If creative nonfiction is true stories told well, then perhaps we can define fiction as imaginary stories told well.
Kinds of Fiction
Work in which the skillful use of language is paramount, regardless of subject or theme.
Work in which the subject or theme is paramount.
The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive
There are seven primary genres in fiction and many, many subgenres. One website lists 144 fiction genres. Nor is there a consensus to definitions. Agents and publishers may have their own ideas of what constitutes a genre and may use different terms. Before identifying your work to a specific publisher or agent, check their website to see what they say about genres.
- Fantasy or speculative
Fiction that uses magical or paranormal elements not found in the real world. The worlds created are based on myth, lore, and other oral traditions and might or might not have some aspects of the real world.
- Horror/Dark: (sometimes listed as its own genre)— The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft, about sanity-shattering monsters.
- High: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson, about a leper who finds power in another world.
- Low: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, about a strange road trip that studies the American spirit.
- Historical fiction
Fiction that is set at least fifty years in the past and is based on the writers’ research of the era.
- Traditional: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet about the building of a cathedral in twelfth-century England.
- Multi-Period Epics: Anything by James Michener
- Historical Romantic: Katherine by Anya Seton, about a love triangle in the fourteenth century that changed history.
Fiction that is about characters who make positive change in their lives and the endings inspire or uplift readers.
- General: The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Alborn, about a man who given the answer to “Why was I here?”
- Spiritual: Safely Home by Randy Alcorn, about a Chinese man questioning his faith at a time when his faith is prohibited.
Fiction that is a love story and has, in the words of Romance Writers of America is “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
- Contemporary Romance: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston about the son of a US president falling in love with the Prince of Wales.
- Erotic Romance: The Erotic Pandemic Ball: Tales of Love in Lockdown by Stella Fosse, about lusty paranormal beings visiting a quarantined senior community.
- Historical Romance: His Stolen Bride by Judith Stanton, about finding love after an acrimonious start.
- Science Fiction
Fiction that uses scientific and/or technological theory to predict a future either on Earth or in space.
- Space Exploration: The Martian, by Andy Weir, about a man marooned on Mars.
- Virtual Reality: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, about a teenager in the near future playing a game by going into cyberspace.
- First Contact: Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward, about humans discovering life on a neutron star, creatures the size of a sesame seed, and a life span equal to one of our hours. The book is considered ‘hard science.’
Note: Fantasy and Science Fiction are sometimes combined in one primary genre. While both fantasy and science fiction are speculative, fantasy involves imagining worlds that are impossible, while science fiction involves imagining worlds that are possible. Another way to look at the difference is that fantasy contains elements derived solely from the writers’ imagination while science fiction contains elements derived solely from scientific fact.
Suspense is fiction that creates an uneasy feeling about what is going to happen next. In the broadest terms, suspense is literary device needed in all stories—the tension that keeps the plot moving forward. As a genre, suspense takes a center role.
- Mystery is fiction that presents a puzzle to be solved, generally a crime.
- Thriller is fiction that involves action and danger.
- Procedurals: Anything by John Sanford
- Legal: Most anything by John Grisham
- International Intrigue: Most anything by Tom Clancy
Fiction is set in the American West or Mexico most often set between 1850 – 1920.
- Cowboys and Ranches: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, the volume of which is about a cattle drive.
- Indians: The Blessing Way by Tony Hilleman, about a Navajo police officer tracking a murder that has Navajo-mystical undercurrents.
- Prairie Settlement: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, about a young woman who fights to support her family on their Nebraska prairie farm.
~ Carol Phillips
To learn more about fiction genres, check out these resources:
Writers Write: The 17 Most Popular Genres in Fiction and Why They Matter https://www.writerswrite.co.za/the-17-most-popular-genres-in-fiction-and-why-they-matter/
Fantasy Book Fanatic https://fantasybookfanatic.com/
International Association of Professional Writers & Editors: The Subgenres of Historical Fiction https://iapwe.org/the-subgenres-of-historical-fiction/
Author’s Learning Center: “Genre Basics: Religious, Inspirational & Spiritual” https://www.authorlearningcenter.com/writing/i-have-an-idea/w/choosing-your-topic/6688/genre-basics-religious-inspirational-spiritual—article
Romance Writers of America: “About the Romance Genre” https://www.rwa.org/Online/Resources/About_Romance_Fiction/Online/Romance_Genre/About_Romance_Genre.aspx?hkey=dc7b967d-d1eb-4101-bb3f-a6cc936b5219
Almost an Author: Mystery, Suspense and Thriller—What’s the Difference: https://www.almostanauthor.com/mystery-thriller-and-suspense-subgenres-whats-the-difference/
Worlds Without End “Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Sub-Genres” http://www.worldswithoutend.com/resources_sub-genres.asp
Writing to Publish: “Western Genres” http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/Wsubgenres.html