The following definitions are meant to give contestants a guide for selecting the category and subgenre of their entry as well as give judges some criteria for judging the genre questions on the scoresheet.
An action/thriller creates an adrenalized mood of excitement, anticipation and thrills to tell the story. Tend to be gritty, fast-paced and rousing, described as ‘edge of your seat’. Your audience is adrenaline-junkies, fans of hardboiled drama, extreme sports, fast cars, technology. In thrillers, the reader knows who the good guys and bad guys are. It’s the outcome of that conflict that’s in question, whereas in a mystery, a whodunit, the reader knows the good guy and tries to figure out who the bad guy is. If your book would go on a shelf next to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, Clive Cussler, Stieg Larsson or David Morrell, this is your genre.
Action Adventure-pirates, man against nature, a quest for historical treasure. Dan Brown, James Rollins, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Bio-tech thriller-plague stories, science and technology gone wrong. Scott Sigler, Tom Clancy, Matthew Reilly, the Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
Legal thriller-the dangers of practicing law, these thrillers rarely stay in the courtroom. John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, Scott Turow
Political thriller-set against a backdrop of political intrigue or corruption. David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate
Psychological thriller-emphasizes the psychological state of the characters, mental warfare. Patricia Highsmith, Jonathan Kellerman,The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Spy/International-espionage and shady government conspiracies. John Le Carre, Barry Eisler, the Bourne books by Robert Ludlum
Fiction which is non-genre and appeals to a wide audience. If your story isn’t concerned with a particular fiction genre such as mystery, sci fi or romance and aims for a general readership, it could be mainstream. Think book club fiction. (RMFW focuses on commercial fiction, so a literary or high-brow novel might not score well.) If you see yourself shelved next to John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver or Joyce Carol Oates, this is the category for you.
Chick lit–addresses modern womanhood, often in a humorous way. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell, the Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella
Comedy/Satire–novels that have a traditional dramatic narrative structure but that use humor and satire to tell the story. Sherman Alexie, Rita Mae Brown, Christopher Moore
Coming of age–an adult novel that concerns the passage from youth to adulthood. The subject matter might be too mature for the young adult genre. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Contemporary–set in current time, about modern issues. Chris Bohjalian, Nick Hornby, Annie Proulx
Historical–a fictional story that takes place in a historical setting which may or may not contain actual historical characters. Period detail, manners and social customs are presented in detail. Barbara Taylor Bradford, Philippa Gregory, Margaret George
Magical realism–magical elements are part of an otherwise realistic, even mundane world. The magical aspects are not pre-dominant, which is what separates it from sci fi/fantasy. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Alice Hoffman
Multicultural–features alternative cultures and ethnic groups, a minority viewpoint. Zora Neale Hurston, Amy Tan, Louise Erdrich, Junot Diaz
New Adult–The story focuses on a protagonist (usually female) between the ages of 18 and 25. Plots tend to focus on aspects of life important to that age group, like going to college, getting a first job, getting a first apartment, etc. Can be longer and contain more graphic sex than YA. The protagonists will generally be younger than in adult fiction and less settled, still going through situations of leaving home and maturing into adulthood. Can be any genre. Tammara Webber, Cora Carmack, Jennifer Armentrout’s Wait for You series
Western–set in the historical American West. Louis L’Amour, Elmore Leonard, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove
Women’s fiction–focuses on a female protagonist’s journey of self-exploration using relationships of all kinds. Gets into a woman’s head and heart. Luanne Rice, Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult
Mystery fiction usually involves the investigation of a crime or a series of crimes by either a professional (police or private eye) or an amateur detective. Generally, the reader knows who the good guy is and tries to discover along with them who the bad guy is (different from a thriller where the bad guys are usually known and the good guy has to stop something from happening.) In suspense, the emphasis is on mood and creating suspended tension and the reader is often made aware of dangers unknown to the protagonist. James M. Cain, Dorothy Sayers, Carl Hiaasen, Mary Willis Walker, Daniel Woodrell, Iris Johansen, Rita Mae Brown, Jeffery Deaver
Amateur detective–a non-professional sleuth who has a knack for crime-solving. Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles, Laura DiSilverio’s Mall Cop series, Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series
Cozy–traditionally set in a village or small town, the violence in a cozy is usually minimal. Diane Mott Davidson, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries
Historical–set in any time period in the past. The Alienist by Caleb Carr, Anne Perry’s Victorian era Pitt series, the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters
Medical mystery–a doctor or medical examiner who discovers something is amiss at the hospital or morgue. Robin Cook, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell
Noir–born of post-WWII malaise, noir is generally dark and moody with a main character who can be either a hero or anti-hero. Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Vicki Hendricks
Paranormal–a mystery with mystical or supernatural elements. Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield, Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries, Victoria Laurie’s Psychic Eye series
Police procedural–a cop or a group of cops solve mysteries. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct, Donna Leon’s Brunetti series, Michael Connelly
Private eye–a private detective, usually hard-boiled and working in a shadowy underground world of colorful side characters. Sam Spade by Dashiell Hammett, Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole, Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series
Whodunit/Traditional–the reader is given clues to solve the crime along with the sleuth. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers
“Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” (Romance Writers of America) Tension and conflict arise from opposing goals and are compounded when the couple discovers attraction, then love despite their differences. While the initial story question is not about finding love, the plot points complicate the relationship that emerges and jeopardize whether the hero and heroine will make it as a couple. In the end, the couple sacrifices all for their love. Readers of romance expect both hero and heroine to undergo character growth and want to be emotionally involved with the characters.
From Shannon Donnelly on the Writers in the Storm blog: If you have two characters having sex, but the real conflict come from the world ending, or werewolves taking over the world, or spies out to bring down the country, you don’t have a romance. You have an action story with some sex in it. Same goes for having a relationship between two characters, but having all the conflict exist outside that relationship—if you have a pair of vampire hunters in a relationship, or a pair of cops, or a married couple solving mysteries in Victorian London, chances are you have an Urban Fantasy, or a police procedural or a mystery with some romantic elements—but it’s not a romance. And if you have a couple in a relationship, but lots of stuff going on around them, you might have Women’s Fiction, but not a romance.
Romance authors include Nora Roberts, Julia Quinn, Sylvia Day, Allison Brennan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Deeanne Gist.
Contemporary–the story is set in present time. Includes short/category, sweet/traditional, long/single title, series, etc. Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Sandra Brown, Debbie Macomber, Susan Mallory, Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr.
Erotic/Alternative–the story focuses on the protagonist (usually female) exploring aspects of her sexuality that might be considered “taboo” or unusual, like BDSM or menage a trois. The storyline features multiple highly sexual scenes as part of the developing relationship. Maya Banks, Sylvia Day, Jaci Burton, Angela Knight, Roni Loren, Lynda Aicher, Stacey Kennedy. (Please note: Erotica and stories that focuses exclusively on the sensuality/sex instead of the romantic relationship are not romance.)
Fantasy/Paranormal–the story includes elements beyond “normal” life as an integral part of the plot. Includes fantasy, sci-fi, futuristic, supernatural, paranormal, etc. Diana Gabaldon, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Robin D. Owens, Sylvia McDaniel.
GLBT–The story focuses on a romance between male or female protagonists who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. (May also feature elements from other genres like westerns, science fiction or fantasy, etc.) L.B. Gregg, Harper Fox
Historical–the setting is a past time period. Includes Regency, Highland, western, medieval, and other time periods. Lisa Kleypas, Georgette Heyer, Cheryl St. John, Linda Lael Miller, Jill Marie Landis.
Inspirational–the story involves a search for or dependency upon faith, religion, or spiritual beliefs as a major part of the romantic relationship. May include scriptural quotes, prayers, or simple faith references. Includes contemporary and historical time periods. Leann Harris, Linda Ford, Deeanne Gist, Janete Oke, Robin Lee Hatcher.
New Adult–romance that focuses on protagonists between the ages of 18 and 25, dealing with relationship issues common to that age (e.g. college relationships, high school flames vs. new acquaintances, the hookup or casual dating scene after college). Often feature a high level of spice. Jamie McGuire, Allison Parr
Suspense–the story includes suspense, mystery, or thriller elements (such as a dangerous villain or a significant physical threat to one or both of the main characters) as an integral part of the plot. Includes thriller, suspense, intrigue, action, etc. Jayne Ann Krentz, Allison Brennan, Suzanne Brockman, Cait London, Brenda Novak, Roxanne St. Claire.
Category: Speculative Fiction
Spec Fiction encompasses a broad range of fantastical fiction, everything from hard science fiction to werewolves and vampires to swords and sorcery. If your work has been described as ‘weird fiction’ or paranormal or space opera, this is the category for you. If you imagine your novel being made into a movie that would be heavily promoted at sci fi/fantasy conventions, this is your genre. H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Anne Rice, William Gibson, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Neil Gaiman are some of the authors you might be shelved next to.
Alternate history–speculates how historical events might have turned out differently. Harry Turtledove, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Robert Harris’s Fatherland
Epic fantasy–set in a fictional world, serious in tone, and lengthy. Frequently involves magic, dragons, swords, quests and epic battles. J.R.R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy
Fairy tale–retelling and reworking of fairy tales or fairy tale tropes, sometimes modernizing them or using them to comic effect. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride
Futuristic–includes near-future technical, dystopian and post-apocalypse. Near-future: sci fi but based in “the next 30 seconds” and typically set on Earth. Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, Contact by Carl Sagan, Bellwether by Connie Willis. Dystopian: bleak future societies often dealing with totalitarianism, such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Post-apocalypse–the end of civilization as we know it, whether through war, plague or other disasters. Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
Horror/Supernatural–horror attempts to create deep feelings of dread and terror–a good outcome for the main characters is not certain. Often supernatural elements such as ghosts, witches, werewolves and zombies are involved. V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, Clive Barker
New Age/Spiritual–combining metaphysical and spiritual concepts with a strong story. Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist
Sci fi–deals with what is possible in science and technology: space travel, time travel, genetic engineering, androids and aliens. Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin
Steampunk–futuristic technology existing in the past, often the Victorian era. Elements of sci fi or fantasy. The Difference Engine by William Gibson, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, Gail Carriger’s Soulless series
Urban fantasy–fantastical elements in a realistic urban setting, usually present-day. Though it might contain many of the same supernatural elements and characters as horror, the story question isn’t necessarily about exploring the things that scare you. Charles De Lint, Laurell K. Hamilton, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
Category: Young Adult/Middle Grade
Young Adult: YA features protagonists and situations of interest to a teen audience, generally from 12-18 years old. Can be any subgenre. YA books tend to be shorter than adult fiction and there are some restrictions on content, such as graphic sex, language and violence (though those lines are getting blurred.) Prominent YA authors include J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Miranda Kenneally, Eoin Colfer, Libba Bray
Middle Grade: If the protagonist is still in middle school, your book will probably be Middle Grade fiction (8-12). Can be any subgenre. These books concern the age group between children and teens, tweeners. Generally shorter than YA and with less focus on sexuality and tough subjects like sex, drugs and suicide. Ex. Louis Sachar, Rick Riordan, Jeff Kinney, Philip Pullman, Lemony Snicket, Lois Lowry, Trenton Lee Stewart
(We don’t accept younger than MG, i.e. early readers or children’s picture books.)
Coming of age (YA)–the main character(s) undergoes a maturing based on experiences and overcoming obstacles. S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Contemporary–realistic, set in the present and dealing with current issues facing children and teens.
MG examples: Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Holes by Louis Sachar
YA examples: John Green, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, the Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar
Historical–The focus is on coming of age, but in a historical setting.
MG: Born to Fly by Michael Ferrari, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord.
YA: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Mystery/Adventure–action or mystery-solving involving children and teens.
MG: Gary Paulsen, Timothy of the Cay by Theodore Taylor
YA: Sara Shepard, Gemma Halliday, The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter.
Romance (YA only)–as with adult romance, the romantic relationship takes center stage and will be the focus of the story question. Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal, Gayle Forman, Kristen Tracy
Scary stories (MG only)–campfire tales, ghost stories, horror but geared toward young folks. Dan Poblocki, the Goosebumps series
Sci fi/Fantasy (YA)–includes science fiction/futuristic (Pitticus Lore), epic fantasy (Jennifer Nielsen), dystopian/post-apocalypse (Ally Condie, Veronica Roth), steampunk (Cassandra Clare) and urban fantasy/supernatural (Melissa Marr, Maggie Stiefvater). (See Speculative Fiction for subgenre definitions.)
MG: Patricia Wrede, Jane Yolen, Natalie Babbitt, Rick Riordan