Help needed to define genres!

What is a genre?

I recently joined a new library. I didn’t know my way around yet so I went and examined the little chart on the wall to try and find the genre I was in the mood for, and it occurred to me that I didn’t have a really good handle on what a ‘genre’ actually was. Listed on the chart were things like Science Fiction, Romance, Horror, and Young Adult, but those all seemed like they were answering different questions to each other.

Science Fiction, like Fantasy, is defined by what reality the book is set in. Romance is a story (essentially boy-meets-girl), as is Crime. Horror is neither of those things… it’s an emotional response. Young Adult is even worse… it’s defined by who might read it, which is pretty silly given that YA books are read by people of all ages.

So when I got home I started playing around in Scapple to try and figure out a way of understanding genres in my head. The starting point I took was that every book will be categorisable in 3 ways: Reality, Story and Emotion (I’m dismissing things like ‘target audience’ as bigotry rather than genre classification).

The trouble is, I’m far from an expert in a lot of categories. The PNG file linked below is where I’ve gotten to (full size available to download at the end of this post). I’d love any help and knowledge the fine members of this forum have to share. :smiley:

I’ve put a few well known books in the middle to help illustrate how the three questions fit together.

Please feel free to tell me where I’ve made terrible mistakes, or to suggest any additions in response to any of the three areas. For example, are there established sub-genres of the Romance story similar to what I’ve done with Crime? Remember that things like “Paranormal Romance” and “Romantic Comedy” aren’t a sub-genre of Romance stories in the above definition, merely a combination of a Story (Romance) with either a Reality (Supernatural) or Emotion (Humour) respectively. That’s not to say that established combinations like those aren’t worth noting - they are. If I can come up with a neat way to represent it, I’d like to start mapping the combinations of the three questions as well. Some of those combinations have been dumped unceremoniously in a box in the corner for the moment. Feel free to comment on those too. :smiley:

I’ll continue to update my Scapple Map as the suggestions come in, and when we’ve reached a sensible conclusion I’ll go through to re-order, restructure and make a really pretty updated map and share it here.

You can download the PNG file here.

So, whad’ya reckon? Any thoughts?

:confused: Can’t see any Mention of 50 Shades Of Grey in there, pal. Bit diapointing… init?

Now that is procrastination par excellence. :slight_smile:

Isn’t it, though? :slight_smile:

Okay. Well I don’t really know anything about the book other than it’s got naughty bits in it. I presume it’s set in a contemporary fiction reality. The story would, I guess be Romance (I dunno - is there a murder mystery entwined in it all?), and the Emotion would be Arousal.

I’m going to go ahead and presume that there are subcategories of Arousal that I’m not aware of (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say). Thinking about it now, I’m guessing that it ranges from Erotica through to Porn, with stops such as S&M?

I also suppose that at the very least Romance could be divided into boy meets girl, boy meets boy, and girl meets girl?

Does anyone who reads or writes in those categories heave a better understanding they could share? I’m sure they are just as nuanced to those in the know.

Did that help you out?

That looks and sounds very… how shall we put it… physical? Freudian slip, there… or wot ? :wink: 8) :smiling_imp:
I like it. Keep it up. :blush: opps! another one… eh?

Hahaha :smiley:

Glad it was good for you :wink:
[size=85]Add your own connotation to that[/size]

I see it as motivational writing. If you ever doubt the quality of your own writing, flip open 50 Shades to a random page, read for a while, and remember that the E L James made millions of dollars off of that writing…

If you can write better than E L James, get back to work! :mrgreen:

meldroc, Hiya,
Welcome aboard Scriv’ener. I shouldn’t really be criticizing FSoG, because I haven’t actually read it, only reviews of it. But, I had the book in my hand, and I just cound not open it. That isn’t me at all! If a book gets panned, I’m usually intrigued enough to want a look for myself. However, for some bizarre reason I couldn’t be arsed, even with the book in my hand. I’m not joking. That’s what happened. :confused:

So I’ll take your word for it being “motivational writing”, in the context to which you refer to it. :laughing:
Take care

Thanks for the warm welcome. If you want a small taste, I’d recommend watching the video of FSOG being read by Gilbert Gottfried!


It depends. There was a kerfuffle (please excuse my indelicate language) regarding various forms of inter-species erotica. Bigfoot meets girl, Werewolf meets girl, Dinosaur meets girl… And then there are the Anita Blake urban fantasies (emphasis on ‘fantasies’) where it eventually gets to girl meets boy meets were-everything.

On a grander scale, I think that “genre” categorization is hard :blush: because there’s always some upstart author who starts out with one genre and slips something unexpected in :blush: …to the mix. And don’t get me started on YA as a genre; which is patently ridiculous. If you can think of a genre, aside from erotica I suppose, there’s a YA book that fits that actual genre. Horror, Romance, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Adventure, etc… and every conceivable :blush: combination thereof. The only thing that YA books have in common is that they all feature a nearly, but not quite, adult protagonist. It’s almost, but not quite, as bad a “genre” category as “chick lit”–a label laden with scorn but which, from my observation of debates over it, boils down to “written by a woman, with a female protagonist”.

So… yeah. Don’t get me started on YA as a genre unless you want me to blather on about my views. :stuck_out_tongue:

Nice concept map, by the by.

Werewolf-meets-girl is just boy/girl meets girl plus a Supernatural Reality, so doesn’t need a separate sub-division. It does raise a different question though… does Taboo/Forbidden Romance need it’s own sub genre? If so, what might some of the other sub-genres be (we can then have boy meets girl etc as subsubs off each of those)?

I also considered having Gods, Demons, Vampire, Werewolf, Zombie and other established tropes as subdivisions of Supernatural, but then figured that there simply is too much overlap there. Unless people think it’s worth having each of those and then a ‘mixed’ category? Hmmm. Plus then how would you classify something like “I Am Legend” which, while clearly a pre-cursor to the zombie genre, was written effectively as “what if one man remained alive in a world filled with vampires?”?

I’m not bothered too much with books that have multiple genres. I figure a book will have a primary Story and Emotion, even if it has sub-plots / elements which fall in other categories. If something switches genre halfway through (the film “From Dusk Til Dawn”, for example), then it was probably just the later genre all along. For genuine cross-genres you can always just list (for example) both Realities.

Is “Urban Fantasy” a sub-genre we need to include? Or does that just mean “A fantasy that happens to be set in a City”?

Well, like most genres, there are a lot of fuzzy edges. I think most people would actually consider “Urban” fantasy to mean “high fantasy elements in a modern context” though it does hew toward gothic fantasy (Dracula being the grand-daddy of the vampire-focused core of UF).

The Iron Druid series, for instance, happens both in cities, and in the countryside, but I could see an entire book happening away from civilization, but still featuring cars and electricity. As far as I’m aware “modern high fantasy”.

Contrast that with The Dreseden Files, which is primarily set in modern Chicago, and is openly also a Noir Detective series, yet it’s main character is a classic wizard, of the Gandalf variety.

I’d say that Urban fantasy would be a good replacement for what you’ve termed as “low fantasy” with the one of the two series above an exemplar. I’ve never seen “low fantasy” used for a genre/sub-genre designation.

Do you see these genres and sub-genres being metaphorical shelves where any given book would fit on one and only one of those shelves, or more like tags that can freely be added to a book as an open-ended list of descriptors to be applied as appropriate? I’m seeing elements of both tags and shelves (analogous to Scrivener’s Keywords and Labels, respectively) in your concept map.

A recent book I read, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, could have all of these descriptors applied to it: Urban Fantasy (set in part on our Earth), High Fantasy (Set in another realm accessible via portals), Romance, Girl Meets Boy or Monster Meets Angel, War… possibly others. It’s nominally shelved in YA because the protagonist is either late high school or first year college (I think she’s 17… kind of).

Wikipedia (effectively) defines Urban Fantasy as a fantasy set predominantly in a City. Feels a bit too weak a distinction to justify a separate genre classification to me, but then I’m not really very educated when it comes to fantasy. Still, it seems to have emerged as a class of story that people deliberately seek out, so I’ll add it as an offshoot of low fantasy.

Yes, I would imagine every book to be able to fit in to a single Reality category at least. A book which truly inspires a new sub-genre can probably at the very least be considered simply “Science Fiction” or “Low Fantasy” (without taking any further sub-division) until there is a critical mass of examples to warrant a separate distinction. If there are any stories which defy categorisation, or established sub-categories that I’ve left out, I’d love to include them to have the chart as complete as possible.

Likewise I would expect any story to have a primary plot. Sure, lots of stories have some kind of hookup in them as a sub-plot, but their not about that. A story can be set during a war, but not be a war story, for example.

As for Daughter of Smoke and Bone… well, based on the Wikipedia page (which may or may not be a fair representation) I’d say that the book was: (R2.5.2)Parallel World (E1)Intrigue (S5)Coming of Age.
I say “Coming of age” as the story as (again, from the wikipedia page at least) the book seems predominantly about the lead finding out who she is. It certainly sounds like there are plenty of other types of stories (war, romance etc) happening in and around all of that, but none of them seem to involve the lead too much, at least not as her primary objective.

Yes, I like the concept map, too.

But I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the late and lamented Blake Snyder, Hollywood narrat-ologist. (Is there such a job title? Script doctor? Lecturer to wannabes? Scriptwriter who took the advice ‘If you can’t do, teach’?) He had little time for the traditional genres. He described ten new ones, with names like The Golden Fleece, and Fool Triumphant, which have claims to being more useful in film and TV:

They may also be more useful in novels.

Thanks Hugh, Yes, Blake Snyder. I’ve read and enjoyed both his original Save the Cat, and the sequel (more of a cash-in really, but still fun) Save the Cat Goes to the Movies.

A key distinction between Blake’s stories and what I’m trying to get to is that Blake wasn’t trying to make a definitive list of all types of story. He was giving a template people could follow that would help them hit all the elements that audiences expect from certain stories. I’m trying to classify everything, without judging on quality. That said, it’s a useful list of certain types of story, so we should make sure we’ve covered them all!

Monster in the House: Yup, that’s in there as Story>Crime>Monster (which could equally apply to a serial killer or a supernatural demon).

Whydunnit: Well, I’ve called it the whodunnit. Maybe I should change that category to Who/Whydunnit?

Golden Fleece: We have in as Story>Quest. I’m not sure Road Movie deserves a separate sub-division, simply because it happens to be set in a car / on a horse. Thoughts?

Rite of Passage: has a lot of overlap with Coming of Age, although RoP seems wider / slightly distinguished. Perhaps instead we have “Personal Growth” (or similar) as a story and CoA and RoP as subs?

Out of the Bottle: Depending on how the story is told this could either be a Quest or a Personal Growth? Hmmm… maybe Personal Growth (and therefore Coming of Age and Rite of Passage) should be a subset go Quest rather than off on it’s own? So we have Story>Quest and then underneath that: RoP, CoA, MacGuffin and Save/Free the Community? What do people think? Does that ring true?

Institutionalised: The idea of a man vs the community I’d folded up into Frontier/Western, but I suspect I do need a better name for it. Suggestions?

Superhero: I’d argue that this isn’t a Story at all, but a Reality. Admittedly, most of them have the same Story (that of Crime>Monster).

Buddy Love: Again, I’m not convinced that this is a ‘story’. A buddy movie, is just a movie with two characters. The “boy and his dog” sub-category in Blake’s Buddy Love is just another Personal Growth / Coming of Age tale… but with a specific catalyst. Romance, of course, we have already covered.

Dude with a Problem: The title here pretty much describes every book ever written, but the point of Blake’s category is the ordinary person with an extraordinary problem. Die Hard and the Terminator being two examples (although “Die Hard and the Terminator” is a movie I would totally go and see). Still Terminator is essentially just a SciFi Monster movie and Die Hard is really the ‘man vs community’ idea I mentioned in Institutionalised, above.

The Fool Triumphant: I’d say this isn’t a Story/Plot, as such, as simply a particular subclass of humour?

Anyway, enough of taxonomic pedantry. Time to read a good book. :slight_smile:

I agree that Snyder’s ideas were both fresh and helpful - especially to people who are new to the craft of storytelling. There is quite a difference between being good at English Language and being good at crafting a story, in much the same way as being great at maths doesn’t by itself make you a structural engineer.

I also agree with your comments about their use and usefulness.

Primarily, though, I think Blake was trying to get the following message out: If you are going to tell one of these stories (and there is a good chance that you are, whether you realise it or not) then there are certain things you ought to include to make your story work to it’s full potential. For example, if you are going to make a Monster movie, for Pete’s sake make sure it’s constrained in a House, otherwise surely people would just run away and leave the Monster sad and lonely all by himself.

I don’t disagree with that. In the original NiaD (“the Dark”) the victims were literally trapped in the house with a monster (because it was nighttime in the middle of nowhere and it was light inside and if you went into the darkness you got mushed). I’d not read Save the Cat at the time I pulled that together, but I’d be surprised if I went back now if it didn’t hit several of Snyder’s beats. But my sole purpose here is to classify genres helpfully, and that includes books that Blake Snyder would think are weaker stories. Hell, I’ve read loads of books that are crap. They still warrant a genre.

I’ll pick out a few of your points where you’ve (perhaps rhetorically) asked a question, or disagreed decisively.

On Superhero - I’d say the story isn’t provided by the hero’s weakness, but by the villain that wants to exploit it.

As you’ve gathered already, I disagree with your viewpoint on Buddy Love. The story in Lethal Weapon is a crime flick. The reason I feel comfortable saying that is that if you were to ask someone if they were in the mood for a love story and then gave them Lethal Weapon they’d be disappointed. If you told ‘em they were in for a good ol’ crime action romp they’d say you nailed it. And that’s what I’m trying to get at here: what is the most useful classification? Sure it has a sub-plot that involves bromance of the highest order, but that’s not the main bit. Similarly, the Story in Butch Cassidy has more in common with the Institutionalised / Frontier idea of character(s) against the world they find themselves in than in bromance for me. I don’t find the idea that they (buddy love and romance) go through the same phases convincing, especially since Snyder argued that all stories go through exactly the same phases.

Die Hard is definitely Institutionalised in my mind. He’s trapped in a microcosm society (the Nakatomi Plaza) that is under the iron control of Alan Rickman and his Merry Men. It is that conflict (rather than Alan vs the FBI) that defines the story in my opinion.

Forrest Gump is a coming of age story (it just takes him until Middle Age to do it). The Pink Panther is a crime lark. They just happen to be told using a particular joke.

Again, I’m not saying Blake is wrong. His classifications work. They’re just not all compatible with the approach I’m taking with this exercise, as some of them are genuinely Stories, some are Realities, and some are Emotions. For example, you could easily write a story that was A Fool Triumphant Superhero up against a Monster in the House. Just don’t call it “Die Hard and the Terminator” cos I’ve got dibs. :slight_smile:

But you are right: Institutionalised / Coming of Age / Rite of Passage / Quest needs more than I have in there at the moment!

The problem with that definition is that there are plenty of cities in “High Fantasy” genres–they’re just set in a technologically medieval to maybe renaissance-like time period, whatever the world may be. If you put real magic into a story set during the height of the Roman empire, I don’t think setting it in Rome would qualify as Urban Fantasy. Not if you are using the term colloquially, rather than relying on the taxonomy of the words making up the label.

Also, I have to re-iterate that there is no Low Fantasy super-genre. Only people who have an unflattering opinion about sub-genres of Fantasy would call it that. If you want to make two categories (not genres, since I’ve never seen books shelved this way) that are equally descriptive at that level, then I would suggest “pre-industrial fantasy” and “post-industrial fantasy”.

Pre-industrial would include:
-“High Fantasy” which is almost always set in a world other than Earth (Westeros from Game of Thrones)
-Historical fantasy set in our world (Arthurian legend) but with “real” magic, like druids transforming into beasts and wizards casting lightning bolts about.
-Examples: Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Mists of Avalon.

Post-industrial fantasy would include any story set in 1800’s London, or any country in the late modern era for that matter, so long as they include mythical/mystical beings and people who can wield power over the world around them (or worlds adjacent to our own) via ritual or in-born talent (“Chosen One” types and the like). Many books in this category also include portals to magical worlds (faery, various godly realms), but are primarily set on our Earth, or an Earth with an alternative history of real magic affecting industrial developments or being supplanted by them.
-Examples (all series names): True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse (modern day Louisiana), The Parasol Protectorate (industrial era British Empire), Dresden Files (modern day Chicago).

So there are my suggestions/observations; hope they help a little.