Popular Writing Genres: How to Figure out What You Should Write

When you talk about literary genres, the conversation could go on forever. There are many genres, sub-genres, and types of writing, and they all come with little rules and nuances that set them apart, however slightly, from the rest. Trying to keep up with all of the genres, especially when new ones are being invented and popularized every day, is a nearly impossible task.

This article will go over some of the main writing genres and types of fiction and the four main types of writing. This will help you identify, as a reader and a writer, what your favorite types of writing are and help you define the genre when you read and write.

Knowing what you like and what you are more geared for will help you strengthen your skillset as a writer and become a more well-rounded reader.

Types of Writing

There are four types or forms of writing recognized. While they can be broken down into smaller sub-types, and even combined for a more complex piece, the following types of writing are the standards by which most literature is divided.

Descriptive Writing

Nearly every genre includes elements of descriptive writing. This is when a story, fiction or nonfiction, gives you a clear mental picture of either the setting, plot, characters, or conflict. Long descriptions are often included so that you can picture the main character and their role in the story. The human body is described in great detail so that most of the story’s readers get the same mental image of the character.

writing genres

A good description can make or break a story because leaving too much to the imagination gives the audience a job to do that’s often too involved. People read to be entertained. They don’t want to have to come up with what a character looks like, what the setting looks like, and what is going on in the scene. 

Below is an example of a description that is bad, followed by good descriptive writing. No matter what you’re writing, genres across the board typically need good descriptive elements.

Example of Descriptive Writing

Description is important so that the reader can be truly invested in the story. It is fairly easy to write something like, “The cowboy rode his horse through the desert looking for the oasis,” but what sort of mental image do you get when you read that?

Some people may see the cowboy as an older man, while some may see him as a young man, still trying to find his way in the world. What does the horse look like in your mind? Some may see it as black, while others may see a brown or auburn quarter horse. And the desert. What’s that like to you? Some may see it as a barren field of sand, while others might have pictured cactus and scorpions. Now let’s give it some description, and note the difference.

A Better Example

He should have found the oasis by now, if it really existed. He’d been riding the dapple grey mare, already old and exhausted before they reached the desert, for three days. When she started to kick in protest, the cowboy dismounted, hearing and feeling both of his own aging knees pop as he climbed down from the saddle. 

He led Maribel by the lead rope for a few hours at a time each day, worried that staying on her would wear her out. The thought of having to put her down due to exhaustion made him feel more depressed than the thought of never finding the oasis. They’d been together for almost twenty years now, and that horse was just as much a part of him as his pistol. 

The gunslinger, or cowboy, as they called his kind now, wasn’t doing much better than Maribel. Long past his own prime, he cursed under his breath each time he felt a stitch in his side or a cramp in his thighs. He’d been doing this for more decades than his client had been alive, and he was tired. 

He’d told himself he would hang up his hat for good right after this job, but he realized now that he might not make it out of this desert wasteland. He hadn’t seen a bird or anything green since before noon yesterday. He was so far into the desert now that he didn’t even see a snake or scorpion. 

Just brown, hot, angry sand as far as the eye could see. And even though his stubble was gray, his hair was gray, and his skin was the same brown leather as his saddle, his eyes could still see far. Those icy blue eyes saw things that most others missed, and that was why, even in his old age, double the age of most cowboys for hire, he was still getting jobs. 

While the above excerpt is much longer than the one-word sentence, it paints a much better picture through more descriptive writing. Most readers would probably have similar ideas of what the horse, cowboy, and desert looked like. It takes longer to read, but the story is more clear. In this example, it’s the western genre, but almost every literary genre has descriptive writing elements.

Narrative Writing

Narrative writing tells a story. This occurs in both fiction and nonfiction literature. Anything that tells a story with characters is considered narrative writing. The point is to introduce characters into a situation and then learn what happens to those characters through the story. Everything from fairy tales to biological horror is narrative writing, as long as it tells a story.

Events in narrative writing stories often include dialogue, in which the characters interact. They fall in love, have conflict, and behave as real people would. Regardless of the plot, the primary focus of narrative writing is simply to tell stories by providing a clear summary of events.

“Here is the cast of characters; this is what happened to them.” In much the same way you would tell someone a story about something that happened to you at work today, you would write in the narrative style.

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing is when the author attempts to convince the reader or talk the audience into something. You see this in literature like satire and real-world correspondence such as business communication like project proposals and in forms of journalism. Editorials in newspapers are often persuasive writing.

Persuasive writing is often done in the first-person point of view, meaning that the writer is talking directly to the person reading the piece. In this process, the reader learns why they should develop the same opinion as the writer or why they should care a great deal about the issue that the author is writing about.

Persuasive Writing Provides Evidence

Evidence is also given, much like a research paper, in which reasons are given to the audience as to why their point of view should align with the author’s. Through compelling evidence and strong word choice, persuasive writing changes minds every day.

Be sure that you provide details that can back up your basic points when you are writing persuasively. If you don’t have clear and concise writing, it can tend to sound more like a rant than a persuasive piece.

Expository Writing

Expository writing is found most often in business, journalism, and nonfiction. The point of expository writing is to lay out facts without any opinions or motives being introduced in the writing. The more formal the paper’s purpose, the more fact-laden it should be, and that qualifies it as expository.

Business letters sent to a client to explain insurance coverage or updated policies are expository writing. Historical events in school textbooks are examples of expository writing. We’d all love to know exactly what Abraham Lincoln thought when he freed the slaves at the end of the Civil War, but since we aren’t privy to those exact thoughts, we have to stick to the facts.

Stick to the Facts

Expository writing occurs when a particular situation needs to be presented in fact form. Job applications ask for you to respond in an expository manner. When you fill out job applications, you don’t give your opinion about things. 

You simply state the facts of your work history, skills, and qualifications. You give the most important information the document asks for, and you hold back any opinion-based commentary.

Other examples of writing that count as expository include a grocery list, any other forms. Numbered points on an inventory spreadsheet are expository. In general, things given in list format qualify as expository unless you are giving reasons as to why the audience should side with you on something. Business writing is almost always expository or persuasive. You will seldom see narrative or descriptive writing in business writing.

Types of Fiction

Just like there are types of writing, there are also types of fiction. The following will explain some of the different types of fiction and the writing genres that fall into these categories.

Literary Fiction

This is the term given for fiction that doesn’t fit neatly into other fiction genres. Often, novels or short stories will combine genres, and when that happens, you end up with literary fiction. 

For example, if you have a book that is science fiction romance, in which otherworldly beings from outer space come to Earth via magical elements and engage in a fairytale-like romantic relationship with people from Earth. Where do you think it should be placed in a bookstore or library? It isn’t a specific genre, and the other genres that go with the science-fiction base are not even closely related.

You could put such a book in the science fiction section, but then all of the people who enjoy romance wouldn’t find it. You could put it in the romance section, but then fans of science fiction wouldn’t find it. So, more often than not, it would be put in the literary fiction section. The book “Lisey’s Story” by Stephen King is considered by many to fit this category because it’s a supernatural thriller/suspense/romance/horror book.

Speculative Fiction

This genre of fiction tells stories about what could happen, while sci-fi often tells us the stories of pure fantasy and impossible things. We can speculate that at some point, either in the future or in the past, events like the ones that occur in these genres could happen.

Things like advanced technology are less a question of if and more a question of when. When you write a genre that falls into this category, you are posing a hypothetical that could really happen.

writing genres

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury is one example of this type of fiction. It’s a form of satire writing that puts us in a fictional futuristic world that the author thinks could really occur. It’s not in the sci-fi genre because the events are so far-fetched that we can’t imagine them happening.

In fact, Bradbury’s cautionary tale of fiction gives us the unsettling feeling that it’s not such a stretch of the imagination at all to assume that what happens in that book could happen in real life.

New Genres

New genres are often being crafted in writing. The short story qualifies as a spy fiction but also has horror and suspense elements. The western sci-fi story. The romantic love story that is also part satire, part thriller, and part comedy. As we write more and more books that combine elements and genres, we invent new ones that start as niche and sometimes move to the mainstream.

“Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer is a romance/thriller/suspense/sci-fi story that displays the love between a human, a werewolf, and a vampire, all of who live in one small town no one has ever heard of. The tension, love triangle, elements of danger, and drama of it all got its readers hooked, and monster stories, especially those that included love, erupted into the mainstream.