Types of Fiction: Genres & Categorizations Guide

Posted on Oct 1, 2023

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Written by P.J McNulty

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Understanding the diverse types of fiction is paramount for writers striving to navigate the vast and competitive world of storytelling.

Being able to categorize your work appropriately can help in defining your writing style, connecting with the right readers, and marketing your book successfully.

If you’re serious about succeeding as a fiction author, read on to discover different ways of categorizing the stories you produce.

How fiction is categorized by genre

Genre is a way to categorize art, by grouping work together according to similarities in form, style, or subject matter.

The concept of genre can be used to understand fiction, guiding both writers and readers by giving a common language on how some types of stories differ from others.

Here is a brief rundown of some of the most popular fiction genres, to illustrate why genre is so commonly used to categorize fiction into different types.

1. Action and Adventure

This genre typically features vigorous and bold protagonists confronting danger. Excitement, tension, and high stakes characterize these stories, with conflicts often resolved through physical prowess.

2. Crime and Mystery

In this genre, characters often investigate crimes, solving intricate puzzles and mysteries. Plots revolve around the identification and pursuit of criminals, with suspense and intrigue as key elements.

3. Fantasy

Fantasy literature constructs vast, imaginary worlds, often filled with magical elements, mythical creatures, and extraordinary characters. It allows for the exploration of the impossible, pushing the boundaries of reality.

4. Historical Fiction

This genre is characterized by a story that is set in the past, often during a significant historical period. It combines real historical elements with fictional characters and narratives, offering a glimpse into bygone eras.

5. Horror

Horror fiction seeks to evoke fear and terror in readers. It explores themes of death, the supernatural, and the unknown, utilizing tension and suspense to provoke emotional responses.

6. Mystery

Centered around a puzzle or enigma, mystery fiction involves characters solving perplexing situations or crimes. It emphasizes suspense, clues, and resolution, keeping readers guessing until the end.

7. Romance

Romance novels focus on the theme of love, depicting the romantic relationships between characters. Emotional connection, passion, and conflict often drive the narrative, leading to optimistic endings.

8. Science Fiction

Science fiction explores futuristic or alternative realities, often delving into scientific advancements, space exploration, and time travel. It questions the boundaries of knowledge and reality, offering speculative visions of the future.

9. Thriller

Thrillers are characterized by fast-paced plots, high stakes, and constant action. They maintain suspense and tension throughout, providing readers with exhilarating and unexpected twists.

10. Westerns

Westerns are set in the American Old West and showcase the life and adventures of cowboys and lawmen. They depict the rugged landscapes and societal structures of the time, emphasizing themes of justice and frontier spirit.

11. Young Adult

Young adult fiction targets teenagers, addressing themes and issues relevant to this age group. It encompasses various genres and explores topics like identity, relationships, and personal growth, offering relatable and compelling narratives.

Why is it important to understand the concept of genre?

Grasping the importance of genre is pivotal for authors, as it provides a blueprint for writing stories in a way that covers the elements readers most enjoy about their favorite genre or subgenre.

Genre helps to align your creative vision with market dynamics and reader expectations, ensuring that your book reaches its intended audience effectively.

When contemplating genre, you should ponder the following questions:

  1. Does the chosen genre align with the core themes and elements of my story?
  2. Who is the target audience for this genre, and does my story cater to them?
  3. How can I leverage genre conventions while maintaining originality and freshness?
  4. Are there established authors or benchmark works in this genre that I can learn from?
  5. How does the chosen genre impact the marketability and appeal of my work?
  6. Can my story potentially blend or transcend genres, creating a unique niche?
  7. What are the expected narrative structures, tones, and styles in this genre, and how can I effectively incorporate them into my writing?

Taking this considered approach to genre can greatly boost your chances of succeeding as a fiction author.

Hopefully, you now see why genre is such a useful and widely-used way to categorize fiction.

Literary vs. Commercial Fiction: Two types of story

When considering how to categorize fiction, one crucial distinction writers often encounter is the dichotomy between literary and commercial fiction.

Commercial fiction primarily aims to entertain and captivate the broadest audience possible, often emphasizing plot over style.

In contrast, literary fiction tends to prioritize depth, prose style, and thematic exploration over mass appeal, often delving into the human condition and societal critiques.

How do literary and commercial fiction use themes differently?

In literary fiction, themes are often complex, multifaceted, and introspective, exploring intricate human experiences, moral ambiguities, and societal structures. The narratives might not always follow conventional structures, enabling exploration of nuanced and profound ideas. Commercial fiction, conversely, often revolves around more accessible and universally relatable themes, prioritizing engaging and compelling storylines that are easy to follow, with clear moral and emotional trajectories, ensuring broad appeal.

What is the difference in prose style between literary and commercial fiction?

The prose style in literary fiction is typically more intricate and refined, often experimenting with linguistic expressions, narrative structures, and stylistic innovations, offering readers a rich, immersive experience. It demands a more contemplative and engaged reading, inviting readers to delve deeper into the layers of the text. Commercial fiction, on the other hand, generally employs a more straightforward and accessible prose style, focusing on clarity and pace to maintain reader interest and propel the narrative forward, ensuring a more immediate and entertaining read.

Do literary and commercial fiction take a different approach to entertaining readers?

Commercial fiction is crafted to be widely entertaining, appealing to a broad audience with thrilling plots, relatable characters, and accessible themes. It often provides an escapist experience, allowing readers to immerse themselves in different worlds, times, or realities. Literary fiction, while not eschewing entertainment, often aims for a more thought-provoking and reflective reader experience. It invites readers to ponder, question, and challenge their perceptions, beliefs, and the world around them, offering a deeper, more enriching engagement with the text.

What are some key concerns in terms of the commercial marketplace and reader demand related to commercial and literary fiction?

It’s useful to understand literary and commercial fiction as deeply as possible.

To achieve this, you need to consider the commercial aspects at play, as well as their respective perception by the marketplace, more commonly known as readers!

Here are seven commercial considerations related to literary and commercial fiction.

1. Audience Expectation

Commercial fiction meets reader expectations for entertainment and escapism, while literary fiction caters to those seeking deeper thematic exploration and stylistic richness.

2. Market Demand

Commercial fiction often has higher market demand due to its broad appeal and accessibility, while literary fiction might cater to a more niche audience.

3. Publishing Accessibility

Commercial fiction is generally more appealing to publishers due to its potential for higher sales, whereas literary fiction might face more challenges in finding a publisher.

4. Pricing and Sales

Commercial fiction usually has more competitive pricing and higher sales volumes, while literary fiction might command higher prices but have lower sales.

5. Critical Acclaim

Literary fiction is often more likely to receive critical acclaim and prestigious awards, reflecting its artistic and intellectual merits.

6. Genre Flexibility

Commercial fiction often adheres to genre conventions and expectations, while literary fiction might blur or transcend genre boundaries, exploring hybrid forms and innovations.

7. Reader Engagement

Commercial fiction seeks immediate reader engagement and satisfaction, while literary fiction aims for enduring impact and reflective engagement.

How length is used to categorize fiction into different types

Another essential classification of fiction relates to its length.

This division into short stories, novellas, and novels is not merely a quantifiable one but deeply impacts the narrative scope, depth, and structure, shaping the reader’s engagement and experience with the text.

Here are three of the most common types of fiction according to length.

1 – Short Stories

Typically under 20,000 words, short stories are concise narratives focused on a singular theme or concept, often striving for impactful and resonant prose.

2 – Novellas

Ranging between 20,000 and 40,000 words, novellas offer more developmental room than short stories, allowing for more detailed exploration of themes, characters, and plots while maintaining brevity.

3 – Novels

Exceeding 40,000 words, novels provide an extensive canvas for complex, multi-layered narratives, enabling in-depth exploration of themes, character developments, and plot intricacies.

How fiction length impacts narrative structure and depth

The length of a fiction piece significantly influences its narrative structure and depth.

Short stories, with their limited word count, necessitate precision and focus, often revolving around a single incident or character and resolving the narrative within a concise frame. This brevity demands every word to carry weight, leaving no room for superfluous details, and often results in a concentrated impact.

In contrast, novels, with their expansive scope, allow for multiple plotlines, a broad array of characters, and extensive thematic exploration, offering readers a more intricate and immersive experience.

Novellas find a middle ground, allowing for the development of more elaborate narratives than short stories while retaining a tighter, more focused structure than novels. They afford the opportunity to delve deeper into characters and themes without the commitment to the extensive subplots and multitude of characters often found in novels. This intermediate length enables a balanced exploration of narrative depth and complexity, offering a unique reading experience that combines conciseness with richness.

How does fiction length relate to its commercial appeal?

A work of fiction’s length doesn’t just impact its story structure and depth. It also has direct implications for its chances of succeeding in the commercial marketplace.

Here are five factors to keep in mind when considering the commercial implications of fiction length.

1. Market Appeal

Novels generally have a broader market appeal due to their comprehensive narratives, while short stories and novellas often cater to niche audiences seeking concise reads.

2. Publishing Opportunities

Novels often find more traditional publishing opportunities, while short stories and novellas may find success in literary magazines or self-publishing platforms.

3. Pricing Strategies

Novels usually command higher prices due to their length and depth, whereas short stories and novellas might have lower price points or be bundled together.

4. Audience Engagement

Short stories and novellas may attract readers seeking quick, impactful reads, while novels appeal to those desiring prolonged engagement with intricate narratives.

5. Critical Recognition

While novels traditionally receive more critical attention and literary awards, well-crafted short stories and novellas also gain acclaim for their focused narrative excellence.

Types of fiction determined by time period and story setting

Works of fiction are not bound by the present; they can explore diverse timelines and spaces, showcasing the unknown, revisiting the past, and envisioning the future.

The period and setting of a story are not just a backdrop; they are integral elements that shape the characters, themes, and plots.

They provide context, imbuing the narrative with authenticity and depth, influencing the story’s use of tone and tension.

You shouldn’t leave the time period and setting of your next story to chance.

Intsead, allow these seven questions to guide your decision-making process.

  1. Does the chosen period or setting align with the themes and motifs of my story?
  2. How can the period or setting enhance the narrative tension and conflict within the story?
  3. Have I conducted sufficient research to portray the time and place accurately and authentically?
  4. How does the period or setting influence the characters’ behaviors, values, and outlooks?
  5. Can the time and place amplify the emotional impact and resonance of my story?
  6. How can the distinct characteristics of the setting or period be integrated to enrich the narrative texture?
  7. Is the chosen period or setting conducive to the genre and audience expectations of my work?

How time period and setting can directly determine a story’s fiction type

Some fiction is considered a distinct type purely on the basis of the time period in which it is set or the location where its events take place.

Here are seven examples of how time and location can directly catergorize a work of fiction.

1. Historical Fiction

This categorization roots stories in specific historical periods, providing a glimpse into the past and intertwining real events with fictional elements.

2. Speculative Fiction

This type often places narratives in alternative realities or futures, exploring the what-ifs and potentials of existence and human experience.

3. Fantasy Worlds

Fiction set in imaginary worlds, often filled with magical elements, mythical creatures, and extraordinary circumstances, belongs to this category.

4. Contemporary Settings

Stories set in the modern day, reflecting current societal norms, issues, and lifestyles, are categorized under this setting.

5. Futuristic Settings

This categorization envisions the narratives in advanced and technologically progressed times, exploring the prospective developments of humanity and society.

6. Outer Space

Fiction situated in the vastness of the cosmos, exploring extraterrestrial life, space exploration, and interstellar conflicts, falls into this setting.

7. Underwater Worlds

This type immerses stories in the depths of oceans and seas, unveiling the mysteries and wonders of aquatic life and environments.

How to arrange fiction into types by the age of its readership

The age of a book’s intended readers is often used to place it into a distinct type.

Let’s take a closer look at how a book is impacted by the age of its intended readership.

Using reader age to guide fictional themes and writing styles

The age of the intended readership significantly influences the themes and style of fiction.

For children’s fiction, themes are often simplistic and moralistic, with vibrant and illustrative prose, sparking imagination and learning.

Middle-grade fiction tends to explore more complex themes like friendship and self-discovery, maintaining an engaging and accessible style.

Young adult fiction often delves into themes of identity, love, and conflict, balancing relatability with emotional depth, utilizing a more sophisticated and varied prose style.

Adult fiction, on the other hand, offers limitless thematic possibilities, ranging from intricate human experiences to profound existential explorations, employing a diverse array of stylistic expressions and narrative structures to convey depth and nuance.

Market trends and preferences related to fiction reader age

Understanding market trends and preferences is crucial as they vary widely across different age groups.

Children’s fiction is predominantly driven by parental purchases, emphasizing educational value and moral lessons.

Middle-grade fiction focuses on captivating stories that can hold the attention of young readers, often featuring adventurous and relatable protagonists.

The young adult market trends towards emotionally resonant narratives dealing with the challenges and experiences of adolescence, with a notable preference for series and genre diversity.

The adult fiction market is the most varied, with preferences spanning across genres, themes, and styles, and trends often influenced by critical acclaim, book clubs, and literary awards.

Each market segment has its specific demands and trends, necessitating a nuanced approach to thematic focus, stylistic expression, and marketing strategy to effectively reach and resonate with the intended age group.

How to differentiate types of fiction from their narrative perspective

Fiction is told in various perspectives, each serving as a lens through which the narrative unfolds, shaping the reader’s perception and understanding of the story.

Here are seven ways to arrange fiction into type according to its narrative perspective.

1. First person perspective

Written from the “I” perspective, this viewpoint allows a deep dive into the narrator’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, offering an intimate and subjective portrayal of events. This perspective immerses readers in the narrator’s inner world, allowing for a nuanced exploration of character psyche and emotion, although it’s confined by the character’s knowledge and perceptions.

2. Second person perspective

This “you” perspective directly addresses the reader, placing them in the narrative and making them a participant in the story. It creates an immersive and interactive experience but can be challenging to execute effectively as it demands a strong reader identification with the unfolding events.

3. Third person limited perspective

This perspective employs “he, she, or they,” focusing on one character’s experiences and thoughts. It provides a balance between intimacy and objectivity, enabling a close examination of a character’s internal world while maintaining a degree of narrative flexibility and breadth.

4. Third person omniscient perspective

This viewpoint knows all and sees all, delving into the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of multiple characters. It offers a comprehensive overview of the narrative landscape, allowing exploration of diverse viewpoints and intricate plot developments, but requires meticulous handling to maintain clarity and cohesion.

5. Third person objective perspective

This perspective narrates actions and dialogues without delving into the inner thoughts or feelings of characters, presenting an unbiased and detached view of events. It fosters a sense of impartiality and distance, prompting readers to infer characters’ motivations and emotions, enriching interpretative engagement.

6. Stream of consciousness

This narrative style seeks to portray the continuous, chaotic flow of characters’ thoughts, feelings, and reactions, often disregarding grammatical and syntactical norms. It provides a raw and unfiltered glimpse into a character’s mind, enhancing emotional resonance and psychological depth, but can be demanding for the reader due to its lack of structure and coherence.

7. Epistolary

Comprising letters, journal entries, or other documentary formats, this perspective conveys the narrative through characters’ written communications. It lends authenticity and intimacy to the narrative, allowing exploration of personal reflections and revelations, though it’s constrained by the format’s inherent limitations and singular viewpoints.

How to choose the right perspective for your fiction story

Selecting the appropriate perspective is crucial as it fundamentally shapes your narrative.

Here are seven questions you can consider to guide your choice:

1. Does the chosen perspective align with the narrative’s thematic focus and emotional tone?

2. How does the perspective influence the reader’s connection and identification with the characters?

3. Can the perspective effectively convey the narrative’s complexity and depth?

4. How does the perspective enhance or constrain the narrative scope and flexibility?

5. Does the perspective allow for the desired level of intimacy and objectivity?

6. Can the chosen viewpoint maintain reader engagement and interpretative involvement?

7. How does the perspective interact with and support the narrative’s stylistic and structural elements?

How tone and mood can be used to arrange fiction into types

Fiction varies greatly not only in its content but also in its tone and mood, each creating a distinct emotional experience for the reader.

Often, readers will seek out fiction that has a certain emotional tone, making it a valuable method of categorization.

Here are nine of the most common types of fiction when arranged by tone.

1. Optimistic: This tone imbues the narrative with hope and positivity, fostering a reassuring and uplifting reading experience and often highlighting the resilience and goodness of characters.

2. Pessimistic: Defined by a sense of negativity and despair, this mood can imbue stories with a sobering realism, often exploring the complexities and hardships of existence.

3. Humorous: Employing wit, irony, or sarcasm, a humorous tone injects joy and entertainment into the narrative, often lightening serious themes and endearing characters to readers.

4. Melancholic: This mood is characterized by a deep sense of sorrow or sadness, enhancing the emotional depth and poignancy of the narrative and allowing an exploration of loss and reflection.

5. Mysterious: This tone is steeped in uncertainty and intrigue, compelling readers to unravel the unknown and delve into the complexities and enigmas of the plot.

6. Romantic: A romantic mood emphasizes love and passion, enveloping the story in warmth and affection and often exploring the nuances of relationships and human connection.

7. Suspenseful: This tone keeps readers on the edge of their seats, infusing the narrative with tension and unpredictability and driving the desire to uncover outcomes and resolutions.

8. Ironic: Characterized by a disparity between appearance and reality, ironic tone adds a layer of complexity and subtlety to the narrative, prompting reflective and critical engagement.

9. Inspirational: This mood motivates and empowers, filling the narrative with a sense of possibility and achievement and often exploring the themes of perseverance and self-discovery.

Maintaining a consistent tone or mood is advantageous as it creates a coherent and harmonious narrative fabric, enhancing the story’s emotional impact and thematic clarity. It helps in sustaining the reader’s immersion and connection with the narrative, providing a seamless and congruent reading experience.

Conversely, matching tone and mood can reinforce and complement each other, creating a richer and more nuanced narrative texture. For example, a mysterious tone paired with a suspenseful mood can amplify the story’s tension and intrigue, weaving a captivating and cohesive narrative tapestry.

How will you put these ideas into practice with your next fiction project?

Exploring different types of fiction might seem a little daunting, but it’s a great way to become a better writer and a more-informed reader.

Don’t be scared to experiment with various genres, lengths, perspectives, and tones.

It’s all about trying new things, learning, and finding what works best for your story.

By having a solid understanding of the type of fiction you want to write, you have a far better chance of giving your readers exactly what they are looking for. This is your best route to success as a self-published author.

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