8 Popular Book Genres for Writers to Explore
Most art forms feature genres to identify, differentiate, and categorise distinctive styles within a particular type of art. In the literary world, genre is the form your writing takes and describes your writing style, thereby acting as a blueprint for you to build your story.
Knowing how our written product might fit into the marketplace is a precursory step to the writing process. Genres can help identify what your readers are looking for as per the genre-based trends. While genres appeal to writers by giving them a primary platform to build on, they offer audiences a chance to indulge in the pleasure of the familiar with an added twist that comes from the author’s signature writing style.
So let’s get started by looking at 8 of the top literary genres that every writer can consider for their next big story:
- A literary genre in which the narratives occur in a setting located in the past. The period, location, characters and events are usually an imaginative reconstruction of past events and people.
How far back in time does an author have to go for their work to be considered Historical Fiction?
A good rule of thumb is a minimum of 50 years. The idea is to take readers out of the events of their lifetime. Novels in this genre tell fictional stories meant to entertain and help readers reevaluate a past society, either by reflecting on the imagined inner lives of real characters in a fictional setting or fictional characters in a real setting. Remember, if your events, places and people are entirely factual, you must make up the dialogue, scenes and overall plot; otherwise, your book becomes nonfiction!
The most popular categories of Historical fiction that a writer can explore are historical romance, multi-period epics, historical thrillers and alternate histories.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- A diverse genre covering everything from post-apocalyptic fiction to faraway galaxies, often grounded in science and futuristic technology. The Science Fiction genre tells stories of the marvels we hope to see and the possible impact of actual or imagined science on society. Ultimately, every book, whether set in Earth in 2050 or Space, is about characters and their transformational journey!
When it comes to Sci-Fi, readers tend to look for specific elements when they pick up a novel, most of which would require you to have at least a rudimentary grasp of science. That being said, you can enjoy a little leeway if you go with soft science fiction, which revolves around the societal and human aspects of the story rather than the scientific parts, instead of hard sci-fi, leaning towards the technical side of things. Some science-fiction themes you could explore are novels about galactic empires, robots/androids, space exploration, terraforming, etc.
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
The Martian by Andy Weir
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- A constant on the bestseller list, this genre evaluates the mental states of its characters and emphasises their psychology, perceptions and thoughts in a thriller setting. Often the “enemies” are not external (other characters or circumstances) but internal (phobias, insanity, urges, feelings). Even when the enemies are on the outside, the conflicts are usually played out through mind games, deception and manipulation. Psychological thriller novels make for particularly suspenseful reading because they use the character’s motives, hurdles and unique worldview to play with readers’ minds. Psychological thrillers often incorporate mystery, horror, and drama by introducing themes of crime, mental disorders, substance abuse, multiple realities and existential or identity crises. Some elements and literary devices you could use include unreliable narrators, plot twists, stream of consciousness narration, etc.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Misery by Stephen King
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- This is one of the most popular and wide-reaching genres of speculative fiction, with diverse niches and subgenres. What defines it, more than anything, is a magical setting. Works of fantasy fiction include a plot built around characters who either use magic themselves or brave the impact of other mythical entities occuring in a make-believe world. The worlds within fantasy books are usually medieval in terms of people and culture. Characters undertake a physical journey (fueled by their internal motivations as brought to light with strong character arcs) and explore this world alongside the reader. Quest plots, themes of good vs evil/light vs dark and prophecy/destiny are common in most books in this category.
Often, writers of fantasy fiction spend time crafting highly detailed worlds, inevitably devoting a series of books, rather than just one, to the same world and characters. And this practice has given way to some unforgettable epic fantasy (also known as high fantasies) book series like A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of The Rings!
Other notable examples:
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
The His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Prescriptive Nonfiction (Self-help books and how-to guides)
- This is possibly the most relatable best-selling sub-genre of nonfiction in contemporary times. Self-help books aim to influence people into becoming their best selves and provide advice on achieving success in specific aspects of life, like personality development, career management, etc. How-to guides are more instructional and extensively cover topics like finance, fitness, cooking, etc.
To write a prescriptive nonfiction book, you must have an in-depth knowledge on the topic you pick. Extensive research and data accumulation will specifically add value to your book and turn you into a subject-matter expert. Compile your research and condense facts and figures to include only the essential ones without compromising on the quality and veracity of the data. You can also curate interviews with experts and compile the information into a book and cite these individuals or groups of people as references for your material.
The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Dystopian literature is a contemporary genre often characterised by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. It features different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions, and a state of constant warfare or violence that has brought about anarchy, mass poverty, public mistrust or oppression. Most authors of dystopian fiction explore and write about the prevalent practices and customs often as an analogy for similar issues in the real world. Dystopian literature is used to provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices in society.
Many authors combine Dystopia and its opposite Utopia (an ideal world), often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending with one of the two possible futures. You can also explore False Utopia, in which the narrative is built around a seemingly perfect world, only to expose dark and terrible secrets hidden by a rather appealing facade.
A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
1984 by George Orwell
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Biographies, Autobiographies and Memoirs
- The three primary formats used to tell a life story are a biography, an autobiography, and a memoir. Distinguishing between the three can feel confusing since they all form an integral part of the creative nonfiction genre. But there are some distinct differences. Memoirs are written from an author’s perspective and are usually centred around a particularly memorable story or a collection of memories centred around a specific theme, incident or event.
Notable examples include:
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
While being written by the author, autobiographies paint the complete picture of a person’s life rather than focusing on a single important event or story.
Notable examples include:
The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.
Biographies form the complete history of a person’s life and differ from memoirs and autobiographies in that a different author pens them.
Notable examples include:
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
What ties them together is their shared objective to inform, educate and inspire readers by throwing some light on the most extraordinary people of our time and what kept them motivated throughout their lives.
- An umbrella term covering mainstream novels, romantic fiction, chick-lit and other sub-genres, written by, about and for women. Often, women’s fiction spans staggering real-life challenges like betrayal, domestic abuse, inequity or even balancing various aspects of their lives like marriage, motherhood, careers and more. It is a genre that follows women on their life paths and brings us stories of ordinary women turning into extraordinary individuals through accomplishments and battling with the shackles of society.
The genre includes books that discuss women’s issues thereby prompting readers to question gender roles and the global status of women. So, you can explore several themes, including romance, humour, mystery, thriller and drama, keeping in mind a target group of female readers looking to reflect on the shared experiences of being a woman in society and the protagonist’s personal growth.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
Understanding genre is one of the most important milestones in order to write, self-publish and distribute your book to the right market. When writers know their book genre, they make it easier for their target readers to enrich their reading experience! So our advice would be to read more works belonging to these genres, take the inspiration you need from the traditional form and then innovate further to create your perfect masterpiece.