Genre 101: Major Genres – Branches on a Tree

I know you’re all eager to dive into learning the boundaries and conventions of specific genres.  So am I!  But you’ll have to wait a little bit longer because before I do that, I want to introduce the major genres of fiction.  Specifically, prose fiction, though poetry and drama could be used to tell the same story in any genre as prose.

#19 Genres 2b

For example:

  • Trunk: fiction
  • Primary branches: major genres  [see list below]
  • Secondary branches: main subgenres.  [i.e. historical fantasy]
  • Tertiary twigs: divisions of subgenres  [i.e. Ancient fantasy, Medieval fantasy]

When you casually describe your story or a book you’ve read to someone, you usually state what major genre into which it falls.  For example, the Ranger’s Apprentice series is adventure.  (It’s often called fantasy, but since there is no magic, that’s technically incorrect.)  Harry Potter is fantasy.  Sherlock Holmes is mystery.

In this series I’ll be elaborating in depth on these genres and their sub-genres, as well as discussing a few minor genres, but I strongly encourage familiarizing yourself with this list if you don’t already know it.

  • Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Crime
  • Fable
  • Fairy Tale
  • Fantasy
  • Folk Tale
  • Historical Fiction
  • Horror
  • Legend
  • Mystery
  • Mythology
  • Realistic
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
  • Tall Tale
  • Western

Nearly all prose fiction can be divided into one of these genres, or a cross of some of them.  Most of these are self explanatory, but all will have a full description in their respective posts.

In addition, coming up are posts that will hopefully shed light on a few things I have at one time or another been quite confused by:

  1. What do you call a story if it is set in an alternate world but contains no magic?
  2. What is the difference between the mystery genre and the crime genre?
  3. Is there actually a difference between thriller and suspense… or is suspense a genre made up by literary gremlins to keep us all hugely confused?  [Entirely possible, in my opinion, even if not plausible.]

FYI: a google search will turn up innumerable classifications of literary genres, some of which differ slightly from my layout of the tree.  There are very few hard and fast rules in genre classification.  That’s part of why it’s so often confusing.  My aim is not to create new lines or rules, but to brush away the dust to more clearly define what lines do exist.  To the best of my knowledge, I have not contradicted any outright rules, but I do elaborate on some of them.

Next week: the post for which several of you are waiting… let’s talk fantasy!

Until then, Merry Writing!


2 thoughts on “Genre 101: Major Genres – Branches on a Tree

  1. Deborah O'Carroll says:

    “What do you call a story if it is set in an alternate world but contains no magic?” DO TELL MY DEAR. I WOULD DEARLY LOVE TO KNOW.

    Ahem. This blog series sounds absolutely fabulous. I cannot wait. 😀 (Also, the literary gremlins. XD I blame eeeeverything on them…)

    Liked by 1 person

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