35 Genres and Other Varieties of Fiction

By Mark Nichol

A previous post detailed synonyms for story. This entry defines words identifying various genres — categories of story types — and similar terms:

1. Adventure fiction: stories in which characters are involved in dangerous and/or exhilarating exploits

2. Airport novel: a work of fiction, generally genre fiction, so named because of its availability at stores in international airports in order to provide airline passengers with a light diversion during a flight

3. Allegory: a story using symbolism to express truths about the human condition

4. Bildungsroman: a story detailing the emotional and moral growth of a character

5. Black comedy: a story in which the humor derives from the misfortunes and/or reproachable behavior of characters

6. Comedy: a story with elements and situations intended to amuse

7. Comedy-drama: a story with both humorous and serious elements

8. Comedy of errors (farce): a story involving energetic action revolving around humorous predicaments and coincidences

9. Comedy of manners: a story that mocks class pretensions and/or prejudices

10. Crime fiction: stories based on the commission and/or investigation of wrongdoing

11. Detective fiction: stories in which the protagonist investigates a crime

12. Epic: originally a long poem celebrating the exploits of a factual or fictitious hero, but now applied to prose works on the same theme as well

13. Epistolary fiction: stories constructed as a series of letters exchanged between characters

14. Fantasy fiction: stories involving imaginary beings in the real world or in an alternate reality and assuming suspension of disbelief about magic and/or supernatural powers

15. Fictional autobiography: a story purporting to be a first-person account of someone’s life

16. Fictional biography: a story structured to resemble a factual life story

17. Genre fiction: stories intended to appeal to readers because of adherence to a specific formula (such as adventure fiction or detective fiction), rather than on their literary merits

18. Gothic fiction: stories often taking place in an isolated setting and involving strange and/or perilous happenings

19. Horror fiction: stories incorporating supernatural and/or inexplicable elements and intended to arouse fear and dread

20. Melodrama: a story that emphasizes action over characterization and features exaggeratedly dramatic plot elements

21. Mystery fiction: stories that detail the solution of a crime or other wrongdoing

22. Pastiche: a story that imitates one or more established works, or consists of episodes of such works

23. Picaresque: an episodically structured story featuring a rogue or an antihero as the protagonist

24. Parody: a story mocking the pretensions or weaknesses of a particular author,
style, or genre

25. Romance: a love story; also a tale taking place in a distant time and place and involving adventure with often supernatural or mysterious elements

26. Romantic comedy: a lighthearted story detailing a romance and its complications

27. Romp: a boisterously comical tale

28. Satire: a story that pokes fun at human shortcomings such as arrogance, greed, and vanity

29. Science fiction: stories focusing on how science and technology affect individuals and civilizations

30. Screwball comedy: a fast-paced story involving improbable situations and antics from which the humor derives

31. Swashbuckler: an adventure story in which the hero accomplishes great feats to aid a noble cause

32. Thriller: a dramatic story punctuated with action, adventure, and suspense

33. Tragedy: a story with a catastrophic and/or unfortunate outcome

34. Tragicomedy: a story with both humorous and heartbreaking aspects

35. Travelogue: a story with a plot centering on a significant amount of travel

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12 Responses to “35 Genres and Other Varieties of Fiction”

  • Leif G.S. Notae

    Nice list here, Mark. I hope this gets people to explore their fiction and understand it better.

    One you might want to add to it is “Flash Fiction” (not only because I am a purveyor of it) since it seems to be growing fast. 1000 words or less to tell a tale. Also, “Micro-Fiction”; anywhere from 100-200 words.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Jon

    I can’t remember the source, but I recall the “Detective Fiction” genre being divided into two distinct aspects: one where the reader knows only what the detective knows, the other where the reader has visibility of the criminal as well as the detective.

    Then there’s nano-fiction – 55 words… and I read somewhere about twitter fiction… now where was that again…? 🙂

  • Sue Grady

    Very useful list – thanks. As a matter of interest how should I categorize novels which, for want of a better term I will call Historical or Period novels because they are built around a certain period and the well known people of that time? Sometimes these works are amazingly well researched to ensure historical accuracy but nonetheless are works of ficrtion. ..

  • Chris M

    Thank you for this list. It is my goal to write an example of each. And I knew that Detective Fiction and Mystery were two different genres. People keep trying to tell me they are the exact same thing.

  • Mike Szczepanik

    When I came across bildungsroman in the list, I expected to also see “roman a clef” — a novel about real people whose identities are disguised by fictitious names.

  • Mark Nichol

    Mike:

    I was trying not to overlap too much with this post.

  • Sally

    How about ‘Slash Fiction,’ which is “a type of story involving two (or more) characters from a movie or TV series in a romantic liaison or sexual encounter”?

    This would be ditinct from ‘Slasher Fiction,’ which describes the activities of a psychopath, usually male, who murders his victims, usually female, in gruesome ways. Some people find this entertaining!

  • don quixote

    i started a blog – tellingastoryaday.blogspot.com – and would love someone who is interested in giving me feedback to help me improve go on and offer critique on them. i would do the same for you too.

  • Mark MacKay

    Fanfiction
    Roman a clef – there should be a grave accent over the “a” but I couldn’t find it.

  • Phil South

    Wonderful dissection of genres. I favour pastiche as a way to inhabit the space occupied by your writing heroes, and I’m currently doing a series on pastiches of my favourite writers which I would be delighted for you guys to visit and critique. http://goingdownwriting.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/how-to-write-like-ian-fleming/ the best advice I can give is to try as much as possible to write like your heroes because that way you are using your influences to find your way to your own true voice.

    Great work!

  • Sherlock Holmes

    Speaking of the genre Allegory, we all should be aware of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. A classic read!

  • Rob

    Thanks for this Mark. I wonder if you could provide a reference for this. I would like to report this in class 🙂

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