Genre is a category of artistic composition. The word applies to literature and music. It means works similar in form, style, or subject matter. I’ll be talking about the literary genres. Some people say there are four main ones, drama, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. One can break drama and fiction down into contemporary fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction. The genre of a work is determined by the plot of the story. If you do an internet search on the term genre, you will find yourself going down a rabbit hole of websites. For this blog, I will stick to the literary genres I have listed above and try to give you an overview of each of them.
Contemporary fiction is anything that a writer composes that is based in the same decade that it was composed in. It’s basically set at the same time as the author’s life. The Great Gatsby was set in the lifetime of the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s just a fancy term for a work that seems to be taking place in real time. It is, however, fiction. It’s set in a place and time a reader would recognize.
Fantasy is fiction set in another world or realm. Here be dragons, elves, fairies, and the like. The Lord of the Rings is a fine example of such a piece. Here the author can create a world where magic rules or the characters must fight dragons or befriend them to get where they want to be. It’s a fun place. It can also be dark, like Stephen King’s Christine. Fantasy is not always sweet and light. It’s not always horror either. Some people believe horror is a genre as well. Sometimes horror can be contemporary, like King’s The Shining. To me fantasy is a work where magic or the supernatural comes into play. Horror often falls into this category. Just remember, there are no hard boundaries here.
Historical fiction is a story set in the past. Georgette Heyer wrote historical romances which were particularly good. She sprinkled a few real historical figures in her stories, but the focus was on people who never existed but could have met those figures. In her case, they were the leaders of society in Regency England. To write historical fiction, you need to know your period to capture it correctly.
Mystery can be suspenseful, horror or cozy, depending on the plot and the characters. Read anything from Agatha Christie and you will see suspense and cozy. Mysteries usually involve a murder, but that really isn’t always the case. The Maltese Falcon was a mystery with a focus on finding an object. Now there was a couple of murders in that story, but the focus was the quest to find the Maltese Falcon and some of the characters were willing to kill to get it.
Science fiction is the place where you will find fiction that speculates on where we will be in the near or far future. My own novel, Accidental Colony, is an example. I simply asked the question, “What would happen if we sent a group of scientists to study the biology and geology of a planet and then couldn’t get them back before their food ran out?” The story was one of survival. Not all science fiction is a survival story. Some is simply adventure. Imagine exploring new worlds. That kind of thing. It just needs to have a bit of hard science involved, even if it’s only in the background.
What you need to remember is that these categories are general guides. Sometimes they bleed into one another. That’s what makes it somewhat hard to pin down. On the other hand, if someone is looking for clues, you know you have a mystery. If they are on the moon while looking for clues, you have science fiction as well. Blending the genres is easy to do and happens a lot. Pick one, develop a plot and see if it doesn’t cross the categories. You will have fun with that.