What Fiction Classifications Can Tell You About Your Readers

You can’t always tell who’s going to pick up your story and read it. Sometimes, readers are unpredictable. Those who don’t read your genre may stumble upon it and read it anyways, and what speaks to one person won’t to another.

But you can tell some things about your own story based on the fiction classification. This isn’t a genre-thing, but more a flavor of the story based on character, plot, and description, and it can tell you something about why someone would pick up your story. Not all readers read for the same reason, and sometimes, a reader who generally favors one kind of fiction may want another kind as a change of pace.

Dream Fiction: These are the stories we read to experience a very different sort of life (in a good way) from our own. They feature people of power, significance, and glamor–kings, queens, presidents, dukes, movie stars, CEOs, military specialists, etc.–and their plots aren’t usually bogged down by things like money or day-to-day troubles. At least, some characters may have these sorts of problems, but the major characters are beyond that, as they’re the richest, best-looking, smartest, and most powerful in their worlds. Stories can range from Sherlock Holmes (the best detective) to Georgette Heyer (the wealthiest, best dressed leaders of fashion), but they share the common thread of being a life we somewhat wish could be.

It-Could-Actually-Happen Fiction: These stories are set in life as we know it. They may offer encouragement or at least camaraderie (“I know exactly how this situation is; I was just in it!”) as they parallel situations we’re in or could get in, and they offer advice and life experiences we might actually find useful in real life. Realism is a must, as readers come to these stories looking for the down-to-earth aspect, even if it’s set in a different time period, but you don’t have to immerse readers in the reality, as the whole point is that it’s something they already know. These stories have the familiar, and you just have to make the new or unfamiliar clear as you go along. Overall, they feature not the best and brightest, but the believable, and range from Jane Austen to The Chronicles of Narnia (there’s nothing special about the kids, but the world of the story).

Just-How-Bad-Things-Are Fiction: This is, admittedly, a category of fiction I hardly ever read, but I do know it exists as I’ve picked up books and then closed them upon finding out that they’re “these sorts of books.” They’re the stories that focus on the plight of somebody, whether the poor, orphaned, outcast, abused, or manipulated, and they are trying to duplicate the experience of these plights, in as raw and detailed a manner as possible. As far as I can tell, stories like A Song of Ice and Fire may fall into this category, as the focus is on how power destroys, corrupts, and mutilates, and this is shown in all it’s “glory.” Similarly, tales of celebrities who get addicted to drugs or of men or women who have been kidnapped, abused, or enslaved would fall under this heading, and even Oliver Twist belongs in this camp, as the goal is to show how bad something is and to get those who read the story to either be more grateful that their lives aren’t like that or to urge them to do something for those who might be similarly suffering.

Of course, some stories will be a mix of classifications, like The Lord of the Rings, where you have touches of Dream Fiction in the life of Aragorn as king and returning heir, but mostly, the emphasis will be on only one of these categories (in The Lord of the Rings, it’s an It-Could-Actually-Happen story, as the focus is on everyday hobbits and the great good they achieved despite not being all that special). The goals of these stories tend to conflict to where trying to fit into more than one camp will probably make your story less palatable to the very readers you’re trying to reach. Those who want to know Just How Bad Things Are won’t want to focus on the privileged and wealthy, and those who are interested in What Could Actually Happen will see plot holes and improbabilities in a Dream Fiction story.

However, this works to your advantage when writing, as you can use these classifications to refine your story since certain details fit better in certain classifications. Just-How-Bad-Things-Are Fiction will require grittier details and more explicit realism, and readers will feel cheated if you gloss over details since they come for the experience, and they want you to deliver it, as best as fictionally possible.

Conversely, those who read Dream Fiction won’t necessarily want to be bogged down on the details. They come for the glamor and fun, the power and rush of being “super important,” and they want to enjoy the aspects that don’t resemble their life. Thus, the improbability of plot and situation just comes with the territory.

And finally, those who want to read What Could Really Happen will want you to do your homework, to have researched everything and to really know what it was like to live and love and be somewhat like themselves in another time, place, or world. They may come to the story to learn and be more educated, but they don’t seek the same sort of immersion-education as those who read Just How Bad Things Are. They don’t want all the facts, all the gore, or all the details, since they’re more interested in having the facts make sense and fit than all be there.

What about you? Did I miss any categories? Which sort of fiction do you generally read?

Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren

10 thoughts on “What Fiction Classifications Can Tell You About Your Readers

  1. Great post! 🙂 I like something in between it-could-happen to dream – the people in it don’t have to have extraordinary positions or have extraordinary skills, but I do like characters to have extraordinary character and to be in extraordinary situations.


    1. I’d think that’d fall under the Dream Fiction all the same, just for different reasons. The people have extraordinary character and the situations are extraordinary…and thus, not at all “everyday,” even if people of extraordinary character can be found in more everyday positions and problems. But you could write it either way, depending on focus, I imagine. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read anything that grabs me, anything good, thought that’s obviously highly personal, but what I really enjoy reading is in the mystery/thriller genre. Really don’t like preaching fiction, not really a term, but you know what I mean.
    Great post.


    1. I know exactly what you mean. I’m not really sure preaching fiction is a category that makes any readers “drawn” to a book (though perhaps there are some who like it; I sometimes wonder if publishers and authors just put it in for conscience sake and readers overlook it rather than seek it).

      As for mystery/thriller, I think that’s one I only read in the Dream category. If it’s too much “It Could Happen,” it gets too creepy for me, and the “Just How Bad Is It” category would be too gory and gruesome, though I’m sure other readers go for both.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  3. That makes a lot of sense! Do you think most of Dickens work falls in that category of How-Bad-Things-Are?

    Do you think authors Dickens could also end up in the Dream fiction as time goes by, since it feels like it is so removed from us and Dickens London feels like another world to us now?


    1. I think you’re right–Dickens sets out to write about how bad things are, but his style is still that of dream fiction, with remarkable personalities and circumstances. Pip’s plight as an orphan and Oliver’s are both demonstrations of the challenges an orphan could face, but they don’t feel anything like an account of real life–too many bizarre and unlikely things happen to them.


  4. I’ve been looking at fiction genres recently, trying to determine where the novel I’m writing falls. I like your classification better, however, I must use the other for marketing purposes. I can use yours nonetheless in helping me write my book description.


    1. I’m glad you found it helpful. I wouldn’t say it replaces genre, though, as this is more about style and that is generally a classification of focus and certain elements that are habitually expected–like a focus on relationships and family (romance and chick lit), a focus on a crime or mystery (thriller, mystery), or a focus on concepts, philosophy, personal growth and experience (literary).

      I hope you’re able to figure out where your story “fits.” 🙂


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