Subscribe to the LCLS Newsletter | Manage Preferences
July - September 2011     VOLUME 15 ISSUE 3
< Back to Articles

What is Genre Fiction?

Finding the type of fiction you like to read
Donna Gray-Williams


Genre is a term used in libraries for many forms of media, but it began as a publishing term for different categories of fiction. It means: a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the ‘like.’ Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is a term for fictional works (novels, short stories) written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre. In contemporary fiction an elastic term used to group works sharing similarities of character, theme, and setting—such as mystery, romance, or horror—that have been proven to appeal to particular groups of readers. Genres continuously evolve, divide, and combine as readers' tastes change and writers search for fresh ways to tell stories. Many novels overlap and include multiple genres. There are many types and subsets of genres.

Below are the basic genres used in library catalogs.

Adventure fiction

Is a genre of novels that has adventure, an exciting undertaking involving risk and physical danger, as its main theme. Adventure novels often overlap with other genres, and take the setting and premise of these other genres, but the fast-paced plot of an adventure focuses on the actions of the hero within the setting.

Related genres: Martial arts fiction, Sea stories, War stories

Fantasy fiction

Is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Many works within the genre take place on fictional planes or planets where magic is common. Fantasy fiction is generally distinguished from Science fiction and Horror fiction by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three (which are subgenres of speculative fiction).

Related genres: Fantasy comic books, strips, etc., Ghost stories, Occult fiction, Paranormal romance stories

Historical fiction

Is a sub-genre of fiction that often portrays fictional accounts or dramatization of historical figures or events. Writers of stories in this genre, while penning fiction, nominally attempt to capture the spirit, manners, and social conditions of the persons or time(s) presented in the story, with due attention paid to period detail and fidelity.

Related genres: Alternative histories (Fiction), Epic fiction, Historical drama, Regency fiction, Western stories

Horror fiction

Is a genre of fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, or exceptionally suspenseful or frightening theme. Horror fiction often overlaps Science fiction or Fantasy fiction.

Related genres: Ghost stories, Horror comic books, strips, etc., Occult fiction

Mystery fiction

Is a loosely-defined term that is often used as a synonym for detective or police fiction — in other words a novel or short story in which a detective (either professional or amateur) investigates and solves a crime. Mystery fiction may be used to describe any form of crime fiction, even if there is no mystery to be solved.

Related genres: Code and cipher stories, Detective and mystery comic books, strips, etc., Legal stories, Suspense fiction

Love stories

Or romance fiction is a literary genre in which the primary focus is on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The main plot of a romance novel must revolve around the two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship together. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters' romantic love.

Related genres: Regency fiction, Paranormal romance stories, Romantic suspense fiction, Romance comic books, strips, etc.

Religious fiction

Is a genre of fiction in which the plot and/or characters are imbued with religious themes. This genre of fiction generally involves a specific religion that displays the religion in a positive light. It often overlaps other genres using a specific religion as its world view.

Related genres: Inspirational fiction, Catholic fiction, Christian fiction, Islamic stories, Jewish fiction, Bible fiction

Science fiction

Is a genre of fiction largely based on writing rationally about alternative possibilities using scientific rationale. It 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". The settings for science fiction are often contrary to known reality.

Related genres: Science fiction comic books, strips, etc., Star Trek fiction, Star Wars fiction, Superhero comic books, strips, etc.

Suspense fiction

Or Thrillers contain elements of mystery, romance and adventure, but they don't fall into restrictive categories. And they're not circumscribed by artificial systems of rules like those that govern the whodunit or the gothic romance. The object is to perch the reader on edge, to keep him flipping pages to find out what's going to happen next.

Related genres: Adventure fiction, Mystery fiction, Spy stories

Western stories

Is a genre of literature set in the American Old West frontier (usually anywhere west of the Mississippi River) and typically set during the late nineteenth century.

Related genres: Adventure fiction, Historical fiction

Other frequently used genres: Biographical fiction, Chick lit, Christmas stories, Diary fiction, Domestic fiction, Epic fiction, Epic films, Erotic fiction, Humorous fiction, Medical novels, Musical fiction, Noir fiction, Political fiction, Psychological fiction, Satire.