Determining what literary genre your story falls in might seem like a mind-boggling mystery to some, but if you struggle to place your book into a specific category, your target audience may never know you exist.

Determine Your Genre

I despise being placed in a box with rules and perimeters I should not cross. Luckily, choosing which literary genre your story fits is less about rules and more about getting your book to the right people.

While there are a million genres and subgenres, it is easy for a book to fall under at least a couple. We also want to make sure our stories aren’t so convoluted with elements of so many genres, it turns off fans of those traditional categories.

You can have romantic elements in your horror novel. You can have horror elements in your science fiction. You can even have science fiction elements in your fantasy story. You can never have science fiction or fantasy elements in literary fiction, unless the it’s of a horror nature and does not drive the plot.

Why So Soon?

Fans of genre fiction keep coming back for the familiarity of the stories. The romance genre, for example, is the highest grossing literary genre. They have more selection and subgenres than any other. Romance readers are consistent and voracious readers, but they are also very particular in the structure of stories. Knowing what genre your story is will help you research any nuances of plot structure that are consistent with reader trends.

Another reason to know your genre is so you can study it. You must read the genre you are writing. If you are not willing to study the craft of others, your chances of bettering your own craft of writing are slim.

I understand if you are a busy person and don’t have a lot of time to read. Or perhaps you don’t have the funds to buy new books. There are easy solutions to these problems, but it all comes down to this: if you find an excuse not to read, you will find an excuse not to write. Conquer this hurtle by any means necessary, even if you have to slum it down and support your local library by checking out books on tape (or CD).

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Consider Your Story Elements

As you begin to daydream your book idea, you can start filing it into a general genre of fiction. Think about the books or movies that might be similar and where you might find them categorized on your streaming service or in a book store. This will give you an idea as to what genre your book is. Here are some hard and fast descriptions for genres of fiction that might help you:

Literary Fiction:

If your story is as much real life as the one you are living, you could be writing literary fiction. This category is strictly character driven, not plot driven. Meaning the character is the thing the story is following and has far less to do with the events of the story. If events occur that the character has to react to in order to move the story along, this is NOT literary fiction.

Realist Literature:

This is where you go if your story IS plot driven and has no fantastical elements outside of real life. Ghosts are not widely accepted as real, so keep that in mind. Many contemporary romance novels can be considered realist literature.

Mystery: Who done it?

Something happened and no one knows who, how, or why. This type of story takes some planning in order to sprinkle the truth throughout the story. It might seem counter-intuitive, but you must know the end of a mystery before you start writing.


You might be wondering the difference between mystery and thriller. Usually crime based as in mystery, thrillers focus more on the sense of dread, anxiety about, and the suspense of the crime to be committed instead of figuring out what already happened. Many books about crime are a combination of both thriller and mystery.


Written with the intent to frighten, scare, or disgust readers, horror has nearly as many subgenres as romance. Fear of death or harm accompanied by graphic tellings of the subjects make this genre stand out. Other genres might “close the door” or lessen the tension of these events. Horror is in-your-face with fear and angst.


This is pretty self-explanatory. Thankfully, we are not yet in a place where 1970 is considered historical from a fiction standpoint. Excluding the “wild west”, anything pre- American Civil War is considered historical. Wild West is it’s own genre called Westerns. This genre is one of the most versatile sub-genres and can be coupled with ever other genre, including literary fiction.


A romantic relationship is the main plot of the story, no matter the subgenre. There are no other limitations to label your story this genre, but there are many specific nuances readers demand you follow to make for a “good” romance story.

Science Fiction:

If your main story includes aliens, technology that does not exist in today’s world yet, space travel, a dystopian society, a parallel universe to the world we’re living, or scientific advancements, you are probably writing a science fiction novel.


If your story includes ghosts, magic, fairy or fae, mythology, another completely original world, fictional animals or humanoid creatures that are NOT aliens then you are writing a fantasy story. Vampires, werewolves, and witches are also considered (urban) fantasy.

I’ve Determined My Genre. Now What?

Now start writing, of course! Or keep writing. My point is, there is no amount of re-planning of your story required to get started putting one word in front of the other. It is true for some that the more you plan, the easier it is to write. If you dedicate too much time to preparing your story, you might never start at all.

Knowing your genre will help you explain to your friends and family exactly what you’re doing, if you choose to tell them at all. By being well-defined, you might even take yourself more seriously in the process. Nothing keeps you motivated to push through writing like the confidence found in having a full understanding of where you fit into the literary world (and you do fit! I promise).

Having Trouble Determining Your Genre?

I help authors with many hiccups in their journey, and finding genres is likely the easiest trouble. When you push aside all the particular nuances and consider your target audience, genre becomes easier to figure out.

If you need help, I am available to assist in this and nearly any other hang ups you have with creating a book. Contact me today to schedule a FREE thirty minute consultation.

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