Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Define "Genre"

So, some of the ladies over at #YALitChat were discussing genres and creating an easy-reference list of the various different genres out there.  The illustrious founder, Georgia McBride, advised us to focus more on writing what we want to write and letting the marketing peeps decide what genre label to stick on our work. 
 **Image snatched from DeviantArt**
By and large, I think that's probably good advice.  BUT, when you're sending out those all-important query letters, you've got to know what genre you're pitching to an agent.  If you don't - IMO - it shows a lack of industry knowledge. So, to help you along, here is a list (though I could probably never hope to complete it) of the different FICTION genres commonly found in YA.  (All of these definitions come from Wikipedia, except for Contemporary/Realistic.) And btw - I've heard it on twitter more than once - don't refer to your book as a fictional novel or give it too many genre labels (like, please consider my speculative, science fiction, steampunk romance fictional novel).

Contemporary/Realistic (this definition from the Contemps website) is pretty much what it sounds like: books that feature true-to-life settings, characters, and situations.

Dystopian: Dystopia is defined as a society characterized by poverty, squalor, or oppression.
Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society and function as a warning against some modern trend, often the threat of oppressive regimes in one form or another. Many utopias can be seen as dystopias in regard to their treatment of the issues of justice, freedom and happiness.  The main point of a dystopia is to make people think about the world in which they live and to see how the idea of happiness can be perverted providing the members of society know little else.

Fantasy: a genre that uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Many works within the genre take place in fictional worlds where magic is common. 

Paranormal Romance: focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction, or horror. Paranormal romance may range from traditional category romances, with a paranormal setting to stories where the main emphasis is on a science fiction or fantasy based plot with a romantic subplot included. Common hallmarks are romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, and other entities of a fantastic or otherworldly nature.

Historical: In YA, we're typically talking about a "period piece," meaning a work that features historical places, people, or events that may or not be crucial to the story. Because history is merely used as a backdrop, it may be fictionalized to various degrees, but the story itself may be regarded as "outside" history. A traditional piece of historical fiction takes place in the real world, with real world people, but with several fictionalized or dramatized elements.

Science Fiction: a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possibilities The settings for science fiction are often contrary to known reality, but the majority of science fiction relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief provided by potential scientific explanations to various fictional elements. elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas"

Steampunk: Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain—that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history.

Urban Fantasy: a subset of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times or contain supernatural elements. However, this is not the primary definition of urban fantasy. Urban fantasy can be set in historical times, modern times, or futuristic times. The prerequisite is that it must be primarily set in a city, rather than in a suburban or country setting, which have their own genre subsets.

Utopian: The utopia and its offshoot, the dystopia, are genres of literature that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for a novel. Dystopian fiction is the opposite: creation of a nightmare world, or dystopia. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. 

What do you write?  What have I left out?


  1. Great post! Wouldn't it be nice if we could all fit into those nicely boxed genres? I've heard a new term floating around - "historical fantasy", so I guess people are combining genres too. :)

  2. Awesome post! I'll definitely use this as a reference. I mainly write contemporary, but I'm starting to dabble in dystopian as well. :)

  3. I really like this post :)
    I think I've heard of YA Romance as a genre in itself as well.

    I write contemporary. I've dabbled in urban fantasy and a couple other genres as well, but contemporary's my thing.

  4. Great Post! I've been calling my YA "paranormal" - but it's not paranormal romance (there's romance, but that's not the main thing). I almost think it's really science fiction or speculative fiction, but paranormal seems like the right category, because it involves "powers." IDK, but I've got to write a query soon. Er, like by tomorrow! The query contest is almost closed!

  5. This is excellent! I'm going to add to your list, though.

    Biopunk and Cyberpunk. While both offshoots of scifi, I think these are more closely related to steampunk (in reverse) and dystopian than the others. I write biopunk, and in my story, I have both utopian and dystopian societies. It's not either, though. It's most definitely a biopunk.

    From Wikipedia:

    Biopunk science fiction is a subgenre of cyberpunk fiction that portrays the underground side of the "biotech revolution" which, in the 1990s and 2000s, was expected to start having a profound impact on humanity in the first half of the 21st century. Biopunk stories explore the struggles of individuals or groups, often the product of human experimentation, against a backdrop of totalitarian governments or megacorporations which misuse biotechnologies as means of social control or profiteering. Unlike cyberpunk, it builds not on information technology but on synthetic biology. Like in postcyberpunk fiction, individuals are usually modified and enhanced not with cyberware, but by genetic manipulation.

  6. Amazing post! I used to get a little fuzzy on some of those genres but this made everything perfectly clear for once! Thanks!

  7. I'd love more exploration of the distinguishing features of YA contemporary sub-genres:

    Rom-Com (romantic comedy)

  8. I played around with Post-Dystopia; that is, it used to be a shit-hole, but it's not necessarily any more. haha

  9. Would suburban fantasy be a sub subgenre of urban fantasy? (okay, a bit tongue-in-cheek)

  10. wow - amazing to see that so many of you had questions about these genres too. The Oasis ladies have decided to make Genre definitions a permanent page - we'll include Heather's definition and try to track down the answers Laurel was looking for. If you can think of any other genre definitions you'd like to know about, let us know!

  11. I'm wondering though, would something that's rather "suspense" fall into speculative or realistic? Or does it depend on what makes it suspenseful?

  12. Argh, and here I'd finally decided my WIP was dystopian rather than sci fi, and now I think it's neither! It must be speculative fiction, probably post-apocalyptic. dystopian? LOL

  13. Fantastic compilation! Very helpful. My current WIP is an urban fantasy, and that's just how I like it :)

  14. Great list! I mostly write contemporary/realistic, but my WIP is contemporary with what might be called magic realism -- I suppose that's a type of fantasy? I'm not sure how to categorize it, and I think that I'll likely just call it contemp and let agent or marketing people figure out the sub-genre, lol.


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