Sunday, November 18, 2012

Breaking Down Fiction Sub-Genres

I decided to write this post because I have noticed that some books are being called "supernatural" when they are really "paranormal," while others are being called "science fiction" when they are in fact "fantasy." Perhaps this mistake happens because some do not have any certain qualities in mind when differentiating between sub-genres of fiction. Many just lump sub-genres together and just call it fiction. So, for your convenience I have provided a list of genres with a few general details about each sub-genre that set them apart from the others.


  • Contemporary: Set in a modern setting with true-to-life characteristics.
  • Historical: Action takes place in a recognizable historic period. The culture and language is also true to the era. 
  • Romantic-Comedy: Humor is the order of the day with quick wit and silly antics. 
  • Christian: Religion is the driving force behind the action and character decisions. Sex is reserved until after marriage  and he heroes are devout Christians. 
  • Erotica/Romantica: Sex. Lots of sex. This has a range from mild to hardcore. Fifty Shades of Grey is a prime example. 

Science Fiction

  • Dystopian: Portrays a bleak futuristic world.
  • Cyberpunk: Captures the influence of technology on a society of people. Robotics. 
  • Steampunk: People of the Victorian era have access to 20C technology. 
  • New Age: Aliens, psychics, astrology, UFOs, and spiritual healing. Basically covers all the cult stuff. 
  • Post-Apocalyptic: Think Hunger Games for this one. These books portray the world after either a major ecological disaster or a brutal world war. The characters are struggling to survive. 
  • Alternate History: These are what-if scenarios. The author chooses a significant event in history and makes inferences on what would happen if the course of history was altered. 


  • Mythic: The story and characters are representative of a type of mythology (Greek, Celtic, Chinese, etc.). The Iron King or Percy Jackson and The Olympians series.  
  • Fairy tales: These aren't the sweet Disney tales you've come to love. Many of these reworkings of classics have more violent imagery than their Disney counterparts. 
  • Arthurian Legend: Features tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. 
  • Heroic: Fantastical stories of heroes saving the day. 
  • Epic: One young hero (or a small group of heroes) must battle the ultimate evil to protect an entire society from destruction. 
  • Urban Fantasy: Magical beings bring their conflicts to a normal, modern human society. 


  • Vampires: Features humans who have become creatures that must feed off the blood of humans to survive. This genre has a wide range from romantic interpretations to violence and gore. 
  • Werewolves: Features creatures that must change their shape to that of wolves. They are governed by the moon spirit. Range from soft to gory violence. 
  • Shapeshifters: These stories have creatures that can change their shape at will. Some interpretation restrict the change to animals, while others allow the human like creatures to shift to inanimate objects or even other people. 
  • Witchcraft/Sorcery: Characters engage in witchcraft or sorcery. May be for good or evil. 


  • Comic-Horror: These are usually spoofs of conventional characteristics of the genre. Over-dramatization is found in the Scary Movie franchise. 
  • Gothic: Ranges from the Middle Ages to 18C with images of decay and ruin, as well as imprisonment and persecution. Frankenstein
  • Psychological: Features characters suffering from a disturbed mental psyche. These books explore asylums and insanity. 
  • Religious: Gory/horrific battles between angles and demons. 
  • Dark Fantasy: Combines elements of the supernatural with scary and violent imagery.
  • Paranormal: Includes possessions and hauntings by unfriendly ghosts or poltergeists. 
  • Zombie: The violent, blood-thirsty undead terrorizing humans. 


  • Detective: A detective solves the mystery of a crime. 
  • Cozy: The suspect is one of a group that is familiar to each other. It may be a member of a family or one in a group of friends. This mystery typically happens in one location where all are present and the only outsider is the detective.
  • Dark Thriller: The crime is described in gory details. 
  • Espionage: Think 007 here. This is a spy novel that is heavy with action scenes and deals with terrorists and corruption in politics.
  • Psychological Suspense: Focuses on motivation rather than how. 
  • Courtroom Drama: The central mystery takes place in a courtroom. 

Click here for a more detailed list of genres.

Here is a visual map with a broad overview of the genres and sub-genres.

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