Genre fiction

Genre fiction

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Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, is a term for fictional works
Fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

 (novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

s, short stories
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

) written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre
Literary genre
A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even length. Genre should not be confused with age category, by which literature may be classified as either adult, young-adult, or children's. They also must not be confused...

 in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.

Genre fiction is often used interchangeably with the term popular fiction, and generally distinguished from literary fiction. The American screenwriting
Screenwriting
Screenwriting is the art and craft of writing scripts for mass media such as feature films, television productions or video games. It is a freelance profession....

 teacher Robert McKee
Robert McKee
Robert McKee, born 1941, is a creative writing instructor who is widely known for his popular "Story Seminar", which he developed when he was a professor at the University of Southern California. McKee is the author of a "screenwriters' bible" called Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the...

 defines genre conventions as the "specific settings, roles, events, and values that define individual genres and their subgenres." These conventions, always fluid, are usually implicit, but sometimes are made into explicit requirements by publishers of fiction as a guide to authors seeking publication
Publication
To publish is to make content available to the public. While specific use of the term may vary among countries, it is usually applied to text, images, or other audio-visual content on any medium, including paper or electronic publishing forms such as websites, e-books, Compact Discs and MP3s...

.

Screen writers have to ensure that their stories conform to the guidelines—the closer the conformity, the greater their likelihood of being published. The publisher, for its part, is trying to meet the desires of its readers, who often have strong and specific expectations of the publisher's stories. Such "made-to-measure" writing is genre fiction in its purest form.

Most fiction writing, especially of novel length, does not conform so tightly to the conventions of a genre. Indeed, there is no consensus as to exactly what the conventions of any genre are, or even what the genres themselves are. Writers, publishers, marketers, booksellers, libraries, academics, critics, and even readers all may have different ways of classifying fiction, and any of these classifications might be termed a genre. (For example, one arguable genre of genre fiction—the airport novel
Airport novel
Airport novels represent a literary genre that is not so much defined by its plot or cast of stock characters, as much as it is by the social function it serves...

—takes its name not from the subjects of its stories, but from the market where it is sold.) It is beyond doubt that readers have preferences for certain types of stories, and that there are writers and publishers who try to cater to those preferences, but the term genre remains amorphous, and the assigning of works to genres is to some extent arbitrary and subjective.

Genre and the marketing of fiction


In the publishing industry the term "category fiction" is often used as a synonym for genre fiction, with the categories serving as the familiar shelf headings within the fiction section of a bookstore, such as Western
Western fiction
Western fiction is a genre of literature set in the American Old West frontier and typically set from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. Well-known writers of Western fiction include Zane Grey from the early 1900s and Louis L'Amour from the mid 20th century...

 or mystery.

The uncategorized section is known in the industry as "general fiction", but in fact many of the titles in this usually large section are often themselves genre novels that have been placed in the general section because sellers believe they will appeal, due to their high quality or other special characteristics, to a wider audience than merely the readers of that genre.

Evolution of fiction genres



Since the beginning of literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 it has been acknowledged that there are different types or categories of created work. Poetry
Poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

, a form of literature older than prose
Prose
Prose is the most typical form of written language, applying ordinary grammatical structure and natural flow of speech rather than rhythmic structure...

, was in ancient times divided into narrative, dramatic, and lyric
Lyric poetry
Lyric poetry is a genre of poetry that expresses personal and emotional feelings. In the ancient world, lyric poems were those which were sung to the lyre. Lyric poems do not have to rhyme, and today do not need to be set to music or a beat...

 forms. Narrative poetry, at least as it was first written (as opposed to recited or sung), was primarily epic
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

. Dramatic poetry came to be divided into tragedy and comedy. The Greek philosopher Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 in his Poetics for the first time named story genres by categorizing drama
Drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

s according to the value-charge of their endings and the design of their stories.

Many fiction genres can be traced to a small number of important or extremely popular literary works written before that genre came into existence
Existence
In common usage, existence is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them. In academic philosophy the word has a more specialized meaning, being contrasted with essence, which specifies different forms of existence as well as different identity...

. "Genre" fiction is portrayed as those works that seek, in some degree, just to emulate these paradigms. Science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 began with Jules Verne
Jules Verne
Jules Gabriel Verne was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , A Journey to the Center of the Earth , and Around the World in Eighty Days...

 and then H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

, as a recognizable genre (although Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus . She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley...

 is generally credited with having written the first science fiction novels, Frankenstein
Frankenstein
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel about a failed experiment that produced a monster, written by Mary Shelley, with inserts of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty-one. The first...

, Last Man
The Last Man
The Last Man is an apocalyptic science fiction novel by Mary Shelley, which was first published in 1826. The book tells of a future world that has been ravaged by a plague. The novel was harshly reviewed at the time, and was virtually unknown until a scholarly revival beginning in the 1960s...

) forty-five years before Jules Verne and H.G. Wells first literary works. Horror stories and mystery stories can both be traced in large measure to Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

 and a few others. It is possible also that Poe helped originate science fiction with such stories as 'The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall.'

The period 1900–1910 was fertile for the development, by writers such as M. P. Shiel
M. P. Shiel
Matthew Phipps Shiel was a prolific British writer of West Indian descent. His legal surname remained "Shiell" though he adopted the shorter version as a de facto pen name....

, of fiction genres and character types. Often these appeared in periodicals, which eventually became the pulp magazine
Pulp magazine
Pulp magazines , also collectively known as pulp fiction, refers to inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s. The typical pulp magazine was seven inches wide by ten inches high, half an inch thick, and 128 pages long...

s of the early 20th century.

Age categories


Most genres of fiction may also be segmented by the age of the intended reader:
  • Children's fiction
  • Juvenile fiction or Young-adult fiction
  • Adult fiction

List of genres


As noted, there are many different ways of labeling and defining fiction genres. Following are some of the main genres as they are used in contemporary publishing:

Action-adventure


Action-adventure fiction
Adventure novel
The adventure novel is a genre of novels that has adventure, an exciting undertaking involving risk and physical danger, as its main theme.-History:...

, features physical action often around a mission usually involving killing and robbing. Many times set in forbidding locales such as jungles, deserts, or mountains.

Crime


Crime fiction
Crime fiction
Crime fiction is the literary genre that fictionalizes crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives. It is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as science fiction or historical fiction, but boundaries can be, and indeed are, blurred...

 stories, centered on criminal enterprise, are told from the point of view of the perpetrators. They range in tone from lighthearted "caper" stories to darker plots involving organized crime or incarcerated convicts.

Detective


Detective fiction
Detective fiction
Detective fiction is a sub-genre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator , either professional or amateur, investigates a crime, often murder.-In ancient literature:...

 has become almost synonymous with mystery. These stories relate the solving of a crime, usually one or more murders, by a protagonist who may or may not be a professional investigator. This large, popular genre has many subgenres, reflecting differences in tone, character, and it always contains criminal and detective settings
Setting (fiction)
In fiction, setting includes the time, location, and everything in which a story takes place, and initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world or milieu to include a context beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may...

.

Fantasy


Fantasy is a genre in which unrealistic, make-believe things exist in imaginary worlds such as wizards, dragons, griffins etc.

Mystery


Mystery fiction
Mystery fiction
Mystery fiction is a loosely-defined term.1.It is often used as a synonym for detective fiction or crime fiction— in other words a novel or short story in which a detective investigates and solves a crime mystery. Sometimes mystery books are nonfiction...

, technically involving stories in which characters try to discover a vital piece of information which is kept hidden until the climax, is now considered by many people almost a synonym for detective fiction. The standard novel stocked in the mystery section of bookstores is a whodunit
Whodunit
A whodunit or whodunnit is a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the puzzle is the main feature of interest. The reader or viewer is provided with clues from which the identity of the perpetrator of the crime may be deduced before the solution is revealed in the final...

. A few other types of mystery novels are Cozy Mysteries (where a group of people who are very unlikely to be mixed up in a crime become involved - these are usually not gorey) or Hard-Boiled Mysteries (where the detective/private eye etc. are very tough and unsentimental).

Romance


Romance
Romance novel
The romance novel is a literary genre developed in Western culture, mainly in English-speaking countries. Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Through the late...

 is currently the largest and best-selling fiction genre in North America. It has produced a wide array of subgenres, the majority of which feature the mutual attraction and love
Romantic love
Romance is the pleasurable feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.In the context of romantic love relationships, romance usually implies an expression of one's love, or one's deep emotional desires to connect with another person....

 of a man and a woman as the main plot, and have a happy ending
Happy ending
A happy ending is an ending of the plot of a work of fiction in which almost everything turns out for the best for the protagonists, their sidekicks, and almost everyone except the villains....

. This genre, much like fantasy fiction, is broad enough in definition that it is easily and commonly seen combined with other genres, such as comedy
Romantic Comedy
Romantic Comedy can refer to* Romantic Comedy , a 1979 play written by Bernard Slade* Romantic Comedy , a 1983 film adapted from the play and starring Dudley Moore and Mary Steenburgen...

, fantasy fiction, realistic fiction, or action-adventure.

Science fiction


Science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 is defined more by setting details than by other story elements. Science fiction by definition includes extrapolated or theoretical future
Future
The future is the indefinite time period after the present. Its arrival is considered inevitable due to the existence of time and the laws of physics. Due to the nature of the reality and the unavoidability of the future, everything that currently exists and will exist is temporary and will come...

 science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 and technology
Technology
Technology is the making, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, and procedures. The word technology comes ;...

 as a major component, and is often set on other planets, in outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

, or on a future version of Earth. Within these setting details, however, the conventions of almost any other genre may be used, including comedy
Comic science fiction
Comic science fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction that exploits the genre's conventions for comic effect. Comic science fiction often mocks or satirizes standard SF conventions like alien invasion of Earth, interstellar travel, or futuristic technology....

, action-adventure and mystery. A sub-genre of science fiction is alternate history
Alternate history (fiction)
Alternate history or alternative history is a genre of fiction consisting of stories that are set in worlds in which history has diverged from the actual history of the world. It can be variously seen as a sub-genre of literary fiction, science fiction, and historical fiction; different alternate...

 where, for some specific reason, the history of the novel deviates from the history of our world. Both alternate history and science fiction are often referred to alongside fantasy fiction, magical realism and some horror fiction under the umbrella term speculative fiction
Speculative fiction
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history in literature as well as...

.

Western


Western fiction
Western fiction
Western fiction is a genre of literature set in the American Old West frontier and typically set from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. Well-known writers of Western fiction include Zane Grey from the early 1900s and Louis L'Amour from the mid 20th century...

 is defined primarily by being set in the American West
Western United States
.The Western United States, commonly referred to as the American West or simply "the West," traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. Because the U.S. expanded westward after its founding, the meaning of the West has evolved over time...

 in the second half of the 19th century, and secondarily by featuring heroes who are rugged, individualistic horsemen (cowboy
Cowboy
A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of...

s). Other genres, such as romance, have subgenres that make use of the Western setting.

Inspirational


Inspirational fiction is a term that refers to fictional works with religious themes and aimed at a Christian audience.

See also

  • formula fiction
    Formula fiction
    In popular culture, formula fiction is literature in which the storylines and plots have been reused to the extent that the narratives are predictable. It is similar to genre fiction, which identifies a number of specific settings that are frequently reused...

  • genre studies
    Genre studies
    Genre studies are a structuralist approach to literary theory, film theory, and other cultural theories. The study of a genre in this way examines the structural elements that combine in the telling of a story and finds patterns in collections of stories...

  • melodrama
    Melodrama
    The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language, behavior, or events which resemble them...

  • plot device
    Plot device
    A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot....

  • stock character
    Stock character
    A Stock character is a fictional character based on a common literary or social stereotype. Stock characters rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes,...