What is genre fiction?

Genre Fiction refers to the type of narrative the majority of readers enjoy, so much so that they don’t even know what the phrase mean, as they just assume it means fiction. However, thinking back to literature studied in school provides an example of what’s not Genre, but instead, Literary Fiction. It’s more complicated than that really, but to simplify — narratives are divided into either Genre or Literary.

What’s narrative? It’s not essay, vignette, or poetry, but contains a plot with a beginning, middle, and end, in which in modern tradition, a protagonist pursues some kind of project which is thwarted by the antagonist. They encounter each other with tension rising to a climax and resolution.

In Literary Fiction, this can be internal, personal, slow-paced, character-based, language-driven, with attention paid to innovative structures and methods of presenting the work. The goal is to create a beautiful, classic work of art that excites through fresh, surprising use of language, new ways of thinking, subtle moods, pushing the boundaries with experimentation.

Genre Fiction is plot-driven, and most types focus on external events, fast-paced, with tropes which readers expect, so they know if they like that particular genre (such as Speculative, Romance, or Mystery) they have a good chance of enjoying that story. There is some room for individuality and experimentation, but when that happens, it’s generally a hybrid between Literary and Genre.

Literary may be lyrical, elegant, spare and punchy, but the author’s voice is unique, the style distinctive. It is usually realistic, but not always, and many subgenres exist to attempt to categorize syles of non-realism, which are Interstitial Fiction Genres because they have elements of Speculative (SF, Fantasy, and Horror). Magical Realism straddles Fantasy and Literary.

Genre and Literary authors and readers do sometimes embrace each others’ interests, but for the most part, unfortunately both camps tend to look down on the others’ work overall. Literary aficionados see Genre as predictable escapism with uninspired use of language, and Genre lovers see Literary as inaccessible, boring, and pretentious. Genre writers find formulas that work to make bestsellers and follow them, finding a large audience, making money directly from the work. Literary writers focus on great literature that has lasting value, wins awards and critical praise, and are pleased with a small number of readers who really understand the unique insights and cutting-edge innovations. They don’t expect to make a living by selling a lot, but even a small number of sales, along with positive reviews, allows them chances for fellowships, grants, teaching positions, lucrative awards. The goal is to add something of beauty to the world rather than to be a best-seller.

Literary Fiction has a strong focus on short stories in journals, such as those associated with Universities, and whereas Genre readers can enjoy those in a few famous magazines, more weight is given to novels. People read them both for entertainment, but Thrillers and SF take on themes involving the world, whereas Romance and usually Literary are more about what happens in the characters’ lives.

Romance is the most read genre, with Mystery/Thriller/Suspense/Crime styles ranking next, and SF (science fiction) comes below those.

Romance gives readers positive role-models for what they want in their lives, and always conclude happily with relationships being solidified. Some subgenres are historical, Regency, contemporary, paranormal, comedy, same sex, and others.

Fantasy provides wish-fulfillment, and rely on magic and are usually about Earth-shaking (or Nonearth-shaking) battles between very good and very bad, with heroes saving the culture, often fulfilling a prophecy. Some subgenres are high, low, urban, epic, steampunk, magical realism, paranormal, supernatural, contemporary.

Suspense fiction keeps the readers in a state of heightened attention, keenly observant about what’s going to happen next. Readers know what the protagonist doesn’t in this moment-to-moment progression. It can be subtle and slower, less overt than Thriller, and the protagonist is not required to fight against the bad guys to save the world during the whole plot, but can find himself in the midst of danger, and not even know it for a while. Some subgenres are romantic, paranormal, hard edged, soft edged, and crime.

Mystery gives readers the pleasure of figuring out puzzles, mentally enjoying the intelligent revelation of what was hidden. It starts with an unexplained murder, with the focus being on solving it, usually by a professional, but sometimes by an amateur. Readers only know what the protagonists know. Location is important, as readers get to know the area and be a part of that world. Subgenres include cozy, forensic, hardboiled, supernatural, police procedural, noir.

Horror scares readers and is macabre, often gleefully so. Most is superatural in nature but sometimes it’s about ordinary murder. It’s campy, creepy, sometimes hauntingly beautiful, sometimes disgusting. Readers consider it a rousing success if it traumatizes them and keeps them awake. Subgenres include psychological, occult, supernatural.

Thrillers make readers anxious, pouring out addictive adrenalin, vicariously living through the fast-paced exploits of protagonists in constant danger as he or she saves “the world” at the last minute, overcoming seemingly impossible odds to defeat a powerful antagonist before he or she does something horrible. Subgenres include conspiracy, crime, eco, political, legal, medical, spy, techno.

Science fiction is futuristic and relies on science, such as technology as the core element, very often making a controversial point about our current world through obfuscation, or commenting on where we’re headed, and speculating about cosmology. Among subgenres we have hard, soft, cyberpunk, space western, alternate history, space opera

Horror scares readers and is macabre, often gleefully so. Most is superatural in nature but sometimes it’s about ordinary murder. It’s campy, creepy, sometimes hauntingly beautiful, sometimes disgusting. Readers consider it a rousing success if it traumatizes them and keeps them awake. Subgenres include psychological, occult, supernatural.

Other genres include Westerns, Historical Fiction, YA (young adult), Christian, Inspirational.

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