Content genres are the building blocks of your story's plot, conflict, and character arcs. They determine the type of narrative you are crafting and help guide the development of your characters and their journeys. Content genres can be divided into two categories: internal and external.
Internal content genres focus on the inner conflict of the characters, and as such, define their subconscious internal object of desire. External content genres, on the other hand, concentrate on external conflicts and events, and thus influence your character’s external object of desire. Your story will usually have both an internal and external content genre (especially if you're writing an arch-plot or mini-plot story).
Okay, so that covers the basics. Let's explore internal and external content genres in-depth, and dive in to how to effectively use these genres in your fiction writing!
What are the different types of content genres?
Internal content genres
Stories where the inner conflict is status
The protagonists in these stories face struggles related to their social standing, personal growth, or self-worth. Often, they must overcome internal barriers such as self-doubt, insecurity, or prejudice to achieve their goals. Examples of this genre include coming-of-age stories, rags-to-riches tales, and stories of personal transformation.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing stories where the inner conflict is status [internal content genre]
Stories where the inner conflict is worldview
These stories focus on the protagonist's beliefs, values, and understanding of the world around them. The protagonist's worldview may be challenged or transformed over the course of the narrative, leading to personal growth and a new perspective. Examples include stories that explore philosophical questions, morality tales, and narratives that confront societal norms or expectations.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing stories where the inner conflict is worldview [internal content genre]
Stories where the inner conflict is morality
Morality-focused stories typically feature a protagonist grappling with ethical dilemmas, moral ambiguities, or personal values. The central conflict often revolves around the protagonist's struggle to reconcile their beliefs with the reality they face or the choices they must make. Examples include stories that delve into moral grey areas, tales of redemption, and narratives that explore the nature of good and evil.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing stories where the inner conflict is morality [internal content genre]
External content genres
Action stories centre on physical challenges, high-stakes situations, and fast-paced events. These narratives often feature external antagonists, dangerous environments, or high-risk scenarios. Examples include adventure stories, spy thrillers, and superhero narratives.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing action [external content genre]
Horror stories aim to evoke fear, unease, or dread in the reader. They often feature supernatural elements, psychological tension, or unsettling atmospheres. Examples include ghost stories, psychological horror, and monster tales.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing horror [external content genre]
Crime stories revolve around criminal acts, law enforcement, or the pursuit of justice. These narratives often involve complex plots, moral dilemmas, and a focus on the darker aspects of human nature. Examples include detective novels, police procedurals, and heist stories.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing crime [external content genre]
Mystery stories focus on the pursuit of truth, with the protagonist working to unravel secrets, uncover hidden motives, or solve puzzles. These narratives often involve suspense, intrigue, and unexpected twists. Examples include whodunits, locked-room mysteries, and historical mysteries.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing mystery [external content genre]
Westerns are a genre of fiction set in the American West during the 19th and early 20th centuries. They focus on themes of frontier life, law and order, and the clash of cultures. Examples of this genre include classic cowboy stories, frontier sagas, and modern westerns that explore contemporary issues through the lens of the genre.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing westerns [external content genre]
Novels about war explore the experiences of soldiers, civilians, and nations during times of conflict. These stories often touch on themes of heroism, sacrifice, and the human cost of war. Examples include historical war novels, military fiction, and stories set in alternate histories or speculative worlds.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing war novels [external content genre]
Thrillers are characterized by suspense, tension, and high stakes. They often involve a race against time, a dangerous adversary, or a life-threatening situation. Examples include psychological thrillers, spy thrillers, and techno-thrillers.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing thrillers [external content genre]
Novels that explore social dynamics, relationships, and the interactions between individuals and their communities are known as society novels. These stories often examine themes of class, power, and societal expectations, providing insight into the complexities of human relationships and cultural norms. Examples include novels of manners, social satires, and stories that focus on a specific subculture or community.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing society novels [external content genre]
Romance stories focus on emotional and romantic relationships between characters, often exploring themes of love, passion, and commitment. These narratives typically feature a central romantic plot, with obstacles and conflicts that the characters must overcome to achieve a satisfying resolution. Examples of this genre include contemporary romance, historical romance, and paranormal romance.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing romance [external content genre]
Performance-oriented genre novels focus on characters who excel in a particular skill or profession. These often involve high-stakes competitions, personal challenges, or the pursuit of mastery. Such stories highlight the protagonist's dedication, talent, and personal growth, as they work to achieve their goals and overcome obstacles. Examples include sports stories, dance or music-centred narratives, and stories set in the world of high-stakes finance or politics.
💡 Read more about: A short guide to writing performance genre novels [external content genre]
Understanding the nuances of content genres, both internal and external, is essential for creating engaging and dynamic stories that resonate with readers. By selecting the appropriate content genre for your narrative and combining it with the right reality and style genres, you can craft a story that meets the expectations of your readers while providing a unique and compelling experience.
How to use content genres
Objects of desire
When selecting your content genres, it's important to remember that your protagonist's objects of desire - what they internally and externally crave - will be determined by these genres. For instance, in an internal content genre focusing on status, your protagonist's internal object of desire might be social acceptance or self-esteem, while in an external crime genre, their external object of desire could be solving the mystery or bringing the culprit to justice.
The genre you choose will also shape the expectations of your readers. Every content genre has its genre conventions - tropes, character archetypes, and thematic elements that readers have come to anticipate. For example, a reader will expect suspense and a gradually unraveled mystery in a crime novel or emotional conflict and romantic tension in a romance novel. Sticking to these conventions provides a sense of familiarity, though clever subversion can add an element of surprise and freshness to your narrative.
Perhaps most importantly: every content genre comes with obligatory scenes, which are critical moments or events that readers anticipate in a story of that particular genre (think of this like the chocolate in a chocolate cake). For instance, in a thriller, readers expect a scene where the protagonist confronts the antagonist, while in a romance, they look forward to a confession of love or a first kiss. These scenes serve to meet readers' expectations and are essential for the narrative to be satisfying within its genre.
- Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.