So you’ve decided you to want to become a fiction writer. Congratulations! It’s one of the most enjoyable creative pursuits out there. The world needs more fiction, and it’s a better time than ever before to start, thanks to the ease of self-publishing. But what if you don’t know exactly what to write?
It’s more common than you might think to have a desire to write a fiction book without knowing exactly what type. If that sounds like you, don’t worry! In fact, it’s great that you’re taking the time to stop and make a conscious choice.
Exploring the various types of fiction you may wish to write prevents you from one of the major writing sins – trying to write something that ‘doesn’t have a genre’ and is aimed at ‘everyone’. If you attempt that, you’ll likely end up writing something confusing that pleases no one at all!
These days, there are more types of fiction than ever before, with subgenres and mashups springing up seemingly all the time. That’s a good thing as it provides readers with huge amounts of choice and exactly what they’re looking for.
While it would be impossible to cover every type of fiction out there, here are some of the major genres for you to consider.
What does the phrase types of fiction refer to?
Let’s get clear on what we mean first of all. When we talk about types of fiction, we are talking about one of two major ways to categorize novels and short stories – either by their genre, or the age of the reader they are attended for. Knowing both classifications is useful, as your story will most likely combine them. For example, you might want to write sci-fi for young adults, or historical fiction for adult readers.
There are other ways fiction can be categorized, such as its mood and tone, the decade in which it was written, the geographical location of its author, or whether it belongs to a particular artistic movement. These are all valid but they won’t be the focus of this article.
Instead, we’ll explore some of the most popular parent genres as well as the major age ranges writers choose to target.
Types of fiction by genre
As stated earlier, this list of fiction genre types is by no means exhaustive. Instead, it is intended as an overview. If you find a genre that piques your interest, by all means jump on Goodreads or Amazon and delve deep into its more obscure subgenres!
Contemporary fiction refers to fictional stories that revolve around realistic events set in or close to our current time of living. This stands in contrast to historical fiction or that set in the near or far future.
A contemporary novel is intended to be grounded in the real world, avoiding anything that could be construed as fantasy or sci-fi. It well have a sense of being grounded in the real world, often referring to contemporary events, brands, and people.
Historical fiction is exactly what it sounds like – a story set in a time period past. Historical fiction is often intended to shine a light on the ways in which societies and nations operated in decades and centuries gone by. Often, historical fiction will attempt to humanize a major historical event, such as love stories set during famous wars, for example.
Historical fiction requires a good level of either research or familiarity with the time period being written about to be convincing and effective. It also requires writers to strike a balance between sharing historical detail and providing a gripping and moving human story.
Readers have always had a taste for tales that terrify and scare. Some of the most-loved classics are horror stories, and the genre contains to be very popular to this day. Just consider the colossal success of Stephen King if you need convincing.
Horror readers expect to be scared or the book simply isn’t worth it from their perspective. You should therefore know how to create and sustain tension as well as the types of events that are likely to induce a feeling of fear in a story.
Fantasy is one of the most popular types of genre fiction out there. Fantasy readers have a long lineage of great writing to draw on, from Tolkien in earlier eras through to the more recent success of the Harry Potter series.
To write good fantasy requires strong powers of imagination and the ability to creative captivating worlds that live long in the minds of readers.
Literary fiction is a highbrow type of writing that tends to please critics more than the average reader. This type of fiction draws on literary techniques and artistic themes to create books that are as much about skill and intellectual showcasing as they are story and character.
Literary fiction doesn’t sell as many copies of genre fiction. However, there will always be a readership for it, as certain readers and critics alike are satisfied by nothing less than writing with intellectual depth and substance.
Mystery, thriller, and suspense
Books that take readers along for a gripping right through murder and mystery will always do well. Classic whodunnits such as Agatha Christie novels through to contemporary, gritty Nordic noir please critics and readers alike.
There are so many subgenres of mystery and thriller that in order to succeed, you need to know exactly what type of mystery you are writing. This allows you to hit all the right notes and give the readers what they expect and want.
Romance is one of the bestselling types of fiction out there and that probably won’t change any time soon. Romantic fiction can exist anywhere along the spectrum between sweet and family-friendly through to something spicier and steamier.
At its core, no matter which of the infinite subgenres it takes the form of, romance stories usually involve people falling in love or lust and overcoming the obstacles that stand in there way. If you want the chance of carving out serious commercial success, mastering a subgenre of romance is one of the surest paths to take.
Sci-fi has always been a few steps ahead of reality, allowing readers to get to grips with amazing concepts and mind blowing technologies while also enjoying a gripping plot.
Sci-fi has a huge range of subgenres, such as hard sci-fi, military sci-fi, and sci-fi that borrows heavily from the world of horror or fantasy. If you are fascinated by the chance to explore the possibilities of technology and the universe, sci-fi could be the right genre for you.
Fiction set during times of conflict has fascinated readers ever since the time of Greek mythology and even before. War fiction is a great way of humanizing conflicts and exploring the personal and interpersonal impact such events have.
War fiction can focus on real wars that took place, or imaginary conflicts. One major advantage of writing war fiction is it has inherent levels of dramatic tension thanks to the possibility of death and loss. However, if you want to write war fiction, make sure to do so sensitively. It’s a subject that can easily offend people if portrayed inaccurately or without considering what war is truly like.
Books featuring cowboys are an iconic type of genre fiction. Although westerns are perhaps less popular than they were in their heyday, their archetypes and tropes are so firmly embedded in our culture that they’re unlikely to ever truly vanish.
Western books are often combined with other types of fiction, such as romantic tales set during the cowboy times, or even with a sci-fi twist, such as Westworld.
Types of fiction by age
Now that you know some of the major types of fiction genre, let’s take a look at some of the common age ranges to write for.
Picture books are for the youngest readers who may be just grasping the concept of language and basic vocabulary. Needless to say, your story should not need a large number of words in order to be told if you intend it to be a picture book. Simple stories suited to visual telling and age-appropriate subjects are essential here.
Books for younger readers will always be popular. Sadly, many children end up losing their love of reading as they grow older. But thanks to schools mandating reading, and summer library reading challenges, many people will at least enjoy a period of time where they read regularly.
If you want to write for children, make sure to research the level of language, length of book, and type of subject matter that is suitable for the specific age group you hope will read your work.
Young adult books
Some of the most exciting books of recent decades fall under the young adult label and are enjoyed even by older readers. The Hunger Games is but one example.
If this is the age group you’re aiming at, pick a genre and try and read at least ten books aimed at young adults in that genre. Choose a mixture of classics and contemporary favorites. This will give you a solid grounding in what this age group are seeking out from a book.
Adult books are often categorized as a single age category. On the one hand, this makes sense. A love of horror is likely to enjoy Stephen King whether they are in the college dorms or the retirement home lounge. However, if you know the type of book you want to write is enjoyed by a younger or older subset of adult readers, you may wish to adjust your characters, language, and cultural references accordingly.