#LetsDiscuss2023 #2 – What’s in a Genre? – #DiscussionSunday

The question this time is all my own, after having a heated discussion on a Facebook Page:

Do you think eras should be considered genres, or would you separate the two?

Discussion Sunday 2023


These are my personal opinions. I do not expect anyone to agree with anything here, and in fact, I’m certain that many will disagree and/or even hate many of the things I’ve written below. Sorry about that, but you are always welcome to express your own opinions – be they contrary or comparable – in the comments section. So, with that out of the way… let the controversy begin!

What made me think about this topic?

As noted above, I got into a discussion (bloodless fight, more like) on a Facebook page! You see, lots of times I see people posting that they love historical fiction and could members recommend their favorite books in this genre! I argued that this was an era, and not a genre, and we need specific genres to better recommend appropriate books to these posters. Well, that didn’t end well! But to be honest, they never do.

My Thoughts…

These types of discussions have really gotten me thinking lately. If you’re a regular to this blog, you’ll see that I in my book reviews, after the summary, I categorize the book as best I can. I start with age (usually adult), then I go onto genres, then settings, and then other categories. I recently started breaking down the settings to two sub categories – era/s and locations. But…

Most people would say for instance, that Historical Fiction is a genre all on its own. But… that doesn’t make sense to me. Historical, or contemporary, or futuristic are eras, not genres. What they all have in common is that they indicate WHEN the story of the book takes place (in relation to the publication date, obviously).

For me genres are things like fantasy, romance, thrillers, mystery, horror, etc. What they all have in common is the style in which the essence of the story is told and the basic essential tropes that go with any of the genres. A romance novel must have a romantic relationship; a fantasy novel must take place in an imaginary world, and; a horror story needs to have some scary stuff happen. Any of these could take place in the past, the present, or the future. If you think of it that way, you’ll see that you need BOTH the era AND the genre to categorize the book properly.

That said, we could also say that the age of the intended audience is also separate from both the era and the genre. I therefore think that YA shouldn’t be considered a genre, either. WHO the target audience the book was written for doesn’t indicate the style of the novel.

I know, I know… no one will be agreeing with me about this. Just like no one seems to agree with me that books set during the same era as the publication, but which were published 40+ years ago, shouldn’t be called historical fiction, but rather vintage contemporary fiction. But the book published in 1946 about WWII is still dumped in with all the WWII novels being published today. WHY?

Look, think about it this way. Take the dystopian novel “1984” by George Orwell. Relative to today, it is set 39 years in the past. But it was published in 1948, which is over 50 years ago. At the time the book released, it was set to take place 36 years in the future! If you ask me, it is an adult, vintage, futuristic, dystopian novel (and a classic, but that’s beside the point). By my logic it is: adult = target age group; vintage = published at least 40 years ago; futuristic = set in an era after the publication date; dystopian = genre! I mean, how could anyone call that an historical fiction novel? And yet, I have seen it called that by some!

Blow your mind? It does mine!

Something to think about, right?

So… what about you? Do you think that eras/settings of novels should be considered as genres, or do you think we should separate the two?

This post is my 2nd entry in the 2023 Discussion Challenge & Giveaway, hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!


33 thoughts on “#LetsDiscuss2023 #2 – What’s in a Genre? – #DiscussionSunday

  1. Lots to think about, Davida. I hadn’t thought about historical fiction in quite that way, but you make a valid point. For instance, some people seem to refer to historical romance as just historical fiction. I think it needs to be categorized separately from historical fiction that does not have a half-naked couple on the cover. I’ve run into people who think all historical fiction is “bodice-ripping,” and that infuriates me. They’ve never read any historical fiction other than the bodice-ripping kind, which gives them a skewed opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 1984 a historical fiction novel? Odd. I would call it dystopian SF. Or maybe classic dystopian SF. Classic rather than vintage. I‘m not really sure what vintage would tell me. But it’s probably similar to my use of classic, aka a publication date several decades in the past. I just read Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson, funnily enough published in 1984. I just classed it as SF. I guess people tend to have their own classifications, depending on what they read most.

    Historical fiction as such is a bit unspecific, but it‘s an indication. When talking to people, I tend to pair it with an era/time period.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, vintage simply means that it was published over 40-50 years ago. That’s all. A classic could be a book that is vintage, but… it could also be one published yesterday. For example, I believe that say… A Man Called Ove can already be considered a classic, since I believe it will be enjoyed for many generations to come. You see, I think the title “classic” is an honorary title for a book that has proven to have evergreen tropes and qualities. Not all classics are vintage, and not all vintage books are classics.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always considered Historical Fiction a genre, mostly because it seems to be the general consensus. However, I can easily follow your arguments, why it shouldn’t be a genre and tend to agree. Also, I completely agree that YA isn’t a genre and a WW2 book published in 1946 is certainly not historical fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think people use genre imprecisely as a catch-all term meaning “kind of book.” And books can have different kinds of things in common. “The book published in 1946 about WWII is still dumped in with all the WWII novels being published today” because of categorization by subject, not, strictly speaking, by genre. Unless one is using “genre” in that general sense. It starts to get a bit confusing!

    I agree that books published in the past about their own time period should be considered “vintage contemporary fiction.” The label “historical fiction” means that one is writing about a time not one’s own, and that in some ways involves different expectations and requirements, which is why it is considered a genre. Writing about the future or an imaginary time can’t be historical! It’s just sloppy to call 1984 historical fiction.

    Thanks for raising this interesting question!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an interesting topic! I do agree that YA, MG, adult are NOT genres, and it bothers me when people say YA is a genre. YA is an age group and represents the target audience, but you can have sci-fi, fantasy, romance YA. Those are genres. I guess YA has generic features, if we want to call it that, in that it has some defining characteristics that make it YA and not MG or adult (maybe more emphasis on romance and finding one’s place in the world than MG, less steamy/explicit content than adult, with an emphasis on explicitly saying what is “wrong” since adults don’t trust teens to figure out that the sexist character is the villain unless they shout it.) But, no, it’s not a genre.

    I also REALLY dislike when people call any classic “historical fiction.” Little Women is NOT historical fiction just because it was written in the past. I didn’t have a name for it, but I like yours.

    I do think of historical fiction as a genre, though, like fantasy or sci-fi! The problem you mention is real, though. Different books do tend to blend features of genres. You can have a fantasy that includes a mystery and a romance, as well as unicorns and magic. I then just go with what seems to be the “main” genre. Or you could try to blend genres, and call something a “historical fantasy.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such an interesting discussion! I see your point – it is illogical to consider historical fiction as genre, but I think the prime consideration is usefulness. It is very useful to consider historical fiction as a genre so to speak. I don’t think most people think of it as strictly a genre because, logically, you are right, only the plot should tell you about the genre, but for the purposes of considering a book and selling it too, it is useful to designate it as historical fiction so that it is clear that the main emphasis of a book is the elaboration of a particular place set in the past. Otherwise we have to invent another word for this category, and it will only be confusing. Though I kind of think of historical fiction as genre, and I do believe that this categorisation hurts the book and I see how some books placed in this category are discriminated against. For example, they can be contrasted with “literary” fiction, and demeaned “inferior”. Is classics a genre? The plot consideration is irrelevant there. I even have coming-of-age as separate book categorisation on my blog and there it all depends on the age of the protagonist of the novel. In sum, the genre should be maintained malleable, but I do admit some illogicality and unfairness of it too. 1984 is definitely not a historical fiction.

    I have other issue with historical fiction, and it is when people designate a book as historical fiction when the authors were describing their own time. Hardy or Dickens’ novels are definitely not historical fiction for me because authors were describing their own present time (even if they were talking about, say 30-40 years before) but I often see people placing them there in goodreads. That’s annoying for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess my point is, the era of the book setting should be combined with the actual genre/s of the book (romance, mystery, etc.). And the era should be relative to the time it was published. As for Hardy and Dickens, I’ve been trying to the the term “vintage contemporary fiction” to catch on, when talking about the eras of their books. As for classics being a genre – no, I don’t think so. That’s an honorary title awarded to books that have an evergreen appeal (but that’s also a good topic for discussion)!


  7. I do consider historical fiction to be a genre, but as it encompasses so many different kinds of books I would then split them into subgenres – historical romance, historical thriller, historical mystery etc. I completely agree with you that older contemporary novels shouldn’t be described as historical, though. In that case every book that was ever published would be ‘historical fiction’ if we just waited long enough! The Walter Scott Prize uses the definition that most of the story should be set at least 60 years before it was written, which I think is a good guide.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like at least 50 years, but I’d also be happy with 60 years. Being aged 65, I don’t care for books written about only 40 years ago being called historical, as I was in my 20s then!


  8. Goodness, I don’t think I have particularly given this subject any major thought. I label books as I see them, quite often, but I also like to know what a book’s ‘genre’ is upfront, hmm, I see your points!
    I wouldn’t necessarily know when as author was born, so that might hamper my ‘historical or contemporary’ label. I see contemporary as ‘now’ in my time going back no more than say, ten years because it needs to ‘fit’ with society as I see it now.
    I like the use of the term ‘vintage’ though.
    The Ya reading age is another ‘hot issue’. I think that I would try to label a book ‘Ya romance’ or ‘Ya mystery’, for instance, just so that readers can make up their mind, especially if they prefer characters above or below the teenage years.
    Lots more to think about with this topic of discussion, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the birth date of the author only matters when we look at older books. Like I say, Jane Austen wrote contemporary romance, but because they were written so long ago, that makes them vintage, contemporary romance, to my mind, at least.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Eras are separate from genres. That’s clear with romance novels, as Regency romances are quite different from contemporary. A “contemporary fiction” book has no meaning unless you include genre! It could be romantic, mystery, sci-fi, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. An interesting question, Davida. It’s almost too hard to get my head around it. There is definite logic to your era vs genre argument, so I’m leaning that way. By the way, I’ve always thought that to be labeled historical fiction, the era has to be at least 50 years in the past, but I hear people talking about “recent” historical fiction, like a story set in the 1980s or 1990s!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Would the age group of the target audience matter? For instance, I could see a book set in the 1980s being called “historical fiction” if it were a YA or MG book because that’s before the target audience was born and thus clearly ancient history! LOL!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Ah ah some really good points here!
    I had a hard time recently deciding if I should consider a book scifi or YA!
    But for me historical novel is easier: I consider historical novel when the historical background has a lot of details and is just as important or more, than the plot itself.
    And if it goes along with a mystery, I call it a historical mystery – and I really love that genre.
    A mystery in itself may not have essential historical information and data, and could actually happen about any time. But some mysteries are very much in connection with their time, Cadfael’s books for instance.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I definitely class historical fiction as a genre, but I find it weird to see anything post 1945 classed as history. Agreed about 1984 – I see things like Jane Austen books classed as historical fiction, which they aren’t!

    Liked by 1 person

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