There are dozens of subgenres. Before you market your story or book to an agent or editor, you may want to do some research so you can say, “My book is an Arthurian fantasy story” or “an anti-hero mystery.” Readers expect certain things to happen in books and if your story line doesn’t follow the format of a recognized subgenre, you may be in trouble. For instance, we all know a cozy mystery will be set in a small town where an amateur, usually a female, will solve a murder. We know what to expect in a bodice ripper romance where the female is gorgeous and is ravished by the handsome pirate. The more you know about genres the better able you are to identify your audience and sell your story to a publisher.
Genre is from the French meaning “kind” or “type.” In the writing world, genre can mean fiction, nonfiction, prose, or poetry for the basic categories. The list of subgenres is long. Reading through various materials Google sends me on “writing,” I came across a subgenre I had never heard of---steampunk. It is a subgenre of science fiction and there is a whole movement regarding the term. There are steampunk clothing items, posters and stories. Steampunk is a growth out of dieselpunk which involved stories from the 1920’s to 1950 where diesel fuel played a major part of the story be it science fiction, fiction or other subgenres. Steampunk came into popularity when steam replaced diesel as power. A logical following, cyberpunk, involves a high tech, bleak, mechanistic, futuristic universe where computers battle humans and computer humans drive the plot. Biopunk is a blend of film noir, Japanese aneme (whatever that is) and postmodern elements used to describe an underground, nihilistic, biotech society. Splatter (punk) is a new extreme style of horror stories that cut right to the gore.
Those new terms led me on search for other unfamiliar subgenres. There is one called HEA usually attached to romance and romance fantasy where the plot ends with “happily ever after.” Another is called space opera where it is the good guys against the aliens/robots/other humans all taking place in space or on another planet. Think Star Wars. Cowboy opera, set in the West, gave us the fantasy TV show Wild Wild West.
Wuxia genre goes back centuries in China and it reached its golden age in the 1960’s-1980’s. Today’s wuxia stories are adventures where the main character is from a poor background. He learns various forms of martial arts to aid another underdog or she rights a wrong ala Robin Hood. Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is wuxia as is DreamWorks’s Kung Fu Panda. These stories frequently have an “HEA” ending like yet another subgenre, histiographical metafiction. These history-based stories are a melding of historical events with made up characters interacting with people we may recognize. Often a female is the protagonist of these plots because there is scant history written about women’s roles in history until recently. Sometimes there is a component of rewriting history in histiographic metafiction. Examples of this type of story telling are An English Patient written by Michael Ondaatje, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, Slaughterhouse Five written by Kurt Vonnegut and some of Margaret Atwood’s works.
Dystopian literature like H.G.Wells’ The First Man on The Moon, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and P.D. James’ The Children of Man tell stories of a seemingly utopian state of existence but it is actually about a society under a dictator. The tales revolve around a utopian society but these societies have a flaw that drives the tension of the plot.
Bangerian fantasy may be familiar to some of you but not to me. It is a subgenre speculating on the afterlife of famous people. Kurt Vonnegut (he writes in several subgenres) wrote God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian while Janet Morris wrote Heroes in Hell in this mode.
The last subgenre I am writing about today is one of fiction books called nouveau roman or neuronovel. This type of plot features protagonists with mental disorders whose causes are not societal but from mental illness. Mark Haddon wrote Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time about autism. Paranoia was John Way’s Lowboy theme. Enduring Love by Ian McEwen has an underlying theme in which the protagonist struggles with thinking that another person is in love with him (de Clerambault’s syndrome.)
The bottom line: I have a lot to learn about this writing gig!