IS GENRE FICTION?
Let’s define the word “GENRE”. It is a category
used to classify literary and other works, usually by form, technique,
or content. Samples of genres: the novel and the short story.
All fiction genres tell stories or are narrative writings. Each
has a beginning, middle, and an ending. They have characters, settings,
plots, and themes. Most fiction genres have a "protagonist"
(hero / heroine) and an "atagonist" (villain / antihero).
The novel is a long work of fiction, usually 55,000 to 85,000 words,
between 200 and 300 pages, and is usually divided into chapters.
The short story is a concise work of fiction, usually 1,000 to
20,000 words, whose plot generally renders a main theme or idea
that deals with a conflict or an encounter the hero/heroine must
Genre etiquette by definition means that the work of a given genre
usually follows specific settings, roles, and events that define
the individual genre. These behaviors or rules, always flowing,
are usually absolute.
It has been said that Aristotle is the father of story
genres. He named story genres by categorizing “dramas”
according to their powerful endings and the crafting of their stories.
Today, there are many genres in fiction, but two terms seem to
pop-up more and more nowadays: “Literary” and “Formula”
fiction. Some say that literary fiction is in itself just another
genre. However, it doesn’t seem to fit the general description
of a genre, as it lacks the cohesiveness of genres like “western”
The classification of formula fiction is quite similar to that
of genre fiction in the respect that genre fiction reuses settings,
contents, layouts, and style. While, formula fiction reuses plots,
plot devises and stock characters.
Literary fiction is presumed to have greater artistic merit and
a higher cultural value. Where, by comparison, genre fiction is
considered to be formulaic, commercial, sensational, and melodramatic,
which tends to heighten its appeal to the mass audience.
It all comes together by most writers being willing to agree that
there are seven (7) major fiction genres and beyond a hundred (100)
subgenres (which included the latest additions: virtual reality,
bioengineering, and bio-thriller) themes.
A look back in time tells of how fiction genres might have arrived
on the scene. In the late 1800’s and after the turn of the
20th Century, stories with imagery plots and main characters were
portrayed in periodicals, which developed into pulp
magazines. These works of fiction began to produce a flow of
But, enough about history. Let’s focus and describe the seven
main genres of genre fiction: crime, adventure, romance, western,
fantasy, science, and horror.
Authors, publishers, booksellers, and probably most readers maintain
their own definition of what comprises each category.
For a novel to be classified as crime fiction certain desideratum
must be met.
Its plot must be fictitious. Names, places, and events can be real
or imaginary. There must be some sort of a crime, be it murder or
something else, connected to a criminal action. A detective, investigator,
private eye or someone has to be part of the investigating mechanism.
There is always a conclusion to bring about the ending. Although,
sometimes the villain, thief, or antagonist can temporary get away
with his/her criminal action, which can present the possibility
to be revived in another novel. Of course, this may or may not build
a desire to purchase the sequel. Some subgenres: detective, hardboiled,
the cozy, police procedurals, whodunits, the thriller, and the mystery
or suspense novel play an interesting part in crime fiction.
The adventure story is comprised of the key word “action”.
Action is almost continuous in their fast-moving plots. The author
has to have the reader identify with the hero/heroine of the story.
He/she usually portrays strong leadership skills and is always relentless
in pursuit of the villain(s). The plot generally has an exciting
struggle involving risk and physical danger as its main theme. Comics
and comic books since 1896 (“The Yellow Kid” by Richard
Outcault) have added and played an important role in adventure fiction.
Some subgenres: disaster, espionage, military, survival, thriller,
industrial and political slip into this genre.
This form of fiction genre is the most popular and best selling
in the United States. Why? Because it is part of a person’s
“growing up” period in life. It seems there is something
very special about this genre due to the fact, I guess, boy meets
girl or the other way around, they fall in love, have a few spats,
which cements the core theme. They break-up, kiss and get back together,
which produces a happy ending. Romance novels date back
to 1740 (“Pamela” by Samuel Richardson) and have been
on the rise to this day. Fame and wealth befell many authors in
the following sub-genres: contemporary, inspirational, suspense,
multicultural, erotic, paranormal, and historical.
Now, this genre is a tempting little morsel of the unbelievable.
It usually is a tale that has events happening that could never
happen in the real world. At least, that is what is thought today.
But, who knows what the future may hold? These inventive yarns slip
threads from myths, old legends, and epics of the past. The amazing
popularity of recent fantasies in movies and novels demonstrates
its wide appeal. There are conflicting thoughts about this genre.
Some author’s debate that this genre could easily be science
fiction. At any rate, here are a few subgenres: comic, epic, dark,
Arthurian, mythology or fairy tales, sword and sorcery seem to give
humorous and nightmarish enlightenment pleasures to the reader.
This genre is a bit difficult to define as it includes a wide range
of subgenres and themes. Possibly, a definition can be made clearer
by story settings than other story elements, such as: a setting
in the future in outer space, which includes aliens or unknown civilizations.
Other elements applied in this fiction genre subgenres encompass
certain principles like, time travel, video games, robots, and naotechnology
(the control of matter). This genre has a given birth through Voltaire’s
short story, “MICROMEGAS”, written in 1752.
The following are some of these fiction subgenres: alternate history,
hard and soft sci-fi, cyberpunk, space opera, apocalyptic, and space
The second half of the 19th Century in the American West gives
us the time and the setting for this genre. Gold rushes, rugged
men and women, gunslingers, gamblers, Civil War heroes, cattle drives
and The Homestead Law of 1863 gave forth the characters, plots and
settings to create the stories within this genre. We can give thanks
to the many small town newspapers for relating the events in which
many a saga was written. Somewhere around 1850 a publication called,
“Penny Dreadfuls” made their debut. Later, an avid adventurer
named, Ned Buntline (Edward Judson) penned the first “Dime
Novels”. Here is a brief list of subgenres or “OATERS”,
a Hollywood term for westerns: classical, spaghetti, acid, revisionist,
epic, and Communist Eastern European “Red Westerns”.
This genre is comprised of myths and legends with the explicit
intention of communicating fear, fascination and revulsion to its
readers. Horror fiction, as it was known in the days of novels like
“Frankenstein”, “Dracula”, “The Mummy”,
and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, have been swept away into the
vaults of Hollywood.
“Carrie”, a mid 70’s novel, turned the key in
the lock and horror fiction lost its identity to today’s popular
modern form of horror. To quote the 1982 author of “Prime
Evil”, Douglas Winters, “Horror is not a genre,
like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is a kind
of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf
in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” With that
said, one must realize that horror fiction does not confine itself
to literature. Here is a stab at a few subgenres: contemporary,
ghost stories, psychological, religious, body and erotic.
In a final note, please remember there are many different ways
of labeling and defining fiction genres. Maybe, there is a writer
among the readers of this web site who will create a new subgenre
for fiction. It has happened. Remember “CARRIE”.
Now, go softly into the night. mgf
December's column will feature an interview with Nancy J. Cohen,
the renown author of the "Bad Hair Mystery" series featuring
amateur sleuth Marla Shore.
are welcome. Email them to
- Attn: Michael, Behind the Fiction.
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