Types of Fiction - Which One You Should Write
This page gives an overview of the different types of fiction, plus advice to help you decide which one to write.
Types of Fiction by Length
A work of fiction under 7,500 words is generally considered a short story, although some people place the maximum length of a short story much higher -- at 30,000 or even 40,000 words.
If you've written over 60,000 words or so, you can call it a novel. The publishable length for a novel varies depending on the genre, 80,000-90,000 words being acceptable in many genres.
In between the two, you have a gray area, which is the realm of the novelette and the novella. These are less common forms and may be harder to publish.
So, should you write short stories or a longer work?
If you're just starting out as a writer, short stories offer a number of advantages. Every story you write is a fresh start, a chance to try something different. Writing short stories makes it easy to experiment and grow as a writer.
But short stories aren't only for beginners! Some experienced writers prefer short fiction over novels.
Since space is limited in a short story, every word counts. In this way, a good short story is often like a poem. And like poetry, short stories often hint at more than what they say, suggesting a world beyond the story's frame.
On the other hand, writing a novel has its own pleasures. There's the challenge of taking on a big project. And there's the chance to immerse yourself in your story's world, to live there for a while.
Not long ago, I received an email from a student who had started writing a mystery novel and was excited about it. But since he was a beginner, he thought maybe he should write some stories first, for practice.
I advised him to keep writing his novel. I don't believe in a lot of universal rules about the writing process, but here's one: If you're partway through a writing project and it's going well, then by all means keep going!
Literary Versus Commercial Fiction
The difference between literary and commercial fiction isn't easy to define. And there's overlap between the two categories.
Literary fiction is meant to be a work of art and often uses language in artistic ways. Commercial fiction is intended to entertain.
Often, literary fiction is more focused on character development and commercial fiction is more focused on plot. Of course, you need both to write a good story! The difference is one of emphasis.
For example, imagine you want to write a novel about a murder.
If it's literary fiction, the novel might focus on how the victim's family struggles with grief. If it's commercial fiction, the focus might be on finding and stopping the killer -- before he strikes again.
Types of Fiction by Genre
Genres are commercial categories of fiction, such as mysteries, horror, or romance.
If you decide to write in a particular genre, you'll have a built-in audience of readers who look for that particular type of story.
The genre provides a set of traditions and rules that you can use to structure your story. And you can have fun bending the rules and taking a fresh approach to the traditions.
Here are some of the most popular genres.
Usually a novel (or story) is about someone trying to solve a crime, usually murder. Most mystery novels create suspense around the question "Whodonit" and answer that question at the end.
There is a puzzle element to mysteries, as the reader tries to figure out the solution along with the main character or sleuth.
You might love writing mysteries if you enjoy plotting and plot twists, and if you enjoy puzzles.
We are currently offering an 8-week online course on mystery writing. You can find out about it here.
While the focus of a mystery is usually on finding out who the criminal is, suspense fiction and thrillers are often focused on characters trying to stop a criminal or avoid becoming a victim. There is a sense of danger in these stories which gets readers' adrenaline pumping.
You can learn more about thriller writing here.
Romance is one of the bestselling genres.
The traditional romance plot is about two people who are meant to be together but have a major obstacle in the way. Readers root for the characters to overcome the obstacle and fall into each other's arms.
Romance novels generally have upbeat endings. For commercial reasons, most romance novels are written from the viewpoint of a female character.
You can learn more about romance writing here.
The point of most horror fiction is to scare the reader. It's a kind of dare where readers choose to face their worst nightmares.
Some horror fiction emphasizes blood and guts and tries to create a feeling of disgust. Other horror stories are subtly creepy. Often, there is a supernatural element such as monsters or ghosts.
You can learn more about horror writing on the Horror Writers Association website.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Science fiction and fantasy are two types of what is known as speculative fiction, which takes place in an alternative reality.
In science fiction, the alternative reality is based on known rules of science. Often, science fiction is set in the future or on another planet.
Fantasy writing imagines a world where magic exists. Fantasy novels often take place in medieval times or involve fairy-tale elements.
You can read more about science fiction here.
You can read more about fantasy writing here.
Historical fiction is set in a past time period (usually more than fifty years before it was written). It's an opportunity for readers to experience time travel.
Writing historical fiction requires a lot of research in order to get the details right in your story: how people lived, how they dressed, the objects they had in their homes, and so on.
But the research is part of the fun, a chance to learn all about another time.
You can read more about writing historical fiction here.
Which genre should you write?
The best way to answer that question is to ask yourself what you love to read! If you enjoy reading a particular genre, you'll be much better at writing it.
It can also be fun to explore a new genre, first as a reader and then as a writer.
Whatever types of fiction you choose, reading is probably the most important thing you can do for your writing. Read the type of fiction you want to write. For example, if you want to write short stories, you should read a lot of stories. That's how you'll develop a feeling for the form.
Types of Fiction - Next Steps
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