For book lovers, identifying the genre or genres that most interest them can be a challenge.

Image provided by Brian C. Poole

The world of books and stories has evolved rapidly. There are more choices and permutations than ever. How can the discerning bibliophile navigate this tricky terrain?

Fortunately, Thunder Alley, which is COMPLETELY unbiased about this topic ( <cough> Grievous Angels <cough> ) is here to help.

What readers need is a guide. A roadmap, if you will, to help navigate the Genre Jungle. Keeping in mind that books can skirt more than one of these genre zones, we present:

The Thunder Alley Totally Helpful Fiction Genre Guide

GENRE: Mystery ELEMENTS: Complicated crime; detective with a personality flaw (alcoholism, workaholism, sociopathy); a criminal with a baroque flair (staged crime scenes; themed murders); upper brass pushing for “results” TYPICAL PLOT: The idyllic summer of a city that should know better is shocked by yet another wave of brutal serial killings, involving some ludicrously impractical method that no one can crack. The brilliant detective who should probably be in a locked ward instead damages his emotional stability even further to catch the killer. Probably resulting in the deaths and/or maimings of at least two people close to him.

Image provided by Amazon/ Vintage

GENRE: Thriller ELEMENTS: international conspiracy; doomsday weapon or lost ancient treasure; ex-military hero TYPICAL PLOT: A shadowy cabal plans to take over the world via manipulation of the teen pop market to turn typical young people into an army of crazed killers. A Special Forces veteran on the run from his past and a beautiful scientist are the only ones who can stop the nefarious plot. After they stop to bone. Then, totally, car chases, air plane chases and a violent showdown.

GENRE: Science Fiction ELEMENTS: robots; aliens; super computers with personalities; future tech; scientists who will not be constrained by your conventional conception of morality TYPICAL PLOT: Unnecessarily inscrutable aliens park a big honkin’ space ship right over Earth. Are they friendly? Hostile? Burned by past alien worlds but ready to try again? A plucky band of misfit adventurers and scientists will find a way to board the ship and learn the truth. And probably prevent Armageddon. There’s always a near-Armageddon.

Image provided by Amazon/Bantam

GENRE: Fantasy ELEMENTS: elves; wizards; foul creatures from the darkest pits of hell; swords with long names and complicated histories; eldritch texts TYPICAL PLOT: So the power-mad necromancer ignored the warning label that said “This apocalyptic spell will totally suck yon enchanted land that may or may not be an ancient version of Earth into some hell-adjacent dimension.” Power, man! The tentacle-faced demon-god will probably make him a viceroy. Fortunately someone hid the powerful weapon that will prevent this in a murderously inconvenient spot that will involve trekking up a snowy mountain and then descending into a volcano. But you have a posse representing a wide array of specialties, so at least 80% of you should make it there alive. And then, showdown with the tentacle-faced demon-god. And maybe a make-out session with an elf princess if you save yon enchanted land.

GENRE: Romance ELEMENTS: women seeking fulfillment; men who don’t know how to love; the missionary position; probably some candles and roses TYPICAL PLOT: A woman with a lot of love to give breaks free of the conventional relationships that have held her back to find actualization in saving a brooding brooder from brooding himself into oblivion. And then some “basic cable at 9:00 p.m.” depictions of sexual fulfillment. And weeping. Hopefully before the sexual fulfillment, not after.

GENRE: Erotica ELEMENTS: women seeking to be tied up; men who have lots of chains; positions you didn’t know were possible according to the laws of physics as you understand them; probably some candles (for the hot wax) and roses (for the thorns) TYPICAL PLOT: A repressed woman claims her power via S&M, bondage and role-playing with an emotionally withholding man who only feels alive when spikes and handcuffs are involved. Probably some judgmental jerk gets told off for not understanding this is the choice the newly liberated woman has made and embraced. Addiction metaphors entirely accidental.

GENRE: Paranormal ELEMENTS: sparkly vampires; rugged werewolves; sensitive ghosts; misunderstood nobility and hearts of gold; abs you could wash clothes on TYPICAL PLOT: Ohmygod, sparkly vampires/rugged werewolves/sensitive ghosts are totally real! And that sheltered young woman will never be the same now that she’s touched the noble heart of one of them and had her whole world opened up. Too bad the forces of evil that want to destroy her beloved intend to use her to settle some vendetta that began back in the 15th century. Some creatures just carry a grudge to an absolutely bitchy degree.

GENRE: Contemporary ELEMENTS: smart career woman; geeky guy who is secretly perfect for her; you know, life and stuff TYPICAL PLOT: A brilliant woman on the fast track to the top of her profession realizes that she keeps dating guys who are fine, she guesses, but not The One. But she feels guilty complaining, what with that beloved relative/best friend/mentor enduring a bruising Life Challenge. And then things go off the rails. But hey, that geeky guy at her office/gym/book club that she takes for granted turns out to be a lot more than she realized. Plus, you know, feelings.

GENRE: Speculative Fiction ELEMENTS: frankly, your guess is as good as mine TYPICAL PLOT: Plots are so last century. What you need is a dense, time- and dimension-spanning epic that ignores the rules of conventional storytelling while contemplating the unfathomable truths of the universe. If the universe even exists. It might not.

GENRE: Horror ELEMENTS: ghosts; poltergeists; zombies; unstoppable viruses; monsters; sadistic killers; End Times TYPICAL PLOT: Humanity is so short-sighted that it has failed to realize how it is killing itself. Therefore, something really gruesome (described in stomach-churning detail) has unleashed itself on the world. Many will die if a dedicated band doesn’t manage to figure out how to shut it down. In the end, the monsters are us. Maybe.

GENRE: Literature ELEMENTS: middle-aged couples coming to a crossroads; adult children reckoning with the unresolved past; thwarted love that burns secretly for decades; old grudges, petty and grand; hard won wisdom TYPICAL PLOT: As a major family milestone approaches, various members of said family gather, hoping the relatives don’t recognize/judge their significant dysfunction(s). Complicated family dynamics force everyone into old, no-longer-comfortable roles. Someone has a breakdown. Secrets emerge. People scream and cry. Reconciliations pop up all over. Wisdom is won. Hard.

Image provided by Amazon/Katherine Tegen Books

GENRE: Young Adult ELEMENTS: smart girls who are secretly beautiful; troubled boys who are good inside; disapproving parents or other authority figures; a crime he totally didn’t commit; a secret place that only they know TYPICAL PLOT: She’s the honor student who’s never set a foot over the line. He’s the school rebel from a broken family. They have nothing in common, yet see who each other “really” is. But no one approves of their love. They retreat to their secret spot where no one will hassle them. Except the police, but it’s totally not his fault and everyone will know in the end. He might not live to see it, but he’ll be totally vindicated and she will Never Be The Same.

GENRE: Historical Fiction ELEMENTS: period setting; famous people, as you’ve never seen them before; wars; plagues; famines; striving against the strictures of a rigid society that is afraid of the progress your work represents; murder for profit and political advancement TYPICAL PLOT: That famous king/president/brilliant scientist sure is a rapscallion in ways you never got from a history book! Fortunately, his faithful retainer/staffer/research assistant is there to help him navigate the latest crisis that threatens to bring his world crashing down around him. Possibly literally, depending on whether or not the opposition is armed with damaging secrets or explosives. The long-suffering wife/fiancée/woman to whom he can never express his true feelings wonders why he can’t show HER the devotion he shows the king/president/brilliant scientist. Then someone dies and it’s tragic. But historical.

GENRE: Western ELEMENTS: horses; rifles and six-shooters; lassos; spurs; deserts; escaped criminals; natives with good reason to distrust interlopers TYPICAL PLOT: That vicious killer has escaped because the weak current sheriff just couldn’t hold him in jail. That grizzled ex-lawman who’s trying to put his past behind him has no choice but to be drawn back into the world of violence that cost him his wife/son/partner/left hand. So it’s into the native territories, where danger lurks around ever boulder. And then some Biblical showdown. Good might prevail, but that’s no guarantee of survival.

The Thunder Alley Totally Helpful Non-Fiction Genre Quick List

Image provided by Amazon/Broadway Books

HISTORY: This all happened and I have the photocopies and interview tapes to prove it.

MEMOIR: This may have happened, but I was on so many drugs at the time even I won’t know for sure until someone produces a police report to contradict me.

BIOGRAPHY: Let me tell you about this great person who was secretly a total scumbag.

HUMOR: People started following me on Twitter and then I got this book deal.

TRAVEL: My vacation was more awesome than yours. Plus someone else paid for it.

INSPIRATIONAL: When life dealt me challenges, I managed not to put my head in the oven and dealt with them and you can, too!

SELF-HELP: You suck, but I can help you suck less.

COOKING: There is no way you will be able to make these dishes, but good luck trying.

POETRY: Food and a permanent address are overrated anyway.

Originally published at on September 17, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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