The Confusing World of Genres

I’ve always been intrigued by a book’s title. I mean, how awesome is AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie. For most of my life, that’s how I chose books. Or so I thought.


One day I stopped drooling over the shelves and shelves of books at my local bookstore and paid attention to my surroundings. I was smack dab in the middle of the adult mystery section. I was deep into a genre.

Ah! Genre. What is that? I never thought about it before I became a writer. As a kid, I remember books falling into four categories: mysteries, science fiction (which covered topics like Star Trek), fiction (which included everything else), and non-fiction. But now, the world of genres seems to have exploded.

Not only is there a long list of genres, but there are subgenres, crossovers, subgenres of crossovers, subgenres of subgenres of crossovers – but only if they occurred before 1950 and have a redhead fairy with a sparkly wand who turns out to be the long lost daughter of Adolf Hitler and is seeking to continue his dream by summoning aliens to take over the world. (Seems like fanaticism is hereditary).

So what exactly is a genre and why do we need it?

Genres are a categories of literature characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter. (Oxford dictionary).

Parents, have you ever gone to a bookstore and searched for a book with dragon-type characters or a world set in the clouds? Or how about a world of magic? Imagine searching hundreds of shelves, or thousands of books online to find the only ones your child will read. Wouldn’t it have been easier to ask for the fantasy section?

Writers, wouldn’t it be wonderful if parents looking for fantasy books headed directly to that section in the bookstore and picked yours off the shelf? Or you wanted to find books similar to the stories floating around in your head and you knew just where to search?

And how do books find their way to bookstore shelves and the proper sections? That’s where agents and publishers come into play. Agents have a great understanding of genres and the current market. They know which editors and publishers are looking for specific types of books. Publishers will then provide your book to the bookseller who will place it in the proper section for readers.

So as writers, it all comes back to you. What genres do you write in? With a limited understanding of them, I had categorized mine incorrectly. What I thought was contemporary was actually science fiction. (Who knew sci-fi was more than Star Trek?)

To help you understand genres, below is a handy list with book title examples. You may also take those as recommendations.

Action adventure – stories with spies, superheroes, or journeys. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Contemporary – stories occurring in current times. Destiny Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Dystopian – stories with social and political control systems that focus on lack of individual freedoms and may be in a constant state of violence. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Fantasy – stories with dragons, wizards, made-up worlds. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Historical fiction – stories set in the past, often during a significant event or time period, with fictional characters and events. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Horror – fiction which evokes a feeling of fear and/or dread. Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Humorous – a novel designed to amuse the reader. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Magical realism – fiction with magical elements that are considered normal and work together with real, or non-magical, life. The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Mystery – fiction that deals with solving crimes. The 39 Clues

Mythology – fiction involving stories explaining how the world or humankind came to be. Usually involves gods or supernatural heroes. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan IMG_1616

Paranormal – stories involving experiences that lack scientific explanation and may include ghosts and psychics. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Science fiction – based on actual, imagined, or potential science. Can be set in current times, or in another world. Tesla’s Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman

Speculative fiction – fiction about worlds unlike the real world and usually overlaps with other genres such as science fiction, horror, dystopian, and supernatural fiction. The Progeny by Tosca Lee

Steampunk – stories usually set in a Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history. Can also involve science fiction, fantasy, or horror themes. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Of course as you can see, many genres incorporate others, which can make categorizing or searching for books confusing. But for writers, it makes things much more interesting!

I would love to hear about your favorite genres and books! Please leave them in the comments.
A third IMG_2142 - Version 2degree black belt in taekwondo, HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter

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