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Behind The Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Michael G'Francisco


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 overcome.

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” or “romance”.

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 novels.

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 westerns.


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


Great news:
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.

Comments are welcome.  Email them to - Attn: Michael, Behind the Fiction.

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