Writing Tip #35: Characteristics of the Genres


Source: KELLEPICS on Pixabay, edited with GIMP

Hello friends of The Ink Well.

In this installment of our writing tips, we’re looking at the types of genres for fiction, and the difference between genre fiction writing and literary fiction writing. First, it’s important to note that nothing but personal opinion and value judgements can say whether any particular genre, including literary fiction, is better than any other. It’s all about what your muse is whispering in your ear when you sit down to write.

What's Your Favorite Genre?

Maybe you don’t have a genre in mind; you just want to tell stories. And that’s fine. Especially when you’re writing short stories.

It’s more important to adhere to genre if you’re writing a novel, as a novel requires a setup of a premise, more complicated conflicts and sub-plots and so on — all of which must be styled to the genre in order to satisfy readers’ expectations.

Plus the marketing of a book, including its jacket cover and description, need to be true to the genre as well. (Imagine a thriller or sci-fi novel with one of the bodice-ripper covers characteristic of a romance novel!)

Characteristics of the Fiction Genres

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of the genres, as well as literary fiction, which is sometimes considered a genre, but more often viewed essentially as a non-genre. Studying the different forms can help you to identify the genre you favor so you can be sure to incorporate the important elements of that genre into your writing. This can help you know the direction and "flavor" or your story, and it can help your readers feel an immediate comfort level that they have picked up a story that matches their tastes.


Source: KELLEPICS on Pixabay

The hallmarks of fantasy fiction can vary, but may include magical or supernatural creatures, people and settings. If you want to write fantasy, you’ll need to hone your skills in “world building” to create a unique, mystical or magical world and all the flora and fauna that populate it. One source on genres states that fantasy stories “deal with kingdoms as opposed to sci-fi, which deals with universes.”


Source: KELLEPICS on Pixabay

Science fiction is perhaps the most popular genre in existence. We love to imagine life in the future, life in outer space, and the impact of aliens and highly developed technology on our lives. Outer space is, of course, not the only frontier for sci-fi. (See what I did there?) Time travel, artificial intelligence, parallel universes and more can populate sci-fi stories.


Source: cocoparisienne on Pixabay

The horror genre is more complex than one might think at first blush. It’s not all slasher stories and gore. In fact, some of the best horror fiction is often more literary in nature, with highly developed characters, which can blend horror with psychological thrillers and other genres. From ghosts, Halloween themes and dark spells to dead things coming back to life, there is ample opportunity for the imagination.


Source: PublicDomainPictures on Pixaby

This genre is about suspense and intrigue, and often the frightening proposition that a killer is on the loose. It’s perhaps best to think a bit like a reporter to develop fiction in this genre. Who is performing frightening acts? What are they doing that creates dread, anxiety, fear and anticipation? What is the experience of the main character as a result, and how will they get out of it alive?


Source: stux on Pixabay

Mystery and crime stories typically begin with the unveiling of a terrible act, and then the plot unravels bit by bit with multiple possible perpetrators being ruled out until the true criminal is revealed. This is perhaps one of the most formulaic of the genres.


Source: 3935302 on Pixabay

Boy meets girl, and some really steamy stuff happens after that. Need we say more? Just kidding. Here's a description from Master Class:

At its core, a romance novel is about a developing romance between a hero and a heroine. There must be a conflict challenging the relationship that needs to be overcome. The stories are aspirational, and so issues outside of the central courtship are limited. Romance novels are generally told through the perspective of a woman and feature strong-willed and clever female characters. All romance novels follow the moral principle that good behavior is rewarded with unconditional love.

Magical Realism

Source: pixel2013 on Pixabay

This genre is characterized by magic that is part of our everyday world. To write in this genre, you don’t build an entire world; you incorporate the supernatural into this one. Everyday people walking among us can have spectacular powers, and that is perfectly natural within the context of the story.

Young Adult (YA)

Source: garzagd1996 on Pixabay

The market for adolescents and young adults is quite broad. The stories are typically intended for 12-18 year olds, but many adults read YA fiction. And in fact, if you read novels you may well have read a YA book without realizing it. The story, The Book Thief comes to mind. While it was written as YA fiction, it has the length and complexity of an adult novel.


Source: darksouls1 on Pixabay

The definition of the literary genre (if we can even agree that it qualifies as a genre) is perhaps more varied than the other genres. There is no formula for literary fiction. And its merits tend to be debated. There are people who “look down” on literary fiction because it is typically not as plot-driven as other genres. But one thing most people do seem to agree on is that literary fiction tends to feature character development, scene building and wordsmithing.

Note: The above is not an exhaustive list. But these are the heavy hitters. There are some great resources out there for learning how to write effectively in your chosen genre. Just do an Internet search on “how to write ___ fiction” and fill in the blank with your favorite genre.

What genre do you favor? Or do you just enjoy storytelling, and write what comes to mind? Tell us in the comments.

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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If you're looking to up your fiction game and reach that next level, check out my past writing tips linked below.

Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt

Writing Tip #2: Adding Conflict

Writing Tip #3: Writing What You Know

Writing Tip #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

Writing Tip #5: Is ‘Show Don’t Tell’ a Writing Rule?

Writing Tip #6: How Fiction Writing Is Like Weaving

Writing Tip #7: Put It On the Page

Writing Tip #8: What Is a Story Arc?

Writing Tip #9: Should You Plot Your Story?

Writing Tip #10: Don’t Start a Story This Way!

Writing Tip #11: What Is “Writing Voice”?

Writing Tip #12: Reveal Everything and Nothing

Writing Tip #13: Character Types in Fiction

Writing Tip #14: Clichés - Avoid the Conspiratorial Wink

Writing Tip #15: Developing Memorable Characters

Writing Tip #16: Writing Character Descriptions

Writing Tip #17: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writing Tip #18: Don’t Be a Copycat (Plagiarism is Wrong)

Writing Tip #19: Hook Your Readers

Writing Tip #20: Lessons in Tense Part 1

Writing Tip #21: Editing Your Work with Fresh Eyes

Writing Tip #22: We want to hear from you! What do you want to know?

Writing Tip #23: The Value of Workshops and Feedback

Writing Tip #24: What Are Plotters and Pantsers?

Writing Tip #25: Do Short Stories Have to Have a Plot?

Writing Tip #26: Action, Dialog and Narrative: The Dynamic Trio

Writing Tip #27: Let’s Explore World Building

Writing Tip #28: Getting Unstuck in Fiction Writing

Writing Tip #29: What Does It Take to Be a Fiction Writer?

Writing Tip #30: Help for the Grammatically Challenged

Writing Tip #31 PART 1: Don't Write This Type of Mystery

Writing Tip #31 PART 2: Stunning Writing Examples

Writing Tip #32: What Is Author Intrusion?

Writing Tip #33: What Is Your Story's Setting

Writing Tip #34: Banish the Stereotypes

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