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Fifty Shades of General Fiction

Post by Elizabeth Coleman
Posted February 10, 2015 in NoveList Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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Last year, I wrote a post about how NoveList was taking a look at certain General fiction genres, or “non-genres”, and giving them a good dust off. In June, we had just wrapped up changes on Domestic fiction, but that only scratched the surface, and I wanted to share with you now some of the other conclusions we reached in the past few months.

As I mentioned in the last post, general fiction genres are not often explained in professional literature.  This gave us the chance to discuss these genres (Psychological fiction, Women’s lives and relationships, and Mainstream fiction) without much baggage, so to speak.  It was a challenging, but fun, opportunity.

NoveList defines Psychological fiction as, in short, a character study. These novels either get into the head of the characters or get you, the reader, into their mindset by other means.  Psychological fiction titles are character-driven and often have a reflective tone, but may differ in writing style.

Written by and for women (with a few exceptions), Women’s lives and relationships focus on, you guessed it, the lives and relationships of women -- but these aren’t the book versions of Lifetime movies. The stories themselves may vary wildly in plot and appeal -- some focus on female friendship while others offer the reader a glimpse at a woman’s family life.  Some are melancholy. Others are upbeat and happy.  But each title should have something about them that speak to the experience of being a woman. The characters, in other words, are generally relatable.

Mainstream fiction was perhaps the hardest general fiction genre to define since these novels don’t necessarily share a certain a writing style or tone, or subject matter.  Books on this shelf might be about men with a music obsession (like in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity) or about the things spouses keep from each other (think The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty). Other Mainstream books might have a very, very light paranormal aspect to them. These are works in which a little bit of magic, for instance, is used alongside a story with otherwise real world problems (perhaps a person is telling their story from beyond the grave, but without any of the horror aspects). So, then, what is Mainstream fiction? There may be no battling of evil villains, or exploration in the far reaches of space, or guaranteed happy ending, but Mainstream fiction is a genre that takes the problems of this world and makes a story about it which appeals to a great number of people.

As you may have guessed at this point, I chose the title for this article because there are so many different shades of General fiction.  Although we can, and have, created niche genres for Science fiction, Romance, Fantasy, and Mystery (Supernatural mystery stories, anyone??), we haven’t (yet) ventured there with General fiction.  Perhaps one day we will be able to pull together all the titles about men living in the suburbs or women friends at the beach and give them pithy new genre headings, but not at this time.  That is why it was so important to spend time talking about these “other” genres, so that we could understand all the different types of character and situations that could be included. As these changes take effect, we think you will agree that our collection is tighter and more cohesive. But the discussion never really stops, and we hope you will join us in thinking about how these genres might evolve in the future.

If you're a reader of general fiction and want to find more great books to read, look for these three genre headings inside NoveList. 

Elizabeth Coleman is a Cataloger at NoveList.