Genre 101: A Neophyte’s Field Guide to Genre

From down the corridors of writing history, the word ‘genre’ whispers.

91% of new writers cover their ears and shriek.

I swoop into the class hall, purple smoke swirling around me, and wave a black wand.  Golden stars shimmer to the floor and everyone quietly takes their seats as I begin my lecture in a voice of night.

Ridiculous drama aside, just what does ‘genre’ mean?
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, genre is defined as:
a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.

For example, no matter what the individual plot variances are in each book, all high fantasy novels are set in a world other than our own.  Urban fantasy revolves around a city setting.  Regency novels are always set between the years of 1811-1820.

Each genre tends to have certain conventions.  In Regency romance, the ‘bad boys’ are known as rakes.  Not every book that is classified into a particular genre will have any or all of the conventions specific to it, but they usually include some.

What genre is NOT:

  • type: fiction, nonfiction
  • age category: Children, Young Adult, Middle-grade, New Adult
  • format: graphic novel, serialized story


#17 genre intro

Classifying stories into genres began in Ancient Greece, where literature was divided into poetry or prose, each with their own individual speech patterns.  Today, we have three general divisions of type: prose, poetry, and drama.  Each of those is divided further by general and then specific genre, which is then also subdivided.

For example: Medieval fantasy is a subdivision of Historical fantasy, which in turn is a subgenre of Fantasy.

Why are books classified by genre?
Because it’s easy identification for writers, readers, and publishers.  If a reader prefers urban fantasy novels, they’ll do a search on Amazon or Goodreads for that genre.  If they like historical fantasy, they’re going to search for that.  If a writer wishes to write detective novels, they can look for books and articles specifically teaching that, instead of having to read about writing every single genre of fiction.  Publishers can specialize, choosing to print only children’s fiction, or only horror books.  By focusing and concentrating their efforts, they can offer a superior product, instead of trying to publish everything.

Over the next several Fridays, I’ll highlight the horizons and boundaries of each genre, profile its subgenres, debunk common misconceptions about genre conventions, discuss genre-crossing, and show you how to classify your own writing.


Merry Writing… and may you always find the genre you seek!


6 thoughts on “Genre 101: A Neophyte’s Field Guide to Genre

  1. Brie Donning says:

    I really need this coming series of posts. Genre’s can be so complicated. (or maybe I just write line blurring books) Perhaps this will help.
    The one thing that I find most confusing is the two definitions or Historical Fantasy. Sometime It means Historical fiction with magic added in. Other times it means stories with a historical feel that are set in a made up world, but have very few fantastical elements.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Brie Donning says:

        I’m sure it will. I just wish there was another term for fantasy that doesn’t rely on magic. I think that can sometimes be called low fantasy, though that tends to be grittier books which get really deep into the nasty side of life and don’t have a heroic or cheerful feel to them

        Liked by 1 person

        1. intuitivewritingguide says:

          I actually have a post planned to address that very thing! I know more than one person who writes books about ‘fantasy’-type worlds but don’t contain magic, and I’ve also been frustrated by not knowing what to call them.


  2. Nolie Alcarturiel says:

    Ooh yes, this will be very helpful. Brie’s right about the difficulty of defining Historical Fantasy. By one definition, if you were to write about the plague of fiery dragons in England in 793, that could be historical fantasy, even if you stuck to the historical facts. So it seems a bit lacking, or equivocal might be a better word.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s