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What are different book genres in fiction writing?
People often confuse the different terminology when it comes to categories, genres, and tropes. We’re going to break down what each book genre is, and help you get a better grasp on what you need to know what it comes to fiction writing.
Here’s the quick answer. For more details and to delve into sub-genres and categories, keep reading.
I want you to think of a tree. When you say the word tree, we all know what a tree is. The interesting thing is that dependent on where you live, you might picture a different type of tree than I do. What do trees have to do with writing genres? I’m glad you asked.
The broad category of trees is the same as the broad category of genres. The word genre encompasses an overarching idea. It’s the type of story you’re looking for when you go to a book store. You go to a specific section in that store, because you’re looking for “this kind” of book.
In the diagram above, you’ll see it broken down for romance, but this works for all of the main genres.
Okay, so remember how we were talking about trees? What kind of tree did you picture? An evergreen, oak, maple, or maybe a dogwood or cherry blossom tree? These are the “types” of trees there are. This is what a sub-genre is. Ready to get started?
Keep this tree analogy in mind as we sort through this lesson. For the record, my mind went straight to maple tree, because that’s what we have in our yard.
List of Book Genres [Fiction]
The main genres of fiction are:
We’re going to look at each more closely and help you fill in the gaps. What about fairy tales, horror, and adventure? Don’t worry, each has a place.
First, when you do a book search on Amazon, please note that they are creating a shopping experience to help you locate a book, and they add layers of categories into multiple areas. So, if you see a massive column of choices, it doesn’t mean those are all overarching genres.
BISAC stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications.
Why do you need to know about BISAC?
When you upload a book for publication on a retailer like Apple Books or Barnes & Noble, you’ll choose your categories and genres based on BISAC codes.
These standardized lists and categories are also divided by topics. Its purpose is to make book sorting easier. It’s how books are shelved in a book store.
Sorting Books by Writing Genres and Subgenres
Now that you know what BISAC is, genres will make more sense. Remember that tree analogy? Okay, let’s take the tree bit a little further. The trunk of your tree is your main genre. The branches on the tree would be your sub-genres. Smaller off-shoots of your main topic. Let’s break each down so you can see how this works.
Romance is a big genre. There are multiple sub-genres that showcase different types of romance. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.
- Historical Romance (takes place prior to 1950’s)
- Contemporary Romance (modern day romance)
- Paranormal Romance (elements with fantasy elements)
- Erotic Romance (a strong emphasis on the physical aspect of the relationship)
- Romantic Suspense (elements of action and danger)
- Inspirational Romance (faith and spiritual elements)
Do you see how each also includes the word romance? While you might love to read books about Dukes and Earls, your best friend might like to read love stories circled around danger, while another friend might prefer paranormal romance.
Knowing the difference between genres and subgenres helps you pinpoint and target the book you want to read or write.
Let’s look at Mystery as a genre.
- Traditional (think Agatha Christie)
- Police Procedural (documents each step of process)
- Noir or Hard-Boiled (pessimistic, usually a detective or P.I)
- Cozy/Amateur Sleuth (lighter, not a professional detective)
- Crime Fiction (varies)
What about medical mysteries, you ask? They are a category. It can be a lighthearted cozy mystery that takes place at a hospital, or maybe it’s a harder hitting serial killing nurse and they’re trying to solve who’s committing the crime. This is a category…a segment that can fit into each based on the reading preference.
What are other Book Genres?
We’ve covered romance and mystery. Let’s look at thrillers. This is an interesting one. I love how these can be parsed out. Thrillers are usually broken down into two components: thrillers and suspense.
A thriller is usually thought of as an action type story. Somebody is going after another. For example, the villain is chasing the hero, or maybe the hero is going after the bad guy. Think of James Bond or Mission Impossible. These are action-packed thrillers.
A suspense is more waiting to see what could happen. One of the most common ways to explain this is…if you put a bomb under a table, in a suspense, you are on your seat’s edge because you know what COULD happen.
Here are how thrillers are split into subgenres. Remember that to categorize it a suspense or thriller, depends on the type of action involved. Waiting for something to happen, or chasing after something…
When we break those down into categories, we add in elements like spy thrillers or legal thrillers (think The Firm). Thrillers get your heart pumping.
What about Science Fiction?
Science Fiction is a story that includes technology or the future with science. These stories may take place in outer space, use time travel, or take place right here.
Subgenres of science fiction include:
- Apocalypse and Dystopia
- Military and War
- Space, Alien, First Contact
- Artificial Intelligence
There are so many categories, it’s hard to pinpoint what is what sometimes, based on who is listing the information. I hope this gives you a starting point.
Fantasy includes magical elements.
You’ll hear terms like high fantasy, low fantasy, epic fantasy, and others. Mythology is an example of the fantasy genre as well.
- Sword and sorcery
- Fairy tales and fables
- Magic realism
Again, in this listing, while one might call something a subgenre, it may also be considered a trope or category. Let’s explore categories and tropes.
Understanding Categories and Tropes
Categories are segments of a subgenre. So it goes something like this:
GENRE > Subgenre > Categories… we’ll get to Tropes shortly.
Categories take your subgenre and break it down further. This is to help you locate a book with specific ideas, settings, and themes. Tropes breaks it down into smaller pieces.
Example: Mystery. You might want to read a mystery that is a police procedural, but you prefer to read about a kidnapping. This is a category in the mystery subgenre. Maybe you like to read about capers and heists. Again, a category.
When it comes to tropes, you’re taking an idea and getting very specific. You’ve drilled down to a specific type of story with either a very tried and true idea: friends to lovers in romance, a cozy mystery with a paranormal element, a psychological suspense that revolves around a domestic situation (sometimes called grip-lit)….these take a particular element and define it.
Have you ever gone to a book store and asked something like this? (Insert your own genre favorites). Hi, I’m looking for a book about… but you don’t just say, a horror story. You say, I’m looking for a thriller about the Boogey Man, or I want to find a romance about royals, or I am looking for a cozy mystery that is set in a world of a bakery, and the person solving the mystery isn’t an actual detective. When we narrow things down smaller and smaller, it makes it easier to find a specific type of book we enjoy.
Maybe you read something you loved, and want to find something similar. Maybe people have favorite tropes, like space military and space operas, or maybe fairy tale retellings, or maybe marriage of conveniences.
Whether you like elves and shape shifters, technology inspired steam punk stories, or fast-paced thrillers, drilling down to the specifics helps you not only find a book your looking for, but helps you figure out what type of book you’d like to write.
Choosing a Genre and Subgenre to Write In
When you figure out the audience you’re writing for, you’ll find that narrowing your niche will broaden your audience. Writing for everybody won’t hit the right notes. Knowing what a reader expects when they pick up a noir mystery or an apocalypse novel will help you refine your choices.
If you aren’t sure, read around. Find something that speaks to you. When you love what you’re writing, it’s not a chore. It’s a fun escape where you get to explore your characters and world.
Check out my recommended books for writers here.