Tag Archives: Identifying the Tropes of Genre and Subgenre

Identifying Tropes and Subgenres part 2 – Crime, Thrillers, Historical, and Westerns #amwriting

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

Tropes-writing-craft-seriesToday, 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.

the-woman-who-built-a-bridgeHowever, 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.

nemesis agatha christieThe 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 twistsunreliable narrators, and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is often a villain-driven plot, whereby they present obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. [1]

  • 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.

440px-Brock_Pride_and_PrejudiceDefinitions 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. [2]

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:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Thriller (genre),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Thriller_(genre)&oldid=1061575069 (accessed January 4, 2022).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Historical fiction,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Historical_fiction&oldid=1063618945 (accessed January 5, 2022).

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Identifying the Tropes of Genre and Subgenre #amwriting

I always suggest that authors build a backlog of short stories for submission to contests and various publications. But how do you know where to sell your work?

Tropes-writing-craft-seriesTo know that, you must know the genre of the work you are trying to sell. So, what exactly are genres? Publisher and author Lee French puts it this way, “Literary genres are each a collection of tropes that create expectations about the media you consume.”

So, genres are categories the publishing industry developed to enable shoppers in bookstores to quickly find what they are looking for. They’re like a display of apples at the grocery store – many baskets of apples are situated there, but each variety is a little different from its neighbor.

The difference in taste (tart or sweet) and texture (firm or soft) are what we gravitate to when we shop for apples.

In novels, the different flavors within a genre are created by the tropes the author has chosen to include in the narrative.

When you open the Submittable App and begin shopping for places to submit your work, you may find the list of open calls confusing. Many times, contests, publications, and anthologies are genre-specific. However, sometimes they don’t clarify which subgenres within that overarching category they are looking for.

Writers of nonfiction and poetry have no problem because their work is targeted to a magazine with a specific readership.

How do you decide who will be most receptive to your story? You must look at the tropes you have included in the narrative.

This list of genres and what they represent has appeared on this blog before. Genre is determined by the author’s intention, approach, how resolutions happen, and the ideas explored. The various tropes the authors employ form these industry-wide distinctions.

Nine_Perfect_Strangers_Liane_MoriartyMainstream (general) fiction—Mainstream fiction is a general term that publishers and booksellers use to describe works that may appeal to the broadest range of readers and have some likelihood of commercial success. Mainstream authors often blend genre fiction practices with techniques considered unique to literary fiction. It will be both plot- and character-driven and may have a style of narrative that is not as lean as modern genre fiction but is not too stylistic either. The novel’s prose will at times delve into a more literary vein than genre fiction. The story will be driven by the events and actions that force the characters to grow.

Science fiction—Futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life are the core of science fiction. BE WARNED: if you use magic for any reason, you are NOT writing any form of sci-fi. The tropes that define subgenres are:

  • Hard Sci-fi is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in physics, chemistry, and astrophysics. Emphasis is placed on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible.
  • Soft Sci-fi is characterized by works based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology.
  • Other main sub-genres of Sci-fi include Space-operasCyberpunk, Time Travel, Steampunk, Alternate history, Military, Superhuman, Apocalyptic, and Post-Apocalyptic. Go to the internet and look up the typical tropes of these subgenres. Then write me an awesome Space Opera – my favorite subgenre of sci-fi.

The main thing to remember is this: Science and Magic cannot coexist in the genre of science fiction. The minute you add magic to the story, you have fantasy.

Green_Angel_Tower_P1Fantasy is a fiction genre that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.  Like sci-fi and literary fiction, fantasy has its share of snobs when it comes to defining the sub-genres. The tropes are:

  • High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional world, rather than the real, or “primary” world, with elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume Often the prose is more literary, and the primary plot is slowed by many side quests. Think William Morrisand J.R.R. Tolkien.
  • Epic Fantasy is often serious in tone and epic in scope. It usually explores the struggle against supernatural, evil forces.Epic fantasy shares some typical characteristics of high fantasy and includes fantastical elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narratives. Tad Williams’s Memory Sorrow and Thorn is classic Epic Fantasy.
  • Paranormal Fantasy–Paranormal fantasy often focuses on romantic love. It includes elements beyond scientific explanation, blending themes from all speculative fiction genres. Think ghosts, vampires, and supernatural.
  • Urban fantasy can occur in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Horror—Every genre has a subgenre of horror: Wikipedia says, “Horror fiction, horror literature and also horror fantasy are genres of literature, which are intended to, or have the capacity to frighten, scare, or startle their readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Literary historian J. A. Cuddon has defined the horror story as “a piece of fiction in prose of variable length… which shocks or even frightens the reader, or perhaps induces a feeling of repulsion or loathing.” In Romance, the horror subgenre might be Gothic or Paranormal, but the focus must be on a developing romance. The roadblocks will not feature blood or gore, but terror and a perception of danger will be a feature the pair must overcome.

Romance—Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people and must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The story will be character-driven, and the roadblocks must be believable but surmountable.

I mention Literary Fiction last because it is the most complicated and least understood genre of all.

Ulysses_(1967_film_dvd_cover)Literary fiction can be adventurous with the narrative. The style of the prose has prominence and may be experimental, requiring the reader to go over certain passages more than once. Stylistic writing, heavy use of allegory, the deep exploration of themes and ideas form the core of the piece.

Be careful when presenting yourself and your work to the prospective publisher. Never submit anything that is not your best work, and do not assume they will edit it because they won’t. No publisher will accept poorly written work or sloppily formatted manuscripts.

Read a sample of the work they publish and only submit the work that best fits their publication.

And most of all, good luck! May your work land on an editor’s desk the day they are looking for a story just like that!

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