Just mention to a reader that you are writing a novel and the first thing of out their mouth is, “What types of novels do you write?” And, if you don’t readily know the answer to that question, you may stumble through a long account of your current novel’s plot, losing your audience – the one stifling a yawn – before you’re finished.
While some readers may be asking you for the whole story and nothing but the whole story, most readers just want to know the genre of your novel; genre describes your novel and identifies it by one of 10 leading types of novels in the market of popular fiction. It is the way that readers identify the types of novels they like and it helps publishers market your book.
What is the Relationship between a Writer and Genre?
I’ve described two important reasons for knowing your novel’s genre, but before you even get to that point of readership or publishing (and hopefully you will), understanding genre provides you, the writer, with a roadmap for writing your story – making the important decision about genre is the starting point of writing a novel.
Each genre has its own prescription for remaining true to type. Successful novels that don’t follow genre guidelines are rare (but not unheard of).
Writing within a genre will keep your story on course. And in the end, you will be satisfying reader expectations of that genre. If you’ve identified your novel as a romance, it had better cover all the things that a romance reader has come to expect in a romance novel. If it doesn’t, the reader will be disappointed. If your book starts out as a romance but along the way becomes a mystery, you have a problem.
How Do You Determine Novel Types or Genres?
Determining what type of novel you are writing is based on “emphasis” – what is your story mostly about? Your novel may seem to fit into more than one genre. If this happens, you might ask yourself if you have more than one novel to write, or if you can equally support the genre-crossover in the novel without taking away from the story and going off on a tangent. You should pick a genre that mostly fits your story and perhaps use a subplot that will tie into and support your main story. A novel that doesn’t fit into any of the genres is called a mainstream novel, and they are difficult to sell.
Genre is the Glue that Holds the Story Together
All aspects of a story must remain true to the elements intimated by the genre. A writer will build, use, and reject scenes that support the genre or the central idea. There is a lot of room for writers to be creative with their stories as long as all scenes in the novel track back to the central idea and never away from it.
The Keys to 10 Leading Types of Novels
Following are the major types of novels and brief descriptions of what they mean. The descriptions provide the mandatory elements of the genre, and as you will see, they are not that restrictive and leave lots of room for creativity.
- Romance – conflict revolves around a romantic relationship between a woman and a man; the story is characterized by romantic tension and desire and often ends with the couple uniting. Example: Mistress by Amanda Quick
- Mystery – also referred to as “whodunits”, the main component of this genre is a question that must be answered, a crime solved, an identity revealed. This type of novel is characterized by clues to the answer, rising tension as the answer is approached, and sometimes increasing danger as the mystery is solved. Example: A Mind to Murder by P.D. James
- Science Fiction – a storyline featuring advanced scientific and technological themes typically set in future societies or universes. Example: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester.
- Fantasy – stories surrounding mythical kingdoms and characterized by myth-like, magical, and otherworldly concepts. Example: The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
- Action-Adventure – stories that put the protagonist at high-risk of physical danger; characterized by suspenseful near-miss scenes, courageous and daring feats, a very fast pace and rising tension as the protagonist runs out of time to achieve his goal. Examples of this genre include the Indiana Jones books and movies. Techno-Thriller is a subcategory of this genre that employs high-tech scenarios, as in the Hunt for Red October.
- Thriller/Suspense – a thrilling storyline wherein characters are in great physical or psychological jeopardy, and there is at least one “dark” character who the protagonist must escape, overcome, or beat. Example: The Best Revenge by Stephen White (also most Tom Clancy novels).
- Horror – a scary story involving pursuit and escape typically from demonic or supernatural forces that the lead character(s) must survive and overcome. Example: Most novels by Stephen King
- Historical – story elements take place in a factual historical realm with characters placed in important, widely known events such as war or political conquests and associating with important historical figures like tsars, kings, and Example: The Traitor’s Wife by Susan Higginbotham, Captains and Kings by Taylor Caldwell, The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory.
- Family Saga – a story that ranges across two or more generations of a family with plots that typically involve building empires, curses, adventures, etc. By its nature, this genre begins historically with the resolution to the story brought into contemporary settings. Example: A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford.
- Women’s Fiction – this is not so much a genre as a type of book that has emerged and is worth noting. It’s a story characterized by female central character(s) whose goals, challenges, crises, and difficulties are those that women relate to, such as conflicts with home, society, men, politics, and religion – any issue that women come face to face with every day. Example: Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg
A writer is always learning, so once you’ve determined the type of novel you are writing, I encourage you to read more about what makes that type of novel sizzle and apply it to your story. Becoming familiar with a particular genre can only be done by being an avid reading of the genre. If you don’t know what is interesting to you about certain types of novels – a great mystery, sci-fi, or romance novel – it’s difficult to know how you might write a novel of its kind; so read, read, read, before you write, write, write.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, please like it and share it with friends. Also, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section. What genre do you write in and why?