Fiction Genres

Little girl walking up stairs to the magic book landThe term fiction describes any work of art, most often a novel or story, in which the primary events and plot points are creations of the author. In other words, fiction deals with what is not real, the creative and the imaginary. Fiction can be found in novels, short stories, poems, films, television, and any other creative outlet. There are many unique and specific fiction genres, characterized by the fiction’s content, tone, intended audience, There are also many subgenres, falling under the umbrella of a larger or more widely known fiction genre. The following are examples of fiction genres, with explanations as to their conventions, and examples from well-known fiction works. If you want to become more familiar with fiction writing, or with literature in general, this guide will give you a basic understanding of the many kinds of fiction.

Fiction Genres

Short Stories – Short stories are pieces of fiction that include, usually, only one plot. They are not long enough to support complex or complicated subplots, so they tend to focus on one protagonist or one event. Examples of famous short stories include Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” and “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Short stories can be categorized according to many subgenres as well.

Historical Fiction – Historical fiction works take place in a historical time period, but feature fictional events. These works sometimes feature real people who lived during the specific time, but more often than not, both the characters and the plot are of the author’s own creation. Popular historical fiction novels include Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” set during the American Civil War, “The Other Boleyn Girl,” by Philippa Gregory, set during the Tudor reign in England, and Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” set in France in the early 1800’s.

Science Fiction – Science fiction plots revolve around, or are made possible by, fictional advances in science and technology. Because of this, they are often set in the future, and feature scientific developments that have not yet happened in reality. Science fiction is a popular genre of movies as well as novels, which are often translated to film. Some examples include Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams, and “Dune,” by Frank Herbert.

Fantasy – Fantasy fiction features elements that are unrealistic, supernatural, or otherworldly. These components are usually central to the plot; they affect the characters and drive the story. Frequently, fantasy fiction includes the existence of magic. Fantasy fiction is incredibly popular; examples include the “Harry Potter” series, by JK Rowling, the “Lord of the Rings” novels, by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C.S. Lewis, “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle, and the “Song of Ice and Fire” books, by George R. R. Martin.

Horror Fiction – Horror fiction is intended to evoke feelings of dread and fear from readers or viewers. This is often accomplished with supernatural elements, such as ghosts and spirits, but can also be done realistically, with the presence of dangers that occur in the real world. Horror fiction, like science fiction, is very popular in film and television, and horror books and stories are frequently adapted for the screen. Examples of horror fiction are Stephen King’s “The Shining,” Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend,” William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”

Mystery Fiction – Mystery fiction includes works whose plots are driven by the existence of a mysterious circumstance or question to be answered. Mystery fiction often overlaps with crime fiction, and sometimes features supernatural or horror elements as well. Mystery fiction pieces are frequently written from the point of view of an investigator tasked with solving the mystery. Examples include Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories, Agatha Christie’s “Hercule Poirot” stories, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon, and Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series.

Thriller Fiction – Pieces of fiction characterized as “thrillers” contain many adventurous elements and plot points, as well as many moments of action and suspense. Thriller fiction relies on excitement, anticipation, and tension to move the plot forward. This often involves hostage situations, escapes from danger, characters facing threats of violence or harm, and similar situations. Examples include “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Psycho,” based on Robert Bloch’s novel, “The Silence of the Lambs” by Thomas Harris, “The Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy, and “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote.

Absurdist Fiction – Absurdist fiction includes elements that do not adhere to traditional rules of logic or reason. This genre of fiction often focuses on characters who have lost their way, and cannot find a purpose, or comprehend their surroundings. Absurdist works are frequently written to examine our ideas about substance, nothingness, and the very notion of absurdity. Examples include “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonegut, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, and “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett.

Urban Fiction – Urban fiction pieces take place in cities or similar urban areas, particularly with an emphasis on the negative aspects of city life. These works tend to feature a lot of violence, sex, and intense and dangerous situations. It is considered a relatively modern genre. Examples include “Push,” by Sapphire, adapted into the film “Precious,” “The Elephant Tree” by R.D. Donald, and “The Coldest Winter Ever” by Sister Souljah.

Dystopian Fiction – While utopian fiction features an idealized and near-perfect society as its setting, dystopian fiction features society at its most degraded and unpleasant. Works of dystopian fiction often examine the ability of humanity to destroy itself, and how that situation may arise. Well-known works of dystopian fiction include “A Clockwork Orange,” by Anthony Burgess, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood, “1984,” by George Orwell, “Brave New World,” by Aldous Huxley, and “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins.

Young Adult Fiction – Young adult fiction is written specifically for, and often in from the point of view of, young adults or adolescents. Young adult fiction plots frequently revolve around experiences and situations that are specific to those between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, though the ages vary by definition. Popular examples of young adult fiction include the “Twilight” series, by Stephenie Meyer, “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green, the “Divergent” series, by Veronica Roth, “The Book Thief,” by Markus Zusak, and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky.

Gothic Fiction – Gothic fiction is a kind of fictional romanticism, combined with darker gothic elements, which are sometimes considered aspects of horror fiction. Gothic fiction is often very melodramatic, and romance is frequently involved, in the form of a young innocent woman encountering dark situations, people, or creatures. Gothic fiction was developed and explored throughout the nineteenth century, and famous examples from that time period include “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Brontë, “Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Brontë, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” by Oscar Wilde, “The Phantom of the Opera,” by Gaston Leroux, and “Northanger Abbey,” by Jane Austen.

Adventure Fiction – Adventure fiction is characterized by an undertaking of a dangerous and exciting nature, which propels the plot and the characters. The adventure, or quest, is the most important aspect of a piece of adventure fiction. It is one of the oldest genres of fiction, and the protagonists often overcome many challenges, learning about themselves and the world around them on the way. Examples include “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien, “Treasure Island,” by Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Three Musketeers,” by Alexandre Dumas, “Gulliver’s Travels,” by Jonathan Swift, and “Robinson Crusoe,” by Daniel Defoe.

Learning More

Now that you are familiar with some genres of fiction, you may want to try writing your own fiction according to one of these categories. You may also want to branch out from novel and short story fiction to explore other written art, such as poetry or scriptwriting for movies and television. There is always more to learn about the written word, and knowing a bit about popular fiction genres will help you to better understanding writing in general.