Discussion: Genre Definitions
Yesterday, I was reading through my Google reader and I came across The Aussie Zombie’s post: The World Ends on Wednesday #4 – Battle of the Sub-Genre. In it, Kat discusses her ideas on the differences between Post-Apocalyptic novels and Dystopian novels. She said that sometimes it makes her “wince a little” when books are categorized in the wrong sub-genre. And I myself have cringed a little at this same thing, and it made me think about my own ideas of what determines whether I consider a book Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, or both.
Then I came across this post over at Book Soulmates: Discussion: Classifying Genres – Part 1. Isalys went a bit further with her discussion, and defined what a lot of sub-genres mean to her. And while I agree with a lot of what both Kat and Isalys said, I couldn’t help but think of a few other things that help me categorize a book into a certain sub-genre.
So I was inspired by both those lovely bloggers to write my own discussion post about how I, personally, define many of the genres and sub-genres. Like they both mentioned, it’s very subjective. Everyone’s definitions will probably be slightly different (or vastly different).
First of all, let me explain my process of how I decide the genre and sub-genre of the books I’ve read as I write my reviews (because I always list the genres and sub-genres in my reviews, and have my little tag list in the sidebar so that they can be easily found). After I read a book, I already have a pretty good idea of the genre, but sometimes the sub-genre can be a little tricky. If I’m not sure what to classify it as, I look up the book on Goodreads and see how others have classified it. But I still have a few guidelines that I go by when selecting which genre and sub-genre to tag a book with.
I haven’t reviewed too many books yet on my blog, so I may have forgotten a few. But here are the major genres and sub-genres and how I define them (and I’m not even going to go into Non-Fiction and its sub-genres): [Edit: I wanted to add that, in this post, I don’t even go into the difference between books for adults, teens, or children. I think often there are differences between, say, an adult Paranormal novel and a YA Paranormal, but they both fall under Paranormal for me. Thanks to Kate for pointing this out for me! I plan on having a discussion about what makes a book YA in the future.)
Science Fiction: I think most people will have a similar definition with this one. When I think of Science Fiction, I think of gadgets, robots, space ships and outer-space. But that’s Hard SF. There are a lot of books that would fall under Soft SF, that really just deal with dystopian societies, post-apocalyptic societies, or movies like Inception where there’s crazy technology that allows you to do something that seems futuristic or is improbable with today’s technology. It’s really a very broad genre, in my opinion. Across the Universe by Beth Revis is an example of a Science Fiction book that I’ve reviewed.
Fantasy: When I think of Fantasy, the first books that come to mind are the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings series. Magic, magical creatures, super powers – these are the things that make me qualify something as Fantasy. Although super powers kind of straddle the line between SF and Fantasy. Basically, though, my line of thought is: If it’s got magic in it, it’s Fantasy. And of course you’ve got your sub-genres within Fantasy: Epic Fantasy (think LotR and The Hobbit), and a the wide sub-genre of Paranormal (vampires, werewolves, people who can heal with a touch of their hand, etc.).
Historical Fiction: I haven’t read many of these, but I basically consider anything that is set in a historical time as Historical Fiction. It may have some characters or events that actually occurred in the past, it may not. I tagged A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont as Historical Fiction, even though it’s not quite Historical Fiction. It’s also Science Fiction.
Contemporary: Basically anything that is completely realistic. No magic, no bad guys out to take over the world, no super powers, no vampires, etc. Just a story about someone doing normal things, dealing with everyday problems (which are sometimes hard enough!). I used to not really care for these books but I’m beginning to love them more and more, especially because of beautiful contemporary novels like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
Horror: With these, I basically think, “Hmm, would this be one of those movies I’d see a trailer for and either refuse to watch or make my husband watch with me in the bright light of day?” If the answer is yes, I’d consider it Horror. Basically any Stephen King (although, while creepy, Bag of Bones was not too scary), or anything with super scary parts or gore. Could have ghosts, vampires, werewolves, evil clowns – or it may just be about some crazy psychos that camp out in your back yard and scare the crap out of you.
Paranormal: This one is kinda iffy with me. And I know that Isalys from Book Soulmates differentiated between Paranormal and Paranormal Romance, but I just lump them all together and call them Paranormal. Paranormal can fall under Science Fiction, but most of the time I think of it as being a sub-genre of Fantasy. Mostly because when I think of Paranormal I think of werewolves, vampires, or angels. But I guess if it was a story about someone with the power of teleportation, it might be Paranormal but fall under the genre of Science Fiction. Paranormal, to me, is where it gets tricky. Glimmer by Phoebe Kitanidis was one I tagged as Paranormal, and I guess it could be considered Fantasy or Science Fiction.
Crime: I added this sub-genre tag simply for the book Heist Society by Ally Carter. I love stories like this – movies like Ocean’s Eleven or TV shows like Leverage – where the main characters are stealing, and although they’re not very straight-laced characters, often they’re doing it for noble reasons.
Mystery: This one actually can fall under any genre, and could be a genre itself, and it really could apply to many of the books I read, since a lot of them have some kind of mystery that the characters have to solve. But when I think of a true Mystery novel, I think of Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, or the show Veronica Mars. But I’ve only used this tag for Heist Society by Ally Carter so far.
Post-Apocalyptic: To me, these stories are the ones where something has completely altered a society or the world. A third world war, a plague, or something else has drastically changed the way that the inhabitants live their day-to-day lives. Often there is no electricity, no sense of government or police, and the characters basically just have to survive. I think of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (although before the apocalypse there was a dystopian society in that story) or Pure by Julianna Baggott (and there’s a dystopian aspect there, too).
Dystopian: I once read that Aldous Huxley considered his novel, Brave New World, to be a “negative utopia”. I’m not sure if that’s where the term “dystopia” derived, but this has even made me break up Dystopian novels into two different types: Dystopians and Negative Utopias. This is where most people will think I’m just talking crazy, but bear with me. When I think of a Dystopian novel, I think of a structured society (and these are sometimes formed in the aftermath of an apocalypse of some sort) which is totalitarian or oppressive in some way. The citizens, or most of them at least, are not happy. They don’t like the way things are. The only people who like it are the ones in control, or the ones who are directly benefiting from the oppression of the others. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and 1984 by George Orwell are complete Dystopian novels to me.
Negative Utopias, to me, on the other hand, are structured societies (also could be formed in the aftermath of an apocalypse of some kind) which is, at first glance, a happy place. The citizens believe that this is the way to live, and that what their government does is for the greater good. However, a few people start to realize that maybe it’s not the ideal way to live, because there’s no love (Delirium by Lauren Oliver) or no individuality (Uglies by Scott Westerfeld), etc. Now I know that this is just me, that Goodreads and book stores don’t recognize the term “Negative Utopia” and therefore I haven’t used that as a tag for my reviews. But I still see a difference there, and that’s just the way I like to qualify them.
Another tag I have in my sidebar is “Retelling.” This one basically just means any book that is a retelling of another work, whether it be a fairy tale or a Shakespearean play or a Greek myth. Cinder by Marissa Meyer is one of the books that I’ve tagged as a retelling, but it also falls under the Science Fiction category.
So, for any of you that have actually read this horribly long discussion post, what do you think about my definitions of these genres and sub-genres? Are they similar to your own definitions, or are they completely different? Did I leave out any important ones? I’d love to hear your thoughts!