Breaking away from Realistic Fiction: Investigating Fantasy Sub-Genres

Breaking away from Realistic Fiction: Investigating Fantasy Sub-Genres

Remember when you thought of books in two categories, fiction and non-fiction? That might be a stretch to think back to elementary school. There is a wonderful world of genres out there and then layers of sub-genres underneath the categories of fantasy, romance, science fiction, horror and western.  Sometimes these are influenced by content, sometimes they are influences by target audience and sometimes despite what genre the author intended, the book gets lumped or shelved in a completely different category or subcategory. If only it were as easy of the color of the cover.

I should make an info-graphic for the categories and subcategories.  One day I will.  But today, I want to share my entry into sub-genres of Fantasy.  Urban Fantasy / Romance-Fantasy/ Paranormal Romance.  There is a lot of gray within sub-genres. Sometimes the sub-genre titles don’t cross from bookstore to library to the publishing house website or author website.  It can be confusing.

Before I get started, I have a confession. I was an awful horrible person. I used to think genre fiction was fluffy junk you got as an insomnia emergency in that little half-aisle in the grocery store next to the crossword puzzles and birthday cards.  I also had a preconceived notion that I was too good for genre fiction. I told myself  it was not going to be worth my time, I wasn’t going to like it and my pretentious inner voice was scoffing.  It can’t be of any quality because it’s uses devices to solidify the plot or character development.  This might happen from time to time – but as a whole, I was wrong, so very wrong. Luckily we grow and change.  Often reading outside of our comfort zone pushes us to grow in ways we didn’t even fathom were possible.


For me, going beyond fiction and into fantasy happened on a whim. I was living in Minnesota and found myself in a reading slump. I went to this store called Borders, they don’t have them anymore, but I was there and found myself checking out the local section. I picked up this harmless pastel paperback.  It was tiny,  255 pages.

I read the back cover, vampires.  Imagine an epic eye-roll. I giggled when I saw the main character’s name was Elizabeth Taylor, but she goes by Betsy.  I went against my perceived elevated ideals for literature and I gave it a shot.  I went home and devoured Undead and Unwed.  It was light, cute and funny.  It was just what I needed at that time.  So the next day, I did some research I don’t know if it was on goodreads or weread or some other beta book social media platform. I don’t think they even called things social media this point – but I read about the differences between paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  I kept seeing certain books come up on user lists. I wrote them down in a notebook and went back to the bookstore.  I picked up the next ones in the series and then picked up Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris.

Both books had these cute illustrated covers, the covers although mass market paperback, had the soft matte finish that I prefer instead of the glossy shiny cover. The shiny covers show all the fingerprints!   So I went home and read and by the end of two weeks – I was caught up, I devoured all of what had been written in both series.  I was out of my reading slump – so I did some research and then I went back to the store and I found my all-time favorite urban-fantasy series:  Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.    I found myself on book forums, I found a tribe of people that love these books. I found a way to make reading things I love a social activity that wasn’t a book club.  I was too introverted to meet with strangers to talk about books but the internet at that point in time offered the safety of anonymity, a user name and a silly avatar.  Things have changed a little since those days. What  I was able to do at this point in my reading life,  I gave up on reading things to impress a notion I had of myself as a reader.  I was reading what appealed to me and offered me an escape. I learned the important lesson to read what you want to read, but don’t close yourself off from something just because you don’t think you’ll like it or you don’t perceive that it is good from a crappy book cover. Allow yourself to be entertained by your reading choices as well as the actual book you are reading.

If I hadn’t taken a chance on stepping outside realistic fiction, I wouldn’t know that I love werewolves and wizards.   Not every romance fantasy, paranormal romance or urban fantasy is the same as Twilight. That is a completely unjust notion to have and quiet insulting to the wonderful writers I’ve found within these sub-genres. Elements of magic in my fiction give me the escapism I need from time to time.  Sure, I read a lot of regular/realistic fiction but if I want to be entertained, be emotionally invested a set of characters, I like to do so over the span of a series.  Urban Fantasy is my top pick, go-to genre.  I have several series that I follow, that I might not read the day they are released because then you just have to wait for another year for the next book to come out but that I am invested in the series from the beginning to the end. Sometimes the genres of urban fantasy or paranormal romance bend and include historical eras or inventive steampunk themes.

What genre were you reluctant to try?

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