The Terrifying Subgenres of Horror

Next up on our tour of literary genres is Horror. (Because of the plethora of subgenres Science Fiction features, I’ve decided to make it the finale of this series, so you’ll see it in about two more weeks.)

A good Horror should unnerve, freak out and otherwise haunt you long after you finish it. Featuring ghosts and vampires, psychopaths and serial killers, Horror preys on our fears, exploring the darker side of humanity.  But unlike some of the other genres, Horror’s true focus isn’t on the content, so much as the delivery. Horror would be nothing more than General Fiction, Fantasy or Sci-Fi without one very key ingredient — suspense. The creepy, atmospheric use of this storytelling technique (different from the way it’s used in a Thriller) has one goal — to elicit fear from the reader. It feeds on the adrenaline rush we get when our fight or flight response kicks in, spinning tales that leave us uncomfortable and scared stiff.

But even though books in this genre have to conform to this universal requirement, they can vary widely in their approach. (No surprise there, otherwise it wouldn’t be part of my series on subgenres, right?) My research shows 15 different subgenres in Horror.  So let’s check them out.

Comic Horror

Gallows humor and black comedy are staples of this subgenre, which strives to mix comedy with the elements of Horror.  Sarcasm and satire run rampant, pairing things meant to terrify with the ridiculous. Stories in this genre are often predictable, placing characters in laughable situations the audience sees coming a mile away. The Scary Movie franchise is a prime example, as are The Ghostbusters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Shaun of the Dead, and the novels of Christopher Moore.

Creepy Kids

This may seem like a weird name for a subgenre, but if you think about it, how many times have you seen creepy children featured in a Horror film? It doesn’t always have to be children, though; it can be anything that represents innocence gone twisted. Possessed toys (Chucky) and pets (Stephen King’s Cujo) also qualify. I think there’s something inherently horrifying about the combination of innocence and pure evil that makes this genre guaranteed to give you the heebie-jeebies.

Dark Mystery/Noir

This subgenre pulls from sister genre Mystery to create gritty, dark, crime-driven stories. Typically set against an urban backdrop rife with moral ambiguity, a Dark Mystery/Noir will feel oppressive, paranoid and dirty. Plots often contain themes of corruption, obsession, and revenge.  Examples include The Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli and  Procession of the Dead by Darren Shan.


This is what people think of when they think about “classic” Horror. Before Horror became a recognized genre, Gothic was used to describe this style of literature. But once other variations of the horrifying came into existence, the genre name changed and Gothic became merely a subgenre. (Note: This is not the same thing as “Goth,” which is a subculture and not a literary genre.)

Thematically, novels in this subgenre contain characters who feel trapped. It doesn’t matter if that’s internally or externally. The settings are often desolate, ruined places (like castles and graveyards) and there’s a heavy emphasis on the supernatural. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and everything by Edgar Allan Poe are classic examples everyone knows. But Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, The Crow movies, and even Batman, also fall under this heading.


This is an easy one. Hauntings = ghosts, spirits, demons, poltergeists and other supernatural, scary phenomena. There really isn’t any more to it than that. If your book features any of these things, it’s likely to fall here.


We seem to see one of these subgenres in every genre. I wonder why they haven’t just dubbed it an official genre all on its own yet?

Anyway, a Historical Horror is exactly like it sounds — a Horror set in a recognizable, historical setting. That’s the only requirement, so there’s not much point elaborating, except to say that I happen to know REUTS Publications will be releasing an excellent novel under this category in the near future. So if you’re a fan of this subgenre, keep an eye out for the official announcement! 😉


These are some of the most terrifying stories out there. Where the other subgenres usually focus on an external, alien form of evil, Psychological Horror illuminates the shadowy corners of our own minds, relying on the character’s emotions, fears and mental instability to create tension. These are often uncomfortable tales that prey on emotional vulnerabilities and insecurities we all harbor but choose to deny. Plot twists are common here, as are unreliable narrators, and heavy use of confusion, leaving the reader wondering what’s happening as much as the character is. Because of this attention to subtlety, this subgenre is the closest cousin to Thriller. Notable examples include The Others, The Ring, and Stephen King’s The Shining.

Quiet Horror

If Psychological Horror takes the cake for highest use of suspense, Quiet Horror wins for subtlety. This is a subgenre I don’t think I’ve ever encountered. It’s a light form of Horror, where only the atmosphere and tone provoke fear, rather than gore, violence or explicit descriptions. If I understand it correctly, the main emotion conveyed is one of dread or anxiety rather than outright terror. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any well-known examples of this subgenre, so if someone knows of a few, please feel free to share in the comments below.

Extreme Horror

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Quiet Horror is Extreme Horror — aka Splatter, Slasher, Grindhouse, and Visceral. All of these variations focus on one thing — gore. If you want your Horror bloody and violent with a huge body count, this is your subgenre. I think we’re all familiar with Slasher films, but what are some literary examples? American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and the work of Edward Lee comes to mind.

Supernatural Menace

I’m pretty sure we can all guess what this subgenre is about. That’s right — creatures. Whether it be the Swamp Thing, Dracula, The Wolf-Man, It, or some other creepy non-human, this is where you’ll find them. I don’t think we need more explanation than that, do you?

Weird Tales

Believe it or not, this subgenre was birthed from a magazine bearing the same name. You don’t see that every day, huh? These stories defy any other classification except strange. Usually melding concepts from Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror into a slipstream blend, Weird Tales are just that — weird. Notable examples include the work of Clive Barker and H. P. Lovecraft, as well as The Twilight Zone.


Yep, as in the H. P. Lovecraft I just listed under Weird Tales. A pioneer of the Horror genre, Mr. Lovecraft has inspired an almost cult-like fanaticism around his work, warranting his own special subgenre. Work featured here has to bear obvious influences from Lovecraft’s work, mimicking his distinct stylistic flare and pessimism and usually piggy-backing on one of his creations.

Dark Fantasy

Well, look at that, it’s my favored subgenre again! Since this is a cross-breeding of Fantasy and Horror, it’s only right it should be featured here as well. (No, I didn’t make that executive decision. The internet did. 😉 )

Dark Fantasy is grittier than its more traditional Fantasy brethren, dealing with the nastier bits of humanity’s psyche. There can be (and often is) a significant amount of violence and gore and it usually contains themes meant to make a reader slightly uncomfortable. So even if there are no vampires, werewolves, demons, etc, a novel can still be classed Dark Fantasy, simply by its voice and subtext. How is this different than say, Gothic, Hauntings or Supernatural Menace? It’s not really. Except here the fantastical elements lean more towards the lighter stance of Fantasy, meaning that the creatures don’t have to be as purely evil as typically seen in Horror. Dark Fantasy pulls most from Psychological Horror, infusing the heightened tension and uncomfortable emotional vulnerabilities into a traditional Fantasy setting.


This subgenre is similar to Supernatural Menace in that it often involves a supernatural element. But here, that supernatural element has to be based on a real religious belief system or folklore. Witchcraft, Voodoo and frightening mythological creatures like the Onryo (a Japanese “vengeful ghosts” legend and featured in The Ring) are all typically found here.

Religious Horror

Religious Horror really should be called Christian Horror, as everything non-Christian falls under the Occult subgenre. Religious Horror centers on the very specific ideology of Christianity, so think devils, demons, Satan, etc. Stories in this subgenre will have heavy religious overtones, with the plot often boiling down to the supernatural battle between good and evil (God vs. the Devil). The Exorcist is a prime example of this kind of fiction.

And there you have it; 15 ways to completely freak yourself out and bring on nightmares. Personally, I never really thought I was a fan of Horror, but reading through these, I realize I’m a bigger fan of it than I thought. I always knew Dark Fantasy was on the fence between Fantasy and Horror, I just never realized I had one foot on either side. Now that I know, I may have to meander down the Horror aisle in Barnes & Noble more often. How about you? Are more of your favorite literary reads falling under Horror than you expected?


Distinguishing the Subgenres of General Fiction

I know I promised you the subgenres of Science Fiction this week, but unforeseen schedule constraints meant that I had to postpone it. Again. But don’t worry, that behemoth of a post will surface before this series is done. I promise. Today, though, we’re going to tackle what’s known as “uncategorized fiction” or “General Fiction.” (“Categorized Fiction” is used to describe genre fiction like Fantasy, Sci-fi, Romance, etc.)

General Fiction is that strange catch-all genre where titles no one really knows how to classify find themselves, and it typically takes up about half a bookstore’s inventory. But even though it’s kind of a vague term, there’s nothing general about it. In fact, my research has shown that there are actually 12 categories you’ll be guaranteed to find in this section. Notice I called them categories, not subgenres. General Fiction doesn’t really have subgenres. Each of these is considered its own thing and are umbrella-ed beneath the header of General Fiction solely so they can be shelved together in a bookstore. Curious what they are? Let’s have a look.

Literary Fiction

Ah, the most pretentious category of fiction. Admit it, a lot of you instantly pictured snooty English Majors in tweed jackets declaring themselves too good to write something as trashy as “commercial” genre fiction and actually, you know, make money. Don’t lie, now. I know I’m not the only one to harbor that opinion. 😉

But despite it’s bad rap, Literary Fiction does stand above other genres in terms of technical quality, garnering critical acclaim for its “serious” approach to literature. In fact, to even be considered part of this genre, a work has to meet a strict criteria of traits, including:

  • Interesting, complicated characters who are often introverted and introspective.
  • A Plot that focuses more on the inner-story of the character than external action, creating a complex and multi-layered emotional involvement between the reader and characters.
  • Prose that is elegant, lyrical and layered. (It’s this emphasis on style that earns the genre its pretentious label.)
  • A dark and serious tone that wrestles with universal themes and dilemmas.
  • Slower pacing than more mainstream, commercial works.

A lot of those elements can and are included in other genres as well, (my own WIP is bordering dangerously close to qualifying), so there’s one other crucial piece that distinguishes a work as Literary Fiction — the audience. Unlike the other, “commercial” genres, who survive solely on the whims of fans, Literary Fiction targets critics. Its main reason for existing is to gain critical acclaim from other literary authors and reviewers, catapulting the author to stardom not by the number of books sold, but by how highly praised their work is. Which, I dare say, is even harder than finding success through book sales.


This category is more about tone than anything else. Like Literary Fiction, Drama is serious, but without the added emphasis on style.  Technically, Drama is a term thrown around more in film and theater, but it exists in literature too. There’s only one requirement to be considered a Drama — it must be a story centered around the conflict or contrast of characters. Which, let’s face it, is 99% of what makes up most stories. That’s why the 5 Act Dramatic Structure originally created for plays — exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement — became the basis of literature as well.  Drama is a fundamental storytelling technique and it’s found in every genre, subgenre, or category.

So what makes a stand-alone Drama? I would say when the dramatic elements of the story overshadow those of another genre, it could be considered a Drama. For example, you’ve heard the term Crime Drama, I’m sure. In these (usually televised) stories, the drama surrounding the crime overshadows any other plotline, including character development. Family Drama, where the entire story centers on the conflict between the generations of characters, is another example. There are obviously shades of other genres in both of these, making pure Drama a rare creature. Therefore, it’s my opinion that while Drama is considered a category, it’s really a hybrid, combining its core principles with something else 9 times out of 10.


Humor is similar to Drama in that it is most often found as a hybrid, crossing-breeding with other genres in a symbiotic masterpiece. Unlike Drama, it’s much easier to identify. A humorous work has one goal — to provide amusement and make the reader laugh.  That’s it. Really. If your main mission as a writer is to make people laugh, then regardless of whichever other genre you choose to add in, your book is considered part of the Humor category.

Realistic Fiction

I would hazard that the majority of books categorized by bookstores as General Fiction actually fall into this.  Similar to Literary Fiction, Realistic Fiction has a set of guidelines for its identification, namely:

  • A conflict or problem that could actually happen in the real world.
  • A setting that actually exists or could actually exist.
  • Characters that are fully realized, complicated individuals.
  • A plot that centers on everyday problems and personal relationships readers could easily relate to their own lives.

This category is one of the few that transcends audience as well, crossing into all ages and backgrounds. The recent success of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky being a prime example.


Satire is a cousin of Humor. In fact, it’s technically considered a type of humor, encompassing things like irony, sarcasm, and parody. But unlike Humor, whose goal is simply to entertain, Satire has more of a malicious edge. Its intent is to act as a social critic, drawing attention to problems and societal issues through wit. It always contains some kind of message, and because of its often sharply-edged delivery, is not everyone’s cup of tea. I wrote a post about that very thing a while back — Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone. Satire is no different.


Tragedy. One of the longest-standing storytelling devices. And why not? Sorrow is one of the most powerful emotions we can feel. And clearly, it sells. I’m pretty sure Nicholas Sparks figured out ages ago that his blending of Romance w/ Tragedy led to his legions of Kleenex-armed, female fans and his insanely prolific career. Hence the plethora of titles he’s released under that formula.

Similar to Drama, Tragedy is usually found as a hybrid with something else. Its most simple definition is that it describes the horrible events derived from the actions of the hero/heroine, whether that be self-destruction or calamity for those around them. A happy ending isn’t required in any category except Romance, but it’s definitely not going to appear here. If you pick up a tragedy, expect to bawl your eyes out and walk away feeling burdened. That emotional impact is what makes Tragedies some of the most remembered and powerful stories out there.


All subgenres can be combined to create a new one, but few deserve their own designation as stand-alone category, making Tragicomedy even stranger than its name implies. Clearly, it’s a combination of Tragedy and Humor, but oddly, there is no formal definition for it. The closest I found was that it’s a tragedy containing enough comedic elements to lighten the mood, or a serious story with a happy ending. If I understand it correctly, it’s meant to be a lighter form of tragedy, so rather than a reader walking away feeling depressed, they end feeling slightly uplifted in the way Lifetime movies are uplifting — feel-good endings with a heavy undertone. By that definition, I suppose books like Kate Jacobs’s The Friday Night Knitting Club & Comfort Food, as well as everything by Mr. Sparks could almost fall into this category?

I’m not at all familiar with this category, though, so if I got it wrong, someone please feel free to correct me. 🙂

Chick Lit (Women’s Fiction)

Speaking of Lifetime, this is the literary equivalent. A newer category that saw its popularity skyrocket in the late 1990’s, Chick Lit is aimed at the modern woman, addressing everything from career, to relationships (including family and friends), to shopping and red-soled, uber-expensive high heels.  Though it usually contains elements of romance, it’s not actually considered part of the Romance genre. It’s light-hearted and fun; the literary equivalent to a Rom-Com with your girlfriends. And thanks to books like Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City, Chick Lit has become a staple in the publishing industry, spawning dedicated imprints like Harlequin’s Red Dress Ink and flooding the market with sassy, confident heroines in expensive shoes.

Inspirational Fiction

This category actually earns its own shelf in some bookstores, but since its formal definition is vague at best, I’m lumping it in with General Fiction.

Inspirational Fiction has one goal — to inspire. It features characters overcoming adversity in inspiring and uplifting ways. It often draws heavily on religious belief systems and for many, has become synonymous with Christian Literature. But that’s not completely accurate. Yes, the majority of this category does pull from the ideals of Christianity, but that isn’t actually a requirement. All that’s required is that a work of Inspirational Fiction somehow address the idea of faith and impart a positive message that inspires.

Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction is easy to spot when you’re browsing the General Fiction aisles. These are books set in the past, featuring realistic, historical settings and maybe even figures from actual history. The main characters, however, are always fictitious.  There are three requirements of Historical Fiction:

  • The events need to be believable enough that they could have happened.
  • It has to have authentic settings and characters, including behavior appropriate to the time period.
  • It has to have an accurate timeline for events that matches the reality of the time period being portrayed.

The point here is to showcase the past in an enlightening way, helping readers understand customs and cultures that have vanished or painting significant historical events through different POV’s. When you start deviating from the path history took, you’re wandering into the realm of Historical Fantasy, a different creature altogether.

Classic Literature

I’ve always thought that books falling in this category deserved their own shelf, but for whatever reason, they’re usually just lumped into General Fiction. Possibly because the term “classic” is somewhat arbitrary.  We’re all familiar with titles in this grouping, having been force-fed them throughout school. But how do we actually define what makes something classic? By looking for these markers:

  • A Classic usually comes out of Literary Fiction, sporting some kind of stylistic achievement that’s earned renown for decades.
  • It should be representative of the time period it was written in, but transcends time, becoming as relevant to current generations as those it was written for.
  • It must contain some kind of universal appeal, touching on themes that resonate sometimes hundreds of years later.

The exact list of Classic Literature changes depending on who you talk to, but it’s pretty safe to assume that if you’ve heard of it and it isn’t popular in the grocery store checkout, it’s probably a classic.

Western Fiction

This is another category that usually has its own aisle.  But I’m including it here because it doesn’t appear to have any subgenres. A Western is a Western is a Western, if you get my drift. I’m sure the plots have varying nuances, but the overarching style never does. A Western is a book set in the Wild West of usually America between the late 18th century and the late 19th. And yes, it features exactly what you’d expect — cowboys, Native Americans, covered wagons, and women in aprons with shotguns.

So there you have it — 12 categories of literature you’re probably going to find in the General Fiction section. Thank God for alphabetization, eh? Otherwise we’d never be able to find anything in this genre! Wandering the aisles of General Fiction is definitely a daunting task, but it’s also one of the most interesting because you never know exactly what you’ll find. It’s kind of like flipping through the channels of a TV, there are as many variations as there are titles, and occasionally, you may even come across one of those amazingly brilliant, strange gems that defies all classification. And that is exactly what General Fiction is all about.

As with my previous posts, if you feel I’ve miscategorized or misrepresented any of these subgenres, feel free to speak up! 😉

Falling in Love With the Subgenres of Romance

After the popularity of my post on the various subgenres of Fantasy, I decided it was unfair to leave authors of the other common genres in the dark. Categorizing your work is one of the most difficult parts of the process, and it’s easy to see why authors struggle. So if I can help by providing a list of the various subgenres and their definitions, shouldn’t I? That’s exactly what I thought, too. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to do just that. Starting with Romance.

When I say “Romance,” I bet three-quarters of you instantly picture Harlequin and a ripped, shirtless dude who’s apparently never heard of a hair cut fawning over a buxom girl who tried to squeeze unsuccessfully into a corset three sizes too small for her chest. It’s okay. I did too. Because that’s the image we’ve been told embodies Romance. But as classic as that bodice-ripping image is, it’s not the whole picture.

Romance actually encompasses 10 separate subgenres, and as Romance fans can attest, each is distinctly different from the others. In fact, of all the popular genres of mainstream fiction, I’d hazard Romance is the only one where fans stubbornly refuse to read anything other than their favored subgenre. And that’s because of the dramatic difference between them. They’re almost so different as to not really belong under the same genre header. If it weren’t for the consistent narrative structure revolving around a love story with an emotionally satisfying end, these subgenres would have very little in common.

What are they? Let’s find out.

Contemporary Romance

Set after 1945, Contemporary Romance is the largest subgenre, cornering well over half of all Romance titles sold. It generally takes place in the time it was written and will reflect social behaviors of that time. For example, a Contemporary Romance set in 1950 would likely feature a heroine who’s primary goal is to get married, raise a family and be a good housewife, while one set in 2000 would probably feature a feistier, career-driven female with more progressive views on love. This subgenre shares a lot of similarities with Women’s Fiction (a subgenre of General Fiction), but a Contemporary Romance always focuses on the romance while Women’s Fiction can focus on any life change relevant to women.

Historical Romance

This is the only subgenre to have subgenres of its own. The only stipulation is that it be set prior to 1945 and, of course, the plot must be centered on romance. Other than that, it can fall into any of these subcategories:

  • Viking: Obviously features Vikings in the Dark or Middle Ages.
  • Medieval: Your typical Knight and Damsel in Distress situation.
  • Tudor: Set in the English time period of the same name — 1485 to 1558.
  • Elizabethan: Yep, more England. This time between the dates of 1558 and 1603, when the first Elizabeth ruled.
  • Georgian: Hey, look! More England! These take place between 1714 and 1810, during the historical period of the same name.
  • Regency: A super short time period in English history (yep, still England) — 1810 to 1820.
  • Victorian: Yet another moment in English history (Man! This subgenre really should be called English History Romance!) — 1832 to 1901.
  • Pirate: (Did anyone else just laugh over the fact this is considered its own thing?) I think the name speaks for itself, don’t you? Think Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean and you’re golden.
  • Colonial United States: Ah yes, now we get to the American-centric portion of history. This takes place between 1630 and 1798. So if Elizabethan or Georgian England isn’t your thing, cross the ocean and explore America instead.
  • Civil War: Typically, these are set on the Confederacy side (since everyone knows the Confederate South was a sexy place to be), but they don’t have to be. They just have to be set during the Civil War.
  • Western: I’m sure all of us just pictured cowboys. But those cowboys actually can be American, Canadian or Australian. These books actually focus on the experiences of the female though, rather than the male-centric version found in the Western genre itself.
  • Native American: These books explore Native American cultures as much as they tell a love story. They also usually contain some element of fighting against prejudice and paint a picture of cultural acceptance.
  • Americana: A simple subcategory, Americana takes place between 1880 and 1920 in Small Town USA.
  • Celtic: This is apparently not recognized as a thing, but I’m including it because I’ve personally read at least a hundred Romance books featuring Scottish or Irish backdrops, cultures and beliefs. That qualifies as a subcategory in my book.


Romantic Suspense:

Combining elements of the Mystery genre with Romance, this subgenre is a hybrid. It still features a relationship at the heart of the story, but is more plot-driven than its character-driven subgenre brethren.

The most common set-up is a woman who’s become a victim falling for a man who’s in a position of authority/protection — police officer, FBI agent, Firefighter, Navy SEAL etc. Solving the mystery around the crime brings them closer together and helps them fall in love.  The elements of suspense — mystery, thriller, etc. — become integral to the storyline, affecting the decisions the characters make and driving the plot forward. At the same time, the romance remains the focus, so those same suspenseful elements have a direct impact on the way the love story unfolds. All in all, this is one of the more complicated Romance subgenres to write, but it’s also one of the more fun to read.

Paranormal Romance:

Another hybrid, Paranormal Romance draws heavily from Fantasy. In fact, it’s considered a subgenre of Fantasy as well.

“Paranormal” simply means anything not normal, so the staple of this subgenre is weaving fantastical elements into contemporary settings. Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, Demons, Psychics — all are fair game in this subgenre. The most common settings pull from Urban Fantasy or Dark Fantasy, but there are even some Historical settings out there. Sometimes the larger culture is aware of the paranormal happenings in their midst (à la Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels) and other times they’re not (à la Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga). But almost always, a Paranormal Romance blooms between a human, and something not-quite-human.

Science Fiction Romance:

Science Fiction Romance is to Science Fiction what Paranormal Romance is to Fantasy. Meaning it pulls heavily from the Science Fiction genre, weaving in futuristic, alien or technological elements. The only difference between a regular Science Fiction tale and a Science Fiction Romance is the focus of the plot. Just like all Romance, the heart of a Science Fiction Romance is the blossoming love between two main characters. Now, whether those are both human characters on some outer-space road trip, or a human and an alien on some exotic, distant planet is up to you.

Time Travel Romance:

I’m honestly not quite sure why this gets its own dedicated subgenre. Depending on the set-up of the time travel, whether it’s magical or scientific, it could easily fall within the requirements of either Paranormal Romance or Science Fiction Romance.  But, apparently I’m wrong, because this is listed on multiple sources as a Romance subgenre.

A Time Travel Romance obviously has to contain an element of time travel. Whether you have a character traveling back in time to find their soul mate or have someone travel forward in time for the same thing doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that while you create the usual romantic plotline, you also pay attention to the clash of cultures. Time Travel Romances offer a unique way to filter viewpoints on current and past society through the lens of a character outside of it. In that sense, they can also contain aspects of morality or satire.

Inspirational Romance:

Inspirational Romance is a subgenre aimed at a specific niche of readers. It combines strong Christian elements with the more traditional aspects of Romance. However, because it does conform to the Christian belief system, it typically doesn’t include things like gratuitous violence or swearing, and sex, if it’s shown, only happens after marriage. The entire thing has a chaste, traditional courtship feel that appeals to readers wanting the warm and fuzzy experience of true love conquering all without the grit or vulgarity.

Erotic Romance:

I think there may be something intrinsically wrong with listing this directly under Inspirational Romance, but oh well. Just like Inspirational Romance targets a specific group of readers, so does Erotic Romance. And they’re at complete opposite ends of the spectrum! Where Inspirational is clean and innocent, Erotic Romance is dirty and explicit. It contains strong sexual content and frank language. But despite the heavier emphasis on sex and frequency of the sexual scenes, Erotic Romance stills contains developed characters and plots that could stand on their own without the steamier bits.  Technically, I would say E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey is an Erotic Romance. If you strip out the many sex scenes, you’re actually left with a semi-decent story of two people learning to love.

One thing to note: Erotic Romance is not the same as Erotica, which is its own genre. In Erotica, the sex scenes are all that matter, taking up three-quarters of the book at the expense of well developed characters or story.

YA (Young Adult) Romance:

This is a newer subgenre, and may not even be fully recognized as such yet. But I’m choosing to list it as its own thing because it has a distinct set of requirements just like the others do.

YA Romance targets readers between the ages of 15 and 18. It deals with things like first loves, first kisses, and losing one’s virginity — themes appropriate for the target audience. The romances are passionate in the way that only teenagers can pull off, and the prose is typically kept at a PG-13 rating. So while there are some steamy parts, they’re not as explicit as those contained in books intended for adults. Why is this worthy of a subgenre designation? Because more and more titles are being released that would fit; titles where the primary plot focuses on the romantic relationship between the characters and not something more external and grand, like saving the world. They can fall within any of the previous subgenres, but due to the specific age range of the target audience, I feel they should be set apart.

NA (New Adult) Romance:

The newest subgenre on the block, New Adult is quickly gaining popularity. Like Young Adult, it targets a specific age range — 18 to 25 — and deals with themes like discovering one’s self, leaving home for the first time, finding a career, etc. It also incorporates things like overcoming that first heartbreak, committing to a serious relationship, starting a family, and other things that resonate with readers in that stage of life. It lifts the PG-13 rating of YA, including more explicit sexual content and stronger language. How is it different from other adult romances? It’s not, really. Aside from the specific thematic elements and the target audience, it’s much the same as what you’d find in more mature titles. Why did I give it its own designation then? Because it’s the cool thing to do. Duh! Just kidding. It’s because it does have stipulations, requirements that dictate the path of the story. That’s what defines all the other subgenres, so why shouldn’t it come into play here?

And there you have it. As you can see, these subgenres vary widely, crossing over into the other mainstream fiction genres and back again. The main thing to remember is that while romantic subplots can and are included in nearly all genres of fiction, only plots where romance is the driving force can be considered true Romance. Regardless of which subgenre they are, they all must boil down to one simple thing — a story of two people falling in love who eventually end up together. If that sums up the core of your story, congratulations! You’re a Romance writer. And with Romance remaining among the most popular genres, there’s definitely no shame in that.

Next week, we’ll continue our exploration of subgenres by meandering through the intimidating number Science Fiction sports. In the meantime, if you feel I’ve miscategorized, misrepresented or just plain missed a Romance subgenre, feel free to add/correct in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading! 🙂

How to Write Martial Arts Fight Scenes

Fight scenes. Whether live action or written, they can be such a pain to pull off, falling all too easily into the realm of cheesy. You know the ones I mean; we’ve all seen and read them– fight scenes where the creator was more focused on what looks cool and/or badass, and less so on believability.

Recently, I sent a frustrated plea to the Twitterverse, begging authors to do their research before including the martial arts in their fights. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until after I sent that plea that the light bulb appeared and I realized I’m in a unique position to help my fellow authors. As both a martial artist and a writer, I have insight that could help authors overcome the hurdle of fight scenes. So today, I’m going to use that background to dissect a written fight scene and hopefully illustrate how to effectively incorporate martial arts techniques. About time, right?

First, let’s take a look at what you don’t want to do.


Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, his opponent’s hands wrapped thoroughly around his throat. He struggled, trying to kick his opponent in the groin but only managing to connect with the man’s shin. The attacker snarled, loosening his hold on Charlie’s neck. Without pausing, Charlie threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping the attacker’s arm against his own chest before elbowing the man in the face.

The attacker stumbled backwards, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He had the upper-hand. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxed into a sparring stance. The attacker glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance.

With a yell, Charlie threw a round-kick at the attacker’s head. His opponent ducked, sliding between Charlie’s legs on his knees and jumping to his feet with a swift kick to Charlie’s back. Charlie stumbled forward, turning to face his attacker before he was struck again and instantly ducked the knife hand strike aimed at his head. Charlie responded with a flurry of punches, varying his target from the man’s head to his torso and back again. The man blocked most, but a few landed, knocking the attacker from his feet.

Charlie stood over him for a split second before finishing him off with a well-placed axe kick to the sternum. As the attacker rolled on the ground, sputtering, Charlie ran for the safety of a nearby cafe.


Now, that’s shockingly not as bad as some I’ve seen, although it’s sure not going to win me a Pulitzer either. Some of you may even think this is an alright fight scene, aside from the obvious grammatical flaws that could be fixed with a few more drafts. But this is the example of what not to do, remember? So let’s figure out why.

Did you notice that I gave you very little about why this fight is happening, or where? I didn’t even give you the attacker’s name! But I did tell you in agonizing detail the techniques they’re using and where the blows land, placing all the emphasis on the choreography, and none at all on the characters or motivation behind this moment. The result? A laundry list of steps you could re-enact, but that you feel not at all.

That’s because this approach is all telling. That’s right, the infamous telling vs. showing debate. I tell you exactly what’s happening, but I don’t show it at all. You don’t feel invested in Charlie’s situation. You don’t feel the emotions. You feel excited, sure, because it’s action, and even poorly written action is exciting. But it has no lasting impact on you, does it? This scene is about as forgettable as they come.

It’s also unrealistic. Who out there noticed the completely implausible choreography I threw in? I know the martial artists in the audience did, because it screams “cool factor,” it’s entire existence a nod to something awesome and badass, but that in reality is actually physically impossible.

If you guessed the knee slide under Charlie’s legs, you’d be correct. Bravo! You get a cookie.

This is why it’s important to understand the dynamics of a fight, not just the choreography. Those who have done a round kick know that while performing it, you balance on one leg, your body positioned so that your center of gravity is entirely over that back leg. If someone were to try and go through your legs the way I described, they would take out your supporting leg and you’d both end up in a flailing pile of limbs.

And then there’s the knee slide itself. If you read it closely, you realized the attacker is standing still. Where’d he get the momentum for a knee slide? Unless they’re fighting on a slick, hardwood floor that’s just been mopped, he would need a running start. I don’t know about you, but if I tried to drop to my knees to slide anywhere, I’d be sitting on the floor looking like an idiot asking to get kicked in the face. It’s just not believable.

So let’s try that scene again, this time, fixing all those things I called out.


Charlie grunted as his back slammed into the wall, Eric’s hands wrapped around his throat. Hate emanated from his friend’s eyes, judgement and accusation burning them into a sinister shade of blue. Charlie gasped, choking as Eric’s fingers cut off his air like a tourniquet.

His mind screamed at him, desperate to know why it was being punished. His lungs burned, his mouth working like a fish on dry land, sucking in nothing but fear. The edges of his vision started to grow fuzzy, black dots appearing over Eric’s shoulder, distorting the red glow of the club’s EXIT sign like reverse chickenpox. Panic flooded his veins with adrenaline. He struggled, clawing at the fingers sealed around his throat. He tried to kick Eric in the groin but only managed to connect with his shin, the impact ricocheting painfully through his foot.

Eric snarled, loosening his hold, giving Charlie the opening he needed. He threw his left arm between them, turning to the side and trapping Eric’s arm against his own chest before elbowing his best friend in the face.

Eric stumbled backward, grasping at his bleeding nose. Charlie didn’t wait. He advanced toward his opponent, his hands raised to guard his face, his body relaxing into the sparring stance he’d practiced for years– knees bent, weight forward on the balls of his feet, head lowered. Eric glared up at him, straightening into a matching stance. Their eyes locked. It was just like old times, only now there was no one to referee the match, to stop it before it went too far.

All this for a girl. Charlie knew it was ridiculous, that he should walk away, but fury mixed with adrenaline, coursing through him like a pulsing heat. If Eric wanted a fight, that’s what he’d get.

With a yell, Charlie threw a kick at Eric’s head. Eric ducked, sliding easily into a leg-sweep, knocking Charlie’s support from under him. The ground smashed into his back, forcing the air from his lungs in a rushing wheeze. He rolled backwards to his feet, still fighting against the tightness in his chest. Eric closed in on him, pushing his advantage, arms and legs flying. Charlie blocked as many of the blows as he could, his arms jarring in their sockets every time he did, his ribs and face blossoming with pain every time he didn’t. He stumbled back through the shadows of the alley until he was once again cornered.  Cringing, he held his hands up in surrender. Eric backed off, eying him warily as he spit blood onto the darkened pavement.

Charlie’s knuckles were bleeding, his ribs bruised, and his lip split into an oozing gash. It was time to end this.

“Alright, I give,” he said,  the words gravelly and pained as he forced his battered throat to work. “I’ll never go near your sister again.”


Still not the most epic writing sample, but you see the difference, I hope? Now we not only know who Charlie’s fighting, but why. I’ve also fixed the choreography so that it’s believable, and added emotional content and description, putting the focus on the characters instead of the martial arts. No one cares about the techniques, but they care a lot about how those techniques feel, the emotion behind the action. Understanding that is the difference between creating a scene from a clinical distance and creating a deeper POV that will resonate with readers.

So, how can you take your fight scenes from flat to amazing? Easy, just remember these three things:

  1. Show, don’t tell. The techniques themselves are not important, the emotion is. Only use a technique name if there’s a reason we need to know the exact kick, etc.
  2. Believability is king. Never throw something in just because it sounds awesome. Make sure it’s actually physically possible and makes sense with the choreography and your world.
  3. When stumped, ask an expert. If you’re at a loss, find someone familiar with the martial arts and ask. Don’t just rely on Google and Youtube. They won’t give you the insight personal experience can.

That’s really all there is to it. Not so hard after all, is it? And if you ever find yourself in need of some martial arts feedback, I’m always available. Just send me a note with your questions and I’ll happily provide some help. 🙂

Writing Workshop Alert: Have You Scene It?

I’m still winding down from Camp Nano, so this week’s post will be short, but sweet. I wanted to take this opportunity (while I try to stop twitching from energy drink withdrawals) to let you know about a fantastic workshop full of opportunities over at Ink in the Book. The lovely ladies behind that blog are hosting a scene writing workshop entitled, Have You Scene It? If you’ve ever wondered about the secret recipe for creating scenes that really pop, then head on over and find out.

For the last week, they’ve been posting lessons on the 6 elements needed to really make a scene sparkle. (Yes, I’m a little late with my announcement, but you can look past that, right?) They’ve covered everything from setting, goal and motivation, to emotion. There’s even a guest post on conflict and tension written by little old me.  (For those of you who don’t write, but are fans of my work, there’s a sneak peek of The Bardach revamp included in that post. So you may still want to check it out. I must warn you though, the excerpt’s incredibly brief. Like only a few paragraphs brief. Still, you can get a taste of what to expect when the story is re-released in all it’s new and improved glory some undisclosed, distant date in the future. 😛 )

Even if you feel like you’ve fully mastered the secret formula for scene awesomeness, there’s still plenty of reasons to meander your way through cyber-space to Ink in the Book. Today, they’re hosting a Q & A session with industry professionals, including myself. Next week, you’ll be able to actually submit a sample scene of your own for peer review/critique and possibly win a mini-mentorship from those same professional editors, agents and authors. And lastly, the workshop will conclude on Aug 9th with a pitch opportunity for those of you with completed manuscripts in need of a home. The Acquisitions team from REUTS Publications will be there scouting for excellent YA/NA manuscripts, so this is definitely not something to miss!

Whether you want to learn, pick the brains of industry professionals, gain insight into your work’s strengths and weaknesses or jump on the chance to pitch your book to a captive audience of agents and editors, show some love to the Ink in the Book ladies. I’ll be there the entire workshop, along with my fellow REUTS Publications senior staff members– Ashley and Jessica– and we’d love if you came by and said hi! 🙂

And don’t worry, I promise I’ll be back next week with something snarky. Until then, I’ll see you at the workshop!