In the beginning, there was the Narrative, the story being told. Then things got complicated.

Genre (n): categories (and subcategories) of Narratives that have similar technique, style, form, and/or content

The two broadest divisions of genre are Fiction and Nonfiction.

Fiction (n): the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, especially in prose form.

Nonfiction (n): the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, including biography, history, and the essay

In short, Fiction is a Narrative that is imagined. It is, at least in part, made up by the writer. Nonfiction is a Narrative that is (mostly) an account of events that actually occurred, or opinions on those real events. Nonfiction is history; Fiction is a work of the imagination, Narrative dwelling in the great What If.

Genre may be specific to the length of the Narrative as well, so here are the different definitions of story length:


Ok. Ready to define some genres? Let’s begin!

NOTE: This is not a perfect list. We will be updating it as we go. Please let us know if we’ve missed something, or if you see any inconsistencies in the definitions, spelling, structure, grammar, etc.

Action/Adventure: Action/Adventure stories include lots of activity, and high-concept effects. Historically, these were aimed at male readers, but this is no longer the case. Action/Adventure stories are fast-paced, designed for pure audience escapism, and primarily plot driven. Elements may include: a quest, lots of physical action, exotic locales, etc. Themes for action may include: Revenge (hero wants revenge against wrongs done to him); Savior (hero will save the day in the form of a protector); Superhero (larger than life protector with exceptional powers and prowess as well); the Underdog (a misjudged, perhaps underestimated hero, who may have no realized exceptional power). Themes for Adventure may include: Discovery (the hero finds something thought impossible to prove the existence of); Expeditions (the hero is venturing into the unknown); Treasure Hunts (the hero is searching for something, a fortune in gold or an rare icon). Adventures are filled with risk and the unknown, something outside the ordinary experience and that may be hazardous. (Ex. Indiana Jones, James Bond). Today’s Action/Adventure might also include such heroine-focused adventurers as Lara Croft.

Children: There are mystery children’s stories, journey children’s stories, etc. These stories are geared toward a specific audience at a specific reading and comprehension level. Themes include: Accomplishment (the hero or heroine did something all by him or herself); Animals (many or all of the characters may be animals as in, for example, “Charlotte’s Web”); Special Beings (as the Main Character may meet up with a wolf, a fairy, Santa Claus, or any other type of unusual character). Categories include: Picture Books (pre-readers, ages infant-5); Early Reader Books (ages 5-7); Chapter Books (short chapter books, ages 7-9; longer chapter books, ages 9-12) overall for ages 7-11; and Young-Adult Fiction (ages 13-18).
Sub-genres include:

Comedy: Usually exaggerate situations, language, and characters for effect.
Sub-genres include:

Crime: Centered on characters that have done something wrong or are at least accused of doing so as the real criminal gets away. Often times, the criminals feel they operate outside the law and are entitled to what they have stolen or justified in what they have done.

Diary/Journal: First-person P.O.V. accounts given in diary entries written by the main character. These accounts are presented as being the true thoughts of the main character. The diary can take up the entire story or just be small entries sprinkled throughout the story. Think Go Ask Alice.

Drama: Serious stories that portray realistic characters in realistic settings. Can also be over-the-top, exaggerating the seriousness of the problem and the character’s reactions to those problems.
Sub-genres include:

Erotica: Adult Fantasy Fiction which includes frank language and sexual situations. Fully-realized plot, sensual, yet explicit language.
Associated genres include:

Experimental: Innovative in subject matter and style; avant-garde, non-formulaic, usually literary material.

Fantasy: Transcend the bounds of human possibility and physical laws, moving into the magical realms and otherworld dimensions. Magic, myth, and impossibilities abound. Other worlds are explored, characters may have supernatural powers, and the laws of physics are challenged. Anything is possible.
Sub-genres include:

Folk Tales/Fairy Tales: Stories that have been passed down to us over the years by real people. There are many types of folk tales, including fables, tall tales, myths, and fairy tales.
Sub-genres include:

Gothic: Stories of the macabre that invoke terror. Feature terrifying experiences in ancient locations such as castles, crypts, and dungeons. These stories often examine gender roles, combining elements of both Horror and Romance. Prominent features of Gothic Fiction include terror (both psychological and physical), mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and gothic architecture, castles, darkness, death, decay, doubles, madness, secrets, and hereditary curses. The stock characters of Gothic Fiction include tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs, Byronic heroes, persecuted maidens, femmes fatales, madwomen, magicians, vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons, revenants, ghosts, perambulating skeletons, the Wandering Jew, and the Devil himself.

Graphic Novel: A book (original or adapted) that takes the form of a long comic strip or heavily illustrated story of 40 pages or more, produced in paperback. Though called a novel, these can also be works of Nonfiction.
Related genres include:

Historical/Epic: Mixes detailed historical research with imagined characters. Epics are often Historical in nature and cover a large expanse of time set against a rich, vast setting. Think Gone With The Wind.

Horror: Meant to frighten the audience. Challenging common fears works best because people can relate to them, such as being left alone in the dark, having a car break down in the middle of the night on a deserted street, or getting into an elevator with a scary-looking man. Themes may include: Dark Aspects of Life (other types of Horror expose the darker, more sinister aspects of human nature); Psychological (this type of horror plays with the reader’s mind. Think Dial M for Murder. It is the helpless situation that evokes fear); Violence (many horror stories have violence or the threat of violence).
Sub-genres include:

Inspirational: Spiritually-themed books meant to inspire readers into a new way of thinking, acting, or feeling. Inspirational books may include some of the following themes: Apocalyptic Fiction (see also: Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres), Bible or other religious study, book of hours, ministerial novel, concordance, commentary, devotionals, illuminated manuscripts, martyrology, angelology, spiritual thrillers, prayer books, etc.
Sub-genres include:

Literary: A category of Fiction which employs more sophisticated technique, driven predominantly by character development rather than action in the plot. Eloquent expression and philosophical tones.
Sub-genres include:

Military/War Fiction: A novel in which the primary theme/action/focus of the plot takes place in a field of armed combat, or in a domestic setting (or home front) where the characters are engaged with the preparations for, or recovery from, war.

Musical: Usually films and plays that use song and dance to convey significant parts of the story.

Mystery: Includes a crime, detective(s) and/or private investigators, an investigation process to uncover the crime, and finally the identification of the culprit.
Sub-genres include:

Mainstream: Fiction which appeals to a more general reading audience, versus Literary or Genre Fiction. Mainstream is more plot-driven than Literary Fiction and less formulaic than Genre Fiction. Often novels of ordinary life directed toward the broadest possible audience, written in easily recognized and understood language.

Nonfiction writing includes the following sub-genres:

Poetry/Prose: Have a rhythm and meter. Poems create imagery. May be humorous, serious, lyrical, or narrative (tells a story - referred to as prose). Meter, rhyme, and intonation are prevalent tools of poetry. Styles of rhyme may include ballads, sonnets, rhyming couplets. The form of a poem may include: Sonnet, Jintishi, Sestina, Villanelle, Pantoum, Rondeau, Tanka, Haiku, Ruba’i, Sijo, Ode, Ghazal, etc.
Includes the following sub-genres:

Pornography: Adult explicit, sexual Fantasy Fiction. Gritty, frank language.

Romance: A romance centers around the romantic relationship of the main characters. Traditional Romances include a “happily ever after” (HEA) ending. Not all Romances are Traditional Romances - some may include HEA, HEA-for-now, opened-ended possibilities. Some Non-traditional Romances may be referred to as “Dark Romances.

Sub-genres include:

Speculative Fiction: All-inclusive term for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

Science Fiction/Futuristic: Based on newly emerging or futuristic technological, and/or environmental or biological advances. Related to science, technology, space, and the future. Think Minority Report, Star Trek. Science Fiction has been specifically identified as those stories with plots rooted in science and technology. Note Futuristic may not necessarily contain the same degree of technological aspects/elements as Science Fiction, but it would take place at a future time.
Sub-genres include:

Western: Involve settings in the American West, with a feeling of the open range. Westerns have themes of honor, redemption, revenge, and finding one’s identity or place in life.
Sub-genres include:

Women’s Fiction: As Action/Adventure may be primarily geared toward the male readership, Women’s Fiction would be primarily targeted to the female readership. The relationships, situations, etc., are about women, and told from a woman’s point of view. Women’s Fiction may encompass a broad-ranging array of themes and genre elements, including women Detectives/Mysteries, Inspirational, Mainstream Fiction, etc. Think Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Sub-genres include:

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    Need this for my Film 130 class! Thank you!