While looking back at my drafts, I found this post, made to complete a series I wrote on science fiction and fantasy subgenres. Originally I was going to include adventure subgenres in this post, but on further thought I decided they will get their own post. Thrillers have some general characteristics: focus on plot, non-stop pace, high stakes; but this is enough material for several subgenres. Until I did my research for this post, I had thought of thrillers under a general category, and wondered “How many divisions could there possibly be?” Silly me.
Thrillers are usually defined by the mood they elicit (hence the name). “Sensational and suspenseful” stories and stories creating “fearful excitement” are two definitions I found. Because of this, thrillers are crossed with almost every other genre. I’ve tried to only include mash-ups when their combination falls under my definition of “interesting.”
Take any other thriller subgenre, give it’s defining elements a back seat, and focus on the action, and you have an action-thriller. This is more common in movies than novels because of the visual appeal of explosions and violence.
In this subgenre the protagonist must confront a large, powerful organization whose threat only he sees. Usually he must do so alone.
This subgenre focuses on crime, and is usually from the criminal’s point of view. Physical action and eluding the police take the place of gathering evidence and trying to discover the criminal.
In this subgenre a (usually) natural disaster is taking place, and the antagonist is either trying to stop the disaster, the extent of the disaster, or just save themselves before time runs out and the disaster has run its course.
In this subgenre the protagonist must stop a threat to the environment (man-made or natural) that will have consequences for society if left unchecked. The damage could be local, but nation or even world-wide stakes are more dramatic. 😉
In this subgenre the protagonist(s) are forensic scientists whose involvement in an unsolved crime threatens their lives.
This subgenre takes place in and around the courtroom. Usually the protagonist is a lawyer who has found their case threatening death for either them or their client.
This subgenre involves something usually used for medical purposes becoming a deadly weapon. Often it is a virus that is leaking out to the public. The protagonist or antagonist or both are doctors.
This is a subgenre of both mysteries and thrillers. It differs from a regular mystery by being much more fast-paced, with the protagonist on the run and the threat of another crime serving as the “ticking clock.”
In this subgenre political relations or the whole government is at stake, and the protagonist is employed by the government to stop the decline. The protagonist may have been low-level before having attracted attention.
A personal favorite. In this subgenre a lot of the conflict is mental, rather than physical. The protagonist has become involved in a dangerous situation which literally threatens their sanity. They must use mental prowess to overcome their opponent, whether the battle is inside their own head or it a battle of wits.
This subgenre uses the history and myths of religion. Usually a religious artifact or historical secret is discovered, and different people and groups vie for control.
This is a subgenre of both thrillers and romantic novels. The plot line follows a typical thriller’s tension, suspense, and excitement, but a main element is the growing relationship between two characters.
It’s hard to call this a genre mash-up when spy novels almost have to be thrillers. At any rate, this subgenre focuses on the high adventures of field agents. It is usually set against the backdrop of some war.
In this subgenre otherworldy elements are introduced, usually as an antagonistic force, but just as in the romantic thriller, the plot line and feel or distinctly that of thrillers. Some characters may have psychic abilities and other supernatural novel elements may be present.
This genres is a cross between near-future science fiction and thrillers. Cutting-edge technology plays an important role, either as something to obtain, or working for or against the protagonist.
What types of thriller subgenres do you enjoy most? Have you ever dabbled writing thrillers? Anything I missed? Many thriller subgenre lists I found on the internet were incomplete, and I’ve done my best here, but I’m always open to additions.
Now for the second in my subgenres series. This time, it’s science fiction. Look out, enormous post ahead! Science fiction is such a broad category and dozens of subgenres are needed. Before you continue, a note on terminology: when I say “people” you can usually substitute “sentients.” When I say human I mean earthling.
[My post on fantasy subgenres.]
[My post on adventure subgenres.]
Science fiction that takes place in an altered or changed reality, but usually recognizable.
Science fiction about other dimensions or “planes of existence” unperceived by humans. Either about the inhabitants of these planes or people discovering a way to see or interact with a new dimension. Dimension is not to be confused with universe.
Science fiction detailing a journey to a complete other world existing with ours where something is altered, minor or major.
This subgenre asks, “What if a historic fact was altered?” and follows that alternate route. Common themes are, “What if the south had wont he Civil War?” and “What if the Nazis had won WWII?”
This subgenres presumes there are many other universes, and makes use of several of them in one story.
Science fiction about the extinction or near extinction of humankind either by forces of nature or by our own means.
Christian Science Fiction
Science fiction that carries Christian messages or the Christian faith, blatantly or allegorically.
A story of humans creating a colony on an ‘other world’ and their trial and triumphs.
Comic Science Fiction
Science fiction that is either humorous or a parody. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a classic example.
Science fiction depicting the downside to technology and a bleak world, typically containing a dark atmosphere.
Like cyberpunk, but this subgenre features protagonists attempting to halt or reverse the ill effects.
Science Fiction Mystery
Science fiction depicting a mystery in a futuristic setting.
Similar to apocalypse, as in the Earth is doomed, but the process is much slower, creating drawn-out affects.
Often near-future science fiction portraying a bleak and harmful future. Sometimes used to warn people of a possibility.
ESP Science Fiction
Extra sensory perception is the ability to use the mind to perform impossible feats. The difference between psychic ability and magic is that psychic ability is supposedly scientifically explained. These include:
Apportation – the twin of teleportation is the mental ability to transport other objects
Bilocation – the ability to be in two places at once
Coercion – the mental ability to make someone else move, speak, and act against their will
Divination – the mental ability to find hidden objects or resources
Healing – the mental ability to heal another person physically or mentally
Levitation – the mental ability to make objects and people defy gravity
Precognition – the mental ability to foresee events before they occur
Psychocreativity – the mental ability to pull elements out of the atmosphere and surroundings and turn them into something else
Psychometry – the mental ability to hold an object or be in a room and and feel who has touched it or been there recently
Pyrokinesis – the mental ability to start fires in other locations
Telekinesis – the mental ability to move inanimate objects
Telempathy – the mental ability to read emotions
Telepathy – the mental ability to read minds
Teleportation – the mental ability to move the body instantaneously to another place
Science fiction about the exploration of space; the means, the effects it has on society, the explorers, what is found, etc.
Science fiction about extra-terrestrials, or aliens, usually sentient.
A classic of the science fiction subgenres. Extra-terrestrials wage war again humankind in an attempt to take over the Earth either to gain resources or exterminate the humans.
Stories of the first contact made between aliens and humans.
Science fiction taking place in a galactic wide setting with many different planets and solar systems politically and economically joined.
Hard Science Fiction
Science fiction focusing on the hard sciences and technology. No known rules of physics can be broken.
Military Science Fiction
Stories centered around a futuristic military.
Science fiction taking place within fifty years and exploring technology and social situations that are expected to develop in that time. A realistic portrayal of the future.
Other World Science Fiction
This subgenre takes place in an entirely fictitious world, but maintains the science fiction setting.
Political Science Fiction
Stories about the futuristic political state of the universe; or stories written with a political statement in mind.
Science fiction telling the tale of the survivors of an apocalypse. These feature a survivalist atmosphere, and often contain aftereffects of the apocalypse beyond the downfall of civilization (eg, mutated animals after a nuclear holocaust).
Soft Science Fiction
Science fiction that focuses on the soft sciences and story and characters.
Science fiction emphasizing adventure, interstellar travel, and battles in space. The plotline contains interstellar conflict and personal drama. There is usually a high good versus evil feeling.
Science fiction about futuristic spies and espionage, and the effects of technological advancement on their professions.
Stories taking place in an era where steam is still used, normally the 1800s and usually Victorian, but containing out-of-era technological abilities accomplished by technology present in that time period. This subgenre commonly ignores scientific plausibility.
Technological Science Fiction
Science fiction honing in on a specific theoretical technological advance. Just containing the technology is not enough for it to be technological science fiction; the story most focus and center around that technology and its effects.
AI stand for artificial intelligence. This subgenre deal with the possibility of robotic intelligence as great as or rivaling that of humans. Sometimes it is written from the AI’s POV.
Stories about reproducing exact genetic replicas of life forms and the consequences.
FTL stands for Faster Than Light. This subgenres is about breaking the speed of light, thought impossible by Einsteinian physics.
Stories about engineering on the microscopic and atomic level. Much technology is theoretically possible with nanotech.
This subgenre starts with the premise time travel is somehow possible. A person or group of people travel either into the past or future. Any number of rules may be used regarding time travel.
Stories of a theoretical perfect society where all wrongs are absent or easily dealt with.
A world that is thought to be perfect, but upon a closer look is revealed to have flaws.
Kudos for you if you read all that! It is a huge list and it would be impossible to name all my sources. Much is from my head (no wonder I can never remember anything – my memory is filled with science fiction subgenres!).
What science fiction subgenres do you write? What subgenres do you like to read? And is there anything I’m missing?
There are two main hard vs. soft science fiction definitions. Just Google it to see.
Hard vs. soft science fiction definition No. 1:
Hard science fiction focuses on the hard sciences.
Soft science fiction focus on the soft sciences.
Hard vs. soft science fiction definition No. 2:
Hard science fiction focuses on the science.
Soft science fiction focuses on the story or characters.
I argue the two definitions are really the same.
First, a little terminology. “Hard science” is one of the natural or physical sciences. Physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy fall under hard science. “Soft science” is a field that deals with humans. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science are examples of soft science.
If you focus on the story or the character in a science fiction setting, you must focus on one of the soft sciences. The whole point of using a science fiction world is to explore the possibilities of the what-ifs. You really have two options while exploring a what-if: focus on the (hard) science behind it or how it affects the humans (or other sentient forms). Hard science or soft science. Science or story and characters.
Many people think the two definitions are contradictory because of how definition two generally continues. “Soft science fiction does not always bother to use realistic technology, relying on black boxes and vague definitions.” How can something which, by the first definition, focuses on science not bother to be realistic? But if you look at the actual definition of soft science, you will see it focuses on the humans themselves, not the technology. While focusing on science, it doesn’t focus on technology.
When you hear “science” you automatically think of the hard sciences. Lab coats and test tubes and microscopes come to the mind’s eyes. When I first read the definition of soft science, I thought, “Those are sciences? Oh wait, what else could they be. . .” So we skip over “soft” and see “focus on science.” Mixed messages!
As you can see now, the second definition relies on what you automatically think of when you hear “science.”
So, we could redefine definition two to say:
Hard science fiction focuses on the hard science.
Soft science fiction focuses on the humans or the effects on humans.
Sounds like definition one now, doesn’t it?
Originally I was going to post on adventure, science fiction, and fantasy subgenres, but the science fiction subgenres went on and on and suddenly I realized I just needed to divide the post. I have another three-part series on my hand!
[My post on science fiction subgenres.]
[My post on adventure subgenres.]
I’ve always been annoyed at the various and lengthy lists of subgenres that agree on little. To solve this problem, I’m combining several sources to create yet another lengthy list of subgenres that defines everything differently from everyone else. If that sounds good, keep reading.
TheFreeDictionary define fantasy as, “Fiction characterized by highly fanciful or supernatural elements.” In my opinion that is an excellent summary of such a broad genre. Fantasy or divided into two main subgenres: high or epic fantasy, and low fantasy.
High fantasy where anything or everything is allegorical of themes or things in the real world.
Animals acting like humans to some extent, or entirely taking their place. Some or all animals talk, and animals may live in houses, dress, and eat human food. Humans may or may not be present.
Taking place mostly or entirely with the afterlife.
Containing strong elements of the Christian faith, either blatantly or allegorically.
Either a parody or humorous.
Taking place in a modern, usually urban, setting. Unlike many fantasy subgenres, contemporary or urban fantasy takes place on Earth, with the inclusion of magic.
These take place in a royal court, either in historical fantasy or a recognizable alternate world, and deal with the political developments of a world. Often involving a complex world with many nations.
Fantasy Science Fiction/Science Fiction Fantasy
Differing from futuristic fantasy only in paying science a little more attention, and perhaps carrying some of the deeper science fiction themes – more than “in the future.”
A story taking place in the future, but containing characteristic fantasy elements. Technology is often unexplained or magical.
Fantasy focusing on the hero and his heroic deeds, but not as epic as sword and sorcery. The protagonist may be deeply flawed and the villain may have redeemable attributes.
Fantasy taking place in a world completely created and detached from Earth as we know, have known, or could possibly know it. Contrast Low Fantasy.
As Katie pointed out in the comments below, the other main definition of High/Epic Fantasy is “Fantasy with nation or world wide stakes, an epic.” I prefer the other definition because it is more definitive and, I believe, more widely used. Be aware of both definitions.
High Historical Fantasy
Still taking place in another world, but this other world has the same culture as a historical setting from Earth.
Some legends have become known not for their original content, but for their constant retellings and revisions. This is commonly done with the Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Robin Hood.
The contrast of “high” fantasy. Low fantasy takes place on Earth, in a world otherwise possible expect for the characteristic fantasy elements. Contrast High Fantasy.
As Katie pointed out in the comments below, the other main definition of Low Fantasy is “Fantasy that is character-driven with relatively small stakes.”
Low Historical Fantasy
This subgenre basically asks the question, “What if fantasy elements were present at a given period of history?” Taking place on Earth.
A setting where magic is part of the culture and everyday life, not just reserved for elitists.
Stories where the real world and a created world both exist, and travel or communication between the two is possible.
The main plot is a quest. The hero must go on a journey or in search of something that will destroy the villain or the villain’s power or prevent impending doom. Leading to a climax where the object of the quest it used.
Containing a plot or subplot of romantic entanglements and love. As with most romance crossings, the main characters are normally a man and a woman. Commonly, the two are throw together for a quest, journey, or other task and love blossoms on the way.
Sword and Sorcery
The stable of fantasy. Involving swordplay or battles as well as magic with a strong main character. Plots are intricate, stretching through lands and nations. There is usually a strong good vs. evil element.
Myths, legends, fables, fairy and folk tales. Often cultural in origin.
Cultural stories explaining the world. Many may feature gods and goddesses, but “Just So” stories and tales following the “How the __ Got Its __” formula are also in this category. They supposedly take place before written history.
Legends are very similar to myths, but recount the deeds and actions of people and gods or goddesses, and normally have supposedly take place during recorded history.
Short stories usually containing morals and written for children. The main difference between fairy tales and folklore is that fairytales require magic for the hero to succeed, while in folklore the hero must use his own wits.
Short, cultural tales told with a definite, usually stated, moral. Fables often contain anthropomorphism of both inanimate objects and creatures.
Martial art adventures. Often the hero is capable of super-human feats supposedly learned through the martial art. Eastern religions may play a part.
Exhaustive, eh? But to be fair, I should mention the my primary resources, however contrary to each other. The largest list (which, in my opinion, called every theme under the sun a subgenre) is here: http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/Fsubgenres.html. This one, http://www.worldswithoutend.com/resources_sub-genres.asp, has charming explanations. Finally, http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/fsubgenre.html is very basic but covers the general fantasy subgenres well. If you’re procrastinating, try exploring the rest of these sites. They’re useful, so you don’t have to call it procrastinating.
If you write fantasy, what are your usual subgenres? Of the fantasy you read, what are your favorite subgenres? Why?