Know Your Genre – Pt. I

This post contains important information for any writer. When you self-publish, the distributor you choose will ask several questions about the story’s genre which classifies it for marketing. This list will help you decide where it belongs. In addition, each genre contains elements which could be helpful to developing a story. You are not obligated to strictly follow these elements, and can combine several genre. For instance, let’s take Action-Heroic (brotherhood & honor) + Military (battle) + Adventure(humorous). Those can become the ingredients for your plot.

[The following information is abridged from:

See the entire article for more detailed information.]

Action / Adventure

Heroic themes

  • brotherhood
  • duty
  • honor
  • redemption
  • violence
  • war or battle
  • historical or fictional
  • follows events of certain warrior
Spy / Espionage
  • special gadgets
  • special training
  • may or may not work for a specific government
Martial arts
  • chivalrous protagonist
  • fantastic adventures
Female protagonist
  • strong
  • uses weapons
  • typically involves gun-play, stunts, and martial arts


[Note: The protagonist who journeys to epic or distant places faces obstacles to accomplish a mission. Very open genre. May contain many other genre elements.]

  • male market 10+
  • male protagonist
  • high-action
  • humorous plots
  • camaraderie between boys or men
  • attractive female characters
  • costumed crime fighters
  • possess superhuman powers
  • battle similarly powered criminals (supervillains)


[NOTE: Very open genre – crosses over frequently. series of funny or comical events. Dialogue is important.]

Comedy of manners
  • satirize manners and affectation of a social class
  • stock characters
  • illicit love affair
  • scandal
  • funk, fancy, excitement to entertain
  • tall tail with blatant exaggeratgion, swaggering heroes who do impossible with nonchalance
  • mocks or satirizes
  • sarcastic
  • stereotyping
  • romance + comedy
  • two or more actors as they discover and deal with romantic love
Comic fantasy
  • set in imaginary worlds
  • includes puns on and parodies of other works of fantasy
Comic horror
  • black comedy
    • parody or satire based on death, murder, suicide, illicit drugs and war
  • zombie comedyh
    • blends zombie horror motifs with slapstick and black comedy
  • comic science fiction
  • light-hearted parody


[Note: Being committed or has been committed or an account of a criminal’s life. Usually falls in action or adventure.]

  • fictional drama about law
  • a detective or person – professional or amateur – who solves a crime
  • who-dunn-it
    • a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the audience is given the opportunity to engage in the same process of deduction as the protagonist throughout the investigation of a crime by giving clues to ID perpetrator at climax

focuses on gangs, criminal organizations which provide a level or organization and resources that support much larger and more complex criminal transactions than an in individual criminal could achieve

Gentleman thief
  • centers around particularly well-behaving and apparently well-bred thieves. They rarely bother with anonymity or force, preferring to rely on their charisma, physical attractiveness, and clever misdirection to steal the most unobtainable objects — sometimes for their own support, but mostly for the thrill of the act itself
  • deviate from traditional by detective’s cynical attitude emotions
  • attitude conveyed through detective’s self-talk to reader what he is doing/feeling
Legal thriller
  • actors are lawyers and their employees
  • actors are police officers
  • system of justice always a major player
  • crusaders who imperil their own relationships / lives
Murder mystery
  • focus only on homicide
  • one or more murder victims
  • who-dunn-it
  • includes elements of suspense genre, action, and adventure


Note: focus is on magic or supernatural forces rather than technology. Is NOT Science Fiction

  • concerns the use of famous literary or historical individuals and their interactions in the afterlife
  • set in the present day in which magic and magical creatures exist, either living in our world or leaking over from alternate worlds
  • usually in contemporary times ane contain supernatural elements. Can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, as well as fictional settings. The prerequisite is tht they must be primarily set in a city
  • combine fantasy with elementgs of horror
  • demonstrates a useful truth. Aminals speak as humans
  • legendary tale
  • supernatural tale
Fairy tales
  • magical creatures, environments, etc.
  • highly developed characters and story lines
  • chronicles tales of heroes in imaginary lands
  • frequently reluctant champion
    • of low or humble origin
    • unaware of his royal ancestors or parents
    • thrust into positions of great responsibility where they are tests by a number of spiritual and physical challenges
  • national hero or folk figure with basis in fact
  • can contain imaginative material
Magical girl
  • trained in magic
  • fight evil
  • inspired by muth, folklore, and fairy tales
  • often crosses between literary and fantasy fiction
  • mystical elements that re scientifically explainable
  • combines SF with fatasy
  • these are NOT considered science fiction
Sword and planet
  • rousing adventure on other planets
  • usually feature earthmen as protagonists
Planetary romance
  • space opera
  • more modern and technologically savvy
Dying earth
  • end of earth or end of time
  • hope of renewal dominate
  • setting often Victorian or Edwardian socially or technologically
  • non-scientific elements or characters
  • revolves around the gods and monsters of Chinese mythology
Sword and sorcery
  • blend of heroic, fantasy, adventure with frequent elements of horror
  • mighty barbaric warrior-hero pitted against both human and supernatural adversaries


  • details the life story of a real person as told by someone else
  • similar to biography except that the story is written by the person who is the subject of the story
  • similar to autobiography as told more how the person personally remembers and feels about their life or a stage in their life, more than the exact, recorded details of that period.
    • memoirs are often more subjective than an autobiography, but still generally considered nonfiction works.
    • fiction works purporting to be the “memoirs” of fictional characters done in a similar style are in a separate genre from their nonfiction counterparts.

Historical fiction

  • includes stories that are about an era in the past, about a time that occurred in a historical context in relation to the author of the book. Includes historical details and includes characters that fit into the time period of the setting, whether or not they are real historical people.
  • a story that takes place in the real world, with real world people, but with several fictionalized or dramatized elements.
  • This may or may not crossover with other genres such as fantasy fiction or science fiction
Alternate history
  • a more extreme variant of historical fiction which posits a “what if” scenario in which some historical event occurs differently, or not at all, thus altering the course of history
Counter-factual / Virtual history
  • attempts to answer “what if” questions by exploring history and historical incidents in which certain key historical events did not happen or had an outcome which was different from that which did in fact occur. The purpose is to ascertain the relative importance of the event, incident, or person
Period piece
  • features historical places, people, or events that may or not be crucial to the story. History is used as a backdrop, it may be fictionalized to various degrees, but the story itself may be regarded as “outside” history. Genres within this category are often regarded as significant categories in themselves.


  • told to deliberately scare or frighten through suspense, violence or shock. 
    • physical fear or the “mundanely gruesome”
    • true Supeernatural Horror story or the “Weird Tale” occasionally called “dark fantasy”, since the laws of nature must be violated in some way, thus qualifying the story as “fantastic”
Ghost story
  • the intrusion of the spirits of the dead into the realm of the living
  • a monster, creature or mutant that terrorizes people
  • usually fits into the horror genre
  • creatures of folklore and fable – Vampire, Ghoul, Werewolf, Zombie, etc.
Giant monsters
  • a giant monster, big enough to destroy buildings
Werewolf fiction
  • humans with the ability to shape shift into wolves
  • reanimated bodies that feed on the blood of the living
Occult stories
  • touch  on the adversaries of Good, especially the “Enemies” of the forces of righteousness as expressed in any given religious philosophy.
  • stories of devils, demons, demonic possession, dark witchcraft, evil sorcerers or warlocks, and figures like the Antichrist would qualify.
  • presupposes the existence of the side of Good and the existence of a deity to be opposed to the forces of Evil
Magical realism
  • magical events form part of ordinary life. The reader is forced to accept that abnormal events such as levitation, telekinesis and talking with the dead take place in the real world. The writer does not invent a new world or describes in great detail new creatures, author abstains from explaining the fantastic events in order to avoid making them feel extraordinary.
  • story follows an investigator attempting to solve a puzzle (often a crime). The details and clues are presented as the story continues and the protagonist discovers them until at the end of the story the mystery/puzzle is solved.
  • explores the subjective nature of reality and how it can be manipulated by forces in power. These forces can be external, such as a totalitarian government, or they can be internal, such as a character’s mental illness or refusal to accept the harshness of the world he or she is in
  • significant proportion of the work is devoted to a discussion of the sort of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy
  • deals with political affairs often using narrative to provide commentary on political events, systems and theories
    • Utopian fiction: The creation of an ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for a novel
    • Dystopian fiction: The creation of a nightmare world, or dystopia, as the setting for a novel
    • Survivalism: The creation of world where traditional society has collapsed usually due to some post apocalyptic or doomsday scenario, as a setting for a novel
  • emotion-driven stories primarily focused on the relationship between the main characters of the story.
    • a happy ending is always guaranteed, but not require the characters to be married and living “happily ever after”, simply that the reader feels that there is hope for the future of the romantic relationship.
    • due to the wide definition of romance, romance stories cover a wide variety of subjects and often fall into other genre categories as well as romance.
— S through W in part II —

Continue to Part 2 of “Know Your Genre”

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