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Writing Genres Defined

Please email a description (about 100 words) of your specific genre, to (at) Please include a link to your website, blog or bio so I may link back to you.

Erotica – Erotica fiction is an often misunderstood genre of writing. While it does contain graphic depictions of sexual exploits between two or more people, most erotic authors do not appreciate being classified under the same category as pornographic works. Describing erotica as a more intensely graphic form of romance also does not do the genre justice. There is a notable lack of purple prose in well written erotica fiction, and there is not necessarily a need for a hero/heroine or a happy ending. Simply defined, erotica is sexually explicit material featuring a well defined plot and evolved characters.

Provided by D.C. McMillen. Learn more about D.C. McMillen.

Fantasy: Heroic/High/Epic Fantasy

These sub-genres of fantasy need to be addressed together because the boundaries between them are difficult, if not impossible, to define. The same books are often held up as examples of each sub-genre – Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books, David Eddings, and of course J. R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The overlap is clearly significant if not total.

Heroic fantasy chronicles the tales of heroes in imaginary lands. It uses intricate plot lines against a grand, invented landscape. The fate of the world or the battle between good and evil is a common or emphasised theme. In my opinion, good and evil are a theme, but not necessarily the fate of the world. Often it deals with good and evil on a smaller scale. Many David Gemmell books are an example, I think.

High fantasy is set in an alternative or invented world. The rules of that world are internally consistent but differ from the rules of our world. Usually it involves magical elements. The story tracks the trials of a hero who must save the world or battle evil. The only specific difference from heroic fantasy is the explicit reference to ‘magic’, but the reality is most heroic fantasy also has elements of magic.

Epic fantasy is a story following a hero or heroic feats on an epic scale. Epic in this context is recently commonly misunderstood to mean multiple volumes (particularly with the recent use of ‘epic!’ to mean ‘cool’). I do not believe epic merely means multiple volumes. What is epic is the battle of good against evil or the fact that the fate of the world rests on a man’s shoulders. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time are classic epic fantasy.

The difference, I think, is this. Heroic fantasy looks at the battle between good and evil on a smaller, less grand scale than epic fantasy. High fantasy is a style in which that battle is carried out against the backdrop of an invented world involving magic. Heroic or epic fantasy are distinguishable from each other, but both are usually high fantasy – almost as though heroic and epic fantasy were sub-genres of high fantasy, which is itself a sub-genre of fantasy.

Provided by Ciara Ballintyne, writer and reader of high fantasy for 20+ years. Learn more about Ciara at her website

Historical Fiction/Alternative History/Historical Romance

Historical Fiction – As the name would suggest, historical fiction is a story set in the past. Typically, the author will place characters in relation to a historical event, but the work is not necessarily about the event itself.  A work of historical fiction is about the lives and attitudes of the characters who interact during the event,  in some relationship to the event or simply with the event as a background. It is a mixture of real events and fictional events.

Real characters are often used in historical fiction, in fact, it would be difficult not to mention, for example, FDR when writing a fictional account set in Washington, DC in the 1930’s.  However, the main characters are most often fictional and are involved in a problem that is real for the period.   Writers of this genre attempt to capture the attitudes, customs, speech patterns and concerns of the average man, during a specific time. Historical accuracy is important, however, since it is a work of fiction, artistic license is permitted, as long as it doesn’t deviate significantly from recorded history.

Alternative History, however, does deviate. In fact, this form of writing is based on speculating on the question:  What would have happened if?…  Harry Turtledove’s World War II series The War That Came Early is an example of this.  In book three, The Big Switch, France and England join Germany in a campaign against Russia.

Historical Romance, while typically considered romance set prior to World War II, is most often characterized by a female protagonist who has more contemporary views of romance and acts upon them.  It is a story set in the past, and I stress this because it shouldn’t be confused with a novel that was actually written in the past. While Edna Pontellier in The Awakening may have expressed more modern views of relationships, the book was written at the end of the nineteenth century and is set in the same period and therefore, is not considered historical romance.

Provided by Kelly Stone Gamble, author of Ragtown, a historical novel set during the building of Hoover Dam. Learn more about Kelly on her blog.

Mystery Genre Murder Mysteries, Mystery Thrillers and just Mysteries.  – Mystery is not usually recognised as a literary genre in its own right. Any enterprise, be it in the form of a book or a visual presentation of one kind or another that deals with something hitherto unknown but intriguing can be called a Mystery. A good example is Mona Lisa’s smile. Reams and reams have been not just written on the subject but also read. Avidly.

Murder Mysteries and Mystery Thrillers. What’s the difference?

– Murder Mysteries are predominantly character led and often appear under the umbrella of Literary Fiction as well.

– Mystery Thrillers are action led.

There’s another important distinction, in my opinion, and it concerns reader participation. Murder Mysteries, like any other mysteries, engage readers’ curiosity, intellect and powers of deduction. Thrillers, mystery or otherwise, mostly provoke emotional responses – fear, anxiety, excitement, anger, jubilation, etc.

Provided by Mira Kolar-Brown. Visit Mira Kolar-Brown’s Amazon UK Author’s page and Amazon US Author’s page.

Psychological Thriller – It took me a long time to figure out my preferred writing genre was psychological thriller. Once I understood that the label meant character driven stories where the ‘thrill’ just happens to be some pretty interesting mind play, I was confident in labelling myself. Characters resolve conflicts that are more mental than physical; more internal than external: some aspect of themselves is in conflict with another. If the conflict is character against character, it’s often in an arena where one is trying to destroy the other’s emotional state. To me, that’s life, baby.

 Provided by Thea Atkinson, author of One Insular Tahiti. Learn more about Thea Atkinson.

Slipstream – is the genre of writing that uses the tropes of other genres such as SF, Fantasy, Horror, Erotica, Crime and Thriller etc. But that use them to different ends. A good example of Slipstream would be most any Christopher Priest books. The reader may start off thinking they’re reading one kind of book, and then slowly things begin to change, morph and not quite add up in a unexpected way.

Interestingly, you probably won’t find Slipstream listed as a genre in any bookshop. You will find books of that type under SF and Fantasy mostly, but they will also be there under all the other genres. This is likely because those that do the catagorising focus on the genre of book that a given Slipstream writer just happens to have chosen for that particular work. And of course the author can always mix the genres up within a story…. as if it wasn’t tricky enough to define them already!

This explanation of Slipstream is not to suggest that Slipstream writers are merely hijacking other genres in order to tell their story, or to mislead the reader, though misdirection is no doubt a part of the art. I think it is more of an acknowledgement of the intelligence of the reader. — A knowing nod to the fact that many readers today are extrememely well read and familiar with a great many genres and more than capable of reading a romance as more than just a romance; A horror as more than just a horror etc. — An acceptance of people’s knowledge of things like psychology, philosophy, theology and science etc.

Provided by Dean Harkness, illustrator and book cover designer, as well as a huge fan of slipstream. Learn more about Dean at his website.

Steampunk – If steampunk can be considered a genre, it was an aesthetic or style first. The mid-century film adaptations of Jules Verne and HG Wells applied the visual style of the 19th century (rivetted steel, clockwork mechanisms, zeppelins, etc.) to 20th century technological artifacts like the military submarine and space craft. Certain authors, in the tradition of Moorcock’s “Warlord of the Air” and Gibson & Sterling’s “The Difference Engine”, emphasize the “punk” side, reflecting the social inequality and culture shock of the real Victorian era. Others apply the steampunk aesthetic to any kind of story. Particularly in visual media (video, comics, etc.) it can be an appealing alternative to the minimalist boxes of modern technology: a revolt against the nearly featureless black slab of the iPhone.

Provided by Peter Tupper, author of steampunk erotica collection “The Innocent’s Progress & Other Stories”. Learn more about Peter Tupper.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2011 11:16 pm

    thanks for linking me, DC. I think this is a great lil service for folks as I always had trouble defining my genre because I didn’t know the gamut of genres out there in the first place.

  2. May 19, 2011 10:12 pm

    No problem! Thank you for providing a great definition.

  3. deansky permalink
    October 23, 2011 3:37 pm

    I’m not sure I’m the person to provide the definition but I think ‘slipstream’ is possibly the most interesting genre of writing to come out of the 20th century. If nobody else has a go at defining then I may come back and have a try 😉

    • October 23, 2011 4:28 pm

      Dean, I have been waiting for someone to come along and define slipstream! Please email me your definition.

      • deansky permalink
        October 23, 2011 7:17 pm

        oakie doke :o)

  4. November 2, 2011 9:26 pm

    I have no idea how to define what I write. But I’m glad you’ve had so many great people define the genres they write (which are completely different from mine)…it helps to narrow things down.

  5. October 19, 2012 11:36 am

    So many genres, so little time! Thanks for clearing some of the clutter up.


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