Literary fiction is often defined as non-genre fiction. As such, it is not written to appeal to fans of a specific genre, or to satisfy subject matter requirements of genre fiction.
Literary fiction may place strong emphasis on additional objectives: to provoke debate and discussion, to provide a refuge of beauty, to inspire, to provide insight. The intent of literary fiction is to create aesthetic value and impact on the reader through craftsmanship that serves the story and its meaning. Style, technique, characters, and layers of meaning are as important as subject matter and plot.
The protagonists in literary fiction may not resolve their conflicts, but explore and illuminate their unique humanity.
For examples of literary fiction see the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Category 2: Historical
Historical fiction presents readers with a story that takes place
during a notable period in history, and usually during a significant
event in that period. Historical fiction often presents actual events
from the point of view of people living in that time period.In some historical fiction, famous events appear from points of view
not recorded in history, showing historical figures dealing with actual
events while depicting them in a way that is not recorded in history.
Other times, the historical event complements a story's narrative,
occurring in the background while characters deal with events (personal
or otherwise) wholly unrelated to recorded history. Sometimes, the
names of people and places have been in some way altered. As this is
fiction, artistic license
is permitted in regard to presentation and subject matter, so long as
it does not deviate in significant ways from established history. If
events should deviate significantly, the story may then fall into the
genre of alternate history,
which is known for speculating on what could have happened if a
significant historical event had gone differently. On a similar note,
events occurring in historical fiction must adhere to the laws of
physics. Stories that extend into the magical or fantastic are often
considered a historical fantasy.
Category 3: Romance/Women's Fiction
focuses on the relationship and romantic love between two people.
Romance readers expect an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Publishers
designate romance novels as category or single title. Category romance
is usually shorter, and must adhere to publisher’s guidelines regarding
setting, time periods, level of sensuality and types of conflict.
Single titles are often longer (350-400 pages), and are not constrained
by specific publisher guidelines.
Women’s Fiction are novels that explore the lives of female
protagonists, focusing on all kinds of relationships, be it lovers, spouses,
parents, children, friends, or members of a community. The common thread is
that the central character is female, and the main thrust of the story is something
happening in the life of that woman (as opposed to the overall theme being a
romance or a mystery of some sort). Emotions and relationships are the common
thread between books that belong in this category. A woman is the star of the
story, and her emotional development drives the plot. (Definition provided by author Rebecca Vnuk)
Subgenres may overlap, but the following are general categories in common use:
Contemporary (set in current time)
Historical (set in the past)
Regency (set between 1811-20 or thereabouts)
Futuristic/time travel (set in a future or past world; or the protagonists come from different time periods)
Fantasy (includes elements of magic and fairies, dragons, elves, and so forth; often set in historical times)
Paranormal (usually set in contemporary times, with characters who often have supernatural powers)
Romantic Suspense (subplot includes mystery, with danger for the hero and heroine)
Chick-Lit (hip, stylish, urban; marketed to young, single women in their 20’s)
Inspirational (stories with a religious theme, no sex)
Category 4: Mystery/Thriller
any fiction in which a crime or a threat to the characters and the
solution to the problem are central to the story. Readers of the genre
expect the crime to be solved, and the perpetrator to suffer
consequences for his/her actions.
to be high energy mysteries involving major threats to the wider
society, such as bio-terrorism, government/national crises, nuclear
weaponry, kidnapping and assassination. Danger and suspense are
important factors, and the protagonist is usually working against time.
Classic: emphasis on reasoning from clues provided by the author; examples include works by A. Conan Doyle and Ellery Queen.
mysteries: Usually involve a small, enclosed community, domestic
setting, and an amateur sleuth. Sex and violence are usually off-stage.
Examples include Agatha Christie (especially Miss Marple’s) and Mary
Intrigue: The focus is on national or international settings with spies
and politicians involved in the plot or as the protagonists. Example:
John Le Carre
Ethnic: The ethnic background of the characters is an important factor in the mystery. Example: Tony Hillerman
High-tech: Current or future technology is an important factor in the mystery. Example: Michael Crichton.
Historical: set in the past. Example: Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, Anne Perry, the Pitt and Monk mysteries.
Legal: involves courts, trials, and attorneys. Examples: John Grisham and Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason Mysteries).
Medical: setting and plot involve medicine and forensics. Example: Robin Cook, Brain. Eileen Dreyer, Bad Medicine.
Noir: Protagonist, atmosphere and outcome are marked by darkness of soul. Example: Dashiell Hammett
Occult: includes metaphysical and psychic phenomena, and the unknown. Example: Mercedes Lackey, Burning Water.
Procedural: Story focuses on specific cases, the methods used by the
police to solve a case, and with the police themselves as major
characters. Example: Reginald Hill, Ruling Passions
Eye mysteries: The central character is either a private, or
professional, or amateur detective. Example: Robert B. Parker’s Spenser
mysteries; Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski mysteries; Mary Stewart
(This Rough Magic, My Brother Michael).
Category 5: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal
is visionary writing about science and technology to create future
scenarios. Authors attempt to create an internally consistent set of
physical laws that extrapolate from known science. Main characters are
often scientists, engineers, computer programmers, military personnel
fiction in which the action and characters are not bound by the physics
or realities of the known world. They may be set in wholly or partially
non-existent worlds, such as under the earth or a fairyland or in a
mythological setting. Characters may be human, part human, or
non-human, and may have extraordinary powers or the ability to work
Urban fantasy is a subset of fantasy
defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many
urban fantasies are set in contemporary times or contain supernatural
elements. However, this is not the primary definition of urban fantasy.
Urban fantasy can be set in historical times, modern times, or
futuristic times. The prerequisite is that it must be set in a city,
primarily rather than in a suburban or country setting, which have
their own genre subsets.
Paranormal encompasses elements of the paranormal, such as
ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and any sort of magical or
otherworldly creatures. This type of fiction often goes beyond fact and logical
explanations to speculate about the things that cannot be seen or proved, such
as extrasensory perception (ESP) and alien life.
science fiction that emphasizes romantic adventure, exotic settings,
and larger than life characters. Examples: Star Wars, Firefly, works by
Alexi Panshin or Roger Zelazny.
Science Fiction: Interstellar or interplanetary conflict and its armed
solution make up the main backdrop of the story. Examples: Battlestar
Galactica; the Man-Kzin wars series.
Fantasy that includes mythic elements such as the battle between good
and evil and the hero’s journey. Examples: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,
works by Ursula LeGuin and Anne Bishop.
History: The story depends on a drastic change within a historical
context; the story then develops an imagined world in which the
standard history is altered because of a cataclysmic event. Example:
Eric Flint, 1634; Harry Turtledove’s American Empire trilogy.
Category 6: Young Adult (ages 12-18)
Young Adultbooks are written for ages twelve and up. Length of completed manuscripts varies widely. Young Adult novels include all categories of literary and genre fiction. Themes are relevant to the problems and struggles of today's teenagers, regardless of the genre. Common themes include peer relationships and coming of age, including the difficulties of dealing with the chaos, complexity and injustice of the world that young adults inherit from adults. The protagonists, usually young adults, often gain maturity through challenges that result in new knowledge and clearer understanding of others. Settings are often urban and contemporary, but range from historical to science fiction and fantasy.
Category 7: Middle Grade (ages 8-12)
Middle Grade Novels
are primarily defined by what they are not: they are not picture
books, early chapter books, or young adult novels. Middle grade is for
kids who have mastered reading well enough to leave picture and
early chapter books behind, approximately ages 8 to 12 (typically with a
protagonist at the higher end of this age range). Middle grade readers
are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in;
book’s subject matter should reflect this. The themes often involve
situations, friendships, and relationships with peers and siblings. The
chapters are shorter and the pace is quicker than in a YA novel.
Category 8: Nonfiction/Memoir
books and memoirs are distinguished by their factual content.
Nonfiction books are written for audiences with specific interests and
often include a table of contents, index, references, and bibliography.
Writing style may be narrative or expository. Topics include subjects
such as how-to's, history, cookbooks, biography, autobiography, science,
and the humanities.
is book length narrative nonfiction that describes the personal life
history of the writer in such a way that the reader, among many
possible reactions, may be inspired, delighted, informed, or encouraged
through empathy and recognition of universal elements of a life’s
Category 9: Poetry
is distinguished by its vivid imagery and visceral impact. It can be
any length. Prose rarely if ever emphasizes meter and rhyme, whereas
meter and rhyme are intrinsic to some kinds of poetry. Some poetic
forms, such as sonnets and haiku, are identified by their formal
structure. Others, such as the poetry written by e.e. Cummings, are
structured wholly by the inspiration of the poet.
Category 10: Short Story
category includes short stories that deal with adult themes and
situations that intrigue, provide, and inspire. Often a short story
will focus on a specific mood and setting through concise word choice
and an intense, brief, emotional arc. Conflict, climax, and resolution
are developed within the confines of the succinct fictional encounter.
Examples of short story authors include, Edgar Allen Poe, Grace Paley,
Dorothy Parker, Sue Hubbell, and Philip Dick.