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  • Writer's pictureStuart Wakefield

An Overview of the Main Literary Genres

Welcome to the wonderful world of genre and how to ensure you’re well versed in the those available to you. Tapping into genre is a powerful force, satisfying readers because they know what they're getting.

Genre allows us to organise and classify all sorts of entertainment, everything from books to movies to video games. And it also informs how we buy and sell them.

Fiction is focused on the imaginative, involving characters and plot lines that have been invented by the author.

Non-fiction, on the other hand, focuses on the real and is usually based on facts and events.

To be truly well-versed in genre, one must delve into each, so let's get started...


A memoir is a literary genre that focuses on a person’s life, often describing experiences and life events through a personal, reflective lens. Unlike an autobiography, which is an entire life story, a memoir can focus on a specific period of time within the life of the author. Memoirs are deeply personal and often contain elements of both reflections on the past and analysis of the present.

The memoir genre has a long history, often blending autobiographical elements with reflections and insights. Ancient Greek writings, such as Plato’s Symposium, contain memoir-like elements in which individuals reflect upon their lives and the lessons they’ve learned. In the modern era, memoirs have become a popular literary form, accounting for a fair chunk of non-fiction sales.

Memoirs can be written in a variety of styles, from informal and conversational to more formal and structured. Despite this, all memoirs share that common theme of reflection with the writer uncovering the underlying truths and motivations behind their experiences. In this way, a memoir can be both a source of entertainment and a powerful tool for personal growth and self-discovery.

Most memoirs fall in the 70,000 to 90,000 word count range.

Middle-Grade Fiction

Middle-grade literature is geared toward children ages 8-12. It focuses on themes of growth, identity, and resilience. It explores the unique challenges that come with entering adolescence, such as friendship, family, school, and society. Middle-grade literature often contains elements of adventure, mystery, and even elements of the supernatural, while also conveying important lessons in the form of subtle messages.

Middle-grade literature can be both inspiring and entertaining. It provides a space for young readers to explore the world with a sense of wonder, as the story of a young protagonist faces challenges and learns valuable life lessons. It can foster a child’s imagination and build their empathy, while also helping them to understand difficult concepts. It has been a staple of the bestseller lists for years, and iconic works such as The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series stand as a testament to its lasting power.

Most middle-grade fiction falls in the 30,000 to 50,000 word count range.

Young Adult (YA) Fiction

Young adult literature, usually shortened to YA, is aimed at readers between the ages of 13 and 18. It is often a coming-of-age story that follows a main character as they explore their identity, grow and mature, and discover the world around them.

The main characters are typically teens or young adults, and the stories often reflect the struggles of this age group, from discord with family and friends to confusion over their own identity, as well as stories of self-discovery and understanding who they are and what kind of life they want to lead.

The stories often focus on deeper themes, such as life and death, friendship, family dynamics, hope, and love. The characters are often well-developed, with strong emotions and motivations that readers can identify with. As a result, young adult literature can be both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Most YA falls into the 50,000 to 80,000 word count range.

Historical Fiction

Historical fiction works to recreate the past – accurately, if possible – while also conveying an intricate narrative that still resonates with the modern reader.

Through its stories, historical fiction provides an opportunity to travel through time, allowing readers to inhabit characters and experiences of the past. To read historical fiction is to explore a different era, to gain insight into the lives of those who came before us, and to experience both common and unique experiences—sometimes with a sense of nostalgia.

As such, the stories can often be emotionally charged and emotionally gripping. Historical fiction is filled with stories of courage, struggle, and resilience in times of war, of determination, and of strength in the face of overwhelming odds.

Most historical fiction falls into the 90,000 to 120,000 word count range.


The fantasy literary genre is a type of storytelling that captures a reader’s imagination and transports them to mythical, magical and enchanting places. It's often a form of escapism, designed to whisk a reader away from the mundane, and into a world where the impossible is possible and the extraordinary is commonplace. Characters are transformed and quests are embarked upon, as the reader is drawn into a sweeping world of imagination, full of dazzling sights and sounds.

Characters within the fantasy genre live in strange and exotic lands, with unique and wondrous creatures, objects, and people populating their universe. These characters often embody the heroic archetypes of legend, such as the brave knight, the powerful wizard, or the intrepid explorer. As they traverse these strange lands, they often have to face incredible obstacles, sometimes supernatural in nature, and these challenges become the source of adventure and heroic triumph.

Trust me on this—I play Dungeons & Dragons!

The settings in fantasy can range from faerie folk to elves and dwarves (and don't even get me started on paranormal fantasy). These settings are often full of marvellous creatures and exciting exploits, making them the perfect backdrop for a thrilling journey of discovery and exploration.

The language used to describe these places and the creatures that inhabit them is often as wondrous and breathtaking as the stories themselves. The best authors in the fantasy genre can evoke the atmosphere of a strange place by means of the vivid writing style and lush descriptions that they employ. The result is a unique and captivating style of literature that is perfect for any reader looking for a truly enchanting escape.

Most fantasy fiction falls into the 90,000 to 125,000 word count range.

Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Mystery is a genre of literature that focuses on the solution of a crime or the unraveling of a puzzle. It provides an exciting experience for readers as they try to deduce clues and piece together the solution.

The mystery genre is often characterised by the presence of an investigator trying to uncover the truth behind a crime or a mysterious event. The main character is often a detective, an amateur sleuth, or an intuitive investigator. They use their wits, skills, and intuition to uncover the truth and bring justice to the situation.

These stories can take place in many settings, from a small town to a large city or a foreign country. They involve secrets, clues, and red herrings that keep readers guessing and make the story more enjoyable. The solution of the mystery often requires the reader to combine multiple pieces of evidence to come to a conclusion.

Mystery literature has been around for centuries, and has provided readers with thrilling stories. Famous authors like Agatha Christie are credited with creating some of the most well-known mystery stories of all time. Modern mystery stories are often more complex and intricate, with twists and turns that keep readers guessing until the very end.

Suspense focuses on building tension and anticipation in a story and are designed to keep readers engaged, on the edge of their seats, and desperate to find out what happens next.

The most effective suspenseful stories have a protagonist who is in a vulnerable position and is being pursued by a dangerous and relentless threat. This threat could be a person, a force of nature, or even an abstract concept. This adds to the suspense by creating a sense of dread and uncertainty. Suspenseful stories often have a twist or surprise ending that catches readers off-guard.

Suspenseful stories rely on the careful pacing of the plot, building tension and anticipation in the reader until the climax. It is a genre of stories that surprises, thrills, and captivates readers and keeps them wanting more.

The thriller literary genre is a type of fiction that focuses on suspense, mystery, and intrigue. It often contains elements of suspicion and danger, often involving a crime or a chase of some kind. Typical plot elements of a thriller include action, suspense, surprise, and a climax that puts the protagonist in a life-or-death situation. Thrillers are often characterised by fast pacing, intense action, and recurring themes of justice, fear, or corruption.

In a thriller, the protagonist is often in pursuit of a major enemy, criminal, or other evil force, with the plot often involving twists and turns as the hero finds themselves in a race against time to save themselves, their family or the world. Thrillers have been adapted for film, television, and other media, often with intense action, violence and explosive consequences as the main draws.

Most mystery, suspense, and thriller fiction falls into the 80,000 to 90,000 word count range.


My favourite!

Romance places emphasis on emotion and personal relationships. It focuses on themes of love, and longing, and always conclude with a happy ending. Characters in a romance novel are often presented as flawed, struggling with difficult decisions as they confront the challenges of life and love, but love is always the central theme.

This genre emphasises character development, often with the protagonists undergoing a transformative journey as they strive to find their true selves and connect with their true love. At their core, romance stories are about finding true happiness and fulfilment, often against all odds. The stories are often infused with beautiful prose and the intimate unfolding of a passionate love affair. The ultimate goal of the romance is to discover the joy that comes with finding true love.

In short, love conquers all.

Most romance fiction falls into the 50,000 to 100,000 word count range.

Science Fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that imagines the future and explores possibilities beyond the boundaries of science and technology. It is often set in a distant future and features advanced technologies, strange new worlds, and alien cultures. It also often deals with philosophical and moral questions related to the development of science and its potential consequences.

Science fiction often challenges the reader to consider the possibilities of extraordinary events and technologies, and the consequences of their use. It is a genre of exploration, discovery, and uncertainty, filled with wondrous details and beautiful prose that captures the vastness of space and the mystery of the unknown.

It is found in the world of magazines, novels, short stories, movies, television, and video games, and the work of authors such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. It is a genre that encourages its readers to consider the implications of advances in science, technology, and society, and to ask questions about how it might affect the world in the future.

Most science fiction falls into the 90,000 to 125,000 word count range.

Final Thoughts

The major literary genres can be seen as a box of tools for any writer, each with its own purpose and use. It is up to the author to decide which genre best fits their story: whether it be a work of science fiction, horror, fantasy, romance, or any of the other numerous options available. Every genre has the potential to be used to create something special, something that will be remembered and cherished for generations to come.

I'll break some of these genres down in future posts but you get the gist, right?

And, yes, I forgot about horror. I really did forget, but that doesn't make me a monster does it?

Does it...?


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