If you’ve ever queried agents, you’ll know how important defining the genre of your book is.
But how do you figure out which genre your book falls into?
MJ started it off by talking about the difference between paranormal and horror.
Paranormal conjures ideas of good and evil. I think of it as being an intentional force either perpetrated by a living or dead being for good or evil purposes.
According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex online the word paranormal is an adjective defined as beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation- of or pertaining to events or perceptions occurring without scientific explanation, as clairvoyance or extrasensory perception.
Horror to me implies the macabre.
In my humble opinion the biggest differences between the genres would be this. In paranormal you don’t have to have anything “evil”- an author can choose to create a story with good shape shifters or psychics without any malevolent forces. I’m pretty certain if a reader picks up a horror book and it doesn’t horrify there’ll be great disappointment.
According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex online the word horror is a noun defined as a genre of fiction or other artistic work evoking suspense and horror, especially through the depiction of gruesome or supernatural elements.
Gordon continued by looking at supernatural vs paranormal.
I want to backup a degree or two from the straight comparison of paranormal and horror. I want to shift to supernatural vs. paranormal for a couple of reasons. There is a fantastic graphic floating around the internet with the horror genres and sub genres listed in a flow chart. I like it but don’t want to use someone else’s graphic without permission so I will describe it instead. The main horror sub genres listed are, Gore and Disturbing, Psychological, Killer, Monsters, Zombie, Paranormal. Wait a minute. At the bottom of the Paranormal category is Supernatural under Ghosts and Spirits, Haunted House, Possession, Devil ; Demon, Witches and Occult. All are under the banner of Horror.
Here is an ever important fact I will restate for the who knows how manieth time. Genre is more about marketing than anything else. Think I’m wrong, please show me evidence, I have a wide open mind. Whether it is a library (a historical building where people walked or rode horses to see paper books) or a book store (a historical building where people walked or rode horses to buy paper books), there has to be a way to group books so we don’t have to search through them all.
And Sheri explained why genre matters.
Genre is not just important to indie writers: it’s even more vital if you want a book deal someday. Because here’s a term that makes publishers, agents and editors very uncomfortable: “cross-genre.”
Cross-genre novels are considered much harder to market – making them less appealing to publishers, who would rather a writer be firmly in some identifiable genre camp – horror, thriller, romance, mystery, whatever – because it’s easier for them to market you.
Anyway, because genre is still very important in the traditional publishing world, if you’re an indie writer who’s interested in a book deal, my advice would be to try to narrow down your genre. Don’t try to be all things to all readers. Try to pick the genre you’re most comfortable with and focus on writing a book that fits into it. Because as a new writer, you’ll probably have a much easier time landing a book deal if you’re solidly in one camp or another.
If you’ve been having trouble that way – hearing the word ‘pass’ too many times or worse, getting no response from agents at all – consider that it might be that your work is too cross-genre. If that’s the case, and you still harbor dreams of becoming traditionally published, maybe you have to rethink your manuscript in terms of clearly defined genres. That might mean a quick polish – or a long edit – but it will probably get you closer to a traditional deal. If you’re confused about what to do, try to identify the type of book that you most like to read. Chances are, you’ll have an easier time customizing your manuscript to fit that particular genre.
Beyond that, try to focus on your ‘intention’ as a writer, as Gordon mentioned in his last post. Thriller and horror books are sometimes hard to distinguish. But as a writer, do you want to thrill readers? Leave them with relatively pleasant feelings of excitement, anticipation, even arousal? Or do you want to horrify readers? Terrify, disgust or disturb them? If that’s the case, you’re probably in the horror camp. Other common publishing genres – romance, mystery, historical, etc. – are a little easier to classify. Count yourself lucky if you naturally write a specific kind of book like this because traditional publishers will be much more drawn to you.
They have a lot more to say about the subject than the extracts here, so go to Gordon’s blog and join the discussion.
I did a little experiment on Wattpad to see how a book will fare if it straddles various genres.
All Wattpad “experts” will agree that if you want your book noticed, you have to publish at least once a week. Something to do with algorithms.
I launched Twisted Tales in January to see if multiple genres will work. A flash fiction piece from Ronel the Mythmaker was published every day until the 28th of February.
Mmm… when I published Just Deserts last year over a week, it climbed the rankings of Chicklit very quickly. Each chapter followed seamlessly into the next. The tags were clearly about themes you’d find in Chicklit. And, if I have to say so myself, it’s an awesome story.
Twisted Tales only has a couple of reads. It’s not on anyone’s reading list. It’s not ranking anywhere, even though the tags are absolutely about the content of the book.
The problem? Too many genres for one book. It has everything from High Fantasy to Chicklit. It’s too much.
My advice to myself (and anyone reading): pick a genre and stick to it. An anthology of Dark Fantasy stories would’ve done very well…
Back to Genre
I’m not going to go into the different types of non-fiction genres. I love my dictionaries, but that’s not what this post is about.
The thing that usually bothers me about genre – just like it bothers Sheri, Gordon, MJ and others – is the lack of a definite list with definitions. (Would make a great non-fiction reference book…) Questions like Paranormal vs Fantasy and Contemporary vs Realism and others are truly bothersome while drafting queries.
Genres, such as drama, historical fiction, horror, short story, essay and autobiography, are used to categorize books. These categories help readers and literary analysts understand the purpose of the book and how its contents should be interpreted.
Fiction books are categorized based on narrative style, plot, setting, characters and various other factors. For example, mystery novels contain a suspenseful plot as the characters solve a crime. Science fiction is characterized by unrealistic or futuristic laws of science, strange characters and an unusual setting, such as another planet or dimension. Fantasy often includes magic, animals and other worlds. Historical fiction has a realistic setting with fictional characters.
That’s helpful, even if the Fantasy part could do with subcategories…
Drama is the genre of literature that’s subject for compositions is dramatic art in the way it is represented. This genre is stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action.
Poetry is verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that evokes an emotional response from the reader. The art of poetry is rhythmical in composition, written or spoken. This genre of literature is for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.
Fantasy is the forming of mental images with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality.
Humor is the faculty of perceiving what is amusing or comical. Fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement which meant to entertain. This genre of literature can actually be seen and contained within all genres.
A Fable is a story about supernatural or extraordinary people Usually in the form of narration that demonstrates a useful truth. In Fables, animals often speak as humans that are legendary and supernatural tales.
Fairy Tales or wonder tales are a kind of folktale or fable. Sometimes the stories are about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children.
Science Fiction is a story based on impact of potential science, either actual or imagined. Science fiction is one of the genres of literature that is set in the future or on other planets.
Short Story is fiction of such briefness that is not able to support any subplots.
Realistic Fiction is a story that can actually happen and is true to real life.
Folklore are songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a person of “folk” that was handed down by word of mouth. Folklore is a genre of literature that is widely held, but false and based on unsubstantiated beliefs.
Historical Fiction is a story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting.
Horror is an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by literature that is frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting. Fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader.
A Tall Tale is a humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes who do the impossible with an here of nonchalance.
Legend is a story that sometimes of a national or folk hero. Legend is based on fact but also includes imaginative material.
Mystery is a genre of fiction that deals with the solution of a crime or the unraveling of secrets. Anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown.
Mythology is a type of legend or traditional narrative. This is often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods. A body of myths, as that of a particular people or that relating to a particular person.
Fiction in Verse is full-length novels with plot, subplots, themes, with major and minor characters. Fiction of verse is one of the genres of literature in which the narrative is usually presented in blank verse form.
The genre of Fiction can be defined as narrative literary works whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact. In fiction something is feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story.
Yeah, imagine querying your Young Adult Mythology or something like that. No. We need something more concrete, more specific. Let’s try again.
Children’s is defined by its own name. These books are for little kids, from toddlers on up to about eleven years of age, and usually feature characters in that age range (and/or childlike animals). They are usually big on pictures, and simple in word and theme. Familiar (if faraway) scenes, and gentle (or not) moral lessons, are paramount.
Fantasy is many things to many people. These tales contain at least one ‘fantastic’ element; something that it’s not ‘grown up’ to believe is real. The setting may be our own Earth or some imaginary realm. Often the characters (humans, and/or elves and more) can do magical things, thanks to some innate ‘talent’ or arcane secrets. Those of good character usually win through, if only in the long run.
Horror is the mood this genre seeks to invoke. From subtle anxiety to blood-splattered scenes, in these stories, something is just not right. Candor, teamwork, and chastity often aide the protagonists as they face sickly goo, unwanted penetration, and incipient insanity. In the end, the evil element (whether human or monstrous or paranormal) often wins, or (especially in its modern Hollywood form), is not decisively vanquished.
Mystery is what makes this genre interesting. There is a puzzle: an unsolved murder or serious crime, or some unexplained event, and both protagonist and reader get to figure it out, step by careful step. In virtually all cases, they do succeed. (These tales almost never feature a blue-collar type investigator, or a foolish criminal.)
Romance might be between a hunky sailor and a fair maiden, or a cynical vampire and a scrappy werewolf, but after a lot of sparks and trials, that is what they will secure. The settings and intensity may vary, but the overall ‘finding happiness together’ formula is familiar indeed. (Ideally, careful research has ensured detailed accuracy.)
Science Fiction is as big as, nay larger than, all of time and space. The scene might be a distant galaxy, or the far future, or a familiar downtown. (Rarely, a small town.) There is always something new and different; be it a handy invention, an alien visitor, or anything you can imagine — so long as it’s scientifically plausible. (Or, at least, it does not egregiously violate known science and physical laws.)
Thrillers (also Suspense), formerly called Action (or Adventure) stories, is a genre defined by extraordinary situations that summon an emotional thrill. The time might be the past or near future, and the setting exotic or familiar. In every case the characters are swept beyond a humdrum life, by their career or some unforeseen circumstance. Perils will surge, and blows are traded, but the hero wins in the end. (Often the author has special ‘inside’ knowledge — or if not, as with arcane conspiracies, it sure seems like it.)
Westerns is the only major genre defined by a specific time and place. Almost all are set west of the Missouri River, while some extend into Alaska or Mexico. Usually these take place between about 1800 and 1890. A few depict the early settlement of the Appalachians in the late 1500s, while a handful reach clear back to pre-Columbian (thus, pre-horse) times. The rugged hero (of any gender or ethnic type) will always endure, and face down adversity.
Young Adult tales are written for folks from about twelve to eighteen years of age. The protagonist is always of that age, as are most of the characters. He or she can live a bizarre magical life, or a dreary suburban one. There are few limits on the ‘issues’ dealt with, and readers will identify with the character’s inner travails as well. (Adults will enjoy the better ones.)
This is a better genre definition and they even have links for the subgenres of each. Though, excuse me if I’m being pedantic, but what’s the difference – the real difference – between Fantasy, Science Fiction, Magical Realism and Paranormal?
Goodreads seems to have an answer:
Paranormal books involve unusual experiences that lack a scientific explanation. Some popular subjects in paranormal books are supernatural creatures, ESP, clairvoyance, ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, and psychics.
A subgenre of paranormal books and of romances is paranormal romance. These books focus mainly on the romantic relationships with a background theme of vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, time travel, fantastical beings, and psychic abilities.
Fantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is generally distinguished from science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of technological and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three (collectively known as speculative fiction or science fiction/fantasy)
In its broadest sense, fantasy comprises works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians, from ancient myths and legends to many recent works embraced by a wide audience today, including Fantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is generally distinguished from science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of technological and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three (collectively known as speculative fiction or science fiction/fantasy)
In its broadest sense, fantasy comprises works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians, from ancient myths and legends to many recent works embraced by a wide audience today, including young adults, most of whom are represented by the works below.
Urban fantasy is a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of novels and stories with supernatural and/or magical elements set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings–as opposed to ‘traditional’ fantasy set in imaginary locations.
Many urban fantasy novels are told via a first-person narrative, and feature supernatural beings such as vampires, shapeshifters, fairies, witches, sorcerers, and demons. Urban fantasy stories tend to have a high amount of suspense and action, and sometimes include mystery, romance, humor and/or horror in the plotline.
Magical realism is a fiction genre in which magical elements blend to create a realistic atmosphere that accesses a deeper understanding of reality. The story explains these magical elements as normal occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.
Science fiction (abbreviated SF or sci-fi with varying punctuation and capitalization) is a broad genre of fiction that often involves speculations based on current or future science or technology. Science fiction is found in books, art, television, films, games, theatre, and other media. In organizational or marketing contexts, science fiction can be synonymous with the broader definition of speculative fiction, encompassing creative works incorporating imaginative elements not found in contemporary reality; this includes fantasy, horror and related genres.
Although the two genres are often conflated as science fiction/fantasy, science fiction differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”. Science fiction is largely based on writing entertainingly and rationally about alternate possibilities in settings that are contrary to known reality.
Michelle McLean did an interview with fellow writers and came up with a way to tell the difference between fantasy and paranormal.
Fantasy: Fantasy stories are set on other worlds or in other realities. You can have vampires or werewolves or fairies, but in general, fantasy creatures tend to be more…fantastic and mythological – dragons, gryphons, three-headed dog beasts. Magic is a huge element of fantasy stories. Here is a little test: if you can take away the “weird” in the story (i.e. the beasts, the magic) and the world you are left with is still not the normal, everyday world you know, it’s a fantasy story. Lord of the Rings is a fantasy.
Paranormal: Paranormal stories are set in the real world, the world as we know it…with a little extra thrown in. Vampires, shapeshifters, angels, demons, ghosts, psychics, mediums, telepaths…these all belong in the paranormal world. Use the same test as we used for the fantasy worlds…if you can take away the “weird” factors and you are left with our everyday world = paranormal. For example, if you take away the sparkling, gorgeous vampire, or vengeful ghost, and you are left with everyday Earth – your story is paranormal fiction. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake vampire books are examples of paranormal fiction.
Then I came across Urban Fantasy…a delightful genre that is actually one of my favorite to read and, lately, write…but is probably the biggest pain for me to identify. Because Urban Fantasy is actually fairly similar to Paranormal. In fact, many writers I spoke to use them interchangeably. With UF, you have the fantasy aspects, but they are set in our world like a paranormal…which completely negates the test we used on straight Fantasy and Paranormal.
So, how do you tell if a story is Paranormal or Urban Fantasy? Well, I took a little poll of the writers I know and most of them seem to agree the difference is MAGIC. If the story contains magical elements, it’s an Urban Fantasy. If it doesn’t, it’s Paranormal.
She has various examples and tests you can perform to determine in which genre your books falls into. Still confusing, but it’s almost making sense now…
Angelica Jackson has her own take on Urban Fantasy:
The simplest definition is that Urban Fantasy is a story with fantastical elements that takes place in an urban–and usually modern–setting. But by that definition, some of the earliest and canonical UF titles don’t actually make the cut. Some UF books are set in rural towns (as is my own Crow’s Rest), and some are set in cities–but in historic or future times. And then there’s the fact that paranormal stories, especially paranormal romance, often overlap UF enough that the two genres get lumped together on lists. So what separates urban fantasy from similar genres of paranormal, horror, romance, retold fairy tales, and even steampunk?
The website Best Fantasy Books has an answer to that question that I thought would be a great place to start: “Urban Fantasy is more of a hybrid of other genres than its own hard definition. Urban Fantasy tends to have a gritty atmosphere similar to crime fiction or noir, but mixes elements of mystery, romance, horror, and fantasy. As a result of its hybridity, authors have plenty of room to experiment and have fun.”
But like me, writer Emma Newman also takes issue with the “rule” about a city setting, and in an article on The Creative Penn blog she presents the definition that I like best:
“The way I conceptualize urban fantasy is magic and weird stuff creeping in at the edges of a world in which magic is not the norm. Everything appears normal until you walk down a particular alleyway after midnight on the third Tuesday of the month…The majority of the people who live there will have normal lives, oblivious to the magical all around them, hidden in plain sight.”
This Urban Fantasy genre sounds quite interesting.
Urban Fantasy books: Vampire Academy & Wicked Lovely. [When googling urban fantasy books, the covers look like there’s a lot of action and magic and creatures.]
Fantasy books: The Hobbit & Alice in Wonderland. [When googling fantasy books, it’s mostly dragons, wizards – think Harry Potter – and elves – probably in the Lord of the Rings way.] Harry Potter, The Iron King, Eragon – and for some weird reason: Charlotte’s Web. (Yeah, I know spiders don’t really spell out words in their webs…)
Paranormal books: Twilight & Vampire Academy (shows that Urban Fantasy and paranormal is very interchangeable) [Though I have to add: when googling paranormal books, all the covers look like they’re made for paranormal romance.]
Of course, Fantasy has a ton of subgenres. According to the Fantasy Community on Wattpad’s Handbook:
Contemporary Fantasy is any fantasy set within normal life and which may contain alternative worlds as well as magical beings and mystery. E.g. Harry Potter.
Dark Fantasy is often most closely associated with horror. It will feature a number of the same themes. Anne Rice is considered one of the queens of this genre with The Vampire Chronicles. Here the key is in tone and in the themes. And will often crossover with horror and paranormal. Dark fantasy, however, typically carries connotations of better developed and more detailed alternative world development ant the traditional horror or paranormal stories.
Gothic Fantasy stories are often categorized as horror. But it’s more than horror. It’s about mood an atmosphere as well as the setting. In Gothic stories, the setting and even the architecture are practically characters in a sense. Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker are masters of this genre.
Magical Realism often rides the border between high fantasy and low fantasy because it obviously incorporates magic within a realistic world that may or may not include an alternative world. Traditionally, these books include political commentary as well as mystery, suspense and intrigue.
Mythic fantasy is just as expansive as it sounds. It is any story that is based on or incorporates key elements of mythology. E.g. The Percy Jackson Series.
They have a lot more to say on these subgenres and others that I didn’t include. Worth a look if you’re planning on writing Fantasy. Oh, did I mention that Paranormal – according to the Fantasy Community – is actually a subgenre of Fantasy?
Still confused about genre?
This is the most comprehensive post I could find:
Deciding what genre your book falls in can be a daunting task. There are a LOT of genres out there, and many times (if not most times) your book is going to have elements of more than one genre. It’s best to stick to the main one or two when describing your book; but that still leaves you with the problem of deciding where your book would best fit. A good question to ask is, if you went into a bookstore, what section would your book be sitting in?
First of all, what is a genre?
Genre – basic definition – a literary term used to describe a group of works with similar characteristics such as characters, themes, and setting.
Seems easy enough. Until you see the list of genres 🙂 Now, let’s take a look at some definitions. There are more genres than you can shake a stick at – really. So this list nowhere near completes the possibilities, but these are the most common.
Chick-Lit: geared toward women, often urban settings, includes elements of romance, humor, professional struggles, relationships. Examples include Bridget Jones’s Diary and Sex and the City.
Contemporary: Mostly used to denote the setting. If you have a mystery that is set in present time, on this planet, etc, you could call it a Contemporary Mystery.
Experimental: Usually edgy in style or content. Pulp Fiction would be a good example.
Fantasy: Fantasy stories are set on other worlds or in other realities. You can have vampires or werewolves or fairies, but in general, fantasy creatures tend to be more…fantastic, mythological – dragons, gryphons, three-headed dog beasts. Magic is a huge element of fantasy stories. Here is a little test: if you can take away the “weird” in the story (i.e. the beasts, the magic) and the world you are left with is still not the normal, everyday world you know, it’s a fantasy story. Lord of the Rings is a fantasy.
—Urban Fantasy – this genre is actually closer to a paranormal than a fantasy. These stories deal with magical or paranormal elements in a real world, contemporary (or urban) setting. Many paranormal books could also be classified as Urban Fantasy, including Twilight, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake and Merry Gentry series, and The Dresden Files.
Horror: The plot usually contains threats to the main characters that often end in death or torture. Horror stories try to create a sense of horror, terror, and revulsion in its readers. This type of story doesn’t have to end happily. One or all of the good guys can lose. Stephen King’s The Shining is a great example.
Humor/Comedy: The main goal of this genre is to make the reader laugh. Often combined with other elements such as romance and action/adventure. Austin Powers and Men In Black are examples of humor.
Paranormal: Paranormal stories are set in the real world, the world as we know it…with a little extra thrown in. Vampires, shapeshifters, fairies, elves, witches, demons, gargoyles, ghosts, psychics, mediums, telepaths, time travelers…these all belong in the paranormal world. Use the same test as we used for the fantasy worlds…if you can take away the “weird” factors and you are left with our everyday world = paranormal. For example, if you take away the sparkling, gorgeous vampire, or vengeful ghost, or the time portal the main characters travel through, and you are left with everyday Earth – your story is paranormal fiction. Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse vampire books are examples of paranormal fiction.
Romance: The plot of a romance centers around a couple that fall in love and have a “happily ever after” ending. This is a must; there are no exceptions. If your couple is not happily in love and together at the end of your book, it’s not a romance. It might be a love story (in which case, it would go under women’s fiction) but a romance has to have a “happily ever after.” You can have subplots, but the main plotline must be about the couple’s romance. Now, there are so many subgenres to the Romance genre (many totally unique to romance) that I will do a separate post on these next week, so stay tuned.
Science-Fiction: This one is actually pretty self-explanatory. It’s fiction about science. The plot usually has something to do with science or technology and has to be within the realm of possibility. Stories are often set in the future or on other planets. Star Wars, Stargate and Star Trek fall in this category, as do I, Robot, Starship Troopers, Dune, Ender’s Game, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, A Wrinkle in Time, and Jurassic Park.
Thriller: More intense than suspense; the threat is often against a larger group than just the main character (threats against the community, a city, a country, the world). Usually about life and death situations where ordinary heroes are up against mastermind villains. Generally lots of action and plot twists. The Da Vinci Code, The Hunt for Red October and Enemy of the State are examples.
Once you have your genre down, you can pick your subgenres if necessary. However, do not list your book with more than three genres. If at all possible, keep it to two. You have to be able to narrow your book down. Remember our question. What shelf should it be on in a bookstore? It can only go in one section, so pick wisely. 🙂 You might have six different elements in your book, but stick to the main two.
Really, the only two instances three genres might be necessary is for historicals and Young Adults. One because it tells the time period and the other because it tells the age the book is geared toward.
There’s a lot more to the list and there’s even a discussion in the comments of this article that clears a lot of things up.
I hope that you’ve found this in-depth look at genre helpful. Figuring out where your book will be placed on a bookshelf isn’t as easy as it looks: if you could just say it is fantasy it’ll be great, but for the most part agents/editors/readers want to know exactly where it should go (next to Harry Potter or next to The Lord of the Rings?). Any advice you’d like to share about genres? I know that I didn’t cover everything – only the genres I’m interested in – but some of the articles I linked to do cover other genres too. Which genres are you interested in?