I'm trying to figure out what genre the following is, if any. (I asked a similar question, but this is different now, and more detailed.)

  • The story takes place in an imaginary world. It's more or less like our own mid-century world, except the countries, names, history, and geography are all made up. For example, some of the action takes place near the "River Shanga." As far as I know there is no such river. (So that makes it some type of fantasy, right?)

  • The events take place in a rural area, mostly. A city is mentioned here and there, but it isn't the main setting.

  • The story is pretty dark. The point of view is grim and pessimistic. There's a fair amount of action and violence, and it's integral to the story.

  • The protagonist is not likable. You don't necessarily root for him or want to be like him.

  • There are some elements of "thriller" type horror (as opposed to supernatural horror). I mean thriller like Misery or Cujo, not supernatural like Carrie or Salem's Lot.

I'm wondering what existing genre that is closest to? I'm thinking probably urban fantasy, but that's just a guess. I've never really read anything in that genre. (By the way, what are some great urban fantasy books I should read?)

What novels fit that description? Made-up world, but similar to the real world. It seems like there have to be some, but for some reason I can't think of any.

  • 1
    I don't feel these "what genre is this" questions are a good fit for this site. I have opened a meta discussion related to this.
    – sjohnston
    Dec 18, 2010 at 4:21
  • 2
    Genre is a tool for booksellers, not for writers. (Ref.: Kit Whitfield.)
    – TRiG
    Apr 18, 2018 at 19:06

6 Answers 6


What happens in your story seems, from your description, to be action/thriller.

Where your story is set is an imaginary world, bearing some resemblance to the real world in the 1950-ish era.

The question remaining is how central the setting is to the book.

  • If the world is clearly, inherantly imaginary, blatantly contradicting real-world history or metaphysics, and the story relies on these deviations, then that's inescapably fantasy. Fantasy is a broad category, to such extent that it's seldom crucial to narrow it down further by event-genre (e.g. fantasy-romance; fantasy-thriller, etc). "Dark fantasy" sounds like a safe bet.
  • If you want significant deviations from real-world history, but nothing else important, that could be an "alternate history" or an "alternate earth." I'm kind of assuming it's not, because it sounds like you're not referencing real-world events, which is a staple of the genre. If you think this might be appropriate, by all means read up on the genre.
  • If it isn't, then your story is less fantasy, and more "this could have happened, but didn't." That doesn't define a particular genre; indeed, it raises the question why you're tossing the reader into an imaginary world in the first place. Consider: could you plausibly claim that the story took place in the real world, but be vague on precisely where and when? (Like the Simpson's "Springfield"... which is hardly in the "fantasy" genre). If there isn't a reason the world can't be the real world, it probably should be.
  • Lastly, if your story relies very heavily on a setting remniscant of mid-century earth, it might be "historical" or a period piece. (I find that unlikely, though, if you're describing the world as "imaginary"). "Historical," I think, does combine with other genres, so it might be a "historical thriller".

Hope this is helpful :)


Just because a setting is made up doesn't mean it's fantasy. For example, Ed McBain set his series of police procedurals in the city of "Isola", a thinly-disguised New York.

The subject matter of the story itself should determine the determine the genre, especially if the fictional setting can be fixed in general terms ("the American south", "19th century Russia", etc.).


I have to disagree with most the other answers here and say that this is not fantasy at all. If the time frame was set in the past it would be considered historical fiction, but given that you say it's contemporary this isn't the case, so it is simply Fiction. You know, the genre that comprises about 50% of the novels at any given book store? Generic maybe but sorry, substituting names is not fantasy.


It's "fantasy." Note that genre is mostly useful as a tool for book sellers to know where to shelve your work and for the marketing campaign.

For authors, it's not as important. In fact, there are lots of examples which don't really fit into their genre - the books just ended up there because they have to have one. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (D. Adams) is a parody or maybe fantasy, not science fiction (since it's not based on hard scientific facts, theories or findings). Yet most people think "space ship == science fiction."

More genres: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Literary_genres

  • I believe you meant "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". I'd edit, but I lack the reps.
    – sjohnston
    Dec 17, 2010 at 23:22
  • Of course :-) fixed. Dec 17, 2010 at 23:29
  • I'm curious about why this is "fantasy". Is it because the setting isn't real? Dec 20, 2010 at 14:19
  • Because it's not scientific. SciFi sets some base rules (like physical laws) and then follows them through. Hard SciFi, for example, will only use proven scientific theories (no FTL travel, no aliens meeting humans). It can contain a bit of fantasy. See wisegeek.com/what-are-the-different-book-genres.htm Dec 21, 2010 at 11:05
  • 1
    Hitchhiker's Guide is a parody, employing tropes heavily based in science fiction. I think placing it in "Science Fiction (parody)" is perfectly fair. Star Wars and Star Trek are similarly nonscientific, yet they're genre staples. "Scientific" is certainly a major criteria, but it's not the only one - and plenty of SF merely pretends to be remotely plausible, while flatly contradicting real science.
    – Standback
    Feb 9, 2011 at 6:52

Low fantasy is a label that's somewhat commonly used for stories set in secondary worlds, where the tone of the story is dark and the worldbuilding leans towards realism. Frequently these stories will involve worlds populated entirely by humans (meaning absence of nonhuman sapients like elves or whatnot), no obviously metaphysical or arcane element (although they may contain astrology, alchemy or other such "historical" magical analogues), and focus on characters from the criminal element, or who are otherwise amoral or morally gray.

The bottom line is, the readers of books that self-style as low fantasy will probably find your story satisfying. At least potentially. When trying to pin a story's genre, that's my usual rule of thumb: who would want to read this and what they already read. To give an example of books that might fit the genre you're looking for, maybe try Cynthia Voigt's Jackaroo cycle. That's the only example that pops to mind off-hand. At your own peril, you may find TV Tropes' article on the subject interesting.


Dark-fantasy fiction is my guess. You're story does have some fantasy elements, but is dark as in the way of thriller and horror. You're book is made up, so it's fiction.

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