Genres for Dummies (or a quick list guide of the more confusing genres and sub-genres)

I don’t know about you, but when I first started to “take this writing stuff seriously” I ran into what felt like a brick wall – the ever pressing, evil question “What is your Genre”?

“Um, vampires?”

Not only is vampires not a genre, but in an effort to help me find the correct “label” for my book, helpful people threw confusing terms at me such as “Urban”, “steampunk”, “dystopian” and the ever confusing “Speculative fiction”.

If, like me, you find all of these terms, genres, and sub genres confusing then read on as I try to wipe away the mists in no particular order.  (for a more through list, see


Speculative fiction – Speculative fiction is any work that exists in a “speculative” or “fictional” universe such as paranormal (vampires aren’t real, now are they?), Fantasy (you don’t see wizards cruising down Main street) Sci-fi (ditto on the aliens), alternate history (Hitler didn’t win World War II) and several others. One easy way to identify speculative fiction is to ask yourself “can/did this actually happen?” If the answer is no, then a good bet is it is speculative fiction.

Dystopian Fiction – a dystopia is a “nightmare world” – sometimes after the apocalypse has come to pass or sometimes because of a repressive government. Some examples of this are George Orwell’s 1984 and the newly popular Hunger Games.

Apocalyptic fiction – this is about the apocalypse, whether it’s brought on by nuclear war, aliens, a massive earthquake or a killer virus. Think of the movies The Knowing or 2012

Post-Apocalyptic fiction – the Apocalypse has come and gone, and this is what’s left. Often this is also dystopian fiction.

Hard sci-fi – Think of this as lots and lots of “scienc-y” stuff. There’s usually a lot of technology and a lot of technobabble going on.

Soft/Social Sci-fi –  Just what it sounds like. There’s sci-fi going on (maybe aliens, or the future or even killer robots) but there’s more focus on the characters and their feelings than there is on the technology. Think Ray Bradbury and probably most of the mainstream Science Fiction.

Cyberpunk – a combination of cybernetics and punk, this is a subgenre that usually deals with a dystopian(bad) future and the characters usually have prosthetics or are dealing with robots or… think Blade Runner and you’ve got it.

Alternate History – No, it did not happen that way, but what if it had? This can be anything from Hitler winning World War II to the Titanic not sinking.

Space Opera –These take place on other planets or in outer space and no, there’s no singing. “Opera” refers to the generally large “scope” of the story and the focus on action rather than the science. Buck Rogers, Stargate and Firefly are all examples of this genre.

Steampunk – usually set in the Victorian era, Steampunk involves a lot of heavy – usually steam driven – technology. This can include giant robots or even prosthetics. Think Wild Wild West starring Will Smith and you’ve got it.

Absurdist Fiction – Just what it sounds like, absurdist fiction are stories where characters find themselves in an purposeless and philosophically absurd situations. Though it sounds like this should be a comedy genre, it usually isn’t. Think  Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

Brit Lit – just what it sounds like, Literature associated with Britain and its surrounding areas.

YA/Young Adult – books aimed at young adult readers (usually age twelve and up) however many are popular with adults, such as Twilight and Harry Potter.

Gothic Fiction/Gothic Horror – Contains elements of horror and romance. (Helpful, huh?) Think of a big gothic church sitting alone in the dark. How does that make you feel? The Gothic subgenre is supposed to evoke those same emotions. Think of Anne Rices’ Interview with a Vampire,  or any number of HP Lovecraft’s stories and you’ve got it.

Paranormal – vampires, ghosts, werewolves oh my! Also witches and any of the rest of it. May or may not have horror in it, however, depending on what it is paired with. For instance paranormal thriller vs paranormal romance.  Many online retailors only have paranormal listed under the romance category, however, so you may find a lot of paranormal romance novels that aren’t so heavy on the romance.

Splatterpunk – gore, gore and more gore. Usually there’s a murderer. Oh, and did I mention there’s a lot of gore?

High Fantasy – Think Lord of the Rings, High Fantasy is to Fantasy what Hard sci-fi is to sci-fi. Large, epic tales with lots of world building. The kind of fandom that generally involves fictional languages.

Low Fantasy – More accessible to mainstream, low fantasy usually takes place in “the real world” with elements of fantasy thrown in. Think Harry Potter – he’s in modern day London and yet, he’s a wizard.

Urban Fantasy – by definition it is simply fantasy that takes place in the city (urban) but has come to have a more paranormal meaning to it. Often involving a female protagonist who is some kind of hunter/slayer/enforcer such as the Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton. Sometimes books under this genre are more paranormal than they are urban. (My books have been called this because of the vampires but, if anything, they are far more rural than urban)

Sword and Sorcery – Exactly what it sounds like. Like high fantasy there are often sword swinging heroes and magic wielding bad guys, but the story concentrates more on the individual action rather than a world saving event.

Slash/Femslash – used mainly for fanfiction, this is where there are Male/Male or Female/Female romantic or sexual pairings (named for the “slash” used between the characters names; example: Bob/Tom). I have seen this applied to original works, however.  These may also be under the Japanese words Yaoi (males) or Yuri (females). Also called M/M or F/F . Usually when these descriptors are used the romance is the main plot.

LGBT – Lesbian. Gay. Bis-sexual. Transgender. Can be any genre, such as LGBT thriller, LGBT romance, LGBT horror… you get it.

Urban Fiction –  pretty self-explanatory. Urban settings, but usually of a miserable, dark quality dealing with issues such as drugs, gangs, prostitution and other themes.

Contemporary Romance – Romance taking place in contemporary times – in other words modern.

 Historical Romance – takes place in historical periods, pre World War II

Western Romance – takes place on the “frontier”. Many of Ruth Anne Nordin’s books are in this category

Regency Romance – set between 1810 and 1820 in England

Viking Romance – Dark Middle Ages or Middle ages and involves – gasp – a Viking

Medieval Romance – set between 938-1485

Tudor Romance – set in England between 1485 and 1558

Victorian Romance – set between 1832 and 1901

Native American Romance – think “western” with a Native American

Elizabethan Romance – set in England between 1558 and 1603

Georgian Romance –set between 1714 and 1810 in England

Pirate Romance –There are pirates. Yo ho ho.

Civil War Romance – set during the American Civil War era. Gone with the Wind, anyone?

Colonial Romance – set in the United States between 1630 and 1798

Americana Romance – Set between 1880 and 1920 in the United States, generally in the Midwest


If you check the link – – you can see I skipped a lot of genres, mostly those that are self-explanatory (Medical Thriller, Political Thriller, Parody, Satire, Erotica, etc.) And I’m sure there are subgenres not even listed here (Tudor-time-travel-paranormal –romantic-thriller anyone?)

After checking out the lists, was it easy to define your novel’s genre? If so what is it, and if not, what made it difficult?

7 thoughts on “Genres for Dummies (or a quick list guide of the more confusing genres and sub-genres)

  1. John Hayden April 27, 2012 / 2:28 am

    Had no idea there were so many! Why is life so complicated?

    • Joleene Naylor May 1, 2012 / 1:48 am

      I know! I remember the first time I found a list of genres I nearly cried!

  2. Morgan Curtis April 27, 2012 / 5:30 am

    It made mine harder. I’m still on my first novel, which is character driven and has a strong romantic element. It’s set in the future, but so far after an apocalypse that the setting is somewhere between medieval and the 18th century. Firearms have not been reinvented and swords and daggers are common.

    It has a fantasy element because people have mental abilities that are referred to as gifts and thought of as magical abilities. People don’t know that the gifts were the result of genetic manipulation, which is also what caused the apocalypse.

    I’ve been worried about figuring out what genre it fits into, and now that I wrote this, I can see why. I don’t think it’s as crazy as it sounds though. 🙂

    • Joleene Naylor May 1, 2012 / 1:53 am

      It sounds good! Hmmmm…. Most sites let you choose more than once genre, so you might try going for fantasy for one of them, and with the genetic mutations you might be able to swing sc-fi. I would definitely categorize it as a romance, though, since it has a strong romantic element and romance novels sell the best. so….

      fantasy-romance or sci-fi-romance, or heck, maybe fantasy-sci-fi-romance, LOL! (helpful, huh?)

  3. Stephannie Beman April 27, 2012 / 2:06 pm

    Nice list, Jo. I’m glad you decided to tackle this post and not me. 😀 I think my list would have gone on forever and ever and ever. LOL

    • Joleene Naylor May 1, 2012 / 1:53 am

      Ha ha! yeah, I tried to keep it short, there are sooo many!

  4. williamkendall1 April 30, 2012 / 3:53 pm

    Mine falls squarely under thriller, since it’s a spy thriller and counter terrorism potboiler.

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