Genre Glossary, Genre Definitions

When it comes to genre, there are many possibilities. Not only is there just a large amount of genres and sub-genres in general, but they can pretty much all be combined! There can be slight but important differences between genres, and I found myself searching the internet trying to find a glossary of them. I was hard pressed to find a comprehensive one! So, I decided that I would compile one. This Glossary is to help you differentiate between genres and classify what you're reading!

Literature in the form of prose, especially novels, that describes imaginary events and people (Oxford English Dictionary).

Bildungsroman A German term used to refer to a coming-of-age story. These chronicle the development of the main character as they mature from childhood/adolescence into adulthood. 

Chick Lit Essentially a Rom Com in book form. Humorous fiction about the misadventures of women in their twenties and thirties. They are usually single working women. Ex. Shopaholic

Christian Fiction with a story/and or characters that are rooted in the Christian faith. 

Classic A work of fiction that has been accepted to be a part of literary cannon. These are often taught in schools. Classics can be of any genre. For example, a classic could be a bildungsroman like Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, or perhaps a mystery like Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. 

Comic This can be fiction or non-fiction, though it is usually fiction. A comic book is a small magazine that tells a story in sequences of comic strips. These are part of a series and each instalment is called an issue. The trade of a comic book series is a collection of issues in order, usually containing five or six issues. An omnibus refers to a large collection of issues in one volume. They often contain the entire series or run. Comic trade paperbacks are often erroneously referred to as graphic novels.

Contemporary This is a term that is often wrongly used interchangeably with realistic fiction. Contemporary is something that is either written in the present, or is set in the same time in which it was written. Contemporary fiction is often realistic fiction, but realistic fiction is not necessarily contemporary fiction. 

Cozy Mystery A sub-genre of mystery, usually in a series, that is cutesy in nature. Like a crime solving animal, or a series that have puns in the title, or books that each involve recipes or knitting etc. There is no graphic violence or sex. 

Dystopian In a similar vein as post-apocalyptic. However, dystopian fiction usually focuses on the rise of civilization after the apocalyptic event. It does not concern itself with the event itself. It usually serves to show us a possible future that is the opposite of utopian—therefore very undesirable.

Epic Fantasy A sub-genre of fantasy that takes place in an entirely different world from our own. There are often fantastical elements, and a hero often completes a quest. There is usually magic, as well as magical or fantastical creatures--but not necessarily. These also often have a medieval or Anglo-Saxon vibe to them. For example, swords are often used as weapons. One of the main themes is often the battle between good and evil.

Erotica Romance fiction that focuses heavily on sex and graphic depictions of it. 

Fanfiction Fiction written by a fan of a book series, TV series, movie, etc that features the characters that are in it. 

Fantasy A genre of fiction that often uses the supernatural and/or the magical as key plot elements. It often takes place in another world. This "other world" may be on earth, but the general population is usually not aware of it. Ex. Harry Potter, the Mortal Instruments, Amulet, etc.

Graphic Novel Similar to a comic book, but larger and not serialized. A graphic novel is generally a stand alone story told in sequences of comic strips. It is not separated by issue. 

High Fantasy Another name for epic fantasy.

Historical Fiction that takes in a time period previous to that in which the book is written. I.e. fiction that takes place in the past. This can be combined with other genres. Ex. Historical mystery, historical romance, etc.

Horror Fiction with the purpose of frightening or startling the reader. It provokes a physical, emotional, or psychological response from the reader that causes them to become fearful. One of HP Lovecraft’s most famous quotes about the genre of horror fiction is that, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Horror thus often involves the supernatural. 

Locked Door Mystery When a crime takes place in a way that makes it seem impossible—like in a locked room. The sleuth must puzzle out this impossible set of circumstances. 

Literary Serious fiction that often places more attention on how  the story is told. It focuses on language and the expression of the story. It often focuses on the human condition. Literary fiction seeks to explore different philosophical truths or questions rather than purely to provide entertainment. It is often described as being in opposition to genre fiction. 

Magical Realism Fiction that is generally realistic in nature, but contains a thread of the fantastic. For example, in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by AS King, teenage Glory can see the past and the future of everyone she looks at, but she is otherwise totally normal/realistic and so is the world she lives in.

Middle Grade Fiction that is geared towards children aged 9-12. 

Mystery Fiction that deals with a puzzling crime, most often a murder. There are many sub-genres of mystery.

New Adult Drawing from from the Young Adult genre, New Adult generally takes the same themes as Young Adult romance. However, the main characters are usually in their twenties and there is often explicit sexual content that is not present in YA. It’s like YA for an older audience.  

Paranormal/Paranormal Fantasy Fiction that involves humans (or human-like beings) that are often shapeshifters or people with supernatural powers. Ex. Vampires, werewolves, psychics, telekinetics, ghosts, witches, etc.

Paranormal Romance Paranormal fiction that’s main focus is love/sexual relationships between the characters. 

Police/Legal/Forensic Procedural Mysteries that follow through the steps of those involved in the dishing out of justice. These mysteries are more focused on the how—i.e. profiling, DNA testing, etc. 

Post-Apocalyptic A type of speculative fiction that concerns itself with the end of humanity. There is some sort of disaster that diminishes the population near to extinction. 

Realistic Fiction Fiction set in the real world with stories and characters that resemble real life. 

Romance Fiction whose story revolves around the romantic relationship between characters. It generally ends happily.

Science Fiction Fiction that deals with the future and possible outcomes, based on knowledge of the world. These are things that the author theorizes are actual possibilities—“real present-day science ... logically extrapolated to the future” (Writer's Digest). 

Speculative fiction Am umbrella term for fiction containing elements of the supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic. All genres that contain these elements are sub-genres of speculative fiction (Science fiction, fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, etc). 

Steampunk Fiction that concerns itself with alternative history. It usually takes place in a Victorian (or Victorian-esque) setting where steam power and clockwork are used, but featuring technology and fictional machines.

Surrealism "In literature [it] can be defined as an artistic attempt to bridge together reality and the imagination. Surrealists seek to overcome the contradictions of the conscious and unconscious minds by creating unreal or bizarre stories full of juxtapositions" (Via

Thriller A fast-paced page-turner that keeps your adrenaline pumping. There is usually an exciting mystery/crime/espionage element that keeps you guessing. 

Urban Fantasy Fantasy that takes place in real-world cities, peopled with inhuman and fantastical characters mingling with regular ones.  

Women’s fiction An umbrella term for fiction that is written about and geared toward women. It focuses on the everyday life of female characters, often on the verge of change and character growth. 

Western Stories set in the traditional American Old West. The time period is generally in the 1800s. 

Young Adult Fiction that is geared generally toward teenagers (14+).

Prose that deals with facts and real events and people. 

Autobiography Nonfiction that chronicles the life and/or career of an individual, as told by that individual.

Biography Nonfiction that chronicles the life and/or career of an individual.

Informative Nonfiction that seeks to explain a concept or situation to the reader. 

Memoir A work of non-fiction that is similar to an autobiography. A memoir is an account of one’s personal experiences. They usually revolve around one specific experience, rather than a person’s entire life or career. 

Narrative Non-Fiction True events told in a way that forms a story. It reads kind of like a novel.

Self-help A work of non-fiction in which the author wishes to advise the reader in ways to help solve their personal problems. 

True Crime Writing that explores the details of real crimes, usually murder, and the people that were involved. These depictions are often are sensationalized and often involve the author's own theories. 

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