Additional Reference: Guide to Genre Classification
This is an additional reference to help guide you when creating
genre tags for stories.
We want our
genre to help a user learn about the story "type" in one glance. This could be anything from
- sci fi
- fairy tales
- queer fiction
- fictional autobiography
- dark satire
- action and adventure
- political thriller.
We want our Genres to be somewhat specific: Urban Fantasy (sort of under Fantasy) and Murder Mystery (under Mystery) “Science Fiction” is useful. “Hard Science Fiction” is even more useful. Combinations of genres, like “Fantasy” and “Historical Fiction” are useful.
Feel free to be more creative with the genres you use to label your stories! Don’t worry if you’re using a new genre label or if you’re being too specific. Our system can map genres to parent genres so “Queer Sci Fi” gets mapped to “Queer Fiction” and “Science Fiction.”
If you’re looking for genre Inspo, browse through our list of existing genres already generated by our readers.
Things to remember about genre classifications:
- ‘Magical realism’ should be used with caution; it was being misused a lot. It specifically applies to stories written in South America by a handful of authors at a particular time in history. For stories that feel like ‘Magical realism’, you might simply want to use two tags together: ‘Literary’ and ‘Fantasy’.
- Contemporary and Drama are often combined as a genre because ‘Contemporary’ is the literary term for this genre, and ‘drama’ is the film and TV term; we anticipate people searching either of those words looking for the same thing.
- Just because a fantasy work is subtle and nuanced, doesn’t mean it’s suddenly not fantasy. Don’t try to force it into a different categorisation. And don’t be a snob! Not all fantasy is Lord of the Rings.
Some Common Genres and Definitions
Exists to make a moral, religious, or political point. All characters and events represent ideas relating to a moral argument; for example, the Aesop’s Fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ doesn’t view the animals as fully developed characters, but instead uses them to represent the ideas of “rushing a task” versus “doing it carefully”. Allegory is very uncommon in modern fiction; only use this tag if you are sure the story isn’t something else.
Examples: Animal Farm, The Scarlet Letter, Aesop’s Fables. The Chronicles of Narnia can be considered biblical allegory, as well as fantasy.
Depicts what our modern world might be like if a major historical event had turned out differently. For example, in The Man in the High Tower, Nazi Germany and Japan rule the world after their victory in World War II.
Examples: The Difference Engine, Fatherland, The Years of Rice and Salt, The Plot Against America.
Coming of Age
Focuses on a character’s transition from childhood to adulthood. For example, Little Women depicts the Marsh sisters growing from girls into women and changing emotionally from children into adults.
Examples: The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Stand By Me
- Tip: While coming of age can be a genre unto itself, it occurs often in literary or contemporary fiction, and can also be seen in combination with many other genres from historical to fantasy. Remember it is okay to use more than one genre tag!
Contemporary / Drama
If you can imagine it as a straightforward drama on TV or as a film, it goes here. Usually in a contemporary or recent setting – if the story is set before the internet age, use historical.
Centers around a crime that has been committed, focusing on the apprehension of a criminal, often by law enforcement, military, or an independent agent of justice. Often grapples with themes of good vs evil, justice, and avenging misdeeds. Doesn’t always have a happy ending or tidy resolution (though it might).
- Tip: See also mystery, which concerns crime too, but from a different angle.
Centres around an imagined society in which there is great suffering or injustice. Story usually centres around examining, addressing, or fighting these injustices.
Examples: 1984, The Hunger Games
Stories that are concerned with nature on earth, and place the natural world and environmental concerns as the most important central factor. Here, the environment is far more than the backdrop to a human story; it is the focus. These stories often deal with themes of human accountability to the environment.
Examples: The Grapes of Wrath, The Word for World is Forest, The Drowned World
Chiefly designed to arouse or titillate the reader. Stories that include sex are not necessarily erotica, as sex scenes can serve many different purposes. The story is erotica if sex and pleasure are its primary focus.
Examples: Fifty Shades of Grey, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Fairy Tale / Folk Tale
Heavily archetypal fantasy stories using tropes like evil witches, princesses in towers, talking animals, and plots and characters on the simple side, often with resolutions brought about by magical interference more than by the actions of the protagonist. If it feels like something the Grimm Brothers or Aesop would have written, this tag may be a fit. If you’re not sure, it may simply be a Fantasy.
- Tip: If a fantasy is set in a city more or less in a modern-day world, you’re looking for ‘Urban Fantasy’.
Stories that include unreal elements. This can be as major as the story taking place in an whole different world (e.g. Lord of the Rings), or it can be as small as a few little magical occurrences in an otherwise realistic, real-world setting.
Very short stories with a wordcount of 2000 or less. (Any story with a wordcount over 2000 is not flash fiction). This is one of the unusual genres in its defined by length rather than content.
Stories that take place before contemporary times of when the author is writing. This line is debatable; if looking at authors who have written stories today we have chosen to define ‘historical’ as pre-1990: any story that takes place before the internet age.
Examples: Pride and Prejudice (also romance), Stranger Things (you can also argue this is some/all of fantasy + young adult + horror + coming of age)
Stories designed to frighten. This can be combined with other genre tags.
Examples: Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Most of Stephen King’s work.
Stories that are deliberately funny or silly, designed to amuse. Humour can be black comedy too, and/or combined with other genres (e.g. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories are comedy + fantasy).
A very broad classification encompassing stories that don’t easily fit into other genres, but often implies it was not intended to be commercial or pulp fiction. The focus of these stories is an examination of the human condition, and they tend to feature beautiful language and quality writing.
Old literary fiction can be called Classical Fiction. The line is blurry. Like if it’s Frankenstein or Dracula, it can be safely called Classical Fiction. But The Great Gatsby from 1925 could arguably be either, though we would veer towards Classical Fiction.
Fiction that deliberately reminds the reader that they are reading a story. This technique is used to consciously deconstruct storytelling itself.
Examples: House of Leaves, Slaughterhouse-Five
Mystery stories are centered around a ‘whodunnit’ question, usually about a crime. Every other element of the story is secondary to solving this question. In a genre mystery, the mystery is solved at the end. If the story is open-ended, or more about the morals and results of a crime than the puzzle of solving the mystery, consider that it may be Crime or Thriller instead.
Examples: Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories, Sherlock Holmes stories
Set in our world in the aftermath of some kind of disaster, disease, or widespread event that has depleted the population and caused a collapse of civilisation. The apocalypse can involve anything from zombies to a comet to nuclear war or a pandemic; it is the outcome that matters – in these stories, humanity failed to prevent the catastrophe. Stories may also be science fiction, horror, or dystopia depending on the nature of the collapse.
Examples: The Road, The Hunger Games, Parable of the Sower, Children of Men, Mad Max
Stories focused on the internal mind, perceptions, or beliefs of the characters, often playing with perceptions of reality. This genre is usually found paired with others, typically psychological + drama, psychological + thriller, or psychological + horror.
Tip: Most fiction explores the psychology of its characters to some extent. Use this tag only when this element is of central importance to the story.
Psychological horror means the horror comes from the protagonist’s mental state or grip on reality, as in the TV series Hannibal, in which the viewpoint character’s mental illness affected his perception of the horrifying events taking place around him.
A psychological thriller is usually built around mind games the antagonist inflicts on the protagonist, ala how Hannibal Lecter interacts with Clarice in Silence of the Lambs. Also the husband and wife in Gone Girl.
Finally, psychological drama (elsewhere also known as “psychological realism” or “psychological fiction”, though, to keep things simple, we haven’t added these additional genres), the behaviour of characters is examined through deep explorations and explanations of the mental state of the character’s internal life, often through use of stream of consciousness or flashback. Examples include Great Expectations and Portrait of a Lady.
Stories concerning themselves primarily with the growth of romantic relationships, from falling in love to living happily ever after. In order for a story to fit the romance genre, the relationships must result in a happily-ever-after (or the strong suggestion of one). It’s possible for a character in a romance novel to die tragically, thus ending the relationship, but by the ‘rules’ of the romance genre it must be clear that those characters loved each other.
- Tip: DO NOT use this tag just because a story features a relationship! A story about a married couple going through a divorce is not a romance… unless they win each other back and live happily ever after.
Examples: Pride and Prejudice, Outlander, The Notebook
Stories that use humour, ridicule, irony, or exaggeration to expose and criticise human stupidity or vices – often concerning politics or other topical issues. The main function of a satire must be to criticise conventions; this is important over and above plot and characterisation.
Examples: Fight Club (satirising American masculinity), American Psycho (satirising consumer culture), Animal Farm (satirising totalitarianism).
Stories built around imagined future scientific or technological advances, and/or major social or environmental changes. Differs from fantasy in that the unreal elements in the story must seem as though they could be believably explained by science, whereas fantasy needs no such justification. Science Fiction is an incredibly broad genre that encompasses everything from time travel to spaceships to virtual realities.
A broad genre often used as an umbrella term for science fiction, fantasy, horror, and any genre that deals with unreal, impossible, or imaginary elements. For the purposes of our work, we only use this to categorise stories that may not fully belong under science fiction, fantasy, or any of their subgenres available here. This can include literary fiction with fantasy elements, slipstream, stories you might call magical realism.
Examples: Stories of Your Life and Others, Station Eleven, Oryx and Crake
Stories designed to elicit suspense, excitement, surprise, and anxiety. Set in the real world. Often uses red herrings, plot twists, unreliable narrators, and cliffhangers.
Examples: Hitchcock films, The Woman in the Window, The Bourne Identity.
A specific and popular subgenre of fantasy set in modern-day (19th to 21st century) urban environments. The fantasy elements of the world are often considered commonplace and unremarkable; main characters may possess magical powers but also go about recognisable jobs (e.g. a wizard who works as a private eye) or may have jobs revolving around interactions with the magical world (e.g. bounty hunters who track down rogue monsters).
Examples: The Dresden Files, Supernatural (TV series), The Magicians
Fiction that takes place in the “Old West”, the Western United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. Stories are often concerned with justice, revenge, and the harshness of the environment. Characters dress and speak in an identifiable way. Likely to include cowboys, Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans, bandits, lawmen, soldiers and settlers. This genre has grown to encompass a number of subgenres including but by no means limited to ‘sci-fi westerns’, ‘snow westerns’ and ‘weird westerns’. Feel free to combine this tag with others – though stories that fit the definitions of both literary and western may be rare. That said, Power of the Dog is a literary western novel.
Note: As a rule we don’t include genres based on settings (e.g. “Southern Fiction”, “Latin American Fiction”) but we make an exception for Westerns as the genre has so many tropes and traditions it has become about far more than the setting alone.
Stories aimed at a teen audience. This category can be combined with any genre (YA SF, YA literary, YA romance, etc) but the story tends to be written in clear and straightforward language, have brisk pacing, and feature characters aged between their early to late teens, rarely older than 19.
Examples: Twilight, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Hate U Give, The Hunger Games