Popular Writing Genres and Their Specifics Explained by Experienced Authors

Topics and ideas
Posted on April 9, 2020

Today, in our globalized and rapidly developing world, there are dozens of different genres of writing both in fiction and nonfiction, ranging from well-known ones like adventure novels or mystery stories to newer types that are harder to place, like magical realism. It is only natural that writers, being a creative bunch, are constantly on the lookout for something new and different. This means that these days it is hard to speak about writing genres as such – as people continue to experiment mixing and matching old things and creating new ones, many types of writing genres heavily depend on borrowing elements from each other to unite them in an unusual manner. This means that if you are on the lookout for an approach to use in your own writing, you do not have to be conservative in your toolset. For example, you are not limited in what you can use when writing a romance novel – some of the best romance writers use topics, themes and ideas from other genres, such as western or gothic novel. In this article, we will cover some of the most popular and interesting contemporary genres – but feel free to be creative and invent something of your own!

Types of Writing Genres: A Quick and Dirty Guide for a Complete Newbie

On the most general level, all genres of written works can be divided into two types: fiction and nonfiction. The former include all the work that deal with imaginary people, events or locations. Even if they include something that has a basis in reality, they are not strictly based on verifiable facts. Here belong such genres as horror story, psychological thriller, romance, adult story, fantasy, science fiction, short story and so on – the full list would take too much space.

The definition of nonfiction is even simpler – these are the texts that deal only with facts (or purport to do so, as sometimes such works heavily depend on the author’s own conjectures or reflection). Here belong most types of academic writing (such as expository, persuasive, personal and descriptive essay), true crime stories (unlike mystery novels, they are based on factual accounts of crimes that actually happened), memoir writing, biographies, scientific writing and so on.

Thriller Writing: Important Characteristics

As fiction is heavily based on imagination, it is much more diverse and volatile than nonfiction. Fiction writers do not have to comply with requirements of peer-reviewed magazines or follow the rules of specific disciplines they belong to – as a result, they are virtually free to write whatever they like. Writing of the best thriller writers, for example, is going to be very different even from what is written by the majority of other representatives of this genre, let alone other genres. Nevertheless, some features are common for all the best examples:

  • The author attempts to keep the readers in the state of suspenseful excitement for most of the story;
  • These works use such tools as red herrings (intentionally misleading the audience) and plot twists (unexpected turns of events);
  • To make the readers more likely to share the mood of the characters, the author tends to include various dangerous situations that get progressively more intense as the story proceeds.

Mystery Story Writing: What You Need to Know

The classification of fiction genres is extremely fuzzy, and it is easy to consider mystery writing to be just a part of a larger thriller genre. However, most popular mystery writers would probably disagree, as it has clearly defined characteristic features that make it different, such as:

  • There is an element that remains unknown for most of the story – the audience does not know a crucial element of the plot, and it makes them eager to find it out;
  • Top representatives of the genre make sure to leave enough clues for the readers to give them an opportunity to solve the puzzle before they receive an answer from the author, but not enough to make it easy;
  • A satisfying conclusion. The ending is what makes or breaks a mystery story – it should follow from the rest of the story, explain everything and, if possible, come unexpectedly. A mystery story is one of the very few genres where the reader likes to be mistaken and fooled, as it signifies that he/she deals with a well-crafted narrative.

Southern Gothic: A Promising Trend

Southern gothic writers apply methods and imagery that are quite different even from the gothic literature this trend originates from. While Southern Gothic authors retain full awareness of the genre from which they derive inspiration, they reimagine its main points and ideas, transferring its inclination towards the macabre, grotesque and mystical situations from European castles and abbeys to the setting of the American South, with all the accompanying cultural implications. Things you should pay attention to include:

  • Unlike the classical Gothic novel, Southern Gothic is more inclined to magic realist setting rather than a purely fantastical one. Elements of supernatural are acceptable, but they tend to remain ambiguous;
  • Greater emphasis on social and cultural issues, such as slavery and violence;
  • The line between heroes, villains and victims is often blurred and it is hard to distinguish one from another.

Writing Nonfiction Essays

Creative nonfiction essay is not a homogenous genre – there are many subtypes, such as persuasive, expository or descriptive essay. If you have to write a text of this kind, it may be a good idea to clarify the exact type you are dealing with and read three or four creative nonfiction examples belonging specifically to this genre. However, all nonfiction essays retain more or less the same set of characteristic features, no matter what subtype they belong to. The most important of them include:

  • Emphasis on objectivity. Even if you have strong views on the subject you discuss, you are supposed to give a fair hearing to all viewpoints, even the ones you strongly disagree with;
  • Use of academic language. Avoid using emphatic words and expressions, slang and jargon, terms with evaluative connotations and contractions. Make sure you use gender-neutral pronouns wherever possible and the proper male and female pronouns where it is appropriate. Academic language should be as neutral as possible while remaining easy to understand and follow;
  • Conciseness. Nonfiction writing aims at imparting valuable information in as few words and expressions as possible. Therefore, cut everything that seems superfluous and never use a long word where a short one will do.

Writing a Memoir

The best way to go when you are given an assignment to write a text of this kind would be to read some memoir writing examples, as they have some peculiar features that are difficult to learn in a flash. On the Internet, you can find plenty of short memoir examples you can read in a hurry to prepare for the task. The distinctive qualities of most personal memoir examples you should pay attention to are:

  • Focus. A memoir is not an autobiography – instead of your entire life it focuses on a particular theme, moment or aspect of your personal story;
  • Elements of fiction. Not in the sense that you should invent things that did not happen – on the contrary, good memoirs are usually completely truthful. What we mean here is that you should apply a toolset of fiction writing when talking about real people, events and situations. Use creative descriptions and characterizations, single out a distinctive plot to cover, try to evoke feelings;
  • Show your personal growth. A memoir is your personal story; and any story is interesting as long as it shows the changes happening to the characters as a result of what they go through. Demonstrate that the experiences you recount influenced you as a human being and tell what exactly this entailed.

Descriptive Writing: How to Be Ready for Anything

Descriptive writing encompasses a broad range of writing assignments, including personal characterizations, poems and descriptive essays. The main purpose of such a task is to give the reader an impression of what something is – it may be a person, an object or something more abstract, like an idea or a principle. Depending on what you describe, the job may be easier or more difficult, but the toolset applied remains similar all the way: similes, metaphors, parallel sentences and so on.


Of course, here we did not cover all the genres you are likely to encounter in your academic career and beyond – writing is a constantly evolving field, with new genres appearing and the existing ones changing their boundaries. However, we believe that this guide will help you navigate this field and find the best way to apply your efforts!

Upgrade your essays with these FREE writing tools!
Get started now