Distinguishing Between Fiction Genres

Literary Agencies and Publishers use a plethora of terms to describe different categories of fiction genres. Since they don’t always use the same standard terms, this post will hopefully help clear up any confusion as it pertains to Fiction, Fantasy, and/or Science Fiction genres.

  • Speculative Fiction: A broad term that covers all the fantastical sub-genres of fiction, such as fantasy, science fiction, and horror, etc.
  • Genre Fiction: This includes horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.
  • Fantasy: A fiction novel that fuses fantasy elements into the story. They can be magic, it could be unicorns, it could be Greek gods, etc. Anything that isn’t real that is a part of the story turns it from regular fiction into fantasy.
  • High Fantasy: Contains lots of magic, swords, dragons, elves, etc. Is also usually set in its own world.
  • Low Fantasy: Staged in the medieval era, but many of the classical fantasy elements aren’t present, or are used sparingly. George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is a good example of this.
  • Sword & Sorcery: Same as High Fantasy.
  • Urban Fantasy: This takes the real world of today, and throws fantastical elements into it (such as magic, monsters, etc).
  • Epic Fantasy: Is set in its own world. This is also known as High Fantasy.
  • Steam Punk: In my experience, this has always been in a category of its own. It is a blend of fantasy and technology (of the steam-engine variety).
  • Science Fiction: This usually is set in space, or some time frame in the future. Usually incorporates technology that isn’t invented yet.
  • YA: This is young adult.
  • MG: Middle Grade.
  • Literary Fiction: Used to distinguish serious fiction (that is, work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction (i.e., paraliterature)
  • Contemporary Fiction: Includes stories that could happen to people or animals. The characters are made up, but their actions and feelings are similar to those of people we could know. These stories often take place in the present time and portray attitudes and problems of contemporary people
  • Commercial Fiction: Attracts a broad audience and may also fall into any subgenre, like mystery, romance, legal thriller, western, science fiction, and so on

If there are some that I missed, please let me know in the comments below. I’ll continue to add to this list to make it as comprehensive as possible.

One thought on “Distinguishing Between Fiction Genres

  1. Pingback: Have I invented a whole new fiction genre? | Ian Sutherland

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