When I’m not writing about the English language, I’m busy writing creative fiction (if you’d like to see my books, check here). Reading fiction is a great way to learn English, if you can find an area that engages and entertains you. And it’s possible to find examples of English writing at all levels in different genres. The starting point, though, is to identify the genres available to you, so you can find something that you personally enjoy. I’ve prepared a vocabulary list to help introduce the different genres of fiction, demonstrated below with examples of popular books in the genre. (Personally, I write in dystopian and contemporary fantasy genres – which are sub-genres of sci-fi and fantasy.)
Major Fiction Genres in English
- Children’s stories – fiction aimed at children, ranging from absolute beginner books to basic full novels, covering a variety of genres but at particular levels of difficulty.
- Classic – fiction that is widely recognised as an exceptional piece of work. These can come from various genres but are often literary or cross-genre books. E.g. Old classic: Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Modern classic: George Orwell’s 1984 (dystopian/speculative fiction with a very current political message).
- Crime/detective – fiction about criminal acts and the process of discovering/catching the criminal. E.g. Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
- Fairy tales – fiction about magical creatures or happenings, usually based on commonly known stories.
- Fantasy – fiction that involves things that are not of this world, often set in alternative worlds with alternative rules of nature. Commonly includes monsters and/or magic. E.g. JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
- Historical fiction – fiction with a historical setting, usually written with an emphasis on accurately showing a past time. E.g. Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe
- Horror – fiction designed to inspire fear and dread (over a range of sub-genres, including supernatural or realistic horror). E.g. Stephen King’s Carrie.
- Humour – fiction intended to cause laughter. Often found within other genres, though when a book is particularly intended as humorous you may find ‘comic’ before a different genre, like comic fantasy (though don’t confuse this with comics on their own, which are picture-based stories). E.g. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
- Literary fiction – stories with particular literary quality. Like classics, this can cover many different genres, though some examples of literary fiction are written outside genres. E.g. Ian McEwan’s novels.
- Mystery – fiction that explores the solving of a crime or another form of mystery. Often connected with crime fiction, though mystery is sometimes not related to a criminal case. E.g. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night.
- Myths and Legends – fiction that commonly connects fantasy elements to historical figures or historically reported events. E.g. the Norse mythologies.
- Romance – fiction about love and relationships. E.g. Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook.
- Science fiction – fiction where new or imagined science plays an important role, often set in the future or on other worlds. E.g. Philip K. Dick’s novels.
- Short story – fiction of any genre under a certain length (often considered below 7,500 words)
- Thriller – fiction concerned with impending harm that must be avoided, explained or confronted. Differing from typical crime by containing more action and peril, and differing from horror by emphasising the mystery or chase rather than dread. E.g. Lee Child’s novels.
- Western – fiction set in the American frontier, typically in the late 18th century. Often used with other frontiers when given a similar lawless/isolated atmosphere.
- Young Adult – fiction aimed at teenagers, found in a variety of genres but identifiable by a simpler style for approaching adult language and themes. E.g. the Harry Potter series.
Different genres can also be combined, for example to give historical romance, or fantasy horror. There are also smaller genres where you can find entirely different work, for example slipstream fiction (fiction that crosses boundaries between sci-fi, fantasy and literary genres) or comics and graphic novels (fiction of various genres primarily shown with pictures). All of the above major areas of fiction can also be divided, with more specific sub-genres to explore. Within many genres you can find sub-genres of high (particularly dense, detailed examples of the genre), light (examples of the genre with less emphasis on genre conventions) and epic (particularly long and elaborate tales). Sub-genres can also be very specific – for example, some of the genres I write in would come under science fiction, but may have little to do with science to define them:
- Dystopian – fiction with a setting in institutionally negative societies
- Steampunk – fiction set in worlds with steam technology, often combining Victorian fashions and technology with fantasy elements
This is a brief introduction to the wide topic of fiction genres, but hopefully it gives you an idea of somewhere to start when looking for English fiction to read. And if my sub-genres sound interesting to you, you can check out my fiction work here (I’ve just released my latest novel, Aftan Whispers). If none of these genres appeals to you, though, keep looking – there’s something out there for everyone!