Fiction – Definition and Types
In this article, I define and discuss the concept and different types of fiction in a brief but comprehensive manner.
What is fiction?
The word fiction gets its derivation from the Latin word “fictus” which means ‘to form or make’. It became a part of English to refer to making or forming something in imagination.
In a general sense, the word fiction refers to a deliberately fabricated account of something, esp. an imagination-based literary work rather than a factual account. To put it in simple words, it is literature developed from imagination.
It can also be defined as the art of representing human life with the use of the written word or literature development on basis of imagination rather than on fact.
Fiction may be also be based on true stories or situations also. Writers create a new fictional narrative by contextualizing a set of c ombined real-life experiences. These experiences carry emotional resonance with contexts crafting a compelling narrative.
Types of literature in fiction
Types of literature in the fiction genre include novels , s hort stories, and the n ovella.
The novel refers to a type of prose narrative of considerable/enough length with more than 5000 words. It carries/contains such imaginative human experiences through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting.
Types of Novels
There is an extensive range of types of novels, some of the more important are as follows:
A. Literary fiction
Literary fiction refers to novels that do not fall into a conventional genre. These novels are fundamentally revolving around character rather than the plot. The novels of this type carry allegory and symbolism as a distinguishing feature compared to the genre and mainstream fiction
B. Genre fiction
Genre fiction refers to novels written in strict alignment with the conventional format. Such novels are more like the mainstream and are often written in traditional methods rather than the literary category of fiction. Genres coming under this type of fiction include romance, fantasy, horror, etc. They also include thrill-provoking narrations and children’s books.
C. Mainstream fiction
Mainstream fiction refers to a generalized type of novel. This category of fiction included a variety of fiction writings usually having words between sixty to ninety thousand. The different novels in this category although different at the core carry the common characteristic that makes their authors recognizable and their writings appealing to the readers.
2. Short story
A short story as a fiction genre refers to a brief prose narrative shorter (in the number of words) than a novel. Contrary to a novel, it consists of only a few characters and episodes. Similarly, it is a concise narrative with a reduced complex plot. The characters are seldom fully developed, they only appear in their action or encounters.
A novella is another narrative prose fiction with a length shorter than that of a novel and longer than a short story.
According to the dictionary, it is “a work of fiction intermediate in length and complexity between a short story and a novel”.
There is no fixed rule about the number of pages or words a novella should contain. However, according to some scholars, a novella should contain 17,500 to 40, 000 words.
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Very well written, brief and impactful. Found this very helpful.
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The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction – And Why They Matter
We have put together a list of the 17 most popular genres in fiction to help you with your writing.
What Is Genre?
Genre is a style or category of art, music, or literature. As an author, genre controls what you write and how you write it. It describes the style and focus of the novel you write. Genres give you blueprints for different types of stories.
There are general rules to follow, for example, manuscript length , character types , settings , themes , viewpoint choices, and plots . Certain settings suit specific genres. These will vary in type, details, intensity, and length of description .
The tone employed by the author, and the mood created for the reader, must also suit the genre.
There are often sub-genres within genres, for example, a fantasy story with sinister, frightening elements would belong to the dark fantasy sub-genre.
Why Does Genre Matter?
Genres are great because they fulfil reader expectations . We buy certain books because we have enjoyed similar stories in the past. Reading these novels gives us a sense of belonging , of sitting down with an old friend and knowing we’re on familiar ground . There is also a camaraderie between readers who follow the same genres.
Writers can use this to their advantage because their boundaries are models on which to base stories. Genres reflect trends in society and they evolve when writers push the boundaries. Readers ultimately decide if the experiment has worked by buying these books.
The most important part of genre fiction, though, is that it fulfils our human need for good, old-fashioned storytelling . We sometimes need stories we can rely on to blunt the harsh realities of life.
The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction
- Romance . These stories are about a romantic relationship between two people. They are characterised by sensual tension, desire, and idealism. The author keeps the two apart for most of the novel, but they do eventually end up together. There are many sub-genres, including paranormal, historical, contemporary, category, fantasy, and Gothic. There are also many tropes in the genre: 101 Romance Tropes For Writers
- Action-Adventure . Any story that puts the protagonist in physical danger, characterised by thrilling near misses, and courageous and daring feats, belongs to this genre. It is fast paced, the tension mounting as the clock ticks. There is always a climax that offers the reader some relief.
- Science Fiction . This genre incorporates any story set in the future, the past, or other dimensions. The story features scientific ideas and advanced technological concepts. Writers must be prepared to spend time building new worlds and using genre-specific words . The setting should define the plot. There are many science fiction sub-genres . There are also many tropes in the genre: 101 Sci-Fi Tropes For Writers
- Fantasy . These stories deal with kingdoms as opposed to sci-fi, which deals with universes. Writers must spend plenty of time on world building. Myths, otherworldly magic-based concepts, and ideas characterise these books. They frequently take cues from historical settings like The Dark Ages. There are also plenty of sub-genres here. There is also a specific terminology and many tropes in the genre: 101 Fantasy Tropes For Writers
- Speculative Fiction . These stories are created in worlds unlike our real world in certain important ways. This genre usually overlaps one or more of the following: science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.
- Suspense/Thriller . A character in jeopardy dominates these stories. This genre involves pursuit and escape. It is filled with cliffhangers and there are one or more ‘dark’ characters that the protagonist must escape from, fight against, or best in the story. The threats to the protagonist can be physical or psychological, or both. The setting is integral to the plot. This is often described as a gripping read . A Techno Thriller is a sub-genre.
- Young Adult . Young Adult (YA) books are written, published, and marketed to adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of 12 and 18, but adults also read these books. These are generally coming-of-age stories, and often cross into the fantasy and science fiction genres. YA novels feature diverse protagonists facing changes and challenges. This genre has become more popular with the success of novels like The Hunger Games , The Fault in Our Stars , and Twilight .
- New Adult . New Adult (NA) books feature college, rather than school-aged, characters and plotlines. It is the next age-category up from YA. It explores the challenges and uncertainties of leaving home and living independently for the first time. Many NA books focus on sex, blurring the boundary between romance and erotica.
- Horror /Paranormal/ Ghost . These are high-pitched scary stories involving pursuit and escape. The protagonist must overcome supernatural or demonic beings. Occult is a sub-genre that always uses satanic-type antagonists. There are also many tropes in the genre: 101 Horror Tropes For Writers
- Mystery/Crime . These are also known as ‘whodunits’. The central issue is a question that must be answered, an identity revealed, a crime solved. This novel is characterised by clues leading to rising tension as the answer to the mystery is approached. There are many sub-genres in this category.
- Police Procedurals are mysteries that involve a police officer or detective solving the crime. The emphasis rests heavily on technological or forensic aspects of police work, sorting and collecting evidence, as well as the legal aspects of criminology.
- Historical. These fictional stories take place against factual historical backdrops. Important historical figures are portrayed as fictional characters. Historical Romance is a sub-genre that involves a conflicted love relationship in a factual historical setting .
- Westerns . These books are specifically set in the old American West. Plotlines include survival, romance, and adventures with characters of the time, for example, cowboys, frontiersmen, Indians, mountain men, and miners.
- Family Saga . This genre is about on-going stories of two or more generations of a family. Plots revolve around things like businesses, acquisition, properties, adventures, and family curses. By their nature, these are primarily historical, often bringing the resolution in contemporary settings. There is usually a timeline involved in these books.
- Women’s Fiction. These plot lines are characterised by female characters who face challenges, difficulties, and crises that have a direct relationship to gender. This is inclusive of woman’s conflict with man, though not limited to that. It can include conflict with things such as the economy, family, society, art, politics, and religion.
- Literary Fiction . This genre focuses on the human condition and it is more concerned with the inner lives of characters and themes than plot. Literary fiction is difficult to sell and continues to decline in popularity.
Writing For Children
Writing for children is not really a genre, but a way of writing.
Please read these posts:
- Writing For Children – 12 Practical Tips To Get You Started
- 10 Powerful Recurring Themes In Children’s Stories
- Everything You Need To Know About Creating Characters For Children’s Book
Changes In Genres
With the advent of self-publishing and ebooks, these genre guidelines have become less strict. This is because a publisher does not have to produce thousands of physical copies of the book. However, if you want to publish traditionally, you should still consider genre requirements.
How To Become Generic
Isolate your target market, research it, and adapt your story if necessary. Look in bookshops – they are generic, sorting books into categories to make it easier for their busy readers to choose and buy whatever will guarantee them a good read. Read: How To Choose Your Genre .
TIP: If you want help with your elements of fiction writing, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook .
If you enjoyed this post, read:
- The 5 Essential Elements Of A Perfect Ending
- 5 Really Good Reasons To Outline Your Novel
- How To Resuscitate A Lifeless Scene
- The 7 Critical Elements Of A Great Book
- 12 Crucial Things To Remember About Setting
- 9 Literary Terms You Need To Know
Top Tip : Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop .
- Genre , Publishing , Writing Tips from Amanda Patterson
7 thoughts on “The 17 Most Popular Genres In Fiction – And Why They Matter”
This is wonderful and so easy to read. I wish there were more sub-genres and I guess there are, but it would be weird to list them, like steampunk, vintage, and Western could be in every category except maybe sci-fi. LOL!
~Tam Francis~ http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tam. Yes, I could have listed many sub-genres, but it would have been overwhelming. Thank you for the feedback.
Amanda, thanks for the concise but telling descriptions. One question I have is about overlapping genres. Above, there are aspects of the Action Adventure genre that seem to overlap with the Thriller genre. It seems to me many stories have components of multiple genres and I assume you pick the one that fits best. Great article!
Thank you, Robert. You are correct. Genres do bleed into each other, but it’s impossible to categorise everything perfectly. When we teach our courses, we talk about crossing genres. In point 5, I talk about how genres overlap, and they all do to some extent. You might find this article helpful. It deals with children’s fiction – which is an age group – not a genre, and it shows how many genres and grey areas one can find in this age group. http://imc.library.appstate.edu/bibliographies/genres I hope this helps.
Maybe this is just the difference between South Africa and North America, but here we use “speculative fiction” to encompass both Science Fiction and Fantasy and all their subgenres. So in the US and Canada we wouldn’t say that speculative overlaps SciFi or Fantasy. We’d say the set SciFi and the set Fantasy are both subsets of the set Speculative Fiction. For more info: http://whatisspecfic.com/
Kristen, I do not think it is accepted as a fact anywhere in the world. There are many critics and writers who try to use speculative fiction as a blanket term, but there are just as many who reject it. ‘Margaret Atwood is one of these writers, and her use of the term “speculative fiction” generates strong reactions from her own readers as well as from science fiction readers in general. Atwood stresses the idea of speculative fiction is different from science fiction, for she sees science fiction as “filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that.” Atwood seems to view science fiction as inferior to speculative fiction in that science fiction seeks only to entertain, whereas speculative fiction attempts to make the reader rethink his or her own world based on the experiences described the novel. ‘ http://www.gradesaver.com/the-handmaids-tale/study-guide/about-speculative-fiction I have included more links about how these genres are seen to differ below: http://annieneugebauer.com/2014/03/24/what-is-speculative-fiction/ https://www.sfsite.com/columns/amy26.htm – This says that speculative fiction is a sub-genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy http://io9.gizmodo.com/5650396/margaret-atwood-and-ursula-k-le-guin-debate-science-fiction-vs-realism
Gosh … nothing for Comedy? 🙁 That’s my main interest ~
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Stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action.
Narration demonstrating a useful truth, especially in which animals speak as humans; legendary, supernatural tale.
Story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children.
Fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality.
Narrative literary works whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
Fiction in Verse
Full-length novels with plot, subplot(s), theme(s), major and minor characters, in which the narrative is presented in (usually blank) verse form.
The songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or "folk" as handed down by word of mouth.
Story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting.
Fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader.
Fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain; but can be contained in all genres
Story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, which has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material.
Fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the unraveling of secrets.
Legend or traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods.
Verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that creates emotional responses.
Story that can actually happen and is true to life.
Story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets.
Fiction of such brevity that it supports no subplots.
Humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance.
Narrative of a person's life, a true story about a real person.
A short literary composition that reflects the author's outlook or point.
Factual information presented in a format which tells a story.
Informational text dealing with an actual, real-life subject.
Public address or discourse.
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- Fiction - Types of Fiction
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Terms Related to Types of Fiction
a style of writing generally used in a variety of settings for communication and record keeping and characterized by non-poetic elements; follows standard grammar and other conventions of writing
a factual story written about a person by a another person
a factual story written by a person on his or her own life
the actual events
a story or poem about a sequence of event
travel narrative –
a narrative about a journey usually written by the person about his or her own journey
capture narrative –
a journal kept by a person who was captured and held against his or her will and forced to live in another culture; generally associated with stories white people have written about being captured and living with the Indians in early American history
short, amusing, true events about a person that relate a bigger truth about life than the specific incident
a short tale used for teaching a lesson
a short tale used for teaching a lesson which uses animals, objects, or nature
beast fable –
a fable that has animals with human qualities as characters
folk tales –
stories or legends that are about or from a culture or group of people (folk)
fairy tales –
stories that include supernatural creatures such as fairies or magicians
a narrative that involves conflict on a broad scale with humans of special stature or ability fighting a battle or having an adventure whose outcome will impact the world beyond the participants; often includes gods
a traditional story which explains the world and existence of humans usually as part of a cluster of such stories and which is a reflection of a religious belief system
a story about a rogue
short story –
a fictional story that is shorter than a novel; usually begins near climax; setting is generally limited, and characters are few and less developed than novel; often includes an epiphany (where a character has a flash of insight)
modern short story –
a short story characterized by an apparent lack of action or conflict and/or without resolution
short-short story –
a short story from a paragraph to a page or so in length; less than 1500 words; includes flash fiction and micro fiction; also called sudden fiction
flash fiction –
a type of short story less than 1000 words
micro fiction –
a type of short-short story ranging from a few words to a paragraph of less than 250 words
sudden fiction –
a type of short story of less than 1500 words; another way of referring to the short-short story
a longer piece of fiction characterized by more plot and character development than a short story
a piece of fiction shorter than a novel and longer than a short story; usually thought of as a short novel
writings about fiction
a style of writing meant to convey written-down thoughts
a fiction which includes some aspect or situation that does not fall into the understood rules of physics, scientific possibility, or reality
science fiction –
a type of fantasy that includes unreal scientific technology or events
horror fiction –
a type of fiction that includes an event or events that are very frightening and which may include fantasy or science fiction
crime fiction –
a type of fiction whose plot revolves around solving a crime
as a literary genre, romance fiction began in the Middle Ages and involved high adventure of noble heroes often with super-human qualities pursuing a righteous quest, included some supernatural aspect, and did not necessarily involve a love situation. The modern usage or the term is a fiction which includes a romantic element.
pastoral romance –
a romance which focuses on the pleasures of the simple, rural life
chivalric romance –
a romance popular from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance involving the romantic exploits of chivalric heroes, men who abided by the Code of Chivalry
pop fiction –
a type of fiction with exciting or thrilling plots designed for popular audiences characterized by suspenseful plots, usually flat characters, and focus on a swift-moving action
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What Is Literary Fiction?
Literary Fiction is a category that’s often difficult to explain. Often thought of as “serious” fiction (and nearly exclusively novels), it’s easier to identify Literary Fiction by what it’s not. That is, it’s fiction that doesn’t fit in well-defined genres, like Thriller, Science Fiction, or Romance. Here’s how we define Literary Fiction, a look at its origins, and some popular types.
“Literary Fiction” Definition
The category of Literary Fiction is quite fluid and for the last few decades has easily overlapped with any number of genres. Even though its definition is a broad target, Literary Fiction definitely has characteristics of its own.
Whereas genre fiction from Romance to Dystopian Horror is plot-driven, Literary Fiction is character-driven. Any action in the story impacts the main character or characters, and understanding this impact is the whole point of telling the story. The overall tone of the book is introspective. Literary Fiction, then, is always a study of the human condition and often an exploration of difficult social or political issues that control our lives. For this reason, it’s generally considered more “serious” than genre fiction.
Another way to recognize Literary Fiction is by its story structure. Unlike, say, Thrillers or Science Fiction, Literary Fiction doesn’t follow a formula. A story arc may or may not be present, which also means that a satisfying ending is no guarantee. The line between hero and villain is often blurry, as is what they are trying to accomplish. And without a tidy plot to spell out every character’s motive, intangible details — metaphor, symbolism, or imagery, for example — play a larger role in telling the story.
The History of Literary Fiction
In many ways, the origins of Literary Fiction follow the origins of the novel. We can look at one of the earliest examples of a Western novel, Miguel de Cervantes’ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (1605-1615), and see how a character, not the action, is the focus of the tale. Although adventures abound, the takeaway from the novel is their influence on Don Quixote’s psychological state over time.
Over the next 300 years, the novel emerges as a legitimately intellectual way for authors, readers, and critics to deal with contemporary social issues. Novels are now responsible for influencing politics, and their characters become symbols within a larger social or psychological conversation. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) gives us Ebenezer Scrooge, a name we use to describe someone who’s deeply damaged by their own greed. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), so inflames American attitudes toward slavery that it’s credited with being one of the sparks of the Civil War.
Modernism’s concerns with society and its effects on us as individuals are a standard of Literary Fiction by the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, Literary Fiction embraces Stream of Consciousness, taking us even deeper into the meditative, human experience. William Faulkner famously opens The Sound and the Fury (1929) by putting readers in the middle of one character, Benjy’s, thoughts. Without context or even a chronological story, we’re left to figure out the plot for ourselves.
After the horrors of WWII, Postmodern novels push the boundaries further. While characters still question the morality of the day, they also challenge the idea that truth or objective reality even exist. Think of Captain Yossarian’s struggle with the absurdity of free will in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961), or how the women of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping (1980) decide what will and will not define them as a family.
Types of Literary Fiction
Character-driven stories, social and political themes, irreverence for storytelling norms — these elements set Literary Fiction apart.
Contemporary Literary Fiction deals with timely social issues or political moments. In Giovanni’s Room (1956), James Baldwin introduces readers to two men as they begin an affair, and their struggles to understand their sexual identities in the heady days of 1950s Paris. Saint X by Alex Schaitkin (2020) tells the story of a search for a murderer, a pursuit that quickly becomes complicated by the characters’ presumptions about race and class.
Realistic Literary Fiction includes coming-of-age stories and biographical novels. In J. D. Salinger’s classic coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), young Holden Caulfield grows wise to the hypocrisy of his prep-school life and chases authenticity in the streets of New York City. In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) by Julia Alvarez fictionalizes the lives of the four Mirabal sisters. Called “Las Mariposas,” the sisters plotted to overthrow the corrupt Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic, an act that got three of them assassinated.
Experimental Literary Fiction challenges storytelling conventions. Novels can be a mix of visual art, poetry, and stream-of-consciousness prose. Sometimes, the act of reading itself is a part of the story, making the reader self-conscious of what they’re bringing to the text. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996) is essentially a comedic study of what entertains us, but the structure winds through hundreds of sub-plots and even more footnotes, all while never reaching a conclusion.
Philosophical Literary Fiction investigates life’s big questions, such as: What makes us human? What is love? How significant are we? What, if anything, matters? Fyodor Dostoevsky tackles the idea of Goodness in The Idiot (1869). Prince Myshkin is described as a “positively good and beautiful man” who is exposed to some of society’s greediest, most deceitful characters with horrible consequences. The Overstory (2018) by Richard Powers seeks to understand our place in the natural world. As a group of strangers battle to save a virgin forest, each of them questions why they care so much, and why the rest of society seems not to care at all.
Most of these types overlap with each other and with genre fiction, which easily veers out of its lane into Literary Fiction territory (Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale , is a good example). But if one universal theme could be applied, it’s this: No one has figured out the meaning of life, other than to acknowledge that there’s more than one way to live it.
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What is Fiction? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples
Fiction (FICK-shun) is a literary genre comprised of narratives that aren’t factual but are, instead, products of the authors’ imaginations. Fiction is the opposite of nonfiction, a literary genre consisting of historically accurate narratives about real people or events. Fiction writers construct imaginary worlds, typically with symbolism , thematic elements, and aesthetic value.
Most fiction is prose , and novels and short stories are the most common forms. There are two main categories in fiction—literary fiction and genre or popular fiction—though the line between these two delineations can occasionally blur.
The word fiction comes from the Latin fictio , meaning “a fashioning or forming,” which describes the creative world-building central to the genre.
The Characteristics and Types of Fiction
Works of literary fiction include at least one of these characteristics:
- Abundant use of literary devices: Authors employ any number of literary devices to enrich the story, such as allegories , imagery , metaphors , and symbolism.
- Character-driven narratives: The characters, rather than the events of the story, move the plot forward. The characters’ internal lives and motivations are of primary interest to the author and the audience.
- Exploration of larger themes: Literary fiction tends to examine larger themes of the human condition. It’s not uncommon for these works to function as a commentary on society, nature, or human behavior.
- Sophisticated language: The language an author uses might involve an advanced vocabulary, poetic descriptions, didacticism , and/or lofty references or allusions .
- Unconventional plots: Authors may structure plots in nontraditional ways that challenge accepted formulas and reader expectations, such as nonlinear narratives and ambiguous endings.
Works of genre or popular fiction have a more widespread appeal, but that doesn’t make them any more or less important than works of literary fiction. Genre/popular fiction usually has the following characteristics:
- Adherence to a formula: Writers of genre/popular fiction stick to formulas that readers expect. From one work to the next, plots follow a similar trajectory and characters possess certain shared traits and motivations.
- Focus on plot: Stories in genre/popular fiction are plot driven. Characters still play a significant role, but the writer’s emphasis is more on driving the plot forward through events and less on the meticulous development of characters.
- Readability: Genre/popular fiction is generally easy to read and understand. Writers utilize accessible language and concepts, and they construct plots and characters for maximum entertainment and reader engagement.
Examples of genre or popular fiction include:
- Crime : This kind of fiction centers on criminal acts, investigations, and outcomes. Courtroom thrillers, like John Grisham’s A Time to Kill and Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent , and detective novels, like Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery series and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code , are two subgenres of popular crime fiction.
- Fantasy : These novels take place in richly imagined worlds not bound to known realities or scientific laws; things like folklore , magic, mythology, and/or the supernatural might all influence these worlds. Popular fantasy novels include Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series and Suzanne Hamilton’s Hunger Games trilogy.
- Horror: Writers of horror fiction aim to scare and shock the reader. These works may or may not employ supernatural elements; psychological horror is often just as frightening. Horror novels like Stephen King’s It and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire are popular mainstays.
- Romance: These novels chart the romantic relationship between two characters (usually), typically resulting in a happily-ever-after ending. Novels like Laura London’s The Windflower and Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook are classics of the genre.
- Science Fiction: Books in this category take place in imagined worlds rich with speculative elements, such as technology, futurism, space travel, and other science-based concepts. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin are just two popular science fiction novels.
The Formats of Fiction
Novels, novellas, and short stories are among the most common fiction formats. However, because fiction deals with made-up stories and characters, the term can describe any format that presents a fictionalized plot. This includes plays, comic books and graphic novels, fables and fairy tales, and even some types of poetry , such as narrative poems and epic poems .
A fiction format that has grown exponentially in recent years is fan fiction. Fan fiction is a work that uses characters or settings originally developed by another writer as the basis for a new story. Though the original novel’s ideas are copyrighted, fan fiction is largely seen as an homage to the source work. The Harry Potter books and Twilight series inspired legions of fan fiction—including, in the case of the latter, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.
The Function of Fiction
The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain the reader. The genre offers fully imagined worlds that keep readers engaged through compelling characters and plotlines. Fiction can also educate and enlighten, introducing readers to people, settings, and experiences they wouldn’t normally encounter in their daily lives.
Fiction can present and inspire ideas, and it can comment on existing structures of power, politics, and society. Fiction often integrates age-old themes that have long interested writers, such as humanity and its foibles, the beauty and brutality of nature, and the eternal mysteries of love and death. In essence, this genre is both an escape from the world and an opportunity to learn more about it.
Examples of Fiction
1. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Alcott’s 1868 novel is a classic work of literary fiction that follows the lives and loves of the four March sisters: Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy. It is a coming-of-age story focusing on the sisters’ evolution from girlhood to young womanhood as they try to find their respective places in the world. Little Women is a fictionalized version of Alcott’s own life and her relationship with her sisters.
2. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
This work is a beloved, award-winning science fiction novel. It tells the story of high schooler Meg Murry, who embarks on an epic adventure through time and space. Her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keefe accompany her on a quest to rescue Meg and Charles Wallace’s scientist father from an evil being holding him captive on another planet. And, in the process, they end up saving the world.
3. Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Morrison’s 1977 work of literary fiction recounts the life and death of Macon “Milkman” Dead III. Milkman is a Black man living in Michigan, estranged from his family, his history, and himself. Over the course of 30-plus years, his best friend Guitar and his aunt Pilate help him understand and embrace his identity and his worth. Morrison infuses Milkman’s story with magical realism and African American folklore.
4. Stephen King, Carrie
A horror novel for the ages, King’s work centers on 16-year-old Carrie White, whose story unfolds through fictional letters, newspaper articles, and magazine stories. Raised by a religious-authoritarian mother, Carrie is a misfit at school and the target of merciless bullies. Carrie is also telekinetic, possessing the power to move anything with her mind. She ultimately uses this power to exact a bloody revenge at the school prom, getting back at those who bullied her, the community that forsook her, and, finally, the mother who despised her.
5. Tommy Orange, There There
Orange’s 2018 work of literary fiction chronicles a community of Oakland, California, Native Americans as they prepare and gather for an urban powwow. The narrative illuminates the experiences of Native Americans living in large metropolitan cities and how these environments shape their lives, relationships, and identities. The characters confront a number of challenges stemming from their painful and complex history―including alcoholism and drug addiction, fetal alcohol syndrome, mental illness, and unemployment―yet they are also unique inheritors of a profound and beautiful spirituality and purpose. Eventually, the characters assemble at the powwow, where a shocking crime occurs that alters their lives forever.
Further Resources on Fiction
NY Book Editors looks at the differences between literary and genre/popular fiction .
Writers.com delves into literary fiction and what sets it apart from genre/popular fiction .
Joanna Penn breaks down the seven steps to writing a first novel .
Writer’s Digest explains the five biggest fiction writing mistakes and how to fix them .
The New Yorker offers a tongue-in-cheek list of eight rules for writing fiction .
- Science Fiction