How Do You Define Genres : SciFi, YA, Fantasy, etc.

I have encountered this problem so many times these past few years: no one knows exactly what each genre refers to. We know the general aspects of it:

fantasy = wizards, scifi = spaceships ; YA = John Green ; Murder mystery = killer, but what are they really? 

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In a lot of discussions, I have noticed that every person has a different meaning and point of view for each genre hence it becomes difficult at times to really understand a reader’s review of a book or what they are trying to communicate. So today, I’m putting together a little guide of meanings and definitions of three genres and I encourage everyone to reflect on it with me and provide me with some answers if you want to !

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SCIENCE FICTION :Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction that contains imagined elements that don’t exist in the real world. Science fiction spans a wide range of themes that often explore time travel, space travel, are set in the future, and deal with the consequences of technological and scientific advances –  Oxford Dictionnary 

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FANTASY
Fantasy fiction is a genre of writing in which the plot could not happen in real life (as we know it, at least). Often, the plot involves magic or witchcraft and takes place on another planet or in another — undiscovered — dimension of this world. 
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YOUNG ADULT: 
Of all the genres mentioned here, Young Adult is probably the newest to the list. There’s still no official definition of it but from what I can gather from the authors and the publishers, it’s mostly literature featuring teenagers and for teenagers. A bridge between children’s and adult’s books. 
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With that in mind, how do you refer to a book that has crossover of all the three genres above ? A scifi- fantasy YA? And where do we stop, should we specify it all the times? For example, on interesting case is Dune by Frank Herbert, often see as the ancestor of science-fiction, but it does blend a lot of fantasy elements. So of course, for me whenever people ask me about scifi I refer to Dune but then again one of my friend would often remind me that he considers Dune also in Fantasy, which he is not wrong.

How do you approach a genre like YA which can contain Fantasy and Scifi YA, would YA be a category instead?But then, if Ya is a category, what other categories of book are there? 

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7 comments

  • Interesting post! I was thinking about this idea myself recently when I was trying to catalog a particular book. So many genres have potential crossover – SciFi and Fantasy, Mystery with Suspense and Thriller, YA with almost anything… I tend to just note all the major genres a book hits to be as clear as possible.

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  • YA = John Green 😂 I loved the intro to this post! I recently heard YA described as a marketing strategy as opposed to a genre, because within YA the usual genres still operate. It was an interesting way of looking at it I thought!

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  • I can never propoerly classify Dystopian books. Are they part of Sci-Fi? Are they just Dystopian? On many websites are see them in Sci-Fi section and it always gets me confused, because I associate Sci-Fi mostly with space or some fantastical technology. D:

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  • The past decade or so has seen a shifting of the “borders” between classic genres, and the appearance of stories that take a little bit from them all, often creating interesting mixes. That’s why I like “speculative fiction” as a sort of general label for the stories that defy classification… 🙂

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  • Combining Science Fiction and Fantasy isn’t unusual at all. In fact, the entire Final Fantasy video game franchise is a blend of the two. You could also argue that Star Wars is a blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
    I find the easiest way to separate the two is that, Science Fiction generally tries to either use technology that may some day exist, or historic science fiction that plants technology in an era where it didn’t exist yet. Maybe even both. It generally tries to follow the same kind of logic that the real world uses, just with speculative elements. It’s often used to explore the dangers of certain types of technological advancements.
    Fantasy tends to be more mythical. It’s not just about magic – it could be spiritual, it could feature deities that nobody in the real world worships, or it could just be about elves, dwarves and other non-existent races. Instead of following the real world’s rules of logic and physics, they tend to invent their own. From a writing standpoint, it’s very important to keep these rules consistent. Well, unless that’s the whole point of your fantasy world – that nothing is consistent. Themes in fantasy stories are generally more allegorical and less direct.
    Sci-fi can also feature alternate races, but they tend to be from other worlds, or genetically engineered.

    YA refers more to the target age demographic than anything else. You can have pretty much any genre within the YA category. Just like you can have children’s fantasies (The Hobbit) and science fiction (A Wrinkle in Time), or full-blown adult material in fantasy (Game of Thrones) and science fiction (A Clockwork Orange, although that’s more dystopian than sci-fi).

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  • This poses some really interesting questions! Do writers actually make conscious decisions to limit the content of their books on the basis of genre? If we take Dune and Star Wars as classic examples here, we might say no. If they were strictly fantasy, surely the writers would not have included space ships and if they were strictly science fiction, they wouldn’t include “magic” like the force and spice. Are genres really about ease of marketing, as one of the comments above suggests? Don’t writers include anything that furthers the story?

    That being said, we often joke that, if the book begins with a map it must be fantasy and if it includes aliens we can convince our science fiction loving dad to read it!!

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  • I guess I don’t see YA as a genre, more of a target audience/marketing focus.

    But the mixing of genres? Fantasy/Detective, SF/Fantasy, etc–love those.

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