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Sunday, April 3, 2011


Whether you are a reader or a writer, at some point you are going to encounter the term, genre. I've often wondered who first borrowed this word from the French, and why it has become the standard replacement for "classification," "type," "family," "category," or some other common word. I figure it must have been the same type of person who pronounces tomato with a flat as opposed to a long A.
Genrification (I love making up words) appears to be a natural tendency. Aristotle believed there should be at least two genres: comedy and tragedy, and Plato further divided literature into drama, poetry, and prose. The number of genres grew hand in hand with the development of more literary forms as well as the technology to support them, especially movies.
It is often difficult to define a book's genre because some books fit more than one and because there are now so many sub-genres. In the world of books, the two most obvious categories are fiction and non-fiction, each containing numerous genres and sub-genres. Some of the more popular non-fiction genres are memoir, how-to, self-help, and biography. The best-selling fiction genres are mystery, romance, sci-fi, horror, suspense, and Western, the latter being in decline since the 1970's. If you are interested in a more complete, although not exhaustive list of genres and sub-genres along with brief descriptions and examples, send an e-mail to and I will attach my research on this topic with my reply. It is too much information for a blog post. Another helpful list which includes other literary terms can be found at This compilation was created by Robert A. Harris.
An important thing to keep in mind is that putting books or other creative writing into categories is highly subjective, and it is often the publisher, not the author, who determines a book's genre. I could really use some of this professional advice for Brute Heart, my women's fiction/hardship to recovery/contemporary Western/family drama. :)

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