Genres 101: A Look at Genres

by Clay Stafford

I read one time that there are over 40,000 official job titles in the United States (all with a separate numerical governmental code). The way I see it, most people in their lives only explore 1-4 of these. That leaves a possible 39,999 wonderful careers completely unconsidered by most people. Can you imagine the number of unfulfilled lives of unhappy workers who might have found joy with just a little more exploration? The same can be true of writers.

Stack of BooksI’m a firm believer that the quality of your writing is only 10% of the quality of what you read or view. I’m sure some will argue with that, but that’s my position. I read a lot. I review a lot. I talk to a lot of authors. And my general perception is that most writers are vastly unread and therefore not the writers that they could be. Some limit themselves to a particular genre and miss the color and spark that might arise from exploring different areas.

What I want to do in this series is to explore the twelve main genres that I have personally identified in literature (and film) and then explore the other 400 subgenres contained within those twelve. At heart, I’m an academic, and this is my categorization.

As many know, I’ve reviewed books for years. I probably read more than 400 titles a year. There is much that is rehashed, addressing tired subjects. Readers can be selective in their reading and can fish with a hook for the kinds of books they like; writers cannot and must use a net, casting deeply into many unexplored and dark waters. My hope is through genre exploration and the discovery of new elements the column will serve to inspire something fresh and unique, maybe even in your own writing.

This column will succinctly detail where a particular genre began (if we can pin-point that), what makes the genre distinctive, and – should I be inspired – what I see from my position at Killer Nashville to be the future of the genre itself. The goal is not to tell you what to write; the goal is to share with you some representative great works that others have written. From that, each of you will get your own ideas of how you might push the limits of your own genre by borrowing technique from others.

I also ask you to share additional titles and points-of-view that I might have missed or did not list because of space. Share with other readers here in your comments. Get your other writer or reader friends involved. In the end, I hope to learn as much from all of you as you could ever learn from me.

Take the plunge with me. Over those mountains are many lands you may exploit.

Lets look at our first article, Beginning with Crime.


Clay Stafford,
Founder Killer Nashville,
Publisher Killer Nashville Magazine

Articles in the Genre Series:

Crime Fiction (Feb 2015)
Bad Girls (March 2015)

Clay StaffordCLAY STAFFORD is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and filmmaker. He has sold over 1.5 million hardcover copies of his children’s adaptations and has seen his film work distributed internationally in over 14 languages. Four of his five staged murder mysteries have had Los Angeles premieres. He has reviewed books, plays, and films, writes near-daily book reviews for the Killer Nashville Book of the Day, has been quoted on book jackets, and has edited several PBS companion books associated with national series. Publishers Weekly has named Stafford one of the top 10 Nashville literary leaders playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” not only in middle-Tennessee, but also extending “beyond the city limits and into the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13). He is the founder of Killer Nashville ( and Killer Nashville Magazine ( He has served on the board of numerous nonprofits. Clay has a B.A. and M.F.A. and has been a professor or lecturer to several major universities. His list of current projects includes the award-winning feature-length documentary “One Of The Miracles: The Inge Meyring Smith Story” ( and the music CD “XO” with fellow mystery writer Jeffery Deaver ( Previously associated with Universal Studios and PBS, he is currently President / CEO of American Blackguard, Inc. (, a publishing / film and television / music / entertainment company near Nashville, Tennessee. More information can be found at