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But sometimes, constraints make us more creative. And that's why today I'm going to list out all of the types of fiction within the realm of possibility - at least that's been done before. While very few stories fit neatly in these boxes, most fictional stories feature elements of the genres below. Who knows, maybe you'll dream up something new!
What is Fiction?
Fiction is a story told through one or many made-up characters about events that have not yet happened. It may be based on real-life, a real person, real places, real things, etc., but they are imagined as having occurred. Characters can be fictional characters or historical characters acting out fictional scenarios. The primary purpose of fiction is entertainment; however, there are other purposes such as education, persuasion, and inspiration. In fact, some authors use their work for both entertainment and educational purposes. There are many genres of fiction.
What is Genre?
Genres are categories into which works of literature fall. They help readers understand what kind of book they're reading and what style of writing to expect without getting lost in details. For example, if you were looking for a novel, a genre would tell you right away whether the novel you picked up was historical, contemporary, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror, comedy, drama, romance, poetry, manga, anime, or something else. Of course, there are many mediums through which to tell a story. The genres below can be applied to comic books, graphic novels, movies, television shows, web series, a variety of books, podcasts, and more.
A genre also describes the style in which the story is written, provides expectations for the reader or buyer, and gives the writer a general focus of their story before they ever start writing it.
Main Types of Fiction
What are the major types of fiction? If you start really wide, almost all traditional literature falls into two categories:
Commercial fiction features a story with a straightforward plotline, usually set in modern times, often featuring action and adventure, science fiction, crime, suspense, westerns, war, magic realism, satire, humor, romance, or supernatural themes. Commercial fiction has broad appeal to a variety of audiences and is generally meant for entertainment than for art, and most stories are heavily plot-driven. Examples include thrillers like James Bond novels, mysteries like Agatha Christie's Poirot series, romances like Danielle Steel's books, and John Grisham's thrillers.
Literary fiction is defined by its literary quality rather than commercial success. Literary fiction explores deeper issues through character development, theme, symbolism, metaphor, allegory, irony, and ambiguity. This type of fiction is typically considered highbrow because it requires a higher level of intellectual engagement from the audience.
Among these types of stories, mainstream fiction describes plots that involve what most people in the mainstream deal with daily and that features a reality familiar to the general public.
5 Main Types of Fiction Genres
There are five general genres of fiction in creative writing and storytelling, including:
But among those overarching categories, there are dozens of popular subgenres.
All Types of Fiction Genres
Below is a list of some of the most popular fiction genres today, but this list is not exhaustive. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, writers bend genre rules all the time, and you should be no different! Don't be afraid to mix things up. But if you're looking for tried and true formulas, look no further than this genre list:
The mystery genre includes general mystery, noir mystery, historical mystery, police procedural, and paranormal mystery.
The thriller genre includes supernatural thriller, historical thriller, environmental thriller, medical thriller, legal thriller, political thriller, military thriller, and espionage stories.
Science fiction stories occur in the future or the past, but almost always a different dimension than the present. It features new imagined realities and universes, and the setting is integral. High tech is also featured prominently in the story. Space opera, romantic science fiction, military science fiction, alternate history, dystopian and utopian stories, and steampunk are all considered a subgenre of science fiction.
Romance follows the romantic relationship between at least two people marked by tension and desire. The romance genre includes paranormal romance, contemporary romance, historical romance, western romance, gothic romance, regency romance, and romantic suspense.
Fantasy stories center on mythical kingdoms and magic. The fantasy fiction genre includes contemporary fantasy, traditional fantasy, horror, weird fiction, epic fantasy, historical fantasy, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and comic fantasy.
The action-adventure genre puts the main character in various types of physical danger. It's a fast-paced genre, and the climax should offer the viewer or reader some relief.
Speculative fiction features worlds that overlap our own but are different in key ways and introduce "what if" scenarios.
Suspense and Thriller
Suspense and thriller stories are generally filled with cliffhangers, with one or more characters' lives in jeopardy. The characters are often pursued and narrowly escape in gripping scenarios.
The young adult fiction genre, often abbreviated as YA, is meant for adolescents between 12 to 18 years old. Most YA stories feature coming-of-age tales, often with a sci-fi or fantasy overlay.
New adult fiction is aimed at college-aged adults and generally explores storylines about people venturing out on their own for the first time.
Horror and Paranormal
The horror, paranormal, and ghost story genre are meant to scare readers and audiences by playing off common fears. The main character usually must overcome a supernatural threat, and the story features supernatural elements.
Mystery and Crime
Mystery and crime stories focus on a central issue or crime that must be solved or a question that must be answered about mysterious events. Throughout the story, the reader or viewer and the characters will become privy to clues to help them find resolution in the end.
In a police procedural, the common element is a police officer or detective who sets out to solve a crime. Evidence collection, forensic research, and legal drama abound.
Historical fiction features a fictional story on the background of an actual historical event or historical setting. It could feature real historical figures as well.
A western genre story takes place in the old American West time period, complete with plenty of adventure, cowboys, and frontier folk. There are also Spaghetti Westerns, Asian Westerns, Space Westerns, and more riffs on the American Western.
The family saga drama usually follows multiple generations of family members who sort through things like family business, family curses, and family adventures. These stories generally follow a timeline and resolve themselves in the present.
The plotlines of the women's fiction genre center on the challenges and crises that women face in real life, including relationships, work, family, politics, and religion.
Magic realism stories take place in the real world, with magical elements that characters recognize as commonplace. These fantastical elements would not exist in real life, but they are entirely normal in the magic realism realm.
The dystopian genre or apocalyptic fiction features a story set in the hypothetical future, in a society that's worse off than the one we're in now. It features realistic fiction and something that the audience can imagine happening if something in our current state of affairs doesn't change.
In summary, read and write widely! You'll learn so much from reading other genres besides your favorite ones, and once you know the genre rules, you can bend them. Don't limit yourself to just one type of storytelling. Just because we haven't put a name on it doesn't mean your way of storytelling is wrong. Let's broaden our horizons! Try new styles and techniques.