List of Literary Genres and Definitions

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Click photo to view source.

While it may seem obvious, tracking novel genres and subgenres can be a tricky feat. For simplification, here’s a handy guide of literary genre terms and definitions.

First, let’s start with the basics:

  • GenreA type or category of literature or film marked by certain shared features or conventions.
  • Subgenre—Subdivisions featuring more precise examples of a broader genre (i.e. Urban Fantasy is a subgenre of Fantasy)

Second, a list of the main novel genres out there:

  • Action—Similar to Adventure, but the protagonist usually takes a turn which leads to a desperate situation. Action is often linked with Adventure. Common subgenres:  Military Fiction; Western Fiction
  • Adventure—Includes a protagonist who travels to epic/distant places to accomplish something. Common subgenres:  Manga; Superhero Fiction; Action/Adventure
  • Comedy—Focuses on funny or comical events. Common subgenres:  Parody; Romantic Comedy
  • Crime—Is a genre where a crime is or has been committed. It can also be about a criminal’s life. Common subgenres:  Detective Story; Murder Mystery; Courtroom Drama; Legal Thriller; Gangster
  • Erotica—Focuses on human sexual relationships and accounts with the intent to arouse the reader—may be both fictional and factual stories.
  • Faction—Literature where settings or other elements of the story are based on real historical figures. The facts are blended with the story with fictitious elements.
  • Fantasy—Includes magic or supernatural forces rather than technology, though it often includes elements of other genres, such as science fiction. Common subgenres:  Urban Fantasy; Dark Fantasy; Fable; Fairy Tale; Epic/High Fantasy; Heroic Fantasy; Legend
  • Historical—A story about a real person or event. Common subgenres:  Biography; Alternate History
  • Horror—A story intended to frighten the audience. Common subgenres:  Ghost Story; Monster Story; Occult Story; Slasher; Survival Horror
  • Mystery—Often associated with the crime genre, but there is a distinction. A mystery novel can be without crime, such as with stories containing supernatural elements.
  • Paranoid—Looks at how forces in power can manipulate the subjective nature of reality. The forces can be internal or external (government conspiracy vs. mental illness, for example)
  • Political—Focuses on political affairs. Common subgenres:  Utopian; Dystopian
  • Romance—Involves chivalry and character relationships and/or adventures. Common subgenres:  Contemporary Romance; Historical Romance; Romantic Suspense; Paranormal Romance; Erotic Romance
  • Science Fiction—Similar to Fantasy, but uses scientific understanding to explain the universe around the characters rather than magic. Common subgenres:  Hard Science Fiction; Soft Science Fiction; Punk (Retropunk, Steampunk, etc.)
  • Speculative—Fiction that speculates about worlds that are unlike the real world in significant ways.
  • Thriller—A story that usually includes a mix of fear and excitement. Common subgenres:  Distaster Thriller; Psychological Thriller; Crime Thriller
  • Urban—AKA “Street Lit.” Stories are set in a city landscape and usually carries a dark tone. Common subgenres:  Urban Fantasy
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About authorphilpartington

Phil is a writing enthusiast of many years, having been published in numerous online and national print trade and sports publications over the past decade. He has spent the past five years delving back into the world of fiction writing, focussing on the fantasy, horror and suspense genres. Deshay of the Woods is his first novel.
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2 Responses to List of Literary Genres and Definitions

  1. Hi Phil! Pinning this! It’s a good list to have. 😉

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