Story Writing: What is Genre? | Kit Campbell | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

10 Lessons (30m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. What is Genre?

    • 3. Age Ranges

    • 4. True or Made-up?

    • 5. Time Period

    • 6. Plot and Tone

    • 7. Worldbuilding

    • 8. Subgenres

    • 9. Genre Combinations

    • 10. Recap and Project

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About This Class

Genre is important for both writers and readers. Knowing a story’s genre is essential for selling or marketing a work, or even just knowing what you like.

In this class, we’ll talk about what genre is, what defines genre, what different genres are and how to determine the genre of a story.


  • Either a notebook or a computer, whatever you’re more comfortable with
  • Yourself
  • A few stories that you either like to read, or that you’ve written

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kit Campbell

Writer/Editor/Lover of Cephalopods


Hello! I'm Kit Campbell, author, editor, book formatter, self-publishing coach, and manager of Turtleduck Press. 

That's a bit of a mouthful, so the take-away is that I've been writing my whole life and have been around other authors for the last 17 years. And something I've noticed is that writers are lovely people, who run a wide gamut of personalities, likes, and preferences, but as a whole they tend to be better at the creative part rather than the process.

That's where I come in. I'm not going to promise to teach you the perfect formula to write bestsellers, but I will help you better understand writing as a process, and I will help you find the process that works best for you, from keeping track of story ideas, to figuring out how much planning you'll need befor... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hello. Today we are going to be talking about genre. Have you heard the term genre, but don't really understand what it means? Or have you had issues. We're gonna have used genre in your own work. In this class, we'll discuss how to tell when genre story is different genres and how to tell what genres you like. My name is Kate Campbell. I'm a hybrid author, which means in both traditionally end in republished. And I've also worked as an editor of book formatter, occasionally a cover designer, the self-publishing coach, and I'm the manager and co-founder, turtle deck press. This class is part of the writer's motivation series, which is a series of classism books designed to help writers determined the processes that work best for them. This class is for any level writer or any storyteller, No matter the medium, the information here is true for books, movies, television series, podcasts, radio shows, video games, et cetera. Who would like to better understand the concept of genre or better understand how genres determined for a work. And it's also for people who would like to use genre more efficiently in the reading and the marketing. So knowing what genre you light can help you find other stories like your favorites. And it can be used to streamline your writing submitting n publishing processes. At the end of the class, students will be able to understand genre and use it in their own work. And then we'll be able to better understand what they like n y. So let's jump in. 2. What is Genre?: Let's talk about what genre is and why it's important to understand from a storytelling standpoint. According to Merriam Webster, a genre is a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. For the intensive this class, we'll just be focusing on literary genres, or more specifically, genres you find in books and related media, such as movies and television. You'll sometimes find a second definition of genre used in storytelling circles. You might hear someone say something like, I don't read genre stories. In this case, John remains not literary. Literary fiction is in itself a genre, but some people who read it exclusively tend to denote everything outside of it as genre fiction. This includes stories that fall into common genres, such as mystery, fantasy, science-fiction, romance, or thrillers. Genre is primarily used for categorization. If you know what kind of stories you like, it's easier to find more stories to consume. As we mentioned in the definition, genre combined stories with similar storytelling elements. The idea being that if you like elements of one story, you will probably also like other stories with similar elements. When you walk into a bookstore or look for books online, these marketplaces are divided by genre. Libraries to, may have individual sections for different genres, or may have another way to denote them, such as stickers on the spines of the books. So what does this mean for you as a writer or other storyteller through things? The first is it allows you to know what genre you're story is. This is applicable for when you are submitting stories to magazines, editors, or agents. So you can find the right publications and more people. And don't shoot yourself in the foot by submitting to ones that don't match. Likewise, if you self-publish, it allows you to put your story into the right categories so the right readers can find it. The other thing is that knowing what genre you're writing, slash creating and can help you look at other stories in the same genre to see what's working and what's not, and what the trends are. Genres determined by the content of the story itself. Most stories do have elements of more than one genre. A science fiction story may have some romantic elements or include a mystery. But there is normally one big part of the story that denotes it as its main genre. Some of the ways genres determined include what age range the story is meant for. Which can be a genre on its own or combined with an element specific genre, such as young adult romance. Or whether the story is true or made up. Time period can also denoted genre or be combined with another one, such as historical mystery. Elements in tone can denote genre, as can tropes and world-building. We'll discuss all of these in more detail in future sections of this class is worth noting that some genres relied very heavily on their tropes and not using them correctly can be a major problem if you're working in those genres and modern terms. A trope is a reoccurring literary device. Sites like TV tropes collect them and also list different shows, movies, books, et cetera, that use particular tropes. Though I don't recommend going anywhere near TB tropes unless you have a lot of time on your hands. 3. Age Ranges: The first determination of John row we're going to look at is age range. Eight. Range categories are based on the age of the reader they're intended for. This has really diversified in modern times, older works did not tend to take this into account. Even books specifically for children didn't become a thing until the mid 18 hundreds. Their current age range categories include children's, middle grade, young adult adult, and adult. Children's covers everything from infancy through about the age of eight. For the very young, there are board books. These are thick books made up paperboard, hence the name, that are very simple and intended for infants and toddlers. Picture books are next. These range from very simple to fairly complex, though they tend to average about 32 pages. They're often larger with colorful illustrations and are meant for slightly older children, perhaps between the ages of 36. Easy readers or books designed to help children learn to read. They're a more classic book size and shape, and often contains simple sentences with repeating words and sounds. There are levels of bees, so rank beginners can find appropriate books as Ken merging readers. Chapter books are meant for young elementary children and are the first level where most of the pages devoted to words rather than pictures. Though many chapter books do still include illustrations. Chapter books are often short simple stories that bridge the gap between picture books and the longer, more complex stories you find in other age ranges. And children's books, the age range is usually the only genre you have. And the chapter book phase, you may start to see things labeled as age range and a different genre, such as children's fantasy or children's mystery. But you rarely hear something like science fiction picture book. The next age range is middle grade, which is for children between the ages of 812. These are longer, more complex books that start to bridge the gap between children's books and the type of books you find for older age ranges. At this stage, you also see more of the addition of an element based genre as appropriate. Mill, great mystery, middle grade fantasy, et cetera. Young adult books are designed for readers between the ages of 1218. Though many adults also read why books? Typically why books follow characters in the same age range as their expected readers. Though some books with protagonists outside of this range are considered young adult because they include young adult themes such as dealing with first relationships or dealing with increasing independence. Young adult books, like adult books, are divided by an additional genre. New adult is a fairly new age range being developed to bridge the gap between young adult and adult. Especially since in modern times, people may not become fully independent until their mid to late twenties. Like an adult, protagonists also fall into the same age range as the intended readers. And stories cover themes relevant to those readers, such as college, first jobs, moving out, et cetera. As of right now, there is little industry standards with this age range, and so some agents and publishers do not acknowledge it. That brings us to adult as an age range, which is essentially everything that's not meant for children or young people of various ages. Adult books are always assigned in additional genre, since adult is the default setting. That brings us to the end of our age range based genres. 4. True or Made-up?: Another way stories are divided into genres is by whether they're true or not. Almost all works are divided along the lines of whether they are true or made up. This is perhaps the most essential genre division of them all. Works that are based on true events, real people or facts are nonfiction. And works that come from a writer's imagination where the people, events, or places are made up, our fiction. There are several genres within nonfiction. I've listed some of the most common ones here. Biography, autobiography, memoir, history, essay, journalism, reference book or academic journal, and self-help books. In bookstores. Nonfiction works are often listed by category. All the history books are together, all the weight loss books are together, et cetera. And libraries topics are grouped under similar call numbers. You may find different types of nonfiction books about the same topic next to each other. When most people think genre, they often think that fiction genre, specifically things like romance, mystery, thriller, science fiction, or et cetera. I've listed some of the genres here, but we'll go over them in more detail in future sections of this class. Fiction genres are not always the most clearcut thinks there is overlap between similar genres, such as science fiction and fantasy in horror or mysteries and thrillers and suspense that sometimes make it difficult for people to agree on which John wrote Book belongs to. Additionally, some fiction stories have a main genre that might include a modifier as well, such as a romance in the 17 hundreds being called a historical romance, or romance and space being science fiction romance. Since fiction genres tend to be more complicated and more what people think about when they think genre. The remaining sections of this class will focus on fiction genres. 5. Time Period: One way fiction stories are categorized is by time period. Stories that take place in the past, or historical fiction. Ones that take place in the present are contemporary fiction. And once that take place in the future, almost always fall under the purview of science fiction. Historical fiction can be a genre of its own stories that take place in the past, but otherwise fit into the events and customs of the time period are often classified as historical fiction. Historical can also be a modifier if other elements of the story that the tropes of another genre more. Here's some genres where the historical portion is a modifier. An alternate history is a story that takes place in the past, but in a world where some historical event happened differently than in our own timeline. Mysteries and romances that take place in a past time period, but otherwise follow the conventions of a mystery or romance, or often labelled as historical on top of their main genre. And steam punk often falls under science fiction or fantasy. Between the late 18 hundreds or early 19 hundreds. Where steam powered devices have advanced level technology past where it actually wasn't history. The present is the default setting for most stories. All stories that happen now in our world, part of the contemporary genre. But this label is not always used. It is assumed that a storied labeled with just a straight genre, such as thriller or romance is contemporary. Like historical fiction, contemporary can be a genre on its own, denoting stories that happened to people in the modern world that did not contain the tropes and elements of another genre. Or it can be a modifier often attached either to romance or fantasy, as in a contemporary romance. Moving on to story set in the future, almost all futuristic stories fall under the umbrella of science fiction. Or the larger, more nebulous label of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction is essentially any story that includes things that don't really exist and includes fantasy, horror, science fiction, and their related genres. Story about the world falling apart due to climate change. Science fiction story about building a colony on Mars. Science fiction story where humans left Earth hundreds of years ago and now roam the stars. Science fiction story where human society has changed into an oppressive regime that rewards only a select few. Still science fiction. Science fiction is almost always a genre on its own. You do sometimes hear of a science fiction romance or a science fiction mystery. Though this is rare. 6. Plot and Tone: In this section, we'll look at genre that is characterized by plot elements and tone. So some cameras are determined by what happens in the story, or more specifically, bytes plot points. If there's a dead body in a murder to solve, it's probably a mystery. If two people are attracted to each other and overcome the obstacles between them, it's probably romance. If someone is after the main character and they don't know who to trust, it's probably a thriller. Plot based genres are not as clear cut as some of the other genres. A dead body could mean a mystery, but it could also mean a thriller or a suspense novel, depending on the tropes used in the tone of the story. Because genres mainly used for categorization, either when looking for books to read or when selling your own story. Where a book is placed may depend on the level of categorization used by a publisher or a bookseller. Here's a list of some genres that are determined by plot points. They may stand alone or have additional modifiers. A mystery usually involves a death or other crime that needs to be solved. Suspense stories have higher levels of tension and often the main character fields or knows that someone is out to get them. Thrillers are designed to have high-stakes. Romance is about two people falling in love. And adventure stories often include characters on a journey of exploration. Tone can be used as a genre as well. Like many other genres, it can be the main genre or a modifier. Though tone based genres are more likely to be modifiers. I've included the larger tone based generous here, but others exist as well. We talked about tropes briefly in an earlier section. But essentially a trope is an element that reappears often in a particular type of story. Plot based John rest rely more heavily on tropes than some of the other types of genres. This is why you sometimes hear of a character or person being genre savvy. Essentially meaning that they know the tropes of a certain type of story and can tell how the story is going off of that. And horror, for example, which can be a plot based genre. A reader knows that something bad will happen when the group of friends goes into that cabin in the woods. Mystery readers expect to know how a crime was committed by the end. And if you don't give your lovers a happily ever after, or at least a happily for now, Romance readers will not be pleased. Knowing the tropes for your chosen genre is both a blessing and a curse. If you don't play with the tropes in a way that satisfies the readers of your genre. You'll have unhappy readers. But being too aware the tropes of a genre can make it hard to read a story without analyzing how it was put together. 7. Worldbuilding: Another way that genres are determined are by their world-building. All stories have some world-building. World-building as the act of putting together the world. Whereas story takes place. Even a contemporary story that takes place in a real city requires some world-building, such as deciding what areas are important, where rooms go, and important locations, what season it is, et cetera. But when you mentioned world-building, Most people think more of constructing a new world and hence having to come up with geography, history, culture, and sometimes even languages. There are genres that are determined specifically by the world-building that goes into them. Genres that are determined by world-building are science fiction, fantasy and some horror and related speculative fiction genres, such as slipstream and magical realism. Each of these genres include elements that do not exist in real life and must be constricted by the creator. These can be relatively simple changes. A few tweaks to the real-world, such as adding ghosts or other paranormal elements or complex, requiring the creation of a galaxy of planets in their environments. I say some horror, because horror can really be divided into two main categories. One which include supernatural elements, and one that doesn't. A horror story about a serial killer is terrifying, but it doesn't necessarily require the author did create unrealistic elements. But a horror story involving werewolf, vampires, ghosts, or any number of things that go bump in the night. Will. All these genres exist under a larger nebulous umbrella called speculative fiction. Speculative fiction is any story that includes an element that does not exist in the real world. We talked about science fiction a bit in the time-based genres. But science fiction basically includes all stories that take place sometime in the future or involves technology that does not currently exist. Common tropes include time travel, aliens, and interstellar travel. Often people use science fiction as a way to explore what current trends could lead to in the future if they continue. Fantasy includes a broad range of stories that include fantastical elements of some sort. This can range anywhere from the real world in modern times, where magic secretly exists to completely create a world with different species, cultures, and ecology. We talked about horror briefly in the last section. But some types of horror include creatures that do not exist in the real world, ranging from vampires and ghosts to elder Gods. Beyond human understanding. These genres can often be combined with plant-based genres such as romance or mystery. And even if not directly called out, stories in these genres often include elements from plot phase genres. 8. Subgenres: We've talked in broad strokes about genres and what determines them. But you may also have heard the term sub genre. Sub genre is a categorization inside a bigger genre. They're used to further refine elements when a genre can contain wildly different books or movies, television series, et cetera. Let's look at some examples. Here we see some of the subgenres within the larger Don rip mystery. He police procedural, which is based on real police procedures. Professional detectives, is a very different type of story than a cozy mystery where an amateur sleuth tries to solve a crime that is often personal to them. And here are some science fiction subgenres. Same thing here as space opera story, like Star Wars, sometimes called fantasy and space, is a different story from an apocalyptic story, where the world and universe is coming to an end in one way or another. For our final example, we have romance and some of its sub genres. Same thing here. There are different elements. See sub-genre. Romantic suspense story combines Romans elements with thriller elements, for instance. And a paranormal romance includes romance quits, or between characters that are not necessarily humans. Almost all large genres have subgenres, or sometimes the mid subgenres of subgenres. However, the line between some subgenres can be a bit fuzzy and others can overlap or be subjective. But if you're looking for a specific type of story to consume or trying to find a smaller niche to market your book. It can be good to know about subgenres. 9. Genre Combinations: We've talked about this briefly previously, but stories did not tend to contain only elements from a single genre. In today's world of online marketplaces where keywords and branching categories rain. You may find it more useful to look for or categorize your book as a genre combination. These combinations often follow formula. I've listed these here along with examples. And the case of age range plus another genre and time period plus another genre. The age range or time period always goes first. The age range goes first. If there's both. And other cases, it comes down to which genre can be considered the main genre. You can have comedic science fiction, or science fiction comedy. You can have fantasy, romance or romantic fantasy. The modifier goes first and the main John Rigaud second. How you determine which is the main genre often comes down to which tropes or the most present, or what I like to call my root beer theory. When I was a kid, whenever we went to a restaurant with a pop machine where you could fill up your own cup. My sister and I would get a mix of different sodas. But we found that no matter how many different sodas we put in the instant, we put rupee or in the whole thing tasted of root beer. In some cases, there are genres that are like root beer. The world-building genres, science fiction and fantasy, and H4 tend to be the main ones of these. You've got aliens, it's science fiction. You can have a dead body and mystery tropes. You can have an important Love Story, but nothing overrides those aliens. The same thing with dragons or werewolf or magic. They override what ever other elements are in the story. And other cases it comes down to which tropes have more screen time as it were. If it's 40% mystery and 60% romance, romance gets main genre. There are some donors that are essentially two genres combined. We talked about romantic suspense already, but there's also science fantasy and combination of science fiction and fantasy. And you might hear something referred to as cross genre, which basically just means that two or more genres are present in near equal parts. And sometimes which genre gets to be the main genre just comes down to marketing. I once read two books within a few weeks of each other, which both contained mystery and romance elements about equally. One was marketed as a romantic mystery and the other, a mystery romance. Thus I can figure is that the author that went with the romantic mystery generally wrote mysteries. And the mystery Romans author mainly wrote romance. And the marketers decide to stick to brand as much as possible. That all said, there is a limit to the amount of genres you want to cram it. Saying your story is a science fiction Western is one thing. But if your story is a comedic, romantic, science fiction, mystery, nor you're mostly just going to come across as confused. 10. Recap and Project: We've made it to the end. We've gone over a lot of information. So let's summarize things. Genre can be determined by a number of things, including the age range the book or other media is intended for. Whether it's based on facts are made up by the author. What time period this story placing, what plot elements or tone is, story has, what tropes are included, or what world-building the story needs. A trained categories are based on the age of the reader they're intended for. These categories include children's, middle grade in adult, new adult, and adult. Almost all works are divided along the lines of whether they are true, are made up. Works that are based on true events. Real people or facts are nonfiction. And works that come from a writer's imagination where the people, events, or places are made up. Her fiction. John, or can be determined by the time period which they are set in. Stories that take place in the past or historical fiction. Once a take place in the present or contemporary fiction. And once that take place in the future, are almost always science-fiction. Genres are determined by what happens in the story, or more specifically, by its plot points and the tropes used. That trope is an element that often reoccurs in a certain type of story, as well as plot based genres. Some genres are based on the tone of the story, such as comedy. Some cameras are determined by whether or not they include elements that do not exist in the real world. Almost all large genres include subgenres, especially if the larger genre contains stories that are very different from one another. Some genres and subgenres have elements that overlap, so there may be differing opinions on what genre story is. If a story combines elements of two or more genres and may be considered cross genre or be labeled by a modifier and a main genre. Project time. I'd like you to take five of your favorite books, television shows, movies, or comics, and see if you can identify what genre they are. Or combination genre, if appropriate. For added fun, go on the internet and see if other people agree with you or not. I've included a couple of examples of places try. For good reason. When you click on a book, you can see what people have Sheldon as over on the right side of the screen. If you're a writer or other story creator, you can look at the elements in your story and see what genre your story falls into. Do be aware that the genre rabbit hole goes way down. And there are literally hundreds of genres and subgenres. Sometimes it's best to identify main genre and perhaps one level down on the subgenres and leave it at that. Lets run by a couple of examples. First, we've got The Walking Dead, which is a long-running television series, and it takes place in the future. We're zombies are a real and persistent menace. The tone of the story in the zombies put this pretty firmly in horror territory. But since it takes place in the future where the world has fallen apart, you can add in the science fiction sub-genre of post-apocalyptic. Next, let's look at oh, Spiderman. Everyone loves their friendly neighborhood. Spiderman, right? Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider, which might fall into science fiction since it's technology beyond what is currently available. Other characters range from the cybernetic Lee enhanced Doc Oc, to considerably sillier villains who have used the facade of science to achieve unbelievable, which falls more into the realm of fantasy. Actually there is a john renewing as superhero fiction, which falls into the realm of science fantasy or mixture of science fiction and fantasy elements. Lastly, let's look at Murder on the Orient Express. Since I just watched the newest movie. A classic, this story falls famous detective Herculean pero has he tries to discover which passenger on the train might have committed a murder. This one is a pretty straightforward mystery. Though there isn't mystery sub-genre called train mystery, which is specifically for mysteries that take place on a train. Now it's your turn. Feel free to put your stories and the genres that go along with them down in the comments to see if people agree with you. I hope you found this class helpful and that you're on your way to understanding genre elements for Fun and Profit. Please let me know if you have any questions down in the comments and if you have any genre questions about a specific work, that would be a good place for those to buy.