Over 100 Sub-Genres for Writers
By Ruth Barringham
We all know that there are several genres for stories. But did you know that there are also many sub-genres too?
As a writer, it’s important to know the correct genre of your novel so that you can pitch it correctly to an agent/publisher, or so that you can publish it yourself and market it to the correct audience as well as letting library supply companies know exactly where your book belongs on library book shelves.
And as well as the more common fiction genres which include romance, horror, thriller, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and crime, there are also well over 100 sub-genres.
Below is a list of 5 genres plus dozens of sub-genres that you can use to help correctly categorise your book, or use the for inspiration for an idea for your next book.
Chick-Lit: humorous romantic adventures usually based around single working women in their twenties and thirties.
Christian: romances in which both hero and heroine are devout Christians, always focused on a chaste courtship.
Contemporary: a romance set in the present with realistic situations for the time period.
Erotica: sometimes called “romantica." A romance in which sexual scenes are described in full and complete detail.
Glitz/Glamor: sometimes called “billionaire romance,” is a romance based on a wealthy, celebrity or powerful lover.
Historical: a romance taking place in a recognisable and set historical period.
Multicultural: a romance centered on characters where one is white and the other is often African-American or Hispanic.
Paranormal: involving some sort of supernatural element, ranging widely to include science fiction/fantasy aspects such as time travel, monsters or psychic abilities.
Romantic Comedy: a romance focused on humour, where laughter and fun help the couple overcome emotional obstacles.
Romantic Suspense: a novel in which the heroine is pitted against some evil force, and her romantic interest helps her overcome it as well as falling in love with her.
Sensual: based on the sensual tension between hero and heroine, including sizzling sex scenes.
Spicy: a romance in which married characters spice up their love life in order to resolve their problems, often finding out that they don’t need the spice after all.
Sweet: a romance centered on a chaste heroine, with little or no sex involved.
Young Adult: written with the teenage audience in mind, but with a much lower level of graphic, sexual content, and the lovers struggling to overcome obstacles such as family pressure, peer pressure, class pressure, academic pursuits, and competition from another suitor.
Body Horror: graphic and disturbing violations to the human body and can include visceral horror.
Comic Horror: horror stories that either spoof horror conventions or that mix the gore with dark humour. Are split into three categories: black comedy, parody, or spoof.
Creepy Kids: horror tale in which children, under the influence of dark forces or simply born evil, begin to turn against the adults in the story.
Dark Fantasy: a horror story with more frightening supernatural and fantasy elements than usual.
Dark Mystery/Noir: inspired by hardboiled detective tales, characterised by such elements as cynical heroes, stark lighting effects, frequent use of flashbacks, and intricate plots.
Erotic Vampire: a horror tale with a link between sexuality and vampires, and with great emphasis on gory description and violence.
Fabulist: objects, animals or forces of nature are anthropomorphised to deliver a moral lesson. The word fabulist is derived from the ancient word “fable.”
Gothic: a horror story that usually includes, ruined castles with strange or demonic occupants, aristocracy, madness, imprisonment and persecution.
Hauntings: possession by ghosts, demons or poltergeists, particularly of some sort of structure, but can also be a haunted person.
Historical: horror stories set in a specific and recognisable period of history.
Magical Realism: a genre in which extraordinary forces or creatures encroach on otherwise normal, real-life, present-day settings.
Psychological: a story based on the disturbed human psyche, where the protagonist’s own mind becomes their undoing, usually because they confuse what is happening in their minds with supernatural creatures or hauntings.
Quiet Horror: subtly written horror that uses darkness, atmosphere, stillness and mood, to create fear, suspense and a creeping fear of dread.
Religious (Occult): a horror story with witchcraft, wizardry, strange brotherhoods, and even characters with supernatural, God-derived powers.
Science-Fiction Horror: SF with a darker, more violent story, often revolving around mad scientists, or weird, creepy, experiments gone wrong.
Slasher: a horror story that involves a killer murdering a group of people for their own insane reasons and describes all the blood and gore.
Supernatural: a horror story in which the normal rules don't apply, often featuring ghosts, demons, vampires and werewolves, and other mythical creatures/humans with terrifying, supernatural powers.
Technology: stories featuring technology that has gone wrong and creates scary havoc, by the use of computers, cyberspace, and genetic engineering. (See my own terrifying novel on this subject at PFR.html)
Young Adult: horror aimed at a teen market, often with heroes the same age, or slightly older than the reader.
Zombie: well-known genre of tales featuring dead people who return to commit atrocities on the living.
THRILLER AND SUSPENSE
"Any story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and, likely, up all night."
~ Robert S. Levinson, author
Action: a story where the hero has to race against the clock to save somebody and the story has lots of action and violence.
Comedy: a thriller where the protagonist has an ongoing easy wit throughout the story while thwarting evil plans and saving people or the world.
Conspiracy: a thriller in which the hero battles a large, powerful group or government organisation because only he/she knows how bad they are and no one else believes them.
Crime: a protagonist unwittingly comes across a crime and then spends the rest of the story solving it, usually by using their own cunning, wit, or special knowledge.
Disaster: a story in which Mother Nature herself is the antagonist, in the form of a hurricane, earthquake, tsunami or a man-made disaster such as a virus, nuclear explosions or cyber-crime.
Erotic: a thriller in which sex plays a major role in the antagonists role in the story which may have a hand in helping to solve the crime.
Espionage: the classic international spy novel, which now often finds the protagonist fighting terrorists rather than rogue spies or intelligence agencies.
Forensic: a story featuring the work of forensic experts, who solve the crime at the forensics labs with the use of DNA, fingerprints, blood splatter and bones.
Historical: a thriller taking place in a specific and recognisable historic period.
Legal: a thriller in which a lawyer confronts criminals while putting his own life at risk because the police are too inept or too corrupt to do so. Can also be a court battle against a large corporation.
Medical: a thriller with medical personnel battling to save lives from viruses or immoral use of medical equipment/drugs. Eventually the crime is solves through special medical knowledge.
Military: a thriller featuring a military or ex-military protagonist who uses their special training to solve crimes. Often the crimes are military and set on a military base or ship, but not necessarily so.
Police Procedural: a crime thriller featuring a police man/woman who solves crime using police procedure and their own cunning.
Political Intrigue: a thriller in which the hero, who is employed by the government and usually at a low level, must solve a crime concerning government relations, conspiracy, terrorism or corruption.
Psychological: a suspenseful thriller in which some or all the characters suffer unstable psychological states and the hero suffers psychologically to combat the evil that is done.
Supernatural: a thriller in which the hero, the antagonist, or both have supernatural powers that help them save the world or defeat the enemy. Usually what they are fighting against is huge and needs great super powers to defeat it.
Techno Thriller: a thriller in which technology is central to the plot as either helping the hero or threatening him. (again, my horror novel Playing For Real could easily fit this category).
SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
"Science fiction is potentially real; fantasy is not."
~ Marlene Stringer, agent
Aliens: a story where human beings encounter extraterrestrial beings and the plot revolves around interplanetary war, fear, romance and usually ends with characters having a better understanding of their place in the universe.
Alternate History: speculative fiction with a ‘what if?’ premise and presents alternative present states due to alternate events taking place in history.
Biopunk: a dark noir story that focuses on biotechnology that alters human DNA through bio hackers or government suppression or catastrophic accidents.
Children's Fantasy: a kinder, gentler style of fantasy where the protagonists are the same age as the intended reader and centres on alien encounters, dystopian society or advanced technology, and the violence is turned down.
Comedy: fantasy or science fiction with a lot of humour, that often mocks conventional society with satire with a pessimistic view of humanity .
Cyberpunk: stories involving robots, computers, cyborgs, and the internet where there are several forms of virtual reality and life on earth is bleak.
Dark Fantasy: tales that focus on the nightmarish situations in dark settings that border on horror stories.
Dystopian: the opposite of utopia where the future world is a bleak place caused by police state, overwhelming poverty, government control, and lack of personal freedom and the hero must work to save himself and/or the whole community.
Erotic: SF or fantasy stories with a strong sexual element that is graphically described.
Game-Related Fantasy: tales with plots based on a specific role-playing game.
Hard Science Fiction: stories in which real present-day scientific and technological detail, with some speculative elements thrown in, is more important than characters and settings.
High/Epic Fantasy: stories with an emphasis on the fate of an entire race or nation, with a young unknown hero battling an ultimate evil. Sound familiar?
Mundane SF: fast moving stories with or without a strong plot, but has plenty of warp drives, wormholes and faster-than-light travel.
Military SF: stories set in space or on another planet, with a interplanetary or interstellar war going on, using futurist weapons, and the hero is some kind of soldier.
Mystery SF: a cross-genre SF story with a ‘whodunnit’ element.
Mythical SF: stories inspired, or based on, well-known myths, legends and fairy tales.
New Age Fantasy: stories that deal with the occult, astrology, psychic phenomena, spiritual healings, UFOs or deities.
Post-Apocalyptic: stories of the struggle of life on Earth after an apocalypse.
Romance: stories in which romance plays a key part and the two main characters have a happy ever after as well as saving the world.
Religious: stories centered on real or imagined religious beliefs.
Soft SF: stories based on the "softer" sciences: psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc, and are more character based and than science.
Space Opera: a swashbuckling adventure set in space or on another planet with lots of action, panoramic settings and a romance.
Spy-Fi: stories of spies using over-the-top gadgets with more emphasis on what the gadgets can do and less on the science of how they work, and the plot usually contains lots of romance, glamour and beautiful women.
Steampunk: a alternate history set in Victorian times where steam powers advanced (for their time) technology.
Superheroes: stories about heroes with superhuman powers and abilities.
Time-Travel: stories where characters can travel forwards or backwards in time, as well as travelling to parallel universes in an unknown time.
Urban Fantasy: a story where people or beasts with magical powers appear in normal, present-day suburbia.
Wuxia: Chinese fiction with martial arts warriors who sometimes have superhuman capabilities.
Young Adult: speculative fiction where the hero is around the same age as the targeted reader and the story usual involves a budding romance within a dystopian society.
MYSTERY AND CRIME
Amateur Sleuth: an amateur with no ties to law enforcement, solves a crime that happened to someone he knows and cares about, by using his unique knowledge or skill.
Child in Peril: a mystery about the abduction or disappearance of a child and the ensuing emotional anguish of the family who try to find it.
Comedy (Bumbling Detective): a funny story of how a bumbling detective manages to solve a crime though luck rather than management, often making the crime harder to solve than it should have been due to his haphazardness.
Cozy: a crime that takes place in a small town, or within a family, where all the characters and suspects are known to each other, except for the detective who is a complete outsider.
Courtroom Drama: a story where a defence attorney proves his client innocent by finding the real culprit, often endangering his own life to do so.
Dark Thriller: a story that instills fear in the reader through dark storylines, dark settings, lurking danger, violence and phobias.
Espionage: a spy novel that is based less on the spy factor and more on how they solve the crime, and because they are a spy the story is usually centred on terrorism or government espionage.
Forensic: a crime is solved through the forensics lab, with much detail about how it’s done through scientific procedure.
Heists and Capers: this is a story told from the criminal’s perspective of how he/she plans a crime and attempt to carry it out while evading capture.
Historical: a story that takes place during a recognisable period of history, with plenty of emphasis on the setting and the social etiquette of the time..
Inverted Crime: a story in which begins with the crime and knowing exactly whodunit, and watching the detective figure it out.
Locked Room: a crime is committed in a location which is impossible to enter or exit without being seen. It takes much attention to detail and extraordinary logic to solve the mystery.
Medical: a crime is committed with the realise of a virus, or a by doctor, a surgeon or some type of medical technology or medication.
Police Procedural: a crime solved by the police who follow correct present day police procedurals.
Psychological Suspense: crimes that focus on the psychology of the perpetrator and what drove them to commit the crime.
Romantic: a crime thriller where the characters who solve it fall in love along the way.
Whodunit: a story in which a detective follows the clues to try and solve a crime while the readers also tries to solve it as they read. The criminal isn’t announced until the end of the story and is usually one of the least likely suspects.
Woman in Peril: a woman is kidnapped or in some other way put in peril and has to be rescued, or uses her own wit and logic to save herself.
Young Adult: stories for teenagers where the hero is the same age as the reader, and solve crimes or murders without the help of adults who seem uninterested or don’t understand what’s going on or are corrupt and therefore part of the problem.
Naturally, this is not a complete list as there are SO many more sub-genres, but this list alone should be enough to give you plenty of information as well as get your creative juices flowing and ready to write your next blockbuster.