How to Find Your Story’s Genre, Even If It Fits in Several

Pick your story's main genre when it could find into several.

Do you read a particular genre over and over again? Do you continue returning to sci-fi or historical fiction or steampunk or YA?

If you’re looking for me in a bookstore, you’ll find me in the fantasy or historical fiction sections. I keep returning to books that have magic, that takes me out of my modern world, that send me on quests and have me talking with creatures or people I’d never otherwise know.

But in many instances, a story can have more than one genre. What might be classified as Fantasy could also fall into the steampunk category. What could be called mystery could also be considered a historical fiction.

It’s incredibly helpful to know what genre your story fits into mostly. Picking one genre creates a strong tool for you as you publish your work. Not just for purposes of finding your audience, but knowing your main genre helps you determine where best to market your book, how to market it, and helps your story be found on Goodreads, Amazon, and other online book websites.

This makes it confusing when you’re looking to publish your novel or short story and needing to define the genre to the world. How are you supposed to pick if you’ve written a sci-fi-fantasy-historical-murder-mystery extravaganza?

Here I’ve compiled a list of genres to get you started in defining where your story falls. If I’ve written a post on that genre, I’ve included the link to that post, and I’ve listed a few examples of each genre.


  • Classic – these are the books we read in school: The Great Gatsby, War and Peace, The Grapes of Wrath, Emma, The Lord of the Flies, The Man and the Sea, Huckleberry Finn, etc.
  • Crime/detective – Agatha Christie and other novels depicting crimes, criminals caught, and the process of uncovering who done it
  • Fairy tale –  do I need to define this? Beauty and the Beast, Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm…often much more gruesome than your typical Disney fare
  • Fan fiction – again, I doubt this needs a definition, but whether you’re obsessed with minor character relationships in Harry Potter, think the Hobbit should have ended differently, would rather see Katniss with Gale, or would like to put yourself in your favorite world, fan fiction is how you do that.
  • Fantasy – The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Lies of Locke Lamora, etc. Talking animals, magic, and (in my favorite fantasy novels) talking animals, with kings and queens of fantastical lands.
  • Historical fiction – Phillipa Greggory is one of the best known historical fiction writers for her novels on women within the British monarchy. Whether you love Ancient Rome or the 1970’s writing a story in another time period or about a person who lived long ago is the essence of historical fiction.
  • Horror – Dread. Fear. Leaves you screaming and crying in your seat.
  • Humor –  Humor can be found in every genre but is also its own genre for particularly hilarious stories.
  • Magical realism – Magic in the real world! The Night Circus, The House of the Spirits, Like Water for Chocolate, etc.
  • Mystery – Richard Galbraith’s (a.k.a. JK Rowling’s) Cormoran Strike novels, as well as the Sherlock Holmes stories, fit into this genre. A mystery is different than crime fiction in that mystery focuses on the solving of a crime and the uncovering of secrets in an unraveling way.
  • Mythology – Zeus and Hera, Hades and Persephone, Thor and Loki, Egyptian gods. Rick Riordan is the most prolific author of mythological stories that incorporate real world elements.
  • Realistic fiction – Stories taking place in the real world, with real people, in real places, with realistic events.
  • Science fiction – Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Orson Scott Card. Different planets, new technology, alien life forms, universe exploration all find a home here.
  • Short story – a short, concise story with no subplots
  • Suspense/thriller – Something scary or frightening is about to happen. The main characters attempt to prevent the thing from happening. Gone Girl, the DaVinci Code, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.


Still stuck? Here are two strategies to help you pinpoint the prominent genre in your story.


Find Your Focus

The main themes in your story can clue you in to your story’s main genre, as well as where the story takes place and what your characters do throughout the story. These can act as signposts to help you figure out your story’s genre.

Sometimes the world you’ve created is enough to categorize your story all on it’s on, whether it’s a fantastical world, aliens on Mars, or even a mystical world in the New York subway. A fantastical world could place your story as a fantasy.

The journey your characters experience can also categorize your story. Do they explore a new world? Are they trying to fulfill a prophecy? Are they attempting to solve a mystery?


What Are You Playing With

Magic? History? Technology? Emotions? What-ifs? The extras in your story can indicate where your story falls. If your story has magical elements that heighten and add details to your story, then it might fall into the fantasy category. If your story takes place in a different time period or involves time travel, it could fall into historical fiction. If your story deals with technology, it’s creation, the issues surrounding it, etc. your story could fall into the sci-fi category. Emotions and what-ifs can land you in realistic fiction, suspense, humor, or sci-fi.

Take some time to define your novel’s main genre and get to marketing your book!



Alexis Truitt


  1. Hi! I really enjoyed this post. I have a quick question for you: how to you spice up the fantasy genre? As in, how do you make your manuscript stand out from the others while still being true to your genre? I feel like fantasy is so broad on its own, so I wonder if it’s a good idea to make up a sub-genre name to amp up query letters or elevator pitches.

    1. Hi Whitney! Thanks for your comment. I wrote another post specifically on the fantasy genre. You can click here to check it out. As for your question, the fantasy genre is expansive, and no two authors will write the same story the same way. Sub-genres can absolutely help to make you stand out more, but I’d also focus on perhaps your characters and the way they interact with your world, as well as the uniqueness of your plot. I hope that helps!

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