Literary Fiction Genres
Genres Sa - Ta
Fiction Genre Definitions
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(Definitions and Examples)
Self and vanity-press publishing have become very popular, especially now that services such as LuLu and Smashwords allow a writer to handle this for no charge. However, professional editors and recognized publishers are keen on quality and reader value, so there's a gatekeeper function. These 'Literary Fiction Genres' pages list some ancient works, and commercially published tales from the 1700s onward. There are just a handful of self-published works mentioned here, since (so far, anyway) few are noteworthy, much less well-known. Perseverance counts.
Saga or Epic (family, gaweda, mock, roman fleuve)
A saga can be real or fictional, or a combination, however they're always meant to honor (and encourage) personal greatness. The earliest blend into 'mythology,' then gradually begin to encompass real, or realistic, figures. (Scholars distinguish between prose-sagas and poetic-epics, however their basic content is similar.) Modern examples usually overlap with 'high fantasy' tales, such as Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" franchise, and more recently, Sarah J. Mass's "Throne of Glass" series.
A family saga is more limited in scope, though sometimes vast from a personal viewpoint, covering several generations. These often overlap with the 'romance, family saga' subgenre, however this one covers more territory. Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds is a popular (and personal in scope) example, while Herman Wouk's The Winds of War also encompasses major world events.
Gaweda epics are a tradition in Poland, with a serious topic yet presented in a folksy colloquial manner. These were intended to honor the ancient Sarmatian nobility, and their values. A leading example is Henryk Rzewuski's 1839 novel Memoirs of Soplica.
The mock epic, no surprise, overlaps with 'humor' and 'satire' and is meant to satirize both ancient epics and their contemporary admirers. These go back to ancient times, when the Batrachomyomachia parodied Homer. Joel Barlow's 1739 tale The Hasty Pudding is a lengthy, pseudo-serious, paean to that New England favorite.
Roman fleuve epics are voluminous, a whole series of 'literary' novels about one major protagonist, or succeeding major characters. A classic French example is Emile Zola's 20-novel cycle Rougon-Macquart. Patrick O'Brian's 'maritime' genre "Aubrey-Maturin" series is often mentioned as a modern example.
Satire or Lampoon (burlesque or travesty, farce, Horatian, Juvenalian, parody, etc.)
This sort of fiction looks down on everything, especially its targeted kind of literature, or specific novel, or even a particular famous individual. No other genre is spared. (An argument can be made that 'satire' is more deeply intellectual in its criticism, and 'lampoon' more shallowly silly.) Nikolai Gogol's novel Dead Souls, and Edith Wharton's novel The House of Mirth, are great examples, also being serious literature.
A burlesque-or-travesty pushes the genre farther, with the familiar twisted by ludicrous incongruities. (Charles Cotton's 1807 novel Scarronides: Or Virgil Travestie . . . gave us the English word travesty.) In the USA this genre launched stage shows, which gradually slid into stripteases, and then obscurity. On the 'literary' side, Alexander Pope's 'narrative poem' The Rape of the Lock is a classic example (it's about a lock of hair), sometimes called "high burlesque," while Samuel Butler's 'narrative poem' Hudibras is pegged as "low burlesque."
A farce overlaps with 'comedy' and 'drama,' and is highly unrealistic, sometimes with cartoonish violence. Two great examples are Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest and Joseph Heller's 'military' novel Catch 22.
Horatian satire is a scholarly description, and this subgenre is more gentle, witty, and tolerant, in the style of Horace.
Juvenalian satire is the 'Horatian' subgenre's (scholastically designated) opposite number, harshly displaying contempt and indignation, in the style of Juvenal.
A parody type satire closely imitates the seriousness of its targeted author, and the work's own distinctive style, then brings it low by applying all that to some weirdly inappropriate subject. One great example is Max Beerbohm's 1912 short story collection Christmas Garland, which mocked a whole gamut of then-popular authors. American magazines such as The New Yorker are famous for their 'literary' parodies.
There are other types of satire, some being specialized or obscure.
Semi-fiction encompasses a wide variety of partially fictional stories, hence there is much overlap. These can be tales that include large amounts of fact, as with fictionalized retellings of true (usually famous) events. One example is the 'young adult' novel Three Rivers Rising, by Jame Richards, which centers around the Johnstown Flood. Done another way, this can include a real person in an imaginary situation, or even the assumed persona of a real person, as with 'fan-fic' that features Jerry Seinfeld or Stephen Colbert.
Sentimental* novels were popular in Europe, beginning with Antoine-Francois Prevost's novel Manon Lescaut, published (in France) in 1731. A direct outgrowth was 'sentimental' or 'domestic' fiction, as with Catharine Sedgwick's (American, 1822) novel New-England Tale. These stories were meant to evoke tender sentiments, and sprang from the philosophy and social trend of Sentimentalism. Their main characters are highly sensitive and emotional, and are presented as exemplary paragons of those virtues.
Slave Narrative stories are based upon that harrowing realm of American history, and usually focus upon the life of one particular slave. Most were direct 'autobiographies,' while (especially in recent times) many are fictionalized accounts. Harriet Wilson's 1859 novel Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-Story White House, North helped launch the genre. One recent example, which overlaps with 'children's' books, is Shelia P. Moses's I, Dred Scott: A Fictional Slave Narrative Based on the Life and Legal Precedent of Dred Scott.
Slipstream is a new genre, and its stories fully overlap with 'science fiction,' however are usually written by 'literary' authors, and are marketed as such. Caleb Carr's novel Killing Time is a popular example, while many of Michael Chrichton's novels (such as The Andromeda Strain) fit the bill. Some scholars widen this genre to include overlaps with 'fantasy' and 'magical realism,' such as As She Climbed Across the Table, by Jonathan Lethem.
Speculative Fiction or "spec-fic" is a very broad genre; the term was coined by Robert Heinlein in 1941. It readily encompasses 'science fiction,' 'fantasy,' and 'horror,' and more, plus other stories which don't easily fit just one category. It's now used as a marketing and categorization tool, however there are no examples which aren't already found within (one or more of) those major genres.
Sports fiction naturally centers around sports, whether individual activities such as boxing, or highly organized teams like football. This descriptive genre overlaps with several others, and like the sports they depict, enjoy great popularity. For example, Jerry Boyd's 'drama' short-story collection Rope Burns was filmed by Clint Eastwood as Million Dollar Baby, and W. P. Kinsella's 'fantasy' novel Shoeless Joe was filmed by Phil Alden Robinson as Field of Dreams. Fishing is a popular sport, and many scholars include Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea in this genre.
Spy (contemporary, historical)
Spy novels usually, but not always, overlap with the 'thriller' genre. An obvious example is The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John le Carre. Usually the protagonist is a heroic spy, whether a dashing adventurer (as in Robert Ludlum's "Jason Bourne" franchise) or a plodding clerk (as in Len Deighton's The IPCRESS File and its sequels).
Contemporary spy fiction has replaced the Cold War with newer threats, as with Islamic terrorism. Brad Thor's novel The Lions of Lucerne is a popular example. Noteably, the spy (along with American intelligence agencies) may not the the hero. One such example is Cory Doctorow's novel Little Brother, in which an innocent, misidentified American is hounded by Homeland Security.
Historical spy fiction can be highly educational, as these authors normally do a great deal of research. The Foreign Correspondent: A Novel, by Alan Furst, is set among resistors to Italian fascism in 1939 Paris.
Stream of Consciousness fiction is a descriptive and functional genre, referencing a certain distinctive writing style. It was pioneered in the early 20th century by psychologist William James, who benefitted from having famous novelist Henry James as his brother. Such writing is spontaneous, rambling, and sparsely edited, meant to express one's thought patterns directly on the page. Perhaps the first such tale was Dorothy Richardson's 1918 novel Pointed Roofs, a review of which gave this genre its name. Marcel Proust's voluminous Remembrance of Things Past is a classic example.
Tall Tale fiction is about people who "stand tall," and they take full advantage of being fictional. These short stories are related as if they're true, yet are filled with wild (and often humorous) exaggerations. Some of these tales, such as the story of the steel-driving John Henry, are nearly true; while others, such as the many 'legends' of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, are obviously impossible. In modern times, organizations such as Toastmasters International hold tall-tale-creating events.
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Literary Fiction Genres