The first question asked when a writer sends a manuscript to an agent, a publisher or a self publishing site, is “What genre is it?” Several Years ago, I wrote a blog defining the many Art Genres. This year, I decided to try the same with writing. I searched the internet and pulled up most of these definitions from Wikipedia, and various other internet sources who defined writing genre. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it might help my fellow writers when asked by a publisher to define the genre of the book they have just written. There is an enormous amount of information about book genres, so I will be presenting these blogs genre by genre over the next few weeks. I limited myself to fiction. I may do a similar chart for non-fiction later though. I got the idea for the chart from a Facebook post, but I made some changes and additions to what was there. Please feel free to share or add to it.
WHAT IS A MYSTERY?
Mystery fiction is a genre usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. In a closed circle of suspects, each suspect must have a credible motive and a reasonable opportunity for committing the crime. Early pulp magazines carried conventional hard-boiled crime fiction. The first use of “mystery” in this sense was by Dime Mystery, which started out as an ordinary crime fiction magazine but switched to “weird menace” during the latter part of 1933. Mystery stories published before 1950 sometimes involved a supernatural mystery where the solution did not have to be logical, and even no crime was involved. This was common in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, where titles such as Dime Mystery, Thrilling Mystery and Spicy Mystery offered what were described as “weird menace” stories—supernatural horror in the vein of Grand Guignol. Most of this type of fiction has now shifted over into the subgenres of “Paranormal Mystery and Supernatural Thriller”.
General Mystery: Mystery fiction is a genre of fiction commonly involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. The central character may be police or an amateur detective who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts fairly presented to the reader. Sometimes mystery books are nonfictional. “Mystery fiction” can be detective stories in which the emphasis is on the puzzle or suspense element and its logical solution such as a whodunit. Mystery fiction can be contrasted with hard-boiled detective stories, which focus on action and gritty realism.
Non-Fiction Mystery: Non-Fiction mystery recounts real-life mysteries or historical crimes committed. Usually the crime remains unsolved and the reader is presented with the clues available and given the opportunity to try to figure out the solution or the author presents his/her own solution. The Black Dalia, and the disappearance of the England’s Crown Princes in the reign of Richard III are famous examples of this type of mystery.
Detective Fiction: Surprisingly, this one was very difficult to find a definition for (either that or Google was feeling off that day). In any case Detective fiction is a mystery with a dectective as a protagonist; either an amatuer, a private eye or a police officer who must solve a mystery. This is a very broad definiation, however there are differences in how the mystery and the characters are handled, as can be seen by the narrower definitions below. The mystery can be a death, a missing person, a robbery or almost any type of mysterious event. The MC must have a compelling reason to solve the crime.
Noir/Hard Boiled: Noir fiction is a literary genre closely related to the hard-boiled detective genre except that the lead character is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include the self-destructive qualities of the lead character. A typical protagonist of noir fiction is dealing with the legal, political or other system that is no less corrupt than the perpetrator by whom the protagonist is either victimized and/or must victimize others daily, leading to lose-lose situation.
Cozy Mystery: Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are played down or treated with humor and the crime and detection takes place in a small, socially intimate community. The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers attempted to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.
Police Procedural: The police procedural, or police crime drama, is a subgenre of detective fiction that attempts to depict the activities of a police force as they investigate crimes. Traditional detective novels usually concentrate on a single crime. Police procedurals frequently describe investigations into several unrelated crimes in a single story. Traditional mysteries usually adhere to the convention of having the criminal’s identity concealed until the climax (the so-called whodunit); in police procedurals, the perpetrator’s identity is often known to the audience from the outset (this is referred to as the inverted detective story). Police procedurals describe several police-related topics such as forensics, autopsies, the gathering of evidence, the use of search warrants, and interrogation.
Hobby Mystery: See Cozy Mystery. This is merely a specialized sub genre of Cozy mysteries. The story usually centers around the main character’s hobby, such as quilting or animals.
Historical Mystery: The historical mystery or historical whodunit is a subgenre of two other genres, historical fiction and mystery fiction. These works are set in a time usually before 1960 and the central plot involves the solving of a mystery or crime (usually murder). Though works combining these genres have existed since at least the early 20th century, many credit Ellis Peters’s Cadfael Chronicles (1977-1994) for making popular what would become known as the historical mystery. The increasing prevalence of this kind of fiction in succeeding decades spawned a distinct subgenre.
Paranormal Mystery: Sometimes the things in a mystery just can’t be explained. That’s where the paranormal mystery comes into play. These books have an element of supernatural in them, that can include magic, witches, skeletons or ghosts, and it can include werewolves, vampires, and other creatures. The difference between paranormal and fantasy is Paranormal concerns events or experiences not subject to scientific explanation or outside the ability of science to measure or explain. ESP, ghosts and other phenomenon fit this definition. Fantasy is a genre using magic or other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of the plot or setting. (Think Barbara Michaels ” or Harry Dresdin).