway, she says if you can name your theme, you’re that much closer to understand how to name your genre and pitch your story. If I had to pinpoint the theme of my next book Broken But Not Dead, I’d stumble and fall and yell out in the nick of time, “Broken is about letting go of pain and learning to love life again. It’s about searching for the meaning of one’s life.” Because thoughout the story Brendell is searching for her stalker, a stalker that is forcing her to search for the meaning of her life. So genre is like a search for the story. If it’s Christian than 9 times out of 10 it’s a search for the goodness of God, the faith associated with accepting Jesus.

    But honestly, I’m just guessing. To cross more than one genre is to be true to human nature. We’re all searching for something.

  4. Dave – ahahaha! 😉

    My current WIP blends genres (or sub-genres, really — it’s YA, but YA includes a lot of sub-genres!). When it comes time to pitch it (not in the trash, hopefully, but to agents), I figure I’ll label it with the most dominant genre and let the agent and/or marketing folks figure out the rest.

  5. I am Women’s Fiction though struggled with this current one as I started in the male POV so I had to add a chapter and start with the female.

  6. Historical fiction and women’s fiction. It’s be fun to write a mystery. My very first story was a mystery. I ended up burning it when the newspaper rejected it. I was a kid. I wish I still had it.

  7. As Shari points out YA includes a lot of sub-genres. My daughter and I had this conversation a few weeks back. At the moment I’m working on historical YA fiction.

  8. I’m reading and appreciating all your comments, but can’t make it around to reply this weekend. I’ll be back to ‘chat’ later on Monday. In the meantime, have a blessed Thanksgiving, everyone.

  9. Turns out, even if you think you know what genre you are writing, your publisher may decide it’s a different one!
    Mostly genre is about where to shelve it in the bookstore and what keywords and categories to apply on Amazon.
    Young adult has grown so much in the marketplace, it’s starting to be defined along subgenre lines–paranormal, fantasy, historical, contemporary, etc.

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