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November 4th, 2009

will_couvillier: (Default)
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 08:50 am

It seems its been some time since I've posted; here I give you a very old project (still unfinished) of mine wherein I address and attempt to define what we love to write in - genre.

I'm also looking for advice on the skimpy areas and regarding anything that might be outdated now. 

The Classifications


So, as far as Fantasy submission categories go, the following breakdown pretty much applies:



“Fantasy is 'the impossible made probable'.”—Rod Serling


1. High Fantasy/Traditional -- Serious story involving well defined character(s) with a solid conflict to resolve, set in a mythical setting involving mythical creatures and/or magicks. Resolution of conflict often focuses on a greater, rather than individual, good.

2. Sword & Sorcery/Heroic Fantasy -- Character's conflict include resolution by own skills, usually against evil magic/wizard/demon in a gritty, severe mythical setting. Often resolution of conflict benefits the individual more, with any benefit to a greater good being an incidental side-effect. Also, resolution often requires a hefty dose of luck to succeed. 

3. Contemporary/Urban -- Takes place in the author's here-and-now (plus magic). With one caveat -- pre WWII authors who set their stories in THEIR now were not around when the category was invented, and seem to get nudged into high fantasy in spite of a theoretical real world setting. 90% or more of contemporary fantasy is also big city, thus the second name. I think stories where contemporary people get transported into fantasy worlds and stay there for the whole story get shuffled into one of the other Fantasy categories more often than not.

4. Dark Fantasy -- Character is up against a conflict that appears too severe to be overcome, and usually bears the vague feel of a horror story.   Occasionally the character will not overcome the insurmountable odds/evil wizards/evil magic he/she encounters -- a Dark Fantasy often focuses on the conflict rather than the character. Can be in a modern or mythical setting. A psychological suspense element is often beneficial, perhaps essential.

5. Light/Humorous Fantasy -- Humorous. High or Contemporary/Urban, with character conflict including scenes capable of bringing a smile to the lips and a lightness to the heart.

6. Science Fantasy -- Something impossible exists as a statement of fact, but all else is treated with scientific rigor.   With this, the flavor of science fiction is combined with the impossible elements of fantasy, and often takes place on worlds that once were possible but now could never be.

7. Epic Fantasy -- Broad, continuing narratives, usually spanning three or more big books, which feature the struggles of good vs. evil in a highly-detailed fantasy world. Occasionally, these novel runs are divided into individually-numbered sub-series.

8. Magical Realism -- Stories in a contemporary setting, which include a hidden magical world which the author tries to make as plausible as possible. Perhaps plausible is the wrong word. By making magic an accepted part of the backdrop of the book, the magical element seems more plausible. In general, these books are "supposed to" have a more literary style.

9. Mythological Fantasy -- Any fantasy based upon actual recorded mythologies, whether it be Roman, Greek, Norse, Celtic, Native American, etc.

10.  Paranormal Fantasy -- ESP, ghosts, vampires, even werewolves. Not severe as horror, this fantasy involves the abilities of the mind or passive non-aggressive supernatural. 

11. Romantic Fantasy -- A relatively new subgenre (as these things go), romance drives the plot of the book, rather than any classifiable Fantasy theme..


Just bear in mind that all of these sub-genres tend to overlap to a point. Fantasy covers ALL of the above, especially the ones that don't quite work with subcategories.


D&D-in-book-form fantasy is... well, if you think you played it as a role playing game once, or can hear dice rolling, or a group of companions meet at an inn... guess what. This isn't necessarily done by role playing companies, or with a game logo on the cover. I've heard a rumor of books like that that were done well, but it's only a rumor to date.






SF categories:


Science Fiction

“Science Fiction is 'the improbable made possible'.”—Rod Serling


1. Hard SF -- This is the technical/science style of SF story. In this the science is completely essential to the tale, and without it the story would not work. Setting usually is the future -- whether near, far, or alternate, with character (s) human or otherwise.

2. Soft SF/Sociological SF -- Character-driven SF. The focus in this is character development, with the technology/science not as essential to the integrity of the story as it is with Hard SF.   However, even though the focus is the character and the characters conflict, a SF-al element must be present. If not, then it is not SF. Additionally, Sociological SF adds the effect of the conflict on a society.

3. Space Opera -- Often described as a fantasy or a western with SF trappings.   The SF-al aspects can often be replaced by similar fantasy/western elements (the lightsabre vs. {badly wielded} broadsword, or space station vs. sleepy western town) without affecting the plot. Rarely strives for strict realism. Characters are at their best iconic or larger than life, at their worst, stereotyped. Term is derived off "soap opera" and/or "horse opera".

4. Science Fantasy -- Something impossible exists as a statement of fact, but all else is treated with scientific rigor.   With this, the flavor of science fiction is combined with the impossible elements of fantasy, and often takes place on worlds that once were possible but now could never be.

5. Cyberpunk -- SF that involves society's response to an ever advancing technology that transforms life faster than culture can adjust to it in a time when information has more value than material goods. Cyberpunk traditionally presents a dark view of the future in which technology creates more problems than it cures. Cyberpunk is about technology/science that does not yet exist, but is portrayed in a plausible manner.

6. Steampunk -- Alternate histories of the Victorian era in which modern inventions are pre-invented using the technology of the time (hence, "steam” punk). Also examines the potential effects such advances might have on Victorian society.

7. Alternate History -- SF exploring the "what-if" theory. What if a major situation/decision had been different at some point in the past? How would today be affected if things had happened differently at some point in history?

8. Scientific Romance -- Archaic term that included stories that were heroic, adventurous or mysterious and took place in another time or place than that of the reader. Term used before the phrase "science fiction" came into popular use in the early 20th century.

9. Military SF -- Hard SF usually written with an exercise in strategy and tactics and the fortunes of war as the major focus. Usual setting is Future/Distant Planet.

10. Feminist SF -- SF that examines issues of sex, gender, and sexuality.

11. Adventure SF -- SF where the focus is grand adventure, close escapes, and knock-down, drag-out fight scenes. Setting can be any SF; alternate, future, far future can all host an adventure SF tale. Can (and frequently does) include the SF quest.

12. Parallel Worlds/Other Dimensions -- SF involving places and spaces not our own. Can be similar to Alternate History in that a different historical decision split off a similar, but different, Earth. Can be completely different to the point where even the laws of physics are not the same.

13. Romantic SF -- A relatively new subgenre (as these things go), romance drives the plot of the book, rather than any sci-fi device.






Horror/Dark Fiction:


1. Cutting Edge -- Fiction that usually refuses archetypal, supernatural aspects -- unless those elements are used so originally they become antithetical to traditional horror. Cutting edge can be hard, soft, quiet, psychological, surreal, eerie, avant pop, post-modern, literary, alternative, have erotic, and sexual aspects, etc. The idea is that it is not exactly the same old thing -- even if the departure is only stylistic rather than purely thematic.

2. Psychological -- Based on the disturbed human psyche. Obviously psychos on rampages fall into this category, but it is just as often more subtle. Since the reader's perception is sometimes altered by exposure to an insane viewpoint, psychological horror can also deal with ambiguous reality and seem to be supernatural.

3. Extreme/Splatterpunk -- It's, well, extreme. It goes straight to the blood-and-guts and aims for the gross-out without hesitation. In guidelines you might find terms like "splat," "splatter," or "splatterpunk" and "gore," "grue," and "gross." (Most GLs tell you to AVOID these things.) Splatterpunk, by the way, was just a label made up to describe the "young Turks" bringing a more visceral, gritty edge to horror 10-15 years ago.  Splatterpunk -- Hack & Slash, bloody gore horror.

4. Supernatural/Occult -- The rules of the normal world don't apply; ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves, the occult etc. Within this sub genre is an ever-growing list of sub-sub-genres -- most of which deal with vampires.

5. Erotic Horror -- Usually "erotic" means sensual sexual content integral to the story and can be as mild as "romantic suspense." Many editors and writers prefer the term "sexual horror" over erotic, as the sex in horror can be far from nice or arousing. "Erotic" can be stretched to mean graphic, intentionally explicit sex in a story meant for a pornographic market. The code word being "explicit."

6. Dark Fantasy -- A term that could arguably be applied to most horror and sometimes is, but generally it means a fantasy story that can have supernatural elements but is not the supernatural fiction of vampires, werewolves. etc.

7. Victorian -- Endless love, unnaturally close siblings, fanatical and lecherous elders, forced isolation, and lies, lies, lies.

8. English Gothic --Characteristic theme is the stranglehold of the past upon the present or the encroachment of the '"dark'"ages of oppression upon the "enlightened" modern era. Enclosed and haunted settings (castles, crypts, convents, mansions), gloomy images of ruin and decay, episodes of imprisonment, cruelty, and persecution are used to express this.

9. American Gothic -- Psychic breakdown plays a larger role. Although sometimes used as a synonym for "horror," it shouldn't be. Although there is academic debate, gothic can probably be identified by themes of a character being *trapped* -- by location, by family destiny, whatever. Joyce Carol Oates extends this to what she calls "assaults on individual identity and autonomy."  An entirely different meaning arises when Gothic or Goth subculture is referred to in connection with horror fiction. Any attempt to define Goth winds up stereotyping an extremely diverse subculture. It's also wrong and probably stupid and calling fiction "Goth" is just the same. Since the stereotypical goth wears nothing but black, too much eyeliner, and is full of gloom, pretension and angst, then I suppose "goth fiction" is the first form of literature to wear make-up.

10. Vampire Mythos -- Tales of terror featuring the undead.

11. Lovecraftian, Lovecraft Mythos, Cthulhu Mythos, etc. -- Terrifying tales set in and around the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft. As long as you have some idea of who H.P. Lovecraft was and what he wrote, these probably make sense. Lovecraft's fictional premise was that the world was once inhabited by another race of dark powers. Although cast out, they live on somewhere always ready to take the world back. "Lovecraft style" is florid and never stints on adjectives.

12. Noir -- Usually set in an urban underworld of crime and moral ambiguity. Dark, cynical, paranoid themes of corruption, alienation, lust, obsession, violence, revenge and the difficulty of finding "#CC0000"emption in a far from perfect world. An oppressive atmosphere of menace, pessimism, anxiety, suspicion, and dingy realism. You'll also find the term in combinations like neo-noir, future noir or noir sf, tech-noir.

13. Quiet (or Soft) Horror -- Subtle, never visceral or too shocking, with atmosphere and mood providing the miasma of fear rather than graphic description. The opposite of "Extreme."

14. Surreal -- Not really sub-generic, it can be used just to mean unreal; strange or bizarre. Or it can be used to tie a style to the surrealist movement in art and literature that attempted to express the subconscious and move beyond accepted conventions of reality by representing the irrational imagery of dreams and bizarre juxtapositions.

15. Suspense (or Dark Suspense) and Thriller -- No supernatural elements, but a constant sense of threat coming from an outside menace. Add a strong investigative angle and becomes mystery more than horror. Add action and adventure to suspense and you come up with "thriller" -- except you can have "supernatural thrillers."

16. Visceral -- A term, not a sub-genre, that refers to earthier, more reality-based or supernatural fiction with a tendency to be "in-your-face" with descriptions of the bad stuff -- but not as extreme as Extreme.

17. Weird -- Can be used in several ways. "Weird fiction" is sometimes used as a synonym for horror. It can also mean only strange, uncanny, supernatural stories or refer to a school of writing popularized by the pulp magazine "Weird Tales" that tended to be Lovecraftian or occult; more "traditional" horror. "Pulp" is also a word used to describe this type of tale, although "pulp" can also mean more action-oriented material.









1. Mystery --

2. Suspense --

3. Classic Whodunit --       

4. Political Thriller --

5. True Crime -- A story based on a factual event. 

6. Crime –

7. Forensic --





Shared/Open/Franchised World -- Can be either fantasy or SF. Pre-developed world/universe, usually popular and well known, that has been opened by original author/estate/publisher for work by other writers. Usually by invitation, but occasionally open to anyone. Examples: Lovecraft's Mythos, Star Wars, Asimov's Foundation, Sadler's Casca, Star Trek, Wildcards, etc.,




Cross Genre:

If you can establish genre lines, then you can cross them. When genres -- horror, fantasy, science, romance, speculative, whatever fiction -- start slipping into one another the Brits call it (appropriately) "slipstream."