I'm having a very hard time finding a list and examples of stylistic subgenre conventions.

To be specific: how genre writing impacts things like sentence length, dialogue, the tone of adjectives, pacing, etc.

I've found a few things in very broad strokes, but I'm looking for something specific. Not merely saying that mystery novels (for example) climax late, but deeper textual commonalities.

Any good resources?

I apologize if this is resource-seeking, but i simply can't find anything on this topic, but I'm sure there's info on it. I'm doing this because my project is genre bending, and while it hits an overall cyberpunk vibe, that gets jarring when other elements come in. I'm weaving elements of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and romance, and it's challenging to hit the right overarching tone that will be smooth to the reader.

Thanks :-)

  • 1
    Hi user49466. I edited your question slightly, and replaced the title, to, I hope, better emphasize what you're actually asking. That said, I do feel that this question is rather on the broad side; aside from that asking for off-site resources is generally considered problematic (we prefer questions that generate answers, not just pointers to answers elsewhere), you're potentially asking for resources on every possible writing genre. I suspect that this question would be better if you ask for insights, not links; and ask about only one genre per question. That would help narrow its focus.
    – user
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 20:21
  • @user49466 Will you use this information to decide which genre you'd write best, or do you have a genre in mind already? If the latter, just ask about that before we get 5 close votes.
    – J.G.
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 20:32

3 Answers 3


I believe genre is primarily determined by plot, setting, and "justifications"; i.e. SciFi justifies fantastical elements (like FTL drives) by hand-waving some futuristic technology (or some technology we know would be possible if we could make some element that is impossible; like a particle with negative mass or what not).

Fantasy justifies their fantastical elements with "magic" that, like physics, operates according to some kind of rules. But in the end, if that were true, magic would just be subject to technological development too; like when we discovered the power of "electricity" and eventually harnessed it.

Other genres, like Wuxian (wire kung-fu) allows only supernatural muscular response in leaping, speed, strength or accuracy.

Then there is Realism, with no explicit magic, but sub-genres are characterized by plot: The Romantic Comedy can be written to any level of language, but ultimately we know the plots very well. A murder mystery is the same, a detective story demands no fixed language or phrases. e.g. The new season of "Endeavour" is on PBS, the eponymous police detective (set in Oxford 1960's) is highly intelligent and well read with sophisticated hobbies, including operas, an extensive philosophical education and the ability to debate it with Oxford professors, and so on. More of a Sherlock than a Sam Spade knuckle-bruiser.

Genre truly does not have much impact on things like "sentence length, dialogue, the tone of adjectives, pacing, etc."

Genre bending is violating plot norms (tropes) or what readers expect from a story type. Finding a way to use the "hard boiled detective" plot and tropes for a romantic comedy. Or a Zombie Apocalypse in a Fantasy world with magic. The show "Out of the Badlands" is Wuxian in a Post-Apocalyptic USA Dystopia.

Genre is a bigger "cut" than the details of sentence structure and word choice (Except perhaps for Children's books or YA), it tells the reader what to expect, what kinds of plot, what levels of sex and violence to expect. Often even the ending: I've been told by an agent that Romance novels do not have unhappy endings, the reader buys them FOR the happy ending, and will bring them back for a refund (which bookstores usually give because it comes out of the publisher's pocket), and publishers (and agents) know that and won't publish an unhappy ending, no matter how well written.

I don't think you need to worry about the elements you describe; write as you will and it will likely have an audience. As for genre, pick a story type that appeals to you. Here is a list most agents will recognize.


I think the term you're looking for is NARRATIVE VOICE, sometimes called Narrative POV but that oversimplifies it.

The narrative voice sets the tone and pace for the story, but also signals how we're meant to approach the characters and situations. Without trying to sound airy-fairy or artistic, narrative voice is how the book talks to the reader, it's the voice inside the reader's head through which everything is filtered.

There are some obvious narrator voices for certain genres – like we'd expect a no-nonsense tough guy voice from a spy novel or a breath-y heaving-bosom voice for a romance novel, but I'm pretty sure all of these genre clichés are copied from one or two successful authors who started a trend. These trends last a decade or two usually and then die out. They are separate from the genre itself. The horror genre has outlasted the voice of H. P. Lovecraft. Espionage existed before and after Ian Fleming's upperclass entitlement. Sci-fi has survived Arthur C Clark's bone dry psuedo-histories. They didn't just write plots and events, they wrote in a voice that tinted the entire narrative, and influenced the whole genre (for a while).

The narrative voice is more than just grammar and vocabulary. It's also more than a radio drama describing the action in the reader's head – although that particular narrative voice became trendy with Dashiell Hammett (and other pulp-era authors) who were essentially writing dialog with screen directions. We "see" characters' facial expressions in The Maltese Falcon but we never hear anything they are thinking (not even the protagonist). The narrative voice is limited to describing actions that are observed, subsequently Maltese Falcon is famous for having a visceral, immediate tone – despite all its plot twists we don't get a cerebral hero who sits and thinks about things, instead we have a man of action who jumps blindly into situations without a plan. The narrative voice is like the detective's eyes and ears. We see every characters' reaction, and we guess when they are lying but we don't know why.

When the narrative voice "fits" with the story experience in this way, it's usually a win.

There are other narrative choices that can dominate a story. Proust's Ulysses started a trend in "psychological realism" that follows every noodle of thought almost exhaustively. It's either poetry or psychosis but the voice becomes more important than the plot.

James Ellroy is another author whose narrative voice is the equivalent of worldbuilding, all his novels take place in a gritty, racist, borderline psychopathically rambling and abused reality that was probably indistinguishable from the author's own head – or at least he is such a good writer that he convinces us the books are the reflections of an unhinged personality. Either way it works on a meta level, embodying the story and the narrative voice at the same time.

Jane Austen invented a character-oriented narrative voice called "free indirect speech" where she blurred the lines between her various characters and the narration itself. In the middle of a 3rd-person omniscient scene she allows a character's inner-monolog to take over the narration – it's a technique similar to reality TV shows where in the middle of a dramatic (or ridiculous) situation we suddenly cut to an interview with one of the people who tells us their personal take on what happened, then back to the action. This works because Austen wrote about fallible people who are stuck in their perspective (and social strata), and even though the individual characters are much smaller than the story she's telling, she still gets us to empathize with each of them. We could really hate all the characters in Pride and Prejudice for their petty gossip, selfishness, and psychological defenses, but instead we hear directly from them as if they are confiding in us. We understand how they are locked in their perspective, how they justify what they already believed. We actually like them, even if we are laughing at them or see the irony in what they've done to themselves. Rather than tell the reader "my sister is shallow but not really a bad person", Austen hands them a microphone and lets them say something shallow. P&P is about family but also about accepting people as they are, all the villains become family in the end so you have no choice but to love them with their flaws.

None of these are genre-specific, yet they all "fit" so seamlessly with their stories that they can seem to be definitive writing techniques. Tell a mystery like a detective. Tell a fantasy like an epic legend. Tell a story about events in the future as if they were events in the past. Tell a story about your nutty family in a loving, self-depricating way.... But you can just as easily do the complete opposite: a successful mystery can be in the tone of horror or comedy. Your elaborate space opera can be framed as a fairytale or a bumbling accident. For a 14yo, a family vacation might have more drama than a full season on Broadway. There are no rules, and as soon as there are they get broken.

To be specific: how genre writing impacts things like sentence length, dialogue, the tone of adjectives, pacing, etc.

You can imitate successful authors within any genre – that is certainly what most people do. You can even imitate a successful author in the wrong genre, but just imitating the form without understanding how it works or why it is innovative is missing the forest because you are looking only at trees.

What you really want to develop is your own narrative voice that "fits" your particular story. This involves what kind of story you want to tell, and how you expect us to feel about the characters. Does the "narrator" drift passively along with the characters like a helium balloon tied to someone's wrist, or is there an opinionated voice that is coloring everything and even pursuing its own agenda (an unreliable narrator maybe), or does the narrative voice match the story in some conceptual way, mirroring the situation or the protagonist's state of mind?


Okay here's my take for what it may be worth. As far as I'm concerned it does not matter one iota how you write any piece, in terms of the nitty-gritty structural elements. Sentences, dialogue, any words in fact, are only there to convey information to the reader that says the things you want to say. As long as you get your point across it doesn't matter how you do it. No two people have ever written a given genre in the same way that I know of, my suggestion is that rather than worry about the "genre" you're working in, focus instead on the characters in the piece and how they interact with each other and their world, that's far more important.

I'm not sure that what you're looking for really exists, writers are all different and even from piece to piece you see marked variances in style from many authors. Specific structural elements are going to vary so much that all you can really say that crosses a large percentage of writing is that authors use words and put together into sentences.

FYI you're stated genre aims sound very similar to the style in which a lot of the Shadowrun fiction is written so skimming that body work may be of educational value to you.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.