Part 2 of Blurring the Lines:  Fantasy & Sci Fi Genres

Part 2 of Blurring the Lines: Fantasy & Sci Fi Genres

A Lesson by N. C. Matthews

subgenres everywhere!


When it comes to categorizing the written word, the sky's the limit.  As I have already stated in Part I of Blurring the Lines, there can be some discrepancies between different sources' views on exactly what encompasses a specific genre, making an already difficult task even more daunting.  However, there are some general basics that will hold true no matter how many sources you may find on the subject.  It is these basic truths that you will need to stick with when it comes to picking out the correct categories and tagged themes for your storylines.

Let's take a look at fantasy fiction.  Fiction, of course, is a storyline that is not true.  But what, exactly, constitutes 'fantasy'? describes the genre 'fantasy' to be any storyline that contains anything that is not real (such as talking animals, shape shifting,  vampires, sprites, elves, trolls, monsters, etc.), is often characterized by unrealistic settings, magic, or some other type of supernatural element either in its characters, setting, or plotline.  In other words, a fantasy story usually describes something that could never happen in real life.  An element of magic is almost always used in the story in some way rather it be in the setting or the plot, and could also be practiced by the characters themselves. 

Science fiction and fantasy are very different categories, but often times the line between them is extremely thin, as I have already pointed out in Part I of Blurring the Lines.  As I said, a novel can easily fit into 2 or 3 or more categories.  Since the lines between science fiction and fantasy fiction often overlap each other, these two genres are sometimes shelved together because of both the readers' tendencies to like stories that overlap the two genres and the writers' tendencies to create stories with plotlines that overlap the genres as well.

Since the fantasy genre can encompass so many different elements, the genre has become divided into many different sub-genres.  Some of those subgenres are:


contemporary fantasy (sometimes called real world fantasy) - A fantasy storyline set in the modern world.  The Red Fang would fit nicely into this category.  Another example of this would be Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga. 

dark fantasy - a fantasy storyline with horror elements to it.  Again, The Red Fang would fit into this subgenre as well.  The difference between dark fantasy and regular horror is that the frightening elements are usually imaginary rather than real.  What this means is that zombies attacking humans is very scary in the storyline, but it would not happen in real life.  Contrary to a serial killer killing off people, which would be just plain ole horror.

science fantasy - a fantasy storyline that has elements of science fiction in it.  The Red Fang also fits into this subcategory.

heroic fantasy - a fantasy story that involves heroes in mythical lands.  It is sometimes called adventure fantasy.  The basic storyline is based around a main character or characters and his/her/their adventures.  The difference between heroic and high fantasy is that in high fantasy the hero(s) usually has a motive behind their adventures, such as the whole good vs evil thing.  Heroic fantasy or adventure fantasy focuses more on the action and adventure of the storyline itself rather than the underlying reason behind the adventure.

young adult fantasy - a fantasy storyline that usually features teenaged characters that often have to deal with coming-of-age issues.  These novels are marketed towards the teenaged population.  Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga fits beautifully into this subgenre, but it also fits into other subgenres as well.

mystery fantasy - a fantasy storyline that has elements of mystery in them


These, of course, are just a few of the many different subgenres in the fantasy category.  Likewise, the same can be said for the science fiction genre.  Some of the subcategories in science fiction are:


cyberpunk - science fiction storyline that is dominated by the feeling that man is dwarfed by machine in an extremely technological world.  Remember the Terminator series?  Classic cyberpunk, as was The Matrix.

hard science fiction - fiction storyline that has a lot of technical details in the hard sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics.  Author Robin Cook is a great example of hard science fiction

time travel - fiction storyline dealing with the elements of time travel.  A storyline that explains a lot of the technicality of time travel could easily fit into the hard science fiction subgenre as well.

young adult science fiction - as with young adult fantasy fiction, the characters are usually teenaged and deal with some type of coming of age issue

apocalyptic science fiction - storylines featuring the end of the world or a world after "the end" has occurred

first contact science fiction - storylines that deals with the initial contact between the human race and an extraterrestrial species

military science fiction - often features storylines that deal with some type of battle conflict against a range of opponents (aliens, cyborgs, humans)  set in a futuristic world

near future science fiction - storylines that are set in the modern world or near-modern world but has futuristic elements to them, often with the new technology in current development


These subgenres are far from being all inclusive.  The overlapping of the genres and subgenres can make categorizing a written piece harder for some and easier for others.  Categorizing your stories as accurately as possible will put your work into the hands of readers who are looking for those specific storylines.  A good rule of thumb is to look for the largest element in the storyline and use that one as the main category, and then add additional subgenres as needed.

With that in mind, I attempted to categorize the novel I am currently working on, The Red Fang.  Overall, this storyline deals with fantasy since it is about vampires, werewolves, and half-breeds.  It also has some science fantasy elements to it as well.  While it also deals with some very technical explanations with the biology of the vampire and werewolf, it could also fit into the hard science fiction category, although I would not use that subgenre because it is dealing with the biology of a being that does not actually exist.  It also has erotic themes to it so it could be considered erotic fantasy fiction as well.  I would break down my categorization of this novel as:

erotic fantasy, subgenres of science fantasy

While categorizing a written work can feel overwhelming, taking the main themes out and categorizing those is often easier than trying to pick out subgenres for each and every element in the storyline.  Stick with your main themes; the rest is just icing on the proverbial literary cake.

Let Us Write!  Articles for Writers.  28 years experience has got to count for something, right?

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Added on October 26, 2010
Last Updated on October 26, 2010
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N. C. Matthews
N. C. Matthews

My pen name is Nicola Chey Matthews. I have been writing for over 28 years now. I first began writing when I was only five years old. I wrote my first novel at the age of 13, and had attempted 2 ot..