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Literary Fiction Genres

Genres My - Ro

Fiction Genre Definitions


Genres My-Ro


(Definitions and Examples)

Scholars and critics frequently proclaim the death of the book, and of the written word. Most (but not all) of them see this as a bad thing. In the event, technology has given us tablet and e-reader devices, each of which can hold thousands of novels and other texts. Printed books still become best sellers, including those intended for young readers.

Mythology is a vast genre, subject to major scholarship yet also made into cartoons. While often regarded as pure fiction, or quaint silly notions; Schliemann's discovery of Troy, and further archaeological developments (not to mention their keen grasp of human psychology) have brought them closer to reality. Greek myths and stories, such as Homer's Iliad (one of several tales which feature Troy) are often taught in schools. The Chinese books about Sûn Wùköng, the Stone Monkey, eventually inspired the Monchichi cartoon show on American TV. (By definition, and despite plenty of claimants, there can be no contemporary mythologies.)

Neuronovel fiction is a recent and growing genre, focused on the human brain and its physical ailments, based upon an increased understanding (of that organ) by medical science. The first story to claim this distinction is Ian McEwan's 1997 novel Enduring Love. A newer example is John Wray's novel Lowboy. (These books are often described in terms of which aliments they feature, usually as experienced by the protagonist.)

Nouveau roman* was a trend in French literature, in the 1950-60s. It became popular enough, also in translation, to merit a genre. These "new novels" (sometimes overlapping with the much older 'anti-novel' subgenre) had a distinctive unconventional writing style, focused on contemporary individuals and their profound personal difficulties, with much description but few conclusions. For example, Alain Robbe-Grillet's 1957 novel In The Labyrinth becomes increasingly convoluted, mixing reality and illusion with little distinction.

Novela del dictador fiction hails from Latin America, and expounds upon that culture's frequent and fascinating parade of caudillos (national dictators). This genre was launched by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento's 1845 novel Facundo. (While this might seem a risky endeavor, Sarmiento himself became President of Argentina.) Mario Vargas Llosa's novel The Feast of the Goat is a recent example, which shares this genre's aspect of a looming United States, with ferocious politics, both local and international.

Novel of manners* fiction is a vaguely-defined genre, which wasn't very fictional, as it described advanced societies and their social classes in fine detail. This genre flourished in France and England, from the 19th into the 20th centuries. Honore de Balzac's novels brought a stratified Paris to life, with a dry wit and (in his case) a disregard of taboos. Edith Wharton's novels did much the same for England, while Jane Austin is frequently mentioned. (Scholars disagree on whether this genre covered America as well, however if so, F. Scott Fitzgerald's work probably qualifies.)

Pastiche is a descriptive genre, which is similar to 'parody.' Its title is definitive, as these works consist of a pastiche (blending) of other people's fiction writing, perhaps bridged by the new author's very-similar additions. Such tales are intended to honor, rather than mock, the works from which each derive. For example, August Derleth's detective stories are said to be a pastiche of Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" stories. In modern times, the writing of Kathy Acker is often mentioned. (Many pastiches are barely original, or are thin 'fan-fic' tales, hence most publishers refuse to consider this genre.)

Philosophical fiction is all about ideas. As such, it overlaps with 'science fiction, gendaknen' and many similar subgenres. This means not just mentioning philosophers or deep thoughts, but delving right in. This might be about an author's personal favorites, or drawn from a wider range. Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder, is a frequently mentioned example; and Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, another.

Picaresque fiction has a specific and easily recognizable definition. Overlapping with 'humor' and 'adventure,' such tales feature a likable roughish hero, and his (occasionally, her) travel adventures in a society where he never quite fits. This genre began in Spain, then Thomas Nashe's 1595 novel The Unfortunate Traveller gave it a shaky introduction to English. The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, are two great examples.

Postcolonial (postcolonial gothic)
This genre has a specific definition, commenting upon the colonization and then independence of various Third World nations. One famous example is Jean Rhys' novel Wide Sargasso Sea. Salmon Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children, which overlaps with 'magical realism,' is set in a de-colonizing India.
Postcolonial gothic tales meld a 'gothic' style with the fraught politics of the wider genre. Sudanese author al-Tayeb Salih's 1967 novel Season of Migration to the North is an oft-mentioned example.

Prehistoric fiction is, of course, set in prehistoric times. That is, in some ancient era before writing, thus it's necessarily speculative. Most of these novels, such as Linda Lay Shuler's work, overlap with the 'romance' genre. W. Michael Gear's People of the Wolf and its sequels comprise an 'adventure' saga.

Prison Literature has a functional definition, in that such a story was written while its author was confined in prison. This descriptive genre has a long history, and encompasses fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and more. Concerning fiction, Miguel de Cervantes' classic Don Quixote was written while that author was in debtor's prison. More recently, Iranian dissident Mahmoud Dowlatabadi created his novel Missing Soluch while confined, then wrote it from memory upon his release.

Proletarian* fiction was explicitly political, and challenging to the established order. These stories dealt with the dismal situation of the working classes, and envisioned their revolutionary response. Socialists, Anarchists, Communists, and others wrote and published these tales, and in using the Marxist term "proletarian," with specific intentions. Agnes Smedley's 'autobiographical' novel Daughter of Earth is an early English-language example. More broadly, many of John Steinbeck's, Upton Sinclair's, and Jack London's novels depict the misery of exploited workers, though perhaps with different scenarios in mind.

Prompt Stories (designated first line, precise theme, three-six-nine, etc.)
This is a purely functional genre, which can encompass any other literary genre. These are short stories (not novels) which are written to match a given theme and style, usually along with more stories from other participating authors. This is touted as a way to break out of "writer's block," also to foster some unusual creativity. (It's a lot easier to find numerous suggested prompts, than actual stories written as a result.) {Webmaster's note: this web project's sponsor, the W2P writers group, has examples posted from its own previous writing contests. They're not exactly great literature, but it sure was fun.}
A designated first line story is exactly that: an editor or contest administrator (etc.) will provide a specific first line, then authors do their best to complete a story. (Several venues, such as The First Line ezine, specialize in this.)
Precise theme stories follow announced guidelines, as to their style and content. A great example is the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University. These hilarious 'short fiction' story-openings match the famously purple "it was a dark and stormy night" style of that British author.
Three-six-nine fiction evolved in recent years, beginning from Toronto-based NFG magazine's writing contests. In their present form, these tales are comprised of three 69-word stories, a very brief trilogy which shares a common (author-selected) theme. Various publications continue this new tradition.
There are many more types of story prompt, examples of which can be found in Writer's Digest magazine, and other sources.

Psychological fiction is focused on the inner lives of its characters, more than scene descriptions, physical action, or plot twists. As the science of psychology advanced, these tales followed suit, however they have deep roots. Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel Pamela is an early example. The works of Dostoyevsky, Woolf, and Faulkner are often mentioned. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, which overlaps with the 'mystery' and 'crime' genres, is an excellent new example.

Pulp fiction [not the movie] is a descriptive genre centered on short stories, which were published in magazines from early in the last century. Their cheap manufacture-and-price, set off with bright lurid cover art, makes them instantly recognizable. These enjoy occasional revivals, and overlap with most other genres. The genre probably began in 1922 with Carroll John Daly's short story "The False Burton Combs." Those semi-respectable magazines included Argosy (adventure), Spicy Western (romance and western), Gay Parisienne (erotica), Doc Savage Magazine (science fiction), Ace G-Man (crime), Weird Tales (fantasy and horror) and many others.

Regional fiction literature centers upon a specific geographic and/or cultural region, usually one well-known to the author. While this can overlap with many different genres, the distinctive features of each story's own city, or larger setting, always have a primary role. Internationally, Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner and other novels bring Afghanistan to life. Several of George R. Stewart's novels feature the Great Basin in vivid detail. The short stories of Ring Lardner focused on New York City, and Bret Harte on the west's Gold Rush.

Roman à clef novels portray real life, and certain (famous or otherwise) individuals, in a thinly fictionalized fashion. As its French title indicates, this genre began there, and spread to the USA. As an early example, Mlle. de Scudery's 17th century novel Le Grand Cyrus centered around the royal court of Louis XIV. Somerset Maugham's novel Cakes and Ale features renamed versions of his own fellow novelists. Fritz Leiber's classic 'horror' tale Our Lady Of Darkness is full of memorable San Franciscans, based upon the author's own friends. In a modern example, Joe Klein's 'political' novel Primary Colors barely disguises the Clintons.

Romantic* novels were published in England (and Ireland) during the early 1800s. These encompass the rise of the modern industrial world, and especially the individually distinct characters who emerged from that milieu. (Despite the similar name, these are distinct from the 'romance' genre.) These now-obscure novels overlap with 'gothic' fiction, and the works of Charles Robert Maturin, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron are often mentioned.

Roman a These* fiction is also referred to as a "problem" (or "protest") novel. These works overlap with the 'Bildungsroman' subgenre, and always contain a moral. Difficult situations are presented, then a moral solution given, intended to be a lesson for the reader and for society at large. They're not common, but sometimes gain fame: John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath is an oft-mentioned example, as is Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.


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