Last week, we began discussing how to identify tropes and subgenres when you are trying to sell a short story (or novel). We need to know what our product is if we want to find a buyer. Identifying the Tropes of Genre and Subgenre #amwriting
Today, we continue that discussion with four more genres, each with many subgenres. First up is westerns. This is a popular genre with several common tropes and can be tricky to write respectfully and find a publisher for.
I grew up reading my grandmother’s Louis L’Amour novels, so westerns are in my blood. The common topes of the classic western are evolving, but they still follow this pattern:
The setting will be the frontier of the old American West, set in the years after the Civil War and before WWI.
Our protagonist is likely to be the lone cowboy – who doesn’t love the handsome loner who rides into town and saves the day? In many stories, his trusty steed is also a character, as a good pony is critical to the hero’s ability to go places. At times, the horse is his only companion.
However, more and more, we are finding stories with female protagonists. An excellent example of this is the novel, The Woman who Built a Bridge by C.K. Crigger. I found this novel on the Wolfpack website and loved it. Wolfpack Publishing offers a great article on the tropes that have historically characterized the genre of classic westerns.
The conflict between cowboys and Indians. This particular trope must be handled with care and an awareness of stereotyping and glorifying cultural oppression. Westerns are historical, so accuracy and research are required.
Also, one must avoid committing cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc., of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or culture. Talk to the tribes in your area if possible. They will help you find ways to portray your indigenous people with respect.
Romance – enter the beautiful woman/handsome ranch hand. Often these characters will have a mysterious and tragic past.
Revenge – the redressing of wrongs is often a significant plot driver. The need to avenge a wrong becomes a character’s obsession, and murder frequently ensues.
A Sheriff becomes involved when a murder happens, and this lawman/woman is frequently the protagonist or love interest.
And finally, when the law catches up to the criminals, a shootout ensues.
Two subgenres of Westerns are Alternate World Westerns and Sci-fi Westerns. The setting may be a different kind of Old West, but just as in a classic Western, there is always a moral for the reader to take away. The action and mystery are sometimes accompanied by a star-crossed romance. The emotional stakes make these stories popular.
Next up, we will look at the genres of Crime Fiction and Thrillers.
The Crime genre is comprised of two main categories, true crime and fictional crime. Crime fiction has several subgenres, but I’m going to talk about only a few of them here.
The Crime Noir is set in dark, gritty urban environments. It often features hardboiled men with anger issues and alcohol problems who work as private detectives. Women are often portrayed as repressed sex objects. The protagonists are usually divorced ex-cops with a nasty reputation. Female protagonists have been making inroads in this genre, with some success.
A modern subgenre is a cyber-punk crime noir. These stories are set in a dystopian high-tech society but with all the tropes of a traditional crime noir.
True Crime sheds light on the sensational crimes that made headlines in real life. These are meticulously researched, and the authors work closely with law enforcement as they detail the events and personalities of the people involved.
The Agatha Christie / Sherlock Holmes style of novel is the classic whodunnit. They feature a private detective with close ties to law enforcement but who is still an outsider. The detective sometimes has a sidekick who chronicles their cases. At times, the detectives butt heads with the police as resentment of the protagonist’s stepping on their turf crops up. This jealousy hinders the investigation. Clues are always inserted so that the reader doesn’t notice them until the denouement, and the sidekick never guesses right either.
An excellent analysis of Agatha Christie’s writing style and work can be found here: Analysis of Agatha Christie’s Novels.
Thrillers are a complex group of subgenres. Wikipedia says:
Thrillers generally keep the audience on the “edge of their seats” as the plot builds towards a climax. The cover-up of important information is a common element. Literary devices such as red herrings, plot twists, unreliable narrators, and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is often a villain-driven plot, whereby they present obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. 
- Political thrillers
- Legal thrillers
- Medical Thrillers
Then, there are Supernatural Mysteries, stories dealing with the paranormal. They may be gothic and dark.
One of my favorite genres is Romantic Mystery. I love a good mystery and a happy ending.
All crime novels and mysteries have common tropes: they involve a puzzle that the protagonist must solve, usually placing themselves in great danger in the process. Good mysteries have small clues embedded along the way for the reader. They also include many false clues that keep the reader on the wrong track. Mystery readers want to solve the puzzle—that’s why they buy these books.
Finally, we must look at Historical Fiction, which I don’t write. However, I can quote from the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia:
An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the depicted period. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.
Definitions differ as to what constitutes a historical novel. On the one hand, the Historical Novel Society defines the genre as works “written at least fifty years after the events described,” while critic Sarah Johnson delineates such novels as “set before the middle of the last [20th] century … in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.” Then again, Lynda Adamson, in her preface to the bibliographic reference work World Historical Fiction, states that while a “generally accepted definition” for the historical novel is a novel “about a time period at least 25 years before it was written,” she also suggests that some people read novels written in the past, like those of Jane Austen (1775–1817), as if they were historical novels. 
When you know your story’s genre, you know what publication might be interested in it.
More importantly, you know where NOT to submit it.
Credits and Attributions:
 Wikipedia contributors, “Thriller (genre),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Thriller_(genre)&oldid=1061575069 (accessed January 4, 2022).
 Wikipedia contributors, “Historical fiction,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Historical_fiction&oldid=1063618945 (accessed January 5, 2022).