If you ask how many different writing genres there are, you’ll be hard pressed to find an exact answer everyone can agree upon.
Why is that?
Earlier works can, for the most part, be classified fairly neatly into specific categories defined by particular elements. But today, with an estimated 4 million new book titles published every year, it’s no surprise that authors are finding ways to push boundaries and blend genres to create new, unique material.
However, these blurred lines can make it difficult for authors to pinpoint their target niche (and hard for readers to find their ideal stories if they aren’t marketed correctly).
As an award-winning author who is guilty of pulling various genre elements into my books and then struggling to accurately create a targeted marketing plan, I’m speaking from personal experience here. Genre-blending is great, and it helps your work to stand apart from the mainstream, but it can be a challenge when it comes to the marketing phase of book publishing.
I’ve compiled this list of different writing genres and subgenres under the broad fantasy, horror, mystery/crime, romance, science fiction, and thriller/suspense categories to explore the various markets for fiction authors. Keeping in mind that there are new, highly specialized niche categories and crossovers popping up every day, this is not an all-inclusive list.
But I hope it helps to provide some guidance if you’re struggling to identify what you enjoy reading and/or writing! If I missed a fiction subgenre you feel should be included, please let me know in the comments and I will consider adding it to the article.
Authors, check out some of my other articles on the topic of writing and book publishing/marketing for more tips and resources.
Fantasy covers a broad range of different writing genres, subgenres, and themes. It’s been around for as long as people have told stories and fairy tales. This type of speculative fiction usually involves magical or supernatural elements often inspired by mythology and folklore.
Fantasy is commonly compared to science fiction — as a matter of fact, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America serves as one cohesive group with the two genres combined. However, science fiction is distinguished by the ability to scientifically explain the plausibility of narrative elements (even if it’s pseudoscience). Fantasy, on the other hand, does not require that level of explanation to achieve suspension of belief, although it does rely on set rules that are specific to the imagined world.
• Arthurian fantasy is themed around the legends of King Arthur, Merlin, Morgan le Fay, and the Knights of the Round Table.
• Bangsian fantasy relies on the afterlife as the primary setting for its characters, which are often famous historical figures. This genre was named after John Kendrick Bangs.
• Children’s fantasy is a lighthearted, gentle storytelling genre with happy endings for young readers.
• Comic fantasy is a satirical spoof that pokes fun at conventional fantasy tropes and clichés.
• Dark fantasy blends horror elements into an edgier form of fantasy with higher levels of violence, fear, and sometimes gore. This subgenre uses dark tones to explore consequences of magic, evil beings, monsters that lurk in the shadows, etc.
• Dystopian fantasy introduces magical or supernatural elements into a bleak, oppressive future society.
• Erotic fantasy includes intense sexual scenes in explicit detail.
• Fairy tale fantasy is comprised of a modern retellings of classic fairy tales, usually geared more toward an adult audience rather than children.
• Heroic fantasy is centered around war stories and the heroes that emerge victorious from battle. This subgenre is known for favoring “the chosen one” storylines featuring a protagonist with a humble background who reluctantly comes to terms with becoming a champion based on circumstances, divine intervention, prophesy, etc.
• High fantasy (also known as epic fantasy) contains a detailed alternate world that is separated from the primary world. One of the most noteworthy examples is The Lord of the Rings. This fantasy subgenre usually features extensive worldbuilding, a high word count, a large cast of characters, and some kind of quest or voyage.
• Historical fantasy takes place in a recognizable period of history but adds in fictional elements such as magic or mythological creatures.
• Low fantasy (also called intrusion fantasy) features a real-world setting with magical elements intruding on an otherwise normal world. “Low” is a reflection on the prevalence of stereotypical fantasy elements, not on the quality of the work.
• Magical realism is a fantasy subgenre where magic and the mundane coexist in the real world without conflict. Magic is a normal part of life, even if not all characters are capable of using it.
• Mythic fantasy is modeled after or inspired by classic folklore, fairy tales, myths, and legends, including deities.
• New age fantasy focuses on occult themes and subjects, including witchcraft, spiritual healing, astrology, etc.
• Romance fantasy contains at least one prominent love story that serves as an integral part of character and plot development.
• Religious fantasy relies on theological themes and often features heroic protagonists who live by devout religious beliefs. It can also incorporate religious figures and deities as characters.
• Science fantasy (sci-fan) blends the supernatural elements of fantasy with scientific explanations, even if those explanations are pseudoscience. Science fantasy can also introduce elements of sci-fi such as advanced technology or space/time travel into a fantasy-based setting.
• Superhero fantasy features characters that have superhuman abilities.
• Sword-and-sorcery fantasy is a classic fantasy subgenre based in the medieval period. It’s similar to Arthurian fantasy but expands beyond the legends of King Arthur.
• Time travel fantasy allows characters to travel backward and/or forward to various periods of time through the use of magic or supernatural abilities.
• Urban fantasy is similar to low fantasy and magical realism in that magic, supernatural powers, spirits, and/or mythological creatures can exist in a normal, modern setting. However, these magic elements are often part of a secret society or otherwise not widely accepted as a normal part of life.
• Wuxia fantasy is centered around ancient Chinese philosophies, traditions, and martial arts. “Wuxia” literally translates to “martial heroes.”
• Young Adult (YA) fantasy features protagonists around the ages of 18 to 25. Although the target reader is usually around the same age, YA has become a popular genre for older adults, too.
Horror falls under the speculative fiction category and seeks to evoke feelings of fear, anxiety, shock, unease, or revulsion. This genre can be fairly neatly divided into two groups — supernatural and psychological. In many cases, horror explores the dark psyche of the human mind or presents a metaphor for societal fears.
• Body horror focuses on disfigurement, mutation, degeneration, mutilation, and/or the destruction of the physical human body. Depictions are usually graphic and disturbing.
•Child-in-peril horror is centered around the abduction, persecution, and/or threat of harm to children. It plays on both the anxieties of parents and our own memories of being small and vulnerable in a big world when we were kids.
• Comic horror typically goes in one of two directions — a satirical spoof of horror clichés, or dark humor interspersed with the violence and gore.
• Creepy kids horror features a primary theme of children who become evil. In many cases, dark forces are influencing the “creepy kids” and using them as a vessel for mayhem. This trope plays upon most adults’ reluctance to harm children, even if they’re the antagonist.
• Dark fantasy horror includes fantasy, magic, paranormal, and/or supernatural elements to create a crossover of blending genres that delve into the disturbed realm of horror.
• Dark mystery (dark noir) horror is a subgenre of crime fiction that explores moral ambiguity. It commonly takes place in an urban crime underworld setting.
• Dystopian horror imagines a world or society that suffers from oppression and deprivation. This subgenre often zeroes in on the feelings of fear, dread, and helplessness. Other prevalent themes include squalor, disease, war, environmental devastation, ruthless authoritarian regimes, etc.
• Erotic vampire horror adds gore, violence, and graphic descriptions to the modern-day vampire erotica trend.
• Fabulist horror introduces a dark perspective to fables (a fabulist is a creator or writer of fables). Most fables anthropomorphize animals, objects, nature, etc. to convey a moral lesson.
• Gothic horror traditionally distinguishes itself with the theme of the present being haunted by the past. It’s known for picturesque settings of castles, bleak landscapes, abandoned places, ruin, decay, fallen aristocracies, and paranormal themes.
• Hauntings is a horror form that pulls in paranormal elements and usually features ghosts, poltergeists, demons, and/or possessions. The protagonist often has to right a wrong in order to help the malevolent spirits move on.
• Historical horror takes place in a clearly defined, recognizable period of history. It could be a particularly unnerving, violent part of our past, or it could be a perfectly normal, happy society with a dark underbelly that was left out of history books.
• Man-made horror involves creatures wreaking havoc after being created or corrupted by mankind. Common scenarios include mad scientists conducting genetic experiments, animals suffering from mutations after a nuclear apocalypse, man-made diseases destroying a population’s sanity, etc.
• Monster horror features non-human creatures hunting and slaughtering humans.
• Mythic horror is based on ancient mythology, folklore, fairy tales, and legends but focuses on the darker, terrifying aspects of these tales. Mythic horror usually takes place in the real world, while mythic fantasy often occurs in a fictional realm.
• Occult horror is themed around the dark side of subjects like witchcraft and wizardry, seances, spiritualism, psychic phenomena, paranormal connections, etc.
• Psychological horror explores the dark side of disturbed human nature and psyche. Themes often include insanity, altered perceptions of reality, repressed thoughts, emotional insecurities, paranoia, hallucinations, trauma, delusions, etc.
• Quiet horror, also known as soft horror, takes a subtle approach to create fear and suspense by relying on mood, atmosphere, and setting rather than graphic descriptions and gore. Much of the horror is left to the reader’s imagination.
• Religious horror utilizes mythology, deities, cults, and religious icons as literary devices to evoke feelings of fear and dread.
• Science fiction horror adds a darker (and often more violent) twist on the stereotypical sci-fi genre. Common themes include government experiments gone wrong, aliens experimenting on and exterminating humans, etc.
• Splatter horror, also referred to as extreme horror, hardcore horror, or splatterpunk, is a modern subgenre centered around graphic descriptions of gore.
• Supernatural horror breaks the rules of realism and introduces otherworldly powers, magic, abilities, and/or creatures such as vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, etc.
• Technology horror is closely related to science fiction horror but places the emphasis of the conflict on advanced technology that is out of control. Think of AI exterminating humankind, genetic engineering, computers going AWOL, cybernetic enhancements, etc.
• Young Adult (YA) horror is aimed at a target audience of around 18 to 25 with protagonists of approximately the same age or slightly older. YA tends to dial down the gore due to the potential for younger readers.
• Zombie horror has become distinguished enough to stand under its own subgenre outside the supernatural horror category. This genre features dead people returning to feast upon the living.
MYSTERY / CRIME
Mystery and crime go hand-in-hand. The key part of the mystery genre is a puzzle for the reader to solve, which is the primary differentiation between mystery and thriller. Both are capable of evoking feelings of suspense, but mystery transforms the reader into a detective piecing together the who, what, when, where, and how of a crime.
• Amateur detective (amateur sleuth) involves a mystery that is solved by an amateur — someone who isn’t a professional crime-solver but has a personal connection to the mystery, allowing them to obtain information and track down clues to the truth.
• Caper mysteries feature the protagonist as the perpetrator. These types of adventures usually involve theft, kidnappings, swindles, robberies, and other crimes, often told with humorous undertones as the clever antihero outwits security measures and police.
• Child in peril is a mystery story centered around young victims who have been abducted, murdered, or otherwise persecuted.
• Comic mystery, also sometimes known as “bumbling detective,” focuses more on humor than suspense. This subgenre can be a spoof using satire to make fun of mystery stories that take themselves a little too seriously. Alternatively, the storyline may be somewhat serious but feature a grossly unskilled protagonist who comedically solves the crime through dumb luck.
• Courtroom drama mystery, also sometimes known as legal mystery, unfolds through the justice system, often from the perspective of a lawyer or attorney attempting to prove the innocence/guilt of a defendant.
• Cozy mysteries take place in a restricted setting — often a small town or even a single home. The suspects are all familiar with each other. In many cases, the detective is the only person with an outsider-looking-in perspective.
• Dark thriller mysteries take the puzzle of a mystery and add the violence, suspense, and fear of the thriller genre to create a wonderfully terrifying subgenre.
• Disabled mysteries feature a detective with some type of physical and/or mental disability that helps him or her solve crimes. The disability itself may be an asset in some way, or it helps the protagonist to look at the clues from a different perspective.
• Doctor-detective mysteries involve a physician taking on the role of a detective by using their specialized knowledge and expertise of science, anatomy, medicine, forensics, etc. to piece together clues the police have missed.
• Espionage mysteries take the international spy concept and focus more on solving the puzzle than simply packing as much action as possible into the story (although action and suspense are still usually a given).
• Forensic mysteries rely heavily on scientific procedures and technology while solving the puzzle through experiments, crime scenes, data, testing, and forensics.
• Furry sleuth is a mystery told from an animal’s point of view. This subgenre is often a form of cozy mystery and targets a young audience. The animals are usually portrayed with human intelligence and the ability to communicate with other animals in the story.
• Hardboiled mysteries are usually set in a gritty urban setting and use graphic violence and sex to set a dark tone.
• Heist mysteries, like caper mysteries, are an antihero subgenre told from the perspective of a criminal. These stories often embody a Robin Hood “honor among thieves” theme and give the criminal a firm moral code, even if it clashes with societal laws, to help readers connect with and feel good about rooting for the antihero pulling heists.
• Historical mysteries are extremely detail-oriented and take place in a specific period of history. The time, place, and historical details of the setting play a huge role in solving the puzzle.
• Inverted mysteries occur when the reader already knows who the culprit is. The suspense builds as they watch the detective piece together the clues and unwittingly interact with the perpetrator.
• Locked-room mysteries (also known as impossible crime mysteries or puzzle mysteries) occur when the circumstances of the crime seem to be impossible for a perpetrator to commit. The answer requires extraordinary logic to explain how the crime was committed.
• Medical mysteries can encompass several different writing genres involved with the medical field. This could include the threat of a disease or contagion impacting society, diagnosing mysterious injuries or symptoms in a patient, lab experiments gone wrong, etc.
• Paranormal mysteries often cross over into fantasy subgenres when dealing with ghostly or supernatural perpetrators. However, when the primary conflict involves solving a puzzle or crime, the story ultimately falls under the mystery category even if fantasy elements are present.
• Police procedural mysteries are told from the perspective of cops using real-life procedures to collect evidence and follow clues.
• Private detective mysteries traditionally featured the grisly, “lone-wolf” private eye hired to solve a mystery outside the scope of the police, although today’s private detective mysteries have largely evolved to feature more low-key, modern-day professionals rather than the old-school tough guys playing fast and loose with the rules.
• Psychological suspense is a mystery genre that focuses more on the criminal’s mindset and motivations rather than the crime itself. This subgenre seeks to explore the human psyche and get into the head of the perpetrator.
• Romantic mysteries involve an integral love story unfolding while the protagonists solve the puzzle. Usually, members of the crime-solving team are the ones who fall in love, but other pairings can occur such as a detective falling for the spy he’s been pursuing or the widow whose husband was murdered.
• Technothriller mysteries bring sci-fi vibes into the mystery by placing an emphasis on advanced technological tools to either commit the crime or solve the puzzle (or both).
• Thriller mysteries heighten the suspense by using more action, violence, and sometimes gore. This genre typically has an international scope to raise the stakes.
• Whodunit is one of the most classic examples of the mystery writing genre. In these scenarios, a reader uncovers all the clues from a detective’s point of view as they systematically solve the puzzle of “who did it.”
• Woman-in-jeopardy mysteries, also referred to as woman in peril, adopt the damsel-in-distress theme. However, although these plots sometimes feature a hero coming to her rescue, many modern-day examples focus on the woman’s struggles to outwit the perpetrator and rescue herself while solving the mystery.
• Young Adult (YA) mysteries typically feature young detectives somewhere in the age range of 18 to 25. The target readers are usually expected to fall into a similar age category.
According to the Romance Writers of America, every romance novel is comprised of two basic elements: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending. A writer is free to include numerous subplots, but the main focus of the novel has to be about the love story. Without that element, the plot can’t stand on its own.
• Chick-lit romance is typically filled with humorous romantic escapades, mishaps, and adventures while centered around single working women in their 20’s or 30’s.
• Christian romance has strong religious themes, usually focusing on two devout Christians in a chaste courtship without premarital sex.
• A romantic comedy tells a love story in lighthearted, humorous tones. “Love conquers all obstacles” is a common theme, with said obstacles often portrayed in a comedic way.
• Contemporary romance takes place in a modern-day setting (RWA defines “modern” as 1950 to present day).
• Erotica (also known as steamy romance, romantica, or smut) describes sex scenes in explicit detail. Although other subgenres can be present, the in-depth sexual interaction is what defines erotica.
• Fantasy romance blends the two genres together but focuses primarily on the love story. Fantasy elements are an integral part of the story, but without the romance, the plot wouldn’t stand on its own.
• Glitz and glamor romance is centered around the wealthy elite with celebrity-like characters living the high life of luxury.
• Gothic romance paints a creepy yet picturesque setting, usually in an old mansion, castle, or run-down house. This subgenre tends to explore tropes such as hauntings, family secrets, insanity, curses, etc.
• Historical romance, unlike contemporary romance, takes place in a clearly defined and recognizable historical period, such as the Victorian era.
• Holiday romance is a subgenre that involves lovers meeting or reuniting during winter holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah. Family is usually a key theme in holiday romance.
• Military romance tells a love story with at least one main character serving in the military (or recently discharged). Military bases are common settings for this subgenre, and the plot often includes action, suspense, and some sort of external threat like the possibility of being deployed for war.
• Multicultural romance puts non-Caucasian characters in the spotlight. This subgenre often features Black or Hispanic protagonists but isn’t limited to only those categories.
• Paranormal romance often crosses over into fantasy and/or science fiction with some sort of supernatural element. However, the love story remains the central theme.
• Regency romance is a subgenre that is set during the British Regency era in the early 19th century. This romance niche is known for witty, intelligent, fast-paced dialogue and social activities like elegant dinner parties, carriage rides, balls, and marriages of convenience.
• A romantic suspense pits a protagonist against an evil force (but again, the love story is still the dominant element of the plot). Common plot conflicts include murder, kidnapping, stalking, and other crimes that can cross over into mystery and thriller genres.
• Science fiction romance is usually set in the future, and it often includes extraterrestrial beings. Other sci-fi elements such as advanced technology, interstellar travel, and alien societies often play a role, but the love story remains the most important element of the plot.
• Sensual romance zeroes in on the sensual tension. This may or may not include erotic sex scenes.
• Spicy romance usually involves married characters attempting to resolve their issues.
• Sports romance features an athlete as one or both protagonists. This subgenre tends to pull tension from both the romantic relationship and the pressure of competing in high-stakes games, adding in suspense and action.
• Sweet romance is a love story that has little or no sex. In many cases, the protagonist is a virgin who finds their first love.
• Time travel romance involves a character traveling forward or backward in time to be with their true love. Common themes include the idea of soul mates, past lives, and the difficult decision to stay in the alternate timeline or return to the period from whence the protagonist came.
• Western romance is a subgenre that takes place in the Wild West. Reoccurring tropes in western romance include cowboys and cowgirls, saloons, gunslingers, cattle drives, covered wagons, train robberies, land wars, etc. Western romance can also take place in a contemporary western setting.
• Young Adult (YA) romance features protagonists aged 18 to 25, and it’s generally written for a target audience in that same age range. With that in mind, it usually contains a milder level of sexual content.
SCIENCE FICTION (SCI-FI / SF)
Science fiction, sometimes shortened to “sci-fi” or simply “SF,” is closely tied to fantasy under the speculative fiction category. Common themes of science fiction include advanced technology, time travel, future societies, space exploration, extraterrestrial life forms, parallel universes, etc.
While fantasy can get away with using magic to explain the unexplainable, a key distinguishing feature of sci-fi is using scientifically plausible explanations (although this can be pseudoscience). What fantasy accomplishes with spells, supernatural abilities, and deities, science fiction achieves with technology and physics.
• Alien science fiction involves human encounters with extraterrestrial life forms, whether on Earth or another location. These encounters can range from being traumatic (alien abductions and experimentations) to romantic and anything in between.
• Alternate history SF reexamines historical events from a profound “what if?” approach. What if the technology was different back then? What if x happened instead of y? What if a time traveler changed the course of history?
• Alternate reality science fiction (or parallel universe sci-fi) explores the possibility of another reality coexisting with the present reality. This subgenre is sometimes connected to time travel. The parallel universe may be recognizable or completely different from the world we know.
• Biopunk science fiction was derived from the cyberpunk genre and typically includes nihilistic biotech themes such as oppressive government agencies manipulating human DNA, eugenics, corrupt biotech megacorporations, illegal genetic engineering, bio-hackers, etc.
• Colonization science fiction has humans leave their world and start a new settlement on another planet. Reasons for leaving often center around overpopulation and/or pollution making the Earth uninhabitable, or departing for exploration purposes.
• Comic science fiction is often a satirical form making fun of the overall genre and its hardcore fans, or pointing out the ridiculous technological conventions of our modern-day society. It also tends to adopt a pessimistic view of humanity.
• Cyberpunk sci-fi explores high-tech societies in the not-too-distant future where computers have drastically changed our society and way of life. Common elements include virtual reality, cybernetic enhancements, etc.
• Dying Earth science fiction is set in the future near the end of the planet’s existence. This subgenre often overlaps with apocalyptic fiction and explores tropes such as environmental crises, barren wastelands, fatality, reflection, scare resources, and survival.
• Dystopian science fiction examines the relationships between technology and society in a bleak future world. This subgenre often explores social issues, police states, extreme poverty, individual freedoms, etc. In some cases, extraterrestrial life has become the dominant ruling class while humankind is oppressed.
• Erotic science fiction includes graphic sexual scenes as a primary feature of the story.
• Galactic empire sci-fi features a massive government system that spans across multiple galaxies. It often blends dystopian and space opera themes.
• Generation ship science fiction is a specialized niche that presents a situation in which the original occupants of a long space voyage have passed away, leaving their descendants to continue the journey or colonize a new home.
• Hard science fiction extrapolates present-day science into the future to imagine how that evolution would realistically occur. The primary focus is on scientific details rather than characters or settings.
• Historical science fiction reimagines specific historical periods with advanced technology, extraterrestrial life, and/or other predominant themes of sci-fi.
• Immortality science fiction features beings who have lived and continue to live for eternity. It explores mortality themes, religious salvation, and whether eternal life would be a blessing or a curse, especially if the immortal being falls in love with a mortal.
• Lost-world science fiction involves a voyage to an unknown, isolated place that has yet to be explored. This can include Earthly destinations such as islands or jungles, or space settings like a forgotten civilization on Mars or other planets/moons.
• Military sci-fi features advanced warfare, tactics, weapons, and military technology. The setting is variable and can occur in the future, in space, or on different planets/dimensions.
• Mind-transfer science fiction explores the concept of a human consciousness being transferred to another human, computer, robot, or other vessel through the use of alien technology, computer program, psychic power, brain transplant, etc.
• Mundane science fiction is a subgenre niche that developed in the early 2000s. It’s characterized by believable scientific/technological applications (or plausible extensions of current technology into the future), a lack of interstellar/intergalactic travel or extraterrestrial contact, and a setting that is limited to Earth or our solar system.
• Mystery science fiction usually take one of two approaches — it wraps a SF plot around a central puzzle that needs to be solved, or it enhances the classic whodunit storyline with sci-fi elements.
• Mythic science fiction is inspired by legends, folklore, fairy tales, and myths. This subgenre commonly explores the idea of ancients mistaking advanced technology for magic as a way of explaining phenomena they couldn’t understand.
• Nanopunk sci-fi is similar to cyberpunk but places the emphasis on nanotechnology and how it might affect human lives and society as a whole. In this subgenre, nanotech is a fully integral part of human society, complete with pros and cons to explore.
• Post-apocalyptic science fiction features a society struggling to survive after an apocalypse. The setting may or may not be on Earth, but survival should be the central theme.
• Religious science fiction is built upon theological ideas and themes. In many cases, the protagonist is devout and operates under a strict, religious moral code. Deities are usually an integral part of the story, even if they don’t manifest as direct characters.
• Robot science fiction features robotics and A.I. as part of human society. In some cases, robots are benevolent. In others, they’re antagonists trying to wipe out or subdue humanity. This subgenre typically examines issues like free will, slavery, and how to determine whether a being is sentient and worthy of rights/freedoms.
• Romance science fiction incorporates at least one important love story into the plot as a form of character development.
• Science fantasy (sci-fan) adds fantasy elements that can be at least partially explained by science or pseudoscience.
• Science horror intermeshes predominant horror themes with recognizable sci-fi elements to establish a dark, foreboding mood and existential threats that can be scientifically explained.
• Social science fiction explores psychology and inner conflicts as characters react to a sci-fi environment. This subgenre also includes SF social satire.
• Soft science fiction examines the “softer” side of science with topics like anthropology, sociology, psychology, etc.
• Space opera sci-fi features a setting that is primarily or entirely in outer space. Predominant themes in space opera SF include intergalactic warfare, futuristic weapons, advanced technology, methods of traveling faster than the speed of light, extraterrestrial life, etc.
• Spy-fi introduces science-fiction elements into tales of espionage with high-tech spy gadgets, weapons, and technology.
• Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that explores an alternate history where 20th century technology exists in a Victorian setting.
• Superhero science fiction uses a scientific approach to explain how characters obtain and utilize superhuman abilities.
• Thriller science fiction builds suspense, anticipation, anxiety, dread, and excitement with “edge of your seat” cliffhangers and climaxes built with recognizable sci-fi plot elements.
• Time-travel science fiction explores the concept of characters moving forward and/or backward in time. This subgenre can also include alternative dimensions, multiverses, and parallel worlds.
• Utopian science fiction presents an idyllic utopia where technology has solved all of society’s issues. However, there’s usually a price to pay for a perfect world. This subgenre explores what an ideal utopia would look like… and what sacrifices a society would have to make for it.
• Young Adult (YA) science fiction is centered around protagonists whose ages range from about 18 to 25 as they embark on sci-fi adventures. The target audience is generally expected to be the same age, although YA has become a popular genre for older adults, too.
THRILLER / SUSPENSE
As far as different writing genres go, thriller is a unique classification because it’s primarily defined by the mood it invokes rather than specific elements such as mysteries, aliens, love stories, or magic. Thrillers create suspense by teasing hope and anxiety in readers — the hope that everything will work out in the end, but the fear that it will not (and how powerless the reader is to influence the outcome).
Thrillers are composed of several overlapping subgenres. Common literary devices in thrillers include unexpected plot twists, cliffhangers, red herrings, unreliable narrators, a race against the clock, villain-driven plots, high stakes, etc.
• Action thrillers use fights, violence, obstacles, high stakes, and usually a race against some sort of time-sensitive deadline to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
• Comic thrillers prioritize humor, typically in one of two ways — by weaving wisecracks and slapstick humor through action scenes, or by taking a satirical spoof approach to poke fun at the genre’s usual seriousness.
• Conspiracy thrillers pit a protagonist against a powerful (usually secret) organization operating their true intents under the radar. Only the hero recognizes what’s really happening and has to work against propaganda, lies, rumors, buried histories, and limited resources to foil the plot.
• Crime thrillers synthesize the thriller genre with the crime genre to create a suspenseful blend, making this a popular subgenre. Traditionally, crime thrillers focus more on the action of committing a crime or apprehending the perpetrator rather than solving the mystery of who did it.
• Disaster thrillers turn nature into an antagonist, pitting heroes against natural calamities such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.
• Eco-thrillers are similar to disaster thrillers in that the hero must face some sort of ecological catastrophe, but they delve deeper into the people or organizations who are ultimately responsible for causing the natural disaster.
• Erotic thrillers rely on graphic sex scenes to build excitement and suspense.
• Espionage thrillers are classic international spy novels. Traditionally, this genre favored pitting spies against other enemy spies in the ultimate test of skills and strategy, but many modern stories now feature spies versus terrorists.
• Forensic thrillers are based on scientific procedures and usually feature forensic experts putting their own lives at risk while working to apprehend the antagonist. In many cases, the hero is working against the clock to prevent another crime or murder from happening.
• Historical thrillers take place in a specific time period that can be recognized with historical significance.
• Horror thrillers use fear and violence, often with graphic and sometimes gory details, to portray a dark, disturbing, and frightening mood. In many cases, this genre is driven by a monstrous villain or bloodthirsty creature.
• Legal thrillers usually feature a lawyer, attorney, or defendant as the protagonist and present tense situations both inside and outside of the courtroom as the case is tried through the legal system.
• Medical thrillers explore threats that take place in the medical field such as bioweapons, plagues and pandemics, immoral human experimentation, etc.
• Military thrillers feature a protagonist in a military role. In many cases, the hero is part of a special force, works behind enemy lines, or uncovers a classified secret.
• Mystery thrillers involve a crime or puzzle to be solved, usually in a race against the ticking clock. The fast pace and heightened suspense elevates a regular mystery into the realm of the thriller genre.
• Paranormal thrillers add supernatural elements, usually antagonistic forces, to a plot that maintains a distinctly thriller vibe.
• Police procedural thrillers are a form of crime thrillers that follow the police step by step as they work their way through solving a tense, dangerous, and often disturbing case.
• Political intrigue thrillers are centered around stabilizing (or destabilizing) governments.
• Psychological thrillers prioritize a mental conflict over a physical one, although the climax usually ends up with a violent resolution. A psychological thriller thrives on unstable, delusional, mentally disturbed, and unreliable characters.
• Religious thrillers utilize historical events, myths, and religious texts or artifacts. This trope commonly involves secret societies attempting to guard or steal artifacts, protect ancient secrets, offer sacrifices to appease deities, or search for lost relics.
• Romantic thrillers highlight at least one important love story, usually between the protagonists. Their romantic involvement is critic to the plot and their character development.
• Supernatural thrillers usually feature a hero and/or antagonist with supernatural abilities as a key part of the plot. Alternatively, this subgenre can also feature perfectly normal, human characters who must confront otherworldly creatures like ghosts, vampires, demons, werewolves, etc. Supernatural thrillers blend a variety of elements from fantasy genres.
• Technological thrillers, also referred to as technothrillers, are centered around a technological threat. In many cases, advanced technology has run amok. This subgenre tends to cross over into the realm of science fiction.
• Young Adult (YA) thrillers feature adolescent or young adult protagonists, usually around the ages of 18 to 25. These nail-biting stories typically include coming-of-age lessons and are tailored for an audience around the same ago, although YA has become popular among adults, too.
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I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first two novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series both received the Literary Titan Gold Book Award in 2020.
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