In which Gillian lectures like she knows what she's talking about it (hint: she does not)
Obviously, I'm not the definitive expert on anything (except Disney lyrics, procrastination, and eating my weight in baked goods). But I've been running into some genre confusion lately among other readers, so I just figured I'd put together a post where we try to figure out, say, what makes a book sci-fi and what makes it dystopian.So what which fiction genres are which?
This is where I see most of the confusion, honestly. The problem is that most, if not all, dystopian is science fiction, but not all science fiction is dystopian. Those who classify Cinder and Scarlet as dystopian, for example, are incorrect. It's straight up science fiction.
Sci-Fi doesn't have to be in the future, but it usually is. It can be in space or on earth or anywhere it likes. Science fiction is any kind of speculative fiction involving technology and not involving magic.
Dystopians, on the other hand, require some kind of dystopian-- ie a non-optimal, failed, usually totalitarian-- vision of the future. The societies created in Matched, The Hunger Games, and Divergent are dystopian. Dystopians can also be set after post-apocalyptic scenarios, such as Wasteland, Orleans, etc. Dystopian is technically under the umbrella of science fiction, but there can also be dystopian fantasy, such as Poison Study or even dystopian contemporaries.
I feel like the basic unifying characteristic of fantasy is magic. Admittedly, that definition can get a little fuzzy when you contrast it with paranormal. "Aren't werewolves and vampires magic?" you ask, confusion on your bright and perky faces. And I will say no, they're supernatural. Twilight, which has werewolves and vampires, is paranormal romance. The Mortal Instruments, which has werewolves, vampires, angels, and witches, is urban fantasy. It's a fine line, but urban fantasy tends to be set in very real-word, often (you guessed it) urban settings, and has more going on that just strange occult happenings. The stakes are bigger and the magicky stuff is more... magical. Basically, The Mortal Instruments has magic, and Twilight doesn't. YAY FOR CONFUSION!
Then we get into the fun business of categorizing the different kinds of fantasy.
High fantasy is any fantasy that takes place in another realm entirely. Sometimes it can be accessed by our world (Narnia, Wonderland, Neverland), and sometimes it is a world entirely its own (Joya D'Arena in The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Adarlan in Throne of Glass, Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, Tortall from the Alanna series, etc).
Low fantasy is fantasy set in or connected to our world. It's magic that is connected to our reality, like urban fantasy. The most famous example of low fantasy is Harry Potter. I mean, it might as well be high fantasy, since all us muggles can't access it or hop a train to Hogwarts or anything, but it's still located in real life Britain. Then there are the worlds like Wonderland and Narnia that can be accessed from our world. One could argue these are high fantasy, but I consider them low.
Fairy tale fantasy is usually high fantasy (Ash, Goose Girl) but can be low, like in Kill Me Softly. Basically, it's any type of fantasy that evokes or emulates or is influenced by fairy tales, like Princess of the Midnight Ball or Ella Enchanted, both of which are technically high fantasy.
Mythology fantasy, to me, usually fits in with low or high fantasy. The Percy Jackson series is low fantasy because it takes place in our world, though it's about the children of Greek gods. The Queen's Thief series, which gets most of its magic from a pantheon of gods, is high fantasy. Antigoddess is about modern day versions of the Greek Gods, while The Chaos of Stars is about Egyptian. Could also be considered supernatural in its low fantasy form.
This one appears to be the easy one on the surface, but then you get books like If I Stay, where the narrator is watching events she is not capable of witnessing because she's in a coma, where there's a bit of other going on. Not enough to be classified as supernatural, but still. How I understand it is contemporary YA takes place in our time and without unrealistic elements. Contemporary romance, thriller, horror, mystery, etc. can all fall under here.
All genres can be mystery, and all good books have some mystery to them. But mystery as a genre is usually a direct whodunit, where the main object of the plot is to solve a case.
All the SCARY STUFF I STAY AWAY FROM.
Thrillers are action-packed, fast-paced adrenaline balls in which a hero or heroine must thwart evil plans or prevent some kind of impending disaster. These can be political or supernatural or science-fiction. Think Jason Bourne. There are spy thrillers, psychological thrillers, and even legal thrillers, which always seemed like an oxymoron to me, because what's less thrilling than a lawyer? No offense, lawyers.
Supernatural/Paranormal (romance or not)
Is there a difference between supernatural and paranormal? This is where things get reeeeeally tricky.
I really didn't know how to differentiate these (and in my head, I DON'T differentiate them. I use the terms interchangeably, since there is such a tremendous amount of overlap), so here's what Goodreads has to say:
Paranormal books involve unusual experiences that lack a scientific explanation. Some popular subjects in paranormal books are supernatural creatures, ESP, clairvoyance, ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, and psychics. A subgenre of paranormal books and of romances is paranormal romance. These books focus mainly on the romantic relationships with a background theme of vampires, shapeshifters, ghosts, time travel, fantastical beings, and psychic abilities.
The supernatural genre is fiction about witches, vampires, ghosts, werewolves, shape shifters, demons, angels, or anything else in the paranormal or otherworldly realm. A sub-category is "supernatural-romance" in which the plot revolves around the main female character and the romance storyline.
Basically, something funky and unexplainable is goin' on. Why is Harry Potter not considered supernatural/paranormal, if it's about witches and it's got werewolves and other otherwordly things? It's hard to say definitively why, but it's probably because of the complexity of the world-building, the epic plot structure, and the high stakes, which lodge it pretty comfortably in fantasy.
Two people fall in love. Lots of other genres will have romance incorporated into them, but in the romance genre, the kissy, lovey, coupley stuff is the primary thrust of the plot. In paranormal romance, there are supernatural shenanigans afoot, but the plot is still oriented around will-they-won't-they-kiss-kiss-kiss (Twilight). Basically, the fun stuff.
It can be chick-lit, serious weepy Nicholas Sparks, it can be paranormal, it can be fantasy, it can be a classic, it can be historical, it can be anything. As long as it's about the kissing.
Thankfully, historical fiction is VERY EASY to categorize. If it's set in the past, it's historical! Yay! If it's set in an imagined past that didn't really happen, it's alternative history (Leviathan). If it incorporates steampunk, its... you guessed it: steampunk (Soulless). If it's a romance, Regency or otherwise, it's historical romance (Venom, the Luxe series). If there are supernatural shenanigans, it's historical paranormal (Something Strange and Deadly). If there's magical mayhem, it's historical fantasy (the Clockwork Angel series, Grave Mercy).
And last but not least, what exactly are Young Adult and New Adult? I can tell you what they aren't. These are not genres. They are categories. They are age groups. They imply the age of the character more than the age of the reader, though they also designate the intended reader. You can find books of every genre listed above within those two categories. Well, possibly not NA, just by dint of it being newer and there not being a lot out there. But obvious there's YA fantasy, dystopian, science fiction, contemporary, historical, you name it. All these genres live comfortably under the readership heading of YA.
Whew. I'm now exhausted, and that was a lot of technical stuff, and I may or may not be right about all of it. You might have different opinions about what constitutes what genre, particularly in the more nebulous designations, like paranormal. Do you agree with me on the way I differentiate between genres? In which ways am I, or you, or people you know, genre-confused? Was this helpful to you?