In this multi-post series, we hope to answer some of your questions about different genre fiction. Throughout GENRE FICTION 101, you’ll learn about different genres and their place in the publishing world. We’ll discuss popularity, profits, typical tropes, controversies, and more.
First Thing’s First—What’s a Genre?
Merriam-Webster defines genre as a “category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” To put it in another way, genre breaks down a broad art form into refined compartments that are simpler to navigate.
So What Is Genre Fiction?
Genre fiction (also referred to as commercial fiction) is made up of books that have a broad and diverse audience appeal. Compared to literary fiction, genre fiction is easier to describe and define. These books commonly have a good potential to sell, depending on the genre’s previously established audience. After all, someone who loves fantasy books is more willing to take a chance on an unknown author if the genre is something they already enjoy.
The most common genres in fiction are the same you might see dividing the tops of shelves in a bookstore: romance, action/adventure, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery/crime, historical, and western. Each of these genres can break down even further into sub-genres as well.
What Makes Literary Fiction Different?
The difference between genre fiction and literary fiction is the way the story is presented and the purpose behind it. In literary fiction, the plot is primarily character-driven, while genre fiction is more plot-driven. Think of a popular literary novel, like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The narrative isn’t driven by the glamorous parties or even Myrtle’s death—the story is more focused on Nick’s interactions with Gatsby, and Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy and the concept of the “American Dream.”
The Harry Potter series, on the other hand, is fantasy fiction driven by the battle between good and evil. This isn’t to say that genre fiction can’t have memorable or iconic characters, but if Harry, Hermione, and Ron didn’t have an adversary and a plot-driven story to push them along, then they would just be three kids at a magic school. Literary fiction is more of an emotional journey and a character-study in real life, while genre fiction captures a physical journey in extraordinary worlds outside our own.
The other major difference between genre fiction and literary fiction is the purpose for which it’s written. Genre fiction aims to entertain. It’s about escapism—these books take your mind away from reality. On the other hand, literary fiction is about evoking a response from the reader. The author isn’t trying to help you escape reality—they’re writing something that will make you confront it. If genre fiction and literary fiction were people at a party, Genre would be the person who performs for the amusement and diversion of others, while Literary would be the introspective who waits on the sidelines, letting others approach them to have deep conversations. Both incredible in their own way, but decidedly different.
There are those who believe that Genre and Literary shouldn’t be at the same party at all. Their argument is that genre fiction will never be as sophisticated as literary fiction. Despite the fact that genre fiction is successful in terms of profits, highbrow literary critics have said that it fails to capture the true human experience because of its escapist elements. Though we would happily argue all day why The Lord of the Ringshas just as much value as Lord of the Flies, instead, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular and successful authors out there that prove that genre fiction is just as valid in the book world as literary.
Horror: Stephen King and Dean Koontz
Fantasy: J.R.R. Tokien and J.K. Rowling
Romance: Danielle Steel and Nicholas Sparks
Mystery/Crime: Agatha Christie and Lee Child
Science Fiction: Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov
Action/Adventure: Tom Clancy and Ian Fleming
Historical: Tracy Chevalier and Markus Zusak
Western: Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis
Genre is a fun and diverse aspect of fiction that allows everyone the chance to find their niche. Whether you love to cozy up with a romance, cower with horror, or have your imagination taken to new heights with fantasy, there will always be another book to get lost in.