Genre Definitions to Make Submitting Your Manuscript Easier

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The number one refusal reason is that it was sent to the wrong agent or publisher. The categories for submissions to prospective agents and houses are more than confusing, but this list will help you navigate those murky channels.

Fantasy is defined as the activity of imagining things that are impossible. 

By this definition, most of the Sci-Fi, Horror, and Romance genres would fit. And of course, it is more than possible to have action, drama, romance, and comedy in the same work. It is ideal. This article will give dictionary definitions of a large list of Genres and then not only translate it but give well known examples. If you are still not sure after this column, use the old stand by and submit in every genre you think it might belong in.

(Publishers will tell you they do not accept multiple submissions and many writers choose to honor that. But… If the work is good enough, they will accept it anyway. Just include the words: This is a multiple submission, at the very Bottom of the letter, so they had to read about your book before seeing it.)

Along, with any explanation for that, if you have one. I informed them that due to the time content of my plot line, I had no choice but to send out as may queries as I could and those who answered were very understanding. There are exceptions for every rule.

Action: The process of doing something or the events represented in a story or play.

Translation: Everything from opening a jar to blowing up a bridge qualify, but for writing, it usually means something exciting. If you would not hear about it on the news or in gossip, it is probably not action. Indiana Jones and Riddick are both clearly action but are worlds apart, literally, and can be considered for more than one Genre.

Adventure: An unusual and exciting, typically dangerous, experience or activity. 

Translation: Probably anything you have ever had the urge to do and your mom or friends warned against. If it would not make CNN, probably does not qualify. The Golden Compass and Chronicles of Narnia would fall into this genre, along with Indiana Jones and Riddick.

Alternative: Of or relating to behavior that is seen as unconventional and a challenge to traditional norms.

Translation: Usually based around or set in things that go against the majority, the lack of which hurts understanding between different cultures, races, and beliefs. This Genre has a Sub-Genre that includes Goth, Racial/ Bi-racial, Same Sex, Gang, Punk, Occult/ Worship, and many others. Broke Back Mountain, Bad Boys,(The 80’s story, not the newer one) Gangland, Queer Eye for the straight guy, and Amistad fit here.

Apocalypse: The complete final destruction or an event involving damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.

Translation: Anything centered around the fall of a civilization or world. To qualify, it must endanger either mankind as a species or the planet. Outbreak, Armageddon, and Life After War are three prime examples but many of the Star Trek episodes would qualify too.

Children’s: Made for children.

Translation: Limited to only what is commonly approved by society and the board of education and that makes it a Genre that needs writers. Material for the slightly older child is a little more plentiful but for youngsters, it is in short supply. PBS, Finding Nemo, Aladdin, and Spongebob qualify and for the older kids, Hannah Montana, i Carly, and the Babysitters club series.

Comedy:Entertainment meant to make people laugh or Light entertainment, comic theater.

Translation: MUST make you laugh more than anything else. Based on laughter. Action/Comedies will have equal measures of both. The Naked Gun’s and Dragnet are action comedies, where as most T.V. shows are just comedy.

Contemporary/Mainstream:Living or occurring at the same time/Attitudes, feelings, or activities that are regarded as normal, or the dominate trend in opinion, fashion, or art.

Translation: Things that are going on now and/or fads. Like the guys wearing their jeans as socks but bigger, like Bush hating and scripts that represent events we see and hear around us. The West Wing, Flight 93, and Fahrenheit 911 qualify, though the last two many not if public interest dies down.

Crime:An action or admission of illegal activities.

Translation: Just about anything based on something you would go to prison for, but in writing, usually refers to serial crime novels and murder mysteries. It is one of the few Genre’s that most stories either do or do not belong to. Hudson Hawk and Mickey Spleen both qualify, as do Law & Order and NCIS.

Drama: An exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances.

Translation: Anything based around a strong emotion, like anger or pride. If it does not make you sad, mad, or glad, it probably does not qualify. ER, Soaps, and The Last Samurai both fit but the Samurai script also falls under action, adventure, and even apocalypse, because it is set around the fall of an empire.

Environmental: Relating to the natural world and the impact of human activity on its condition.

Translation: Based on or set in nature. Anything that effects nature strongly enough to make changes. Global Warming, The Exxon Valdez Documentaries, The Dolphin Slaughters, and Katrina,(which I recommend to everyone. If we come together, there is no wrong we can not right.)qualify.

Erotica: Intended to arouse sexual desire.

Translation: If it does not get a rise or make you look to see if your curtains are closed, it probably does not qualify. 9&1/2 Weeks and Wild orchids top this list, if you do not include hard core porn, like Debbie does Dallas.

Family: Designed to be suitable for all ages.

Translation: Grandma and preschoolers and everything in between. If it is inoffensive, it probably belongs here. Andy Griffith, Growing Pains, Full house, pbs programing.

Fantasy: Things that are impossible or improbable, a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, usually in a setting other than real.

Translation: Like I need to list them. Harry, Twilight, Anne Rice’s series, but also Ali Baba and the Forty thieves, Merlin, and Excalibur.

Historical: Of or concerning history. Set in the past.

Translation: Set in the past but does not have to remain there. Some time travel applies here, including Bill & Ted’s bogus adventure and Sliders.

Horror: An intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.

Translation: Based on scaring or shocking. If it does not make you jumpy or nauseated, it probably does not qualify. Jason and Freddy do but The Storm of the century does not fit as well, even though its Author is a master in the Horror Genre, falling more under fantasy and myth.

How-To: Providing detailed and practical advice.

If your telling how to accomplish anything, it qualifies. Best to have experience in this field to avoid lawsuits. Kevin Treadue’s books belong here because they tell how to improve health, get out of debt, etc…

Magic: Mysterious, supernatural power.

Translation: Petty much anything you have ever wished you could do, from Potter, to Carrie, to The Beast Master.

Mystery:Dealing with a puzzling crime or something difficult to understand.

Translation: Usually involves police or investigators and murder. Riddles, intrigue, and spy’s belong here, along with Perry Mason, and Sherlock Holmes.

Myth/Legend: Concerning early history or explaining an phenomenon, usually involving supernatural events. Popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated, or a fictitious or imaginary person or thing.

Translation: Anything invented that is not real basically but normally involves a link to history, like Monster Quest, Count Dracula, Forest Gump, and Jack the Ripper.

Political: Of or Relating to the Government or public affairs of a country.

Translation: Based or set in politics, something we all know a lot about now thanks to the Media. The West Wing, Fahrenheit 911, and of course, What Happened?, fit here.

Religious/Spiritual:Believing in and worshipping superhuman powers(A personal God or Gods)/ Relating to or effecting the human spirit.

Translation: Anything you would hear or experience in church and anything based around those things. 7th Heaven, Touched by an Angle, and Ben Hur qualify.

Romance: A feeling of excitement or mystery associated with love.

Translation: For most, it is anything that makes you long for another chance at love, another opportunity to do it right. It is also usually anything sappy, that draws tears and demands for more attention. This includes Sleepless in Seattle, Sahara, The Love Boat, and Savage Splendor. 

Sci-Fi- Imagined future scientific or technological advances, usually portraying time/space travel and life on other planets.

Translation: Anything that is not set on Earth or spends a lot of the time in space with aliens, but also anything based on future, space, time travel, or life on other worlds. Threshold, Dr. Who, and Taken, belong here.

Self-Help: Designed to help people achieve things for themselves.

Translation: Usually set around instructing or teaching how to do something. Chicken soup for the Soul, Intervention, and Natural Healing qualify.

SuperHero: Fictional Character with supernatural powers.

Translation: If it is based around saving things, like lives or the world, and the character wear costumes and has powers, it goes here. Superman, Underdog, most comics, and The Lone Ranger fit nicely.

Survival: Continuing to live, usually in spite of an ordeal, accident, or difficult circumstance.

Translation: Cheating Death. Shoulda died but didn’t. Terminator, Life After War, and Damnation Alley fit here, though again, most of these qualify for many other genre’s too.

Thriller:An exciting plot, usually involving a crime or espionage.

Translation: Basically the same as Mystery but more exciting, usually combined with Drama. Fatal Attraction and The Hand that rocks the cradle fit here.

Travel/Transportation: Make a journey, usually of some length/ A system or means of transporting people or goods.

Translation: Anything based around travel or a trip. The Hitcher, The National Lampoon’s, Cruise ship do’s and don’ts’, and Road Trip, qualify.

Water: Tasteless, colorless, odorless, transparent liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers, and rain.

Translation: Anything set in, under, or on the water. Titanic, Jaws, Waterworld, and even The Day After Tomorrow, where the ocean current shuts down and endangers half the world.

War: An armed conflict:

Translation: One of the rare categories that is just what it sounds like. Full metal Jacket, The boys from company c, and Heartbreak Ridge fit perfectly here.

Western: Centered around Western North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Translation: Anything set around or based on Cowboys, Indians, or the Old West. Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Dances with Wolves, Open Range, and over half of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood’s work qualify.

Think I missed any?


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