Monday, 4 February 2019

Exploring Genre - Round Up

by Jeanette O'Hagan @JeanetteOHagan

In 2019, we are continuing the tradition of a cross-post between Christian Writers Downunder (CWD) and Australasian Christian Writers (ACW), with more forays into the different genres. You may wonder if, after two years, there are any more genres to explore. Well, yes, there are. In fact we haven't come close to covering them all. But before we launch into some more examples, I will give a round up of the ground we have already covered. This post can be used as a quick reference and handy resource on different genres.

What is Genre?

Literary Genre is a particular type or style of story which may be defined by style, tone, content and even length. Basically, genres define creative innovations and reader expectations that have developed over time with broader categories (fiction, non-fiction, or prose, drama, poetry, media), to larger families (e.g. romance, science fiction, fantasy, crime etc) and more narrowed or specialised categories (sweet romance or cosy mysteries or spaghetti westerns).

Why should I care about Genre?

Iola discusses why genre matters
- it  helps manage readers expectations and it also helps market books to our readers. Read more here and here.

When you are starting out, it is often a good idea (at least at first) to just write and learn the craft and worry about genre later.  This is especially true if writing is a hobby or release or therapy.

However, if at some point you wish to publish your writing and attract readers, understanding genre can also help you hone how you write or maybe help decide which aspects of the story to emphasise or which project to focus on (if you have more than one project on the go).  It can also inspire ideas.

Some genres have more defined expectations than others (e.g. category romance or CBA Christian Fiction), while others are more open to experimentation and cross-overs between genres (e.g. Young Adult fiction or Science Fiction).

Knowing your genre and your readers' expectations helps in both writing and in attracting a readership to your writing. Having an idea about Genre Trends can also be helpful.

Jeanette O'Hagan discusses Genre Trends (for 2018) here.

What Genres Are There?

Genres range across the broad categories like Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Children's Books and Young Adult etc.


The major fiction genres are Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Crime, Historical, Contemporary Drama and Literary.  Each broad genre often has a swag of sub-genres and some sub-genres may cross-over e.g. Romantic suspense includes elements of romance and suspense novels. Or a time-travel novel may be Science Fiction or Fantasy or even Science Fantasy.


This is a hugely popular genre with a large audience of avid readers.

While romance can often be a subplot or theme in a range of other genres, in category romance the focus is on the relationship and the obstacles to the relationship between the hero and heroine or romantic couple with an expected Happily Ever After (HEA).

There are a wide range of sub-genres with romance.

Carolyn Miller introduced us to historical romance (romance set before the present day) and in particular regency romance - romance inspired by Jane Austen and set in or around the regency period - e.g. early 19th century. You can find her delightful post here.

Nicky Edwards took us on a tour of rural romance (set in the country) and medical romance (with nurses or doctors as protagonists and which includes medical drama), usually set in contemporary times. You can read more here.

Romance can also include contemporary romance, paranormal romanceromantic suspense, romantic comedy, sweet or clean romance, or other more racy sub-genres.

Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction imagines a different reality - whether that be a variation of earth as we know it or different world altogether. It is generally divided into Science Fiction (where science or a imagined science explains the world) or Fantasy (in which a non-scientific - often supernatural - explanation is given), though these can cross-overs such as science fantasy and other mixtures.

There is easily over 100 sub-genres within this field - including crazy mash-ups like gaslamp fantasy or weird west.

Science Fiction

Adam Collings introduced us to Space Opera - epic Science Fiction set in space with a focus more on the story than a detailed or hard science - think Star Trek or Doctor Who. And, also the Superhero sub-genre which can used a scientific (e.g. Superman) or a supernatural (e.g. Thor) explanation for the special powers. Read more here.


Jeanette O'Hagan introduced Secondary World and Portal fantasy - both of which are set on an alternative (non-earth) world. In the first the world exists without reference to earth, whereas in the second, the protagonist travels through a door or portal to the other world. Read more here.

Other Speculative 

Alison Stegert explores the difference between Steam Punk and Gaslight fiction - both of which are inspired by the Victorian age of steam and Victorian science fiction writers such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Steam Punk tends focus more on the science fiction aspects, while Gaslight has a more paranormal vibe. Read more here

Ian Acheson introduced us to Supernatural Fiction - which focuses on supernatural beings such angels, demons and/or ghosts (and is related to paranormal and urban fantasy). It can have a faith or Christian focus or be more 'secular' in its approach. Read more here.

Other speculative sub-genres include fairy tale retellings and fractured fairy tales, paranormal, urban fantasy, horror, dystopian, cyber-punk, cli-fi, solar punk, time travel, grim-dark or noble-bright etc.

Mystery and Crime


Donna Fletcher Crow discusses crime mystery, in particular historical crime mystery such as medieval crime mystery here

Virginia Smith explores the different kinds of mystery novel from cosy, police procedural, private eye, etc. here. 

Other forms of mystery can be hard-boiled, noir, paranormal or even as specific as Scandinavian Noir.


Suspense can be part of a straight thriller or mystery/crime novel or can involve romance as a major subplot in romantic suspense (where danger forms a backdrop to the romance).

Sandra Orchard discusses the elements of suspense here

Other significant fiction genres include Historical Fiction, Contemporary Drama, and Literary Fiction

Christian Fiction

Christian Fiction can be understood in different ways. For some, it can be any fiction written by a Christian, for others it has a much more defined and strict definition with overt Christian content such as bible verses, prayer, mentions of Jesus, conversion scenes and the absence of graphic sex, violence and strong language. Somewhere in the middle, others would include books that may have less overt religious content but are written from a Christian worldview, contain Christian values and themes, and include pointers to faith, but which would still be appropriate for a general market. See here and  here for more discussions.

Christian fiction can include the majority of the other genres we've covered, such as romance, mystery, historical, science fiction, fantasy etc.

More specific Christian fiction has subgenres such as Christian supernatural fiction (see Ian Acheson's post above), Biblical fiction and Christian allegory (like Pilgrim's Progress).

Biblical Fiction

Biblical Fiction re-imagines the characters and stories we find in the Bible, often filling in the gaps and fleshing out the historical setting.  While Biblical Fiction can be written from a non-Christian perspective, Christian Biblical fiction is true to the tenets of Christian faith and the Bible itself.

Susan Preston discusses Biblical Fiction here.


Nola Passmore introduced us to creative non-fiction (and how that differs from reportage). Read more here.

Non-Fiction can include historical works, memoir and biography as well as self-help books, devotionals, theological works, text books or informational books, books of essays, coffee table books, cookbooks  etc.


Poetry can be non-fiction or fiction or a mixture of the two, it can be strongly narrative (ballads, for instance) or focus on a moment or a feeling or an image or be metaphorical or evoke shared feelings and realities.

Valerie Volk gave a wonderful introduction to Poetry (here

Jeanette O'Hagan explored Free Verse (poetry without a set rhyme) and Verse Novels (telling a narrative in verse) (read more here).

Targeted by Age and/or Gender

Children and Teens

Penny Reeve introduces us to the difference between picture books and chapter books in younger readers. Read more here.

Cecily Anne Paterson discuses writing for Young Adult or Teen readers (generally from thirteen to nineteen years of age). Read more here

New Adults

New Adult Fiction is a more recent category, ranging from nineteen to twenty-five year olds (or up to thirty), generally school leavers starting university or work, living away from parents, forging new relationships, learning what it means to live independently.  Read more here.

For middle-aged and older readers

Various 'lits' may target these age groups, usually with a humorous or even farcical tone. For instance 'chic-lit', then there is 'hen-lit' or 'nana-lit' targeting women of different age groups (thirty-somethings, middle-aged, older women). Women's Fiction tends to be more serious - and maybe more 'literary'.

Westerns and Military fiction (and non-fiction) may be primarily targeted to male readers.


Both fiction and non-fiction may be written with a primary focus on humour, whether witty and dry, or more slapstick in style, or farcical or satire.

Length and format categories


Jeanette O'Hagan looked at 'short fiction' from flash to novellas (though it could also be non-fiction). Read more here.

Narelle Atkins explores novellas and novelettes in the romance genre here.

Collaborative Writing

Jeanette O'Hagan explores ways that writers can collaborate and that is in the actual writing itself in collaborative works such as ghost-writing, partnerships, anthologies and more. Read more here.

Where to next?

Being presented with the different categories and genres can be as overwhelming as looking at the different brands in the supermarket. Too much choice. On the other hand, it can be seen as freeing, for there is really something for everyone and opportunities for cross-overs and mash-ups.

Tell us - what genres (or sub-genres) do you love to read?  Which do you write in?  Which would you like to learn more about?


Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users.

She has published numerous short stories, poems, three novellas (Heart of the Mountain, Blood Crystal and Stone of the Sea) in her Under the Mountain series and her debut novel, Akrad's Children and Ruhanna's Flight and other stories. She has short stories and poems in seventeen anthologies and was thrilled that her story, Wolf Scout, was recently accepted for the upcoming Inklings Press anthology, Tales of Magic and Destiny.

Her latest release, Shadow Crystals (the fourth novella) will soon be available on preorder.

You can also find her on:

Facebook |Jeanette O'Hagan Writes | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest


  1. What a great wrap-up, enabling us to catch up on genres we may have missed. I'm looking forward to more. I'm sure there'll always be some that many of us haven't heard of.

    1. Thanks, Paula. There are so many of them, and new ones all the time.

  2. Great wrap-up Jenny. As a genre butterfly, I like to read and write across genres. It looks like we haven't had much on humour yet, so that might be a good one to look at. I might even put my hand up to write that one if it can be in the second half of the year :)

    I'd also like to see more about some of the emerging forms of spec fiction (like cli-fi). And I'm wondering where 'social issue' books in general fit in? I guess they can be part of most genres, but I wonder if there's enough to warrant a separate social issue/social justice category?

    Lots of great blogs to go back and catch up on. Thanks Jenny :)

    1. Thanks Nola. Some great suggestions there - I'll accept your offer for the second half of the year. I had cli-fi on my radar - so we will see. With the social issue/social justice - it would often come under another a more general label - eg Sci-Fi or contemporary drama. Wonder if it does have a separate category.

    2. I'm thinking it would come under the other categories. But then figured if romance can come under every other category, and suspense can come under every category, why not put everything under social issues. If there's one thing we need, it's more genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres!!

  3. Terrific summary and great to have the links all in one place. I raced to read the 'New Adult' info. :D While I do understand the need for genre categories to help marketers/sellers classify and readers locate particular styles, it complicates matters somewhat for genre butterflies and outliers. I'm not entirely sure what to make of the prevalent message from agents and publishers who seek different stories and unique voices so long as they conform to the accepted or expected norm. It seems like book babies face the same challenges as human beings do when it comes to being accepted and finding a place in this world.

    1. Thanks Mazzy. I love the point you make about seeking "different stories and unique voices so long as they conform to the accepted or expected norm."

      It can be hard to fit into publishers expectations. Indie authors can often spread their wings a little. In the end though, it's what the readers want - or will buy.

  4. Just thought of another one. Under spec fiction, I've come across the alternative history category (e.g. What if Hitler won the war? What if JFK wasn't assassinated?). Haven't read much along those lines, must it makes for some interesting scenarios.

    1. Alternative History is a big one. Inklings Press (who published Tales From the Underground & will be publishing Tales of Magic and Destiny) have Tales of Alternative Earths 1 & 2. Brent Harris wrote a alternative history for the American War of Independence called In Time of Need. I'm not as aware of Christian alternative history though.