Genres in Literature

Often, when I use the word “genre,” the person to whom I am speaking isn’t sure just what I mean. I thought I’d take a minute today to discuss it.

When you’re talking about books, and you use the word “genre,” what you’re doing is specifying what kind of book it is. If it’s in the horror genre, that means it’s a horror book. “Genre” is just a fancy name for category. The following is a list of genres, fairly comprehensive but by no means absolutely complete.

Romance – a book that is called a romance will have the following plot elements in common. Man and woman meet, some sort of complication arises that keeps them apart, and by the end of the book they either decide the complication doesn’t matter or they overcome it. You will find a huge amount of variation on this theme, but boiled down to essentials, every romance follows this pattern. Any book where romance is the main theme of the story is called a romance. It can be historical romance, romantic suspense, romantic horror, whatever – but if the main force behind the plot is romance, it’s a romance.

Chick Lit – this is a fairly new genre and basically means “literature for women.” The basic elements of chick lit are this: bachelorette usually aged between twenty and thirty, on her own in the world, trying to hold down a job and navigate her way through the world of dating. The heroine is usually imperfect and her imperfections keep her from doing the things she wants to, but she has a sense of humor and the guy of her dreams eventually forgives her for her weirdness and sees her for who she really is at heart.

Suspense – a book that is called a suspense will have someone doing something they shouldn’t, someone else trying to figure it out, and someone in danger. Usually the someone in danger is being stalked or in some other way is threatened for much of the book. There are sometimes romantic elements thrown in, or a political or biological warfare twist, but if the driving force behind the action is suspense, then it’s called a suspense.

Mystery – a mystery is just that – a mystery. Suspense is mystery, but suspense is usually more tense and scary. A mystery usually (but not always) focuses on one crime to be solved, whereas a suspense usually (but not always) has the villain still on the hunt, grooming his/her next victim. Mysteries can be scary or they can be light and funny, such as the cozy mysteries I’ve discussed with you, which are mysteries with humor and no gratuitous sex or language.

Historical Fiction – there are two types of book which are called historical fiction. The first, which is what I write, is a book set during a well-known and documented historical event, using fictional characters to use the story. The other kind is more of what I would call a period piece, where the book takes place in a by-gone era but is not actually centered around a historical event.

Horror – I don’t read horror (it’s too horrifying) but I’ll tell you about it. In a horror novel, you either have a deranged lunatic or a supernatural force whose purpose is to murder. Sometimes it starts out with something as simple as a dumped girlfriend who is out for revenge, but by the end of the story, she’s definitely deranged. Sometimes these bad guys have a specific victim in mind; other times, they kill whoever happens across their path. Horror is suspense taken to a whole new level. Horror’s main purpose is to scare the pants off the reader and make them jump every time they hear a noise in the house. This would be why I don’t read it.

Science Fiction – think Star Wars. You have robots that interact like people, impossibly small transports that go impossibly fast, light sabers – all of this is science fiction. In a book from this genre, anything goes, pretty much. The author can create the rules of physics for his own world and anything is possible. Expect a lot of computer talk and droids, and there you go.

Fantasy – Got fairies? Wizards? Witches casting spells? This is fantasy. Taken from the old fairy tales and given a brush up, fantasy takes you into a world of magic. Fantasy often gets a hard knock from well-meaning persons who want to examine it for witchcraft, and it’s true that a lot of fantasy novels do contain witchcraft. But a lot of novels don’t, and there is plenty of fantasy to choose from if you’re concerned about staying away from witchcraft.

Westerns – a good Western will usually take place back in the days of the Old West, and you’ll find lots of dusty cowboys, sheriffs, grateful young women, and the cattle rustlers. These stories contain a lot of family loyalty, duty, honor, and good gunfights.

We’ll take a break from this discussion and continue it tomorrow. See you then!