Writer’s Guide to Book Genre

The genre of your story is not only important to know before you start writing, but it’s also important to your future readership. Knowing and understanding the genre in which you’re writing will help you connect with the right readers who will love the type of story you’re creating.

The main genre types are romance, horror, mystery and crime, science fiction and fantasy, and thriller and suspense—but there are many sub-genres that help you further narrow your target audience. Here are the many sub-genres under the main genre groups.

Romance Genre

A story where romance is prevalent between the protagonist and their partner. There are often characterized by sexual tension and desire but can often lead to acting on these desires. For much of the story, these characters are not together or something is keeping them from acting on their desires, but they eventually end up together.

  • Chick-Lit: Romantic adventures geared toward women in their 20s and 30s.
  • Christian: Focused on the romance between two devout Christians, typically featuring themes such as abstinence.
  • Contemporary: A romance set in modern time, with modern characters.
  • Erotica: A romance with active sexual experiences that are described with detail.
  • Glitz/Glamor: Focused on celebrity-life characters, or characters with affluent lifestyles.
  • Historical: Romance set in a recognizable historical period.
  • Paranormal: A romance using elements of the paranormal and supernatural world, including vampires, werewolves, etc.
  • Romantic Comedy: Romance focused on the humorous antics and wittiness of the characters.
  • Romantic Suspense: A novel where the protagonist is set up against a great evil, but the romance portrayed in the story is still prevalent.
  • Young Adult: A novel geared toward a younger audience, with stunted, age-appropriate sexual content.

Horror Genre

A story that features psychological, physical, or ambiguous scare tactics to keep their readers on edge. These are your typical “scary novel” that feature supernatural or demonic themes.

  • Child-in-Peril: A story that involves the abduction and/or persecution of a child.
  • Creepy Kids: A story in which children are under the influence of dark forces to turn them against adults.
  • Gore Horror: A story where graphic detail is prevalent.
  • Dark Fantasy: A horror story with supernatural and fantasy elements.
  • Dark Mystery/Noir: A horror story inspired by “hard-boiled” detective tales, often set in an urban underworld crime syndicate, and often include heavy moral ambiguity.
  • Hauntings: A horror story featuring classic hauntings, including ghosts, poltergeists, demons, etc.
  • Historical: A horror story set in a realistic and recognizable historical setting.
  • Magical Realism: A horror story where the supernatural pop into otherwise normal, realistic settings.
  • Psychological: A horror story that features the disturbed human psyche and often highlights internalized demons.
  • Religious: Horror stories that include iconic religious figures.
  • Science Fiction Horror: Darker and more violent elements incorporated into general science fiction novels.
  • Supernatural Menace: A horror story featuring supernatural elements.
  • Young Adult: Stunted horror stories that are deemed “more age-appropriate” for a younger demographic than the average horror story.
  • Zombie: Horror stories featuring reanimated dead people.

Thriller/Suspense Genres

Dominated by characters in constant peril, these stories often include some sort of pursuit in the genre. Emotional and psychological threats are also prevalent. The setting(s) are often integral to the plot.

  • Action: A story that often features a “race against the clock” type of tension.
  • Comedy: A story that centers around the humorous elements of the story.
  • Disaster: A story that features obstacles from “Mother Nature”, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions.
  • Erotic: A story in which sexual experience plays a central role.
  • Espionage: Often portrayed as the “classic international spy” story, but more recently has portrayed spies fighting international terrorists.
  • Forensic: A story where forensic sciences play a central role in solving the plot.
  • Historical: A story that takes place in a recognizable historical setting with realistic elements.
  • Psychological: Often with a violent resolution, this type typically chooses character conflicts that are mental and emotional.
  • Supernatural: A story where the characters have supernatural powers.
  • Technological: A story where technology is used to create conflict but doesn’t necessarily have to be considered science fiction.

Science Fiction / Fantasy Genres

Fantasy and science fiction often include varying elements that make them distinct from other genres. Whereas fantasy stories often deal with kingdoms and magic-based concepts, science fiction often incorporates a story set in the future, past, or alternative dimensions in high-tech settings. Heavy world building is useful in both genres, as the worlds are very unlike our own.

  • Urban Fantasy: A fantasy story featuring magical powers and characters that are within an otherwise normal setting.
  • Alternate History: A fiction novel that is based on actual historical events but features a heavy “what if” premise.
  • Dark Fantasy: Teetering on the edge of horror, dark fantasy combines violence and magical elements.
  • Cyberpunk: A story featuring futuristic, high-tech components.
  • Dystopian: A story featuring a grim, futuristic world.
  • Erotic: A story that focuses on the characters’ detailed experience.
  • Heroic Fantasy: A story featuring war elements.
  • High/Epic Fantasy: A story in which the future of an entire race or nation is determined by an often-young hero. J. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series falls under high fantasy.
  • Paranormal: A fantastical story with paranormal elements. Though the books fall into many sub-genres, Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampires series falls under the paranormal realm, though she also crosses into mystery and romance, among others.
  • Historical: A fictitious story that takes place in a recognizable historical setting.
  • Mystery Science Fiction: A cross-genre blend of mystery elements and science fiction.
  • Mythic Fiction: A story-based, or which include mythic elements, which as classic myths, legends, and fairy tales.
  • New Age Fiction: A story in which elements such as astrology, psychic phenomena, or mysticisms are heavily prevalent.
  • Post-Apocalyptic: Like dystopian, where characters struggle to survive after an apocalypse, often with a bleak future.
  • Space Opera: An often-larger-than-life rendition of an action story. Marvel Comic’s Guardians of the Galaxy falls into the “Space Opera” sub-genre.
  • Spy-Fi: A story where high-tech gadgetry meets science fiction elements.
  • Steampunk: An alternative history, heavily featuring Victorian English styles, but with access to 20th-century technology.
  • Superhero: A story featuring characters with superhuman abilities.
  • Thriller Science Fiction: A cross-genre story, which features both thriller and science fiction elements.

Mystery/Crime Genres

There is a central question that must be answered before the story’s end. An identity revealed a crime solved—these are two types of issues that stem from this genre. The novel is often paced by clues that raise the tension—and often the stakes—until the crime is finally solved.

  • Amateur Detective: A mystery solved by an amateur detective.
  • Child-in-Peril: A mystery that involves the abduction and/or persecution of a child.
  • Classic “WhoDoneIt”: A classic detective story that is often from the detectives’ point-of-view.
  • Cozy/Familiar: A story that takes place in a small town where many characters are familiar with one another. The Twin Peaks television series would fall under.
  • Court Room Drama: A story that takes place within a justice system, often featuring court proceedings. Think Law and Order when it comes to this sub-genre.
  • Dark Thriller: A story that heavily features graphic violence and other horror-specific elements.
  • Espionage: A story featuring a spy who is required to solve some sort of puzzle to finish their mission.
  • Forensic: A story often solved using the sciences from a forensics lab.
  • Historical: A story featuring a recognizable historical setting.
  • Private Detective: A story featuring an independent sleuth, often with a “tough guy” ego.
  • Psychological Suspense: A story focused on the intricacies of crime and what motivated the perpetrator to commit them.
  • Romantic: A story in which love is formed, often between the crime-solvers.
  • Techno Thriller: A story where highly advanced technology is prevalent.

At the end of the day, you should choose to write in the genre that most “speaks” to you—the one you have the most passion to pursue. If you stick to what you love, and what you’re passionate about, you’re more likely to produce high-quality work and care more about your projects.

*My research geared me toward an article from the Writers Digest and their article about genre and sub-genre.