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Genre 101: The Complete List of Genres & Subgenres for Fiction Writing Part 2

Today on Writing It Wells we're finishing what we started by bringing you part 2 of all 144 genres and subgenres. If you happened to miss the first half, here it is. Genre is important because it determines how your book will be marketed once it's time to publish. Agents, publishers, and marketing teams will want to know how to properly "sell" your book because its their job to make sure that your book is reaching its target audience.

It is also important while writing. If you think about it, knowing what genre you would like to be published in essentially gives you a roadmap to follow. Each genre has specific requirements for settings, characters, plots, etc. By knowing what you would like to write, half the guesswork is done for you.

Today we'll be covering Science Fiction, Thriller and Suspense, and Western categories. There are 7 main genres that all subgenres fall under:

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Children's Story

A category for children, it features coming of age themes along with science fiction elements such as aliens, advanced technology, and dystopian societies. Violence and other "adult" themes are downplayed. Examples: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Aliens for Breakfast: A Stepping Stone Book, Whales on Stilts!, The City of Ember

Young Adult

Written for adolescents, the protagonist is in the same age-range. Some common themes are budding romance, dystopian society, finding yourself, and coming of age issues such as autonomy, rebellion, and survival without adults. Examples: Dragon Pearl, The Similars, The Disasters, Ender's Game


Containing humor and satire of science fiction tropes, with a cynical view of humanity mixed in. It is usually accompanied by a mockery of societal conventions. This type is more common in short stories than novels and frequently seen in movies. Examples: Stainless Steel Rat Omnibus, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Finders Keepers: The Definitive Edition, Slaughterhouse 5

Mundane Science Fiction

Set in the very near future, with believable use of technology that is currently available or could realistically be available in the immediate future. These stories favor scientific realities, such as biotechnology and environmental change, and are have setting based on Earth. Examples: Interzone, Schismatrix Plus, The Beast With Nine Billion Feet, The Road

Soft Science Fiction

A subgenre with less focus on science and more emphasis on characters. These stories use the soft sciences and social sciences, and are more concerned with human activity and affairs than scientific detail. Examples: Babel-17, Riverworld, The Left Hand of Darkness, Dune

Hard Science Fiction

In Hard Science Fiction scientific details play a large role, while characters and settings take a backseat. The concentration is on relating stories from a correct scientific perspective with great attention to technological detail. These stories often include details from hard sciences, with some speculative technology incorporated. Examples: Ringworld, The Martian, Dragon's Egg, Diaspora

Science Fantasy

Here stories have elements of fantasy, but with the added benefit of advanced technology, which is what tilts it more towards the Science Fiction category rather than Fantasy. These stories show a magical futuristic world, that falls into the realm of soft science. These stories can also contain science that is so well developed that it appears to be magic, and/or characters who possess abilities through scientific technology that seem to be magical. Examples: A Game of Universe, The Family Tree, The Dragonriders of Pern, 1984

Science Horror

Like the name suggests, this subgenre has elements of science fiction as well as horror. Often, these stories include issues such as medical research resulting in new diseases, aliens attempting to kill humans, artificial intelligence that revolts against its maker(s), or atomic bombs and technology that results in human destruction. Examples: Infected, The Hunger, The Sandman, Blindsight

Time Travel

This subgenre is cool because the main characters travel through time. There are many ways you can use time traveling in your novel. You can have your characters go back in time or forward into the future. They can bounce around between the two. They can also move dimensionally speaking into parallel or alternative universes in unknown time. Examples: A Sound of Thunder, Guardians of Time, The Time Machine, Kindred

Alternate/Parallel Universe

Alternate History is another reality co-existing with the present reality. These stories are typically about traveling to parallel worlds or universes that are either vastly different from our own, or virtually the same but with key differences such as alternative choices and results. This subgenre works closely with the Time Traveling subgenre. Examples: Zero World, The Gods Themselves, The Long Earth, Timeline

Alternate History

Another aspect similar to Time Travel and Alternate/Parallel Universe the world as we know it is different due to alternate events taking place in history. There is often "what if" scenarios that occur at important points in history and present outcomes that are different than what's on historical record. Examples: The Man in the High Castle, 11/22/63, The Red Garden, Fatherland


A story inspired by myth and folklore. It may be a complete retelling of a popular myth or could just draw from tropes and themes that are common in mythology. There is a variable level of real science, since myth has fantastical elements. Examples: Rendezvous with Rama, The Queen of Air and Darkness, Perelandra, Lord of Light


When extraterrestrial beings are encountered by humans. These encounters can range from romantic to traumatic, and common themes are communication, fear of the "other," intergalactic war, and a greater sense of one's place in the universe. Examples: Galactic Pot-Healer, Foreigner: 10th Anniversary Edition, The Mount, The War of the Worlds

Space Exploration

The exploration of outer space, with the emphasis placed on the voyage. Some of these stories pose space exploration to be a logical step for humanity, while others view it as a necessity for the survival of the species. In general, these stories focus on the faults and frailties of humanity. Examples: Constitution: Book 1 of the Legacy Fleet Trilogy, Titanborn, Rift: The Resistance Book One, The Sparrow


This subgenre is based upon interstellar or interplanetary armed conflict. Military values such as bravery, sacrifice, duty, and camaraderie are common themes, and the protagonist is typically a soldier. Military science fiction often features futuristic technology and weapons, with the setting being in outer space or on a different planet. Examples: Ender's Game, Starship Troopers, Old Man's War, Armor

Space Opera

Action-packed and heavily dramatized, these stories utilize over-the-top characters, themes, and plots. There is a romantic or melodramatic narrative and lots of adventure in a panoramic setting. The plot doesn't always stay true to the accepted laws of science, mathematics, or the nature of space as we know it. Examples: The Foundation Series, Hyperion, The Ender Quartet, Ancestral Night


The goal of this subgenre is for humankind or other lifeforms to create a new settlement on either a distant area of entirely new planet. This is usually accompanied by reasons such as the Earth's overpopulation, an uninhabitable Earth, the discovery of other worlds, acquisition of resources, or threat of human extinction. Examples: Last and First Men: A Story of the near and far future, The Word for World is Forest, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Red Mars

Dying Earth

Based entirely on the concept that Earth is dying and humanity must find an alternative in order to survive. These generally take place in the future and common themes are fatality, reflection, lost innocence, idealism, entropy, exhaustion of resources, and hope. Settings in these stories are often barren and sterile, with a fading sun. There is overlap with this subgenre and apocalyptic fiction. Examples: The Time Machine, Zothique, Tales of the Dying Earth, The Night Land

Lost Worlds

A voyage to unknown or isolated places such as islands, continents, jungles, or worlds, resulting in a discovery of some type of marvel or ancient technology. These stories usually contain elements of adventure, and the worlds visited are usually isolated from our own world, containing their own history and unique geography. Examples: Journey to the Center of the Earth, A Princess of Mars, Lost Horizon, Congo

Generation Ship

Similar to colonization, a prolonged voyage that takes place on a spaceship. The original occupants have passed away, leaving their descendants to continue on the journey or rediscover the purpose for said odyssey. The story's emphasis is on the voyage and as the ship crosses the universe, generations have fluctuated, and social change often occurs. There is often an advanced ecosystem onboard and usually, the ship will have a destination, such as a distant planet or solar system. Examples: Orphans of the Sky, Captive Universe, Promised Land, Non-Stop

Galactic Empire

This is an empire that spans galaxies. The story usually takes place in the capital of the empire and often includes elements of dystopian science fiction. The protagonist is often a member of the empire's military forces or governing force. Examples: Constitution: Book 1 of The Legacy Fleet Series, Bloodline: Star Wars, Darkest Hour: Liberation War Book 1, First Encounter

Mind Transfer

In this subgenre, human consciousness is downloaded into a computer or transferred to another human brain. This can occur in several ways: via computer, some kind of psychic power, alien technology, physical brain transplantation, etc., and the transfer can be temporary or permanent. Often, the process destroys the original or copies are made. Examples: The World of Null-A, Kiln People, Lord of Light


The concept of beings who have lived, and will live, indefinitely. The focus of this subgenre is eternal life, either as a blessing that is full of limitless opportunity, or the end of change that is full of boredom and stagnation. Examples: After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, The Boat of a Million Years, Methuselah's Children, To Live Forever


The use of biotechnology, genetic manipulation, and/or eugenics is what makes this subgenre unique. It occurs in the near future and is usually darker in subject matter and general tone. The subgenre stems from cyberpunk but focuses on the implications of biotechnology rather than information technology. Elements used are bio-hackers, biotech mega-corporations, and oppressive government agencies that manipulate human DNA. Examples: Unwind, The Dervish House, Leviathan, The Windup Girl


When a man and machine are combined, either literally or metaphorically, and there are multiple forms of virtual reality, things get interesting fast. The Earth is the typical setting for cyberpunk stories, but it is immersed in a futuristic and technologically advanced cyber reality. The setting is also typically a dark and bleaker world, with tropes such as the exploration of the relationship between humans and computers, and elements such as cybernetics, prosthetics, cyborgs, and the internet. Examples: Neuromancer, Snow Crash, Software, Count Zero


Similar to cyberpunk in which the use of nanotechnology is explored, along with its effects on human lives. The nanopunk world is one in which the theoretical premise of nanotech is a reality, interspersed with Earth and human existence. Examples: Tech Heaven, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, Prey, Queen City Jazz


The Victorian Era meets advanced technology, particularly that of steam power. There is minimal scientific detail and the gadgets are often best described as retro-futuristic. These stories contain a sort of reimagining of the capabilities of modern technology through a Victorian lens, and create an alternate history. Examples: The Anubis Gates, Homunculus: The Adventures of Langdon St Ives, The Difference Engine, Boneshaker


In this subgenre, elements of the surreal and postmodern themes play a role. It crosses the genres of literary fiction and speculative fiction, including science fiction, fantasy or both. Slipstream is often defined as fantastical, illogical, surreal, and jarring. Examples: The Bridge, Breakfast of Champions, White Noise, Feeling Very Strange


The focus of this subgenre is on one of three mentalities: pro-robot, anti-robot, or ambivalence. In a pro-robot plot, robots are benevolent. In an anti-robot plot, there is generally confrontation with robots, androids or AI. In an ambivalent plot, robots are useful but there is some anxiety about them. Typically the level of involvement of Robots/A.I. varies from a single one to mainstream amounts. Examples: Tik-Tok, The Silver Eggheads, Men, Martians and Machines, Speak


An exciting subgenre filled with a plot that focuses on a glamorized version of espionage. Think glamour, adventure, and daring attitudes when sitting down to write one of these. Mix in romantic interludes, high-tech action scenes, overly dramatized gadgets, and concepts of espionage. Focus should be on the science behind the gadgets used and what can be done with them. Examples: The Baroness: Sonic Slave, Crown of Slaves, Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel, Bombs Away


All about survival after a world disaster has occurred. These existence-altering disasters include pandemics, nuclear holocausts, ice ages, floods, fires, chemical warfare, world wars, diseases, famine, etc. Commonly used themes include community, destruction of ecosystems, pandemic viruses, survival, human nature, and dystopian societies. Examples: Wool, CyberStorm, The Road, Station Eleven


The opposite of utopia, a world that's far from perfect. The protagonist must liberate himself/herself (or an entire community) from a toxic society. Themes include: police state, overwhelming poverty, government control, and lack of personal freedom. Stories in this subgenre often include deep social control and exploration of what we fear will happen in the future of humanity. Examples: Fahrenheit 451, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, A Clockwork Orange, The Giver


The opposite of dystopia, a world far removed from human struggles due to the success of technology. War and sickness are things of the past. Usually the purpose of these novels is philosophical, as they raise the question of the social implications and exploration of social sciences, approaching topics such as: What does a Utopia look like? Is one person's Utopia the same as another's? Examples: The Giver, The Dispossessed, Childhood's End, Looking Backward


Dark humor surrounding espionage and organized crime. Protagonists are involved in adventurous activities related to solving a crime or thwarting the evil plans of secret societies, with plenty of biting, dry humor to offset the horrible nature of their work. Examples: The Rook, Horrorstör, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Carrots

Young Adult

A young adult protagonist must solve a problem, escape the villain, and go through trial-by-fire. Friends, companions, or love interests help them along the way. Themes and lessons such as loneliness, romantic interactions, and survival without adults apply. Examples: One of Us is Lying, There's Someone Inside Your House, I Hunt Killers, Hawk


The protagonist faces impossible odds in this subgenre. In many cases, the protagonist is a current or former member of the armed forces, special forces, or other government agency. The antagonist is typically internationally located and the cat-and-mouse game that ensues often occurs across borders and countries. Lots of physical action and fights for survival characterize this subgenre and victim-saving comes with the territory. Examples: The Killer Collective, The Cleaner, Freedom Road, Killing Floor

Mystery Thriller

A nail-biting tale in which there is usually a struggle against time. The protagonist must solve a mystery, crime, or problem before time runs out. It's fast pace is what sets it apart from other subgenres in this field. Examples: An Anonymous Girl, Two Can Keep a Secret, The Au Pair, Gone Girl


Elements of the paranormal and the use of some supernatural abilities by the characters are what define this subgenre. Otherworldly elements that are introduced are usually an antagonistic force, but the plotline and atmosphere are distinctly that of a thriller. Examples: Daughters of the Lake, The Rise of Magicks: Chronicles of The One, The Shining, The Dark Flies


Psychological stories that threaten the mental health of the protagonist. These stories often emphasize the unstable or delusional psychological states of its characters, and is told through the viewpoint of psychologically stressed characters. There is a combination of tropes from mystery, drama, and action. Examples: The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, Behind Closed Doors, The Guest List


In these stories, a religious artifact or sect-held secret is discovered, and different groups (some secret) vie for control. These stories utilize the history and myths of religion, and the protagonist generally has an in-depth knowledge or experience with religious training and/or upbringing. Examples: The Da Vinci Code, The Blood Gospel: The Order of the Sanguines Series, Sanctus, Angels and Demons


A subgenre in which the protagonist must defeat a large, powerful organization or entity in order to stop a killer or halt a destructive plot. The protagonists in these stories are usually scholars, journalists or amateur investigators. Common themes are rumors, lies, propaganda, secret histories, and counter-propaganda. Examples: Betrayal, Mosaic: Breakthrough, The Atlantis Gene: A Thriller, The Girl Who Lived


Two words: secret agents. These stories occur during war time. Often, the agent goes rogue to uncover corruption among his or her peers. Common themes include rivalries and intrigues between the major powers, corruption within modern intelligence agencies, rogue states, international criminal organizations, global terrorist networks, maritime piracy and technological sabotage. Examples: The Killer Collective, Betrayal, The Cleaner, The Order


A subgenre where the protagonist confronts a major crime plot, such as a murder, kidnapping, or theft. The protagonist is an ordinary person who is going about his or her daily life, before becoming involved in the crime. They either become the victim or help a victim in some way. He or she then uses their wits and specialty knowledge to help solve the crime, with or without the help of authorities. Examples: Connections in Death: An Eve Dallas Novel, The Wedding Guest: An Alex Delaware Novel, A Merciful Fate, Walk The Wire


Changing it up, forensic scientists play a major role in solving a crime within these novels. Themes include finding evidence at a crime scene, blood splatter, DNA, bones, fingerprints, or other forensic details. There is usually a race against the clock to catch the perpetrator before someone else dies or another major crime is committed. Examples: Scarpetta, Body of Evidence, Break No Bones, Bare Bones


Features a protagonist in the medical field who must use his or her knowledge of medicine to solve a mystery, cure a virus, halt or pandemic, or catch the perpetrator of a medical-related crime. The majority of the story takes place in medical settings and the details that solve the problem involve medical research or specific medical knowledge. Examples: Blow Fly: A Scarpetta Novel, A Case of Need: A Suspense Thriller, Phantom Limb, Coma


Highlights the perspective of a protagonist who is military or a veteran, who must use his or her training to solve a mystery or crime. Settings are mainly military bases or vessels. Features elements such as brotherhood, avenging wrongs, protecting family members of servicemembers or former servicemembers, cartel interaction, and rogue militias. Examples: The Trident Deception, The Karma Booth, Persuader, Hard Hit


The plot in this subgenre centers on legal dilemmas or courtroom dramas. The protagonist is usually an attorney who encounters danger and solves the crime, while the police are unable to do so or are corrupt. The protagonist's life is often in peril, as is the lives of his significant others or family. Examples: An Innocent Client, The Rule of Law, In Good Faith, Legacy of Lies


The protagonist works for the government/is working their way up the chain of command, when they must solve a crime or dilemma involving international relations. These stories are usually about a political power struggle, and can involve national or international political scenarios. Common themes are political corruption, terrorism, and warfare. This subgenre often overlaps with the conspiracy thriller subgenre. Examples: Justice Redeemed, Duty and Honor, Target: Alex Cross, The End of October


A subgenre where the protagonist is up against a major natural disaster that must be stopped or escaped from. Disasters can be natural disasters, such as earthquakes, meteor strikes or tsunamis; or man-made disasters, such as nuclear explosions, cyber-attacks closing down infrastructure, or a biological/chemical weapon. Examples: The Virus, The Last Tribe, Quake, Fire and Ice


Stories that fall into these categories take place in a historical time period. Real historical figures are often included in the plot, or encountered through a fictional character's point of view. These stories often concern real historical mysteries, documents, or conspiracies but offer an alternate reality connected to them. Some novels in this genre go back and forth between present-day characters and the historical events or documents they are discovering/researching. Examples: A Discovery of Witches, Crucible: A Thriller, The Road Beyond Ruin, The Eye of the Needle


Cutting-edge technology that either empowers or threatens the protagonist is the draw here. This is a hybrid genre drawing on tropes from science fiction, thrillers, spy fiction, and action novels. That's a lot of excitement! There are technical details concerning technology and the mechanics of various disciplines such as espionage, martial arts, and politics. Examples: Jurassic Park, Daemon, The Martian, Prey


A mockery that uses humor, satire, or parody of traditional Western tropes. Common gags include cowboys or "sharpshooters" who don't know how to shoot or ride a horse, or drunken cowboys whose antics are entertaining to their peers. Examples: Anything For Billy, Hey, Cowboy, Wanna Get Lucky?, How the West Was Lost

Children's Story

Created for an audience of children, ages 7 through 12, the western tropes are present but presented in an acceptable form for younger children to read. Common themes are friendships, autonomy, adventure, and relationships with wildlife and nature. Examples: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, By The Great Horn Spoon!, Old Yeller, Cowboy Small

Young Adult

A young adult protagonist comes of age in a western story. These stories are intended for an adolescent or young adult audience and contain themes such as friendship, young love, escape from adult or responsible influence, and rebellion. Examples: Vengeance Road, Under a Painted Sky, Gunslinger Girl, Devil's Unto Dust

Wagon Train

It covers the journey taken by pioneers from the East looking to settle in the West. These tales are of an epic nature and often include drama such as budding romance and feuds between travelers. There's usually hardships from weather, natural disasters, Native American and Outlaw conflicts, diseases, starvation, dangerous animals, and lack of preparedness. Examples: Raveled Ends of Sky: Women of the West Novels, A Long Way to Go, Sawbones, Wagon Train Cinderella

Cattle Drive

The long journey the protagonist must make to move a herd of cattle. There are often life lessons learned along the way and friendships formed, as well as potential for romance. Accidents, weather issues, rivalries between cattle ranchers are also common. Examples: The Chuckwagon Trail, The Daybreakers: The Sacketts, The Last Cattle Drive, Lonesome Dove

Prairie Settlement

Protagonist settles on the vast plains of the Midwest, usually facing harsh weather and circumstances. They deal with benevolent or unfriendly natives, surviving harsh winters, finding basic necessities in difficult conditions, and exploring relationships with other settlers (particularly widows or widowers who are on their own). Examples: Prairie Justice, Prairie Crossing: A Novel of the West, West Winds of Wyoming, Promised Land

Gold Rush

Features a protagonist on a quest for gold. These protagonists and plotlines were immortalized in the 1860s by authors Bret Harte and Mark Twain, while the California gold rush was in full swing. It's the story of rags to riches, lost dreams, and get rich quick schemes. Examples: Calico Palace, Daughter of Fortune, Walk On Earth a Stranger, California Gold

Land Rush

Settlers must travel to and claim land that is available for homesteading, usually in Oklahoma or surrounding states in this subgenre. Common themes are survival within harsh elements, wild animals, benevolent and unfriendly natives, competing/feuding families or gangs, and making the land hospitable to growing food and sustaining life. Examples: Joline's Redemption, Gabriel's Atonement, Sarah's Surrender, Maggie's Mistake


A type of Western where the protagonist is a lawman who must help bring order to a town on the frontier. The protagonist is running from a violent or tragic past and has often lost family or loved ones to frontier violence. Elements such as saloon brawls, gambling, outsiders, outlaws, and romance with a local resident are used. Examples: Lonesome Dove, Deadman's Fury, Bowdrie, The Lawman


Lots of action in this subgenre. The protagonist faces the antagonist in a shoot out. Both are experts in pistols, each has a special weapon, and a reputation that proceeds them. The climax is a final gun battle with specific "sportsman" rules, usually taking place in an agreed-upon setting and with a crowd watching so that old scores can finally be settled. Examples: Shane, The Autumn of the Gun, The Dawn of Fury, The Killing Season

Bounty Fighters

Bounty fighters are morally ambiguous. They hunt criminals and turn them into the lawmen in exchange for money. Common themes include the construction of a railroad or a telegraph line on the wild frontier, ranchers protecting their family ranch from rustlers or large landowners who build a ranch empire, revenge stories, and outlaw gang plots. Examples: The Bounty Hunters: A Classic Tale of Frontier Law, Bounty Hunter, Broadway Bounty, Streets of Laredo

Mountain Men

Take a stalwart, lonely protagonist and let him roam the mountain ranges of the West. Make him fight for survival against harsh elements of nature, loneliness, civilization vs. the wilderness, and feuding families. Once you have that, you'll have a novel that fits in this subgenre category. Examples: Power of the Mountain Man, The Last Mountain Man, Revenge of the Mountain Man, Preacher's Justice


Focused on loveable villains. It usually involves train robberies, bank robberies, or some other form of criminal activity taking place in the West. They're usually caught up in bad things and may be struggling to make peace with their past. There is a certain moral ambiguity to protagonists, making them bad guys that we can't help but love, or villains with a heart. There is generally a romantic interest who is in a likewise unsavory career, such as a prostitute or barmaid. Examples: Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories, I Rode With Jesse James, High Lonesome


This story begins when the protagonist endures and survives a massacre or some other horrible event, and must find those who are responsible for it to achieve justice. In many cases, the protagonist is seeking justice for loved ones or family members who have been murdered. There is a sense of righteous anger and common themes are retribution, justice, personal peace, and loyalty. Examples: Cade's Revenge, Montana Revenge, The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, True Grit

There you have it! The last three categories of the genres and subgenres available in today's literary marketplace. I hope this helps clear any confusion and helps you decide where your novel fits in. Happy Writing!

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