Writing your first novel can be a slightly daunting task. There are a million reference books out there, with advice on how to plot, how to develop characters, and even how to edit…
But, before you even consider these points, the first thing you need to think about is what kind of book you want to write.
Maybe, even before this, you need to ask yourself, what kind of novels are out there?
In this article, I hope to clarify for you, what different types of books are out there, so you can decide what area of the fiction world you want to focus on.
Do you want to write romantic epistolary novels? Or maybe you’re more interested in horror novels, or speculative fiction?
There are so many areas of prose fiction that writers can explore, but understanding the different types of novels that are out there first, is fundamental.
What Is A Novel?
This might seem like the most basic question, but it is so important to understand what a novel is before you attempt to write one for the first time.
A novel, by definition, is a work of fiction.
Generally, fiction novels sit between 50,000 and 120,000 words depending on the genre.
Novels can be broadly split into 3 main categories, with sub-categories in each to drill down into taste.
Those three categories are genre fiction, literary fiction, and mainstream fiction.
What Is Genre Fiction?
Genre fiction (also often referred to as popular fiction), unlike literary fiction, describes fiction that is written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre.
Most writers agree that there are nine main subgenres within genre fiction.
These include horror, mystery/crime, romance, science fiction, thriller/suspense, westerns, historical, young adult, and fantasy.
Although there are many more subcategories, most genre fiction will fit into one of these categories.
Examples of Genre Fiction
To make it even easier to spot and define genre fiction, I have listed examples below of a few recognisable novels in each genre.
Horror Fiction Examples
Horror Fiction Definition:
The main focus of horror novels is to create feelings of fear, dread, terror and sometimes repulsion in its audience.
Novels in this genre should leave readers feeling these specific emotions.
- It by Stephen King
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris
Mystery/Crime Fiction Examples
Mystery/Crime Fiction Definition:
Mystery, crime, and murder mystery fiction novels are works of fiction that use narratives that centre on criminal acts, the investigation by either amateur or professional experts, and the resolution of that crime or mystery.
- Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney
- Dream Town by David Baldacci
- The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves
Romance Fiction Examples
Romance fiction generally refers to novels that primarily focus on the relationship and romantic love between two, or more, people.
A romance novel will typically have a ‘Happy Ever After’ or, at the very least, an emotionally satisfying ending.
- The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
- The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
- Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Science Fiction Examples
Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction which typically deals with imaginative or futuristic concepts.
Science fiction novels will, more often than not, deal with ideas of advanced technology, scientific advancement, space exploration or time travel to mention just a few.
- War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Thriller/Suspense Fiction Examples
Thriller and suspense genres are often linked and both are genres that follow similar rules.
In general, these novel genres use fast-paced plots to affect the readers, and situations that evoke emotions such as anxiety, surprise, excitement and anticipation.
These genres of fiction are entirely dependent on the emotion you leave the reader with, rather than the structure you use to tell the story.
Suspense and thriller novels tend to be stories that rely heavily on plot and plot twists.
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- Verity by Colleen Hoover
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Western Fiction Examples
Western Fiction Definition:
Western fiction is a genre of literature set in the American “Old West” frontier and is generally set in the 19th or early 20th century.
This area of fiction is plot-driven and will generally combine aspects of crime, redemption and justice.
- The Revenant by Michael Punke
- No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
- The Son by Philip Meyer
Historical Fiction Examples
Historical Fiction Definition:
Historical novels are set in another time and place, either real (they’re often based on historical events) or imagined, but during a culturally recognisable time.
Generally, most writers of historical novels will leap back at least fifty years to take their readers outside of the events they are currently experiencing and use setting to make readers feel they are living in another time and place.
Research is key and setting is vital in this genre.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
- The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Young Adult Fiction Examples
Young adult fiction is a genre of literature written primarily for audiences between the ages of 12 and 18.
However, although these novels are written to target adolescents, more than half of YA readers are adults.
Novels in this genre tend to be written from the viewpoint of young people, generally tend to be fast-paced, and cover a wide area of subjects that young adults might be facing.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
Fantasy Fiction Examples
Fantasy fiction is a genre categorised in general by its inclusion of magical elements.
It is a genre of speculative fiction that typically includes fictional universes, and most fantasy novels are inspired by mythology, folklore, or traditions.
Setting and deep characterisation are vital in this genre.
- A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
- The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
- The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
What Is Literary Fiction?
Literary fiction, unlike genre fiction, is fiction that puts an emphasis on style, character and theme over plot.
Although the definition of literary fiction can change and warp year on year, there are some fundamental aspects that remain the same.
Works of fiction that are classed as literary fiction generally contain the following:
- Character (rather than plot) driven
- Exploration of deeper themes
- Exploration of social, political, or emotional situations
- Potential ambiguous ending/not necessarily a ‘Happy Ever After’
- No strict adherence to a structured plot
- No strict adherence to standard formatting or prose style
Examples Of Literary Fiction
Below, you can find three separate examples of literary fiction:
The Goldfinch By Donna Tart
Theo Decker is the son of a devoted mother and a reckless, absent father. He survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. He is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend.
The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive, sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.
This novel, published in 2013, won the Pulitzer Prize and was described by Stephen King as being ‘a smartly written novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind.’ It is character driven and delves into difficult topics.
The House Of Fortune By Jessie Burton
The House of Fortune is the long-awaited sequel to Jessie Burton’s bestseller The Miniaturist.
It has been described as a glorious, sweeping story of fate and ambition, secrets and dreams, and one young woman’s determination to rule her own destiny.
Just like her debut, The Miniaturist, this fabulous sequel is beautifully crafted, the characters, their lives and the settings leap from the page and drive the book forward. It’s a perfect example of exquisitely written literary fiction.
Maps Of Our Spectacular Bodies By Maddie Mortimer
When a sudden diagnosis upends Lia’s world, the boundaries between her past and her present begin to collapse. Deeply buried secrets stir awake.
As the voice prowling in Lia takes hold of her story, and the landscape around becomes indistinguishable from the one within, Lia and her family are faced with some of the hardest questions of all: how can we move on from the events that have shaped us, when our bodies harbour everything? And what does it mean to die with grace, when you’re simply not ready to let go?
This entrancing novel is moving, heartbreaking and beautiful all at once. The language, formatting, and subjects discussed not only make this a stunning example of literary fiction, but are also the reasons this debut has been longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.
What Is Mainstream Fiction?
Much like literary fiction, mainstream fiction consists of novels that can’t be easily identified into a specific genre. Unlike genre fiction, which clearly sets out what you can expect from the novel, mainstream fiction can, and often does, cross book genres.
Unlike genre fiction, mainstream fiction can be slightly harder to sell, doesn’t always have a clear audience and is generally sold on the back of author recognition and a dedicated audience.
Mainstream fiction generally follows a linear structure, more often than not has a happy ending (or at least a satisfying one), and readers don’t have to work hard to understand the story.
Like literary fiction, mainstream fiction delves deeper into characterisation and may touch on philosophical issues, but unlike literary fiction, it does still focus heavily on plot and story.
Examples Of Mainstream Fiction
It can be hard to tell the difference between mainstream fiction and literary fiction, but below you can see some examples of the most popular mainstream fiction on the market.
Big Little Lies By Liane Moriarty
Big Little Lies is a novel that explores complex relationships, difficult topics and sensitive issues, wrapped up in a story that could be described as a crime, thriller, psychological thriller or even domestic thriller. It is a complex story that relies heavily on characterisation, but plot and story are integral.
It is the perfect example of mainstream fiction and those who are already a fan of Moriarty’s work instantly know what to expect from this author’s books. They may not fit neatly in one genre, but they hit all expectations and leave the reader satisfied at the end.
The Lovely Bones By Alice Seabold
Again, this novel is intense in its exploration of grief; it’s complex in its characterisation and explores themes that set this book apart.
The plot of the book isn’t complex, but it is complete and the reader is left satisfied, but the genre of the book is not instantly clear. It sweeps between genres and picks up readers in multiple guises.
Other authors who fit well into the mainstream fiction category are Maeve Binchy, John Irving, Dan Brown, Ian McEwan and Nora Roberts.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The 9 Types Of Fiction?
Within fiction, there are many different subcategories that can help determine story type and therefore the audience these novels are marketed to.
These subcategories are:
- Science fiction
- Mystery/crime fiction
- Historical fiction
- Thriller/suspense fiction
- Young adult fiction
- Romance fiction
- Horror fiction
- Fantasy fiction
- Western fiction
What Is The Most Popular Novel Genre?
Well, that is one of the most difficult questions to answer – why? Because depending on who you talk to, and which data sets you look at, you may discover a different answer.
During the pandemic, we saw a surge in reading and a change in reading habits. Depending on the state of the world, readers reach for different stimuli.
Romance, both contemporary and historical, are always incredibly popular and for many years, romance fiction has not dropped out of the top five bestselling genres.
However, crime and thriller books are forever competing for the top spots, with the likes of Lee Child, Gillian Flynn, and Colleen Hoover topping the charts consistently.
As you can see, there are so many areas of the writing world that you can indulge in, and so many subgenres of fiction to explore. With so many different types of novels out there, all you have to do is decide which one fits your style the most and then dive right in.
Always remember, there is no wrong way to write, and no right genre to start with… all you need to focus on, is getting those words onto the page and out into the world.
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