What is Genre Fiction?

Fiction titles by Terri Branson

I write genre fiction. What exactly does that mean? Genre fiction is a writing style, not a category (such as fantasy or romance).

Genre fiction formatting restricts a work (anything long enough to be broken into chapters, which includes novels, novellas, and long short stories) to one tense (past or present), one person (third or first), and one point-of-view (POV) character per scene.

Other aspects of genre fiction formatting include proper dialog placement, good grammar practices, and clear implementation of special devices such as flashbacks.

Most genre fiction novels are written in simple past tense using third person with one POV character per scene. This is known as “Third Person Deep Limited,” and it’s the format I use for all of my works.

Stories that shift POV character mid-scene (also called head-hopping), change tense from past to present, and/or shift from first person to third person at any time within the story are classified as “mainstream.” Any one of these can cause a work to be considered mainstream.

Works predating about 1985 usually run to some degree of head-hopping, while almost always maintaining both tense and person. I have some favorite old books, which contain some measure of head-hopping. I keep those books on my personal reading shelf, because I love the stories and cannot hold authors to a formatting standard that was not in vogue at the time the work was written. Fair is fair. Again, as a general rule, the only thing these older works did was head-hop. They never violated tense or person.

There are so many new writers offering works right now, most going the self-publishing route. I have no problem with self-publishing, as long as the author in question takes the necessary steps to ensure the work is critiqued, edited, and formatted properly. However, too many of the self-published works I have sampled have been mainstream without the courtesy of the label. Too many times I’ve been lured into buying a book by a slick cover and a good blurb, only to find myself wading through unedited mainstream muck. When that happens to me, I never buy another book from that author. Nope, the trust is gone.

Many readers have no problem with mainstream. As long as they can follow the plot and enjoy the story, then they are satisfied with the read. That’s a fair assessment. If the reader is pleased, then why all the fuss about construction?

For me the answer to that question is quality. Genre fiction is by far the best format for telling a long story with many chapters and many characters. Readers never get lost with genre fiction, because it provides the template to keep them aware of who, what, when, where, and how. You can do anything with genre fiction. It provides the means to tell flashbacks, side stories, give backstory without information dumps, and more. It is the magic formula for telling a modern fiction story.

I gravitated to genre fiction construction from the beginning of my descent into the madness of becoming a writer. It allows me to tell a story in a logical fashion, so my readers never get lost. And I choose genre fiction authors as much as possible for my own reading pleasure — when I can find them.

My novel-length works are written in genre fiction. That includes (with more coming soon): DRAGON’S DEN (science fiction with paranormal), MUSK RAIN (contemporary paranormal romance), and PRAIRIE FIRE (western paranormal romance). For short stories, try the award-winning science fiction and fantasy anthology COSMIC SCULPTURE.

[©2017-2022 Terri Branson]