The many moods of genre

I must credit Linda, over at Out of my mind for the idea for this post. Linda posted about a recent experience with “pigeon-holing” her fiction into the right genre.

A genre is a category of artistic works; sadly defining the word genre doesn’t help you define which genre you are writing in. Specifically I’m talking about literary genres. Currently I know of no books that address the issue of fictional categories , which comprehensively outline the criteria for inclusion in a specific genre. There’s a good reason for this: genre is ever evolving, inventing and redefining itself. For each new generation of writers and readers, it seems a dozen new subcategories appear.

So I decided to do some research and see if I could come up with a reasonable list. After spending several hours with my head in books or with my finger on the mouse button I’ve discovered that this is a very complex topic, and that to describe each genre and subgenre would require many many days, if not weeks of hard research, which I’m not unwilling to do, but for the fact that I don’t have the time. The following categories are a suggestion only and are in no way meant to be comprehensive. It seems there is a lot of overlap between categories too.

As far as I can tell there are three levels of categories of adult literature. The first level I will refer to as a market, of which there are about a dozen, give or take. Below the market level is the category level, referred to many as genre. This category includes major “genres”, each is sometimes further segmented into subcategories (level three). I have not included the subcategories here, since it would take me outside of a few weeks to accomplish and would fill several posts like this.

Thus the hierarchy looks something like this

MARKET (Eg, Speculative fiction)

Category (Eg, Science fiction)

Subcategory (Eg, Time travel)

ACTION/ADVENTURE market – Action/adventure novels are historically quest-focused with a hero (or heroine) as the lead, written for a male audience. Stories usually involve tales of conflict and courage and include physical violence and sometimes explosive action. Subgenres might include:

  • Military
  • Maritime
  • Martial arts
  • Sports, including motor racing
  • Westerns

CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT market – the children’s market usually includes books written for readers under the age of 13. Young adult fiction is aimed at readers 13 – 18. Many of the categories in adult fiction apply to this market.

  • Picture books
  • Chapter books
  • Young adult fiction


  • Gay and lesbian
  • Transgender literature
  • Political fiction
  • Religious fiction
  • Human rights fiction

HISTORICAL FICTION market. Some historical fiction categories will have subcategories

  • Alternate history
  • Prehistoric fiction
  • Historical mystery
  • Saga
  • World War fiction
  • Middle Ages and Renaissance

MEMOIR market

  • Biography
  • Autobiography
  • Journals and diaries
  • Notebooks


  • Crime
  • Detective
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
  • Medical mystery

POETRY market – I’ve included only five examples of categories

  • Acrostic
  • Ballad
  • Limerick
  • Sonnet
  • Lyric


  • “Chick lit” – ghastly term, but popular nonetheless and includes novels such as Briget Jone’s Diary
  • Romance
  • Erotica
  • “Mainstream”


  • The short story
  • Fable
  • Parable

SPECULATIVE FICTION market – Speculative fiction describes the collective works of fantasy, horror and science fiction. This kind of fiction asks “What if?” Each of the categories includes potentially dozens of subcategories.

  • Fantasy
  • Science fiction
  • Horror
  • Paranormal fiction


  • Folktales
  • Myths and legends
  • Epic


  1. Wikipedia
  2. The handbook of creative writing, Edited by Steven Earnshaw


General resources

  • For a review of specific genres visit Wikipedia
  • For a comprehensive review of genres visit
  • For a list and description of literary generals visit AustLit

For specific categories


About Sharon

Writer, bibliophile, dreamer and student of everything
This entry was posted in Genre, ME ON WRITING and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The many moods of genre

  1. Tricia says:

    Oh me oh my. I always thought contemporary meant set in present times/not historical. So glad I didn’t make that mistake and I was just about to too.

  2. jenniferneri says:

    wow – what a post, Sharon!! Glad to hear Linda inspired you!

    I have had a hard time with my novel – I think it would actually be in speculative fiction cat, but I have not yet queried it like that. I am worried it will be seen as sci-fi, which it is not. It is similar in a sense to Time Traveler’s Wife (no time traveling!) and Never Let me Go. I see both these books cat as sci-fi occasionally, to me neither are. I have been querying my novel as mainstream. Who knows, that may change??

    Sorry to use your post as a ranting spot!!

    (and sorry to have not been by in so long – you sound well!!)

    • Hi Jennifer, good to see you. I am very well, thank you. You could check out the “subgenres” of speculative fiction. Do a google search for a comprehensive list and see where your novel fits. I wouldn’t lump the Time Travelers Wife in with Sci Fi either. It doesn’t sit easily under that umbrella. Like I said, there are many crossovers. It’s a tricky one though.

  3. Matthew says:

    This was an interesting read. Nice first visit – thanks for having me. 🙂

  4. Bill Reed says:

    This post makes me happy that I don’t write for a living. What I write is what I write and I don’t have to make these Gendre decisions. 🙂

  5. Heather Conroy says:

    Well that worked for me. I have no knowledge whatsover of literature genres. I have to say your list is pretty comprehensive. It reminds me why my (now not so secret) dream is to be a librarian.

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