Genre Confusion

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From the God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same book blog tour

When asked what kind of books we like to read, we immediately think of our favorite type of story. Perhaps it’s a good romance, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi or maybe our book of choice is a thriller. With the classification of books, commonly referred to as genre, it’s easy for readers to identify their preferences. The job of authors and publishers is to also identify the genre of the books they make available so that interested readers can easily find them. Simple, right? Not necessarily. One story can span across multiple genres, so to clarify, subgenres are used. A good romance could also be a fantasy and that additional piece of information can better serve the target audience. Unfortunately, the overuse of subgenres many times serves to confuse readers even more. That romance-fantasy is also listed as a thriller-mystery-historical-paranormal title, simply because the story has a little of each element –thus the confusion. So how do readers and authors keep things straight?

Like the hierarchy for listing ingredients on a food label in descending order of predominance, genre descriptions should follow the same rule. The genre with the largest presence is supposed to come first, followed by subgenres under the same guidelines. However, with the emergence and popularity of indie authors, fierce competition and cyber bookstores with unlimited bookshelf space, the rules have changed. The same book in different bookstores can be listed with varying genres, just as completely new genres are being created to accommodate new writing styles. In addition, enticing elements of a story have been confused with the genre of the story by many new authors and readers. For instance, romantic qualities in a story does not automatically make it part of the romance genre. To help lesson general misunderstandings, here are some basic genre definitions:

Fiction – A story involving imaginary characters and events. In book length, it is also called a novel.

Narrative Nonfiction – A true story that reads like a novel. Also known as creative nonfiction.

Romance – Romance has a formula storyline. The classic boy meets girl, falls in love, must overcome an obstacle that breaks them up or keeps the apart and then it must always have a happy ending.

Women’s Fiction – Although it can have romance in it, women’s fiction is not romance and happy endings are not guaranteed. This genre is about relationships of one or more women with others. The key to women’s fiction is that the main character must grow and have some sort of satisfying resolution in the end. However, like in life, all loose ends are not necessarily tied up in a nice neat bow.

General/Mainstream – Does not fit into a recognized genre category. Difficult to pinpoint a particular audience for this genre, as it may appeal to many different readers. Book club fiction is a break out of this genre, implying general appeal for many readers with the potential for interesting and provocative group discussion.

Mystery – Think investigation. Mystery books are about solving something, usually, but not necessarily, it is a crime of some nature.

Literary Fiction – Although, literary fiction is sometimes difficult to define, the stories are character driven rather than plot driven. It is less about telling a story of what happens externally to the character as opposed to what happens internally with the character. Successfully written pieces usually include descriptive language and concepts.

Popular Fiction – This may be listed as one genre, but it is actually a collection of several. It is a category for commercial fiction genres that have proven to be most popular with readers such as romance, mystery, science fiction and fantasy.

Thriller – Often suspenseful, the main goal of thrillers is to stimulate emotions. Readers are caught up in the harrowing situations (peril) of the characters, who many times are potential victims.

Suspense – Suspense, or suspended drama, has storylines where there are unpredictable events that cause tension. Although usually paired with or considered interchangeable the thriller genre, suspense novels may not reach the level of a thriller.

Horror – Stories that are intended to horrify and create fear. Thriller is often the subgenre.

Paranormal – Unexplained by conventional science and considered supernatural in origin. Stories are often written around the spiritual connection. However, they do not have to be in the realm of evil or horror (ex. angels). In addition, stories can also be devoid of the spiritual element completely, such as alien activity.

Historical – A period piece and usually a subgenre of popular fiction.

Fantasy – Often confused with Sci-Fi, fantasy has the important element of magic. Often storylines are of other worlds with mythical/magical creatures, medieval setting, characters on a quest and supernatural occurrences.

Science Fiction – Storylines dealing with the fictional possibilities in science and technology, usually of a futuristic nature.