NYC Midnight Genres: A Primer

For those of us who regularly participate in the NYC Midnight contests there’s a certain dread that comes from the last few weeks leading up to the contest, particularly regarding the genre prompts.

I personally love the different genres – there’s the possibility of getting something you’re familiar with, but it’s just as likely you’ll get something you’ve never written before, and that you’ll discover that it was your secret calling.  I pulled Mystery twice – the first time the 1,000 word limit almost killed me.  The second time around I had 2,500 words and that first experience under my belt, so it went much smoother and I ended up really enjoying it.

…And then there’s that third option: something everyone hates and is equally terrible at (*cough*Political Satire*cough.*)  But then again, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.  So, because I don’t know what your personal preferences are, here’s a quick primer on the possible genres and how to break them down.

(I’ll go into detail on some of the tougher ones over the next couple weeks.)

Note: I know everyone here isn’t necessarily going to be participating in these contests, so even though these genres are specific to NYC, what I have still goes for genre-related publications.


NYC has the following genres:

  • Action/Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Crime Caper
  • Drama
  • Fairy Tale
  • Fantasy
  • Ghost Story
  • Historical Fiction
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Political Satire
  • Romance
  • Romantic Comedy
  • SciFi
  • Spy
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
They also have “Open Genre” but that basically means write whatever you want, and you’ll basically only see it for the final round, if you make it that far.  So let’s break the given genres down into a couple subcategories, shall we?
Plot-driven genres

I’ve grouped the following together because their plot drives the genre.

  • Crime-related stories
    • Crime Caper: usually have criminals as the main characters in a “how they committed the crime of the century” kind of story.  Think Ocean’s 11, or The Italian Job.
    • Mystery: usually involves solving a crime, often involving murder, missing persons or stolen items, etc.  Think of this as a Crime Caper after the fact.
    • Spy: More action than either of the above genres, Spy stories can involve international crime syndicates, large scale espionage and can be from the point of view of someone thwarting crime (James Bond) or someone committing crime (Jason Bourne, or the Mission Impossible team).
  • Pacing-related stories
    • Action/Adventure: This is pretty generic for fast-paced, explosion-filled fun.  Die Hard, Indiana Jones, you get the idea.
    • Suspense: I had to look up the NYC definitions for the difference between Suspense and Thriller.  In general, suspense is slower paced, with a dramatic flair as the tension builds.
    • Thriller: Thriller seems to be fast-paced, with action scenes and plot twists.  I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% clear on the difference, but luckily some genre bending tends to be the norm with these contests.
  • Love Stories
    • Romance: Romantic elements can be present in any of the categories, but with a Romance story, the relationships are the central focus.  Most people I’ve asked agree that a Romance may not have a happy ending, but that dating and/or love and relationships need to be central to the piece.  I’ll put Love Actually in the category – not all the tales end happily but they’re all about love in some form or fashion.
Self-Explanatory Genres
  • Drama
  • Historical Fiction

Drama is the way to go for all you literary types.  Historical fiction is exactly like it sounds: set against a historical backdrop.  I’m not really going to go into either of these two.  They’re pretty standard, really.


That’s enough info to digest for now.  In the upcoming weeks I’ll be talking more about the following sub-categories:
Comedic Style/Tone

This is anything that counts as humorous.  There are some differences here, and we’ll go into that in detail.

  • Comedy
  • Political Satire
  • Romantic Comedy
Speculative Fiction genres
Speculative Fiction encapsulates anything with a “speculative” element, i.e. something that doesn’t exist in the real world.  So monsters, magic, spaceships that travel across the universe, all that belongs here.
  • Fairy Tale
  • Fantasy
  • Ghost Story
  • Horror
  • SciFi

Got any questions about what we’ve already covered?  Dying to know more about something I may have glossed over?  Ask me in the comments!  And for everything else (including the dreaded Political Satire), stay tuned!

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5 thoughts on “NYC Midnight Genres: A Primer

  1. There is something to your observation on pacing as a distinguishing characteristic between “suspense” and “thriller.” My take on the difference between the two is the role of inevitability in the story. Suspense involves uncertainty about an outcome that is *almost* inevitable, while thriller is a sequence of actions without any inevitability at all. For example, my story “The First Seven Deaths of Mildred Orly” was suspense because Mildred was following a murderous arc that she’d followed in the past, one that was deeply connected to her body dysphoria. The suspense was whether the detective and her conscience would jar her out of that arc. My story “The Blades” was ‘thriller’ because there was a rapid turn of events that shifted the MC’s character from prey to predator (and vice versa for the antagonist). In the end I wanted the reader to be wowed by the depth of her transformation, so nothing in that story was inevitable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s actually a great point. I always think of Suspense as something by Hitchcock – lots of dramatic tension leading to the climax, and the climax usually follows a pretty standard progression. For example, with the premise of “Rear Window” you just know it’s going to lead to a confrontation between Jimmy Stewart and the villain in the last act and you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for it to happen.

      Thrillers are harder for me, mostly because I don’t really read/watch too many of them and it’s more difficult to define. Honestly it sounds like they’re Action/Adventure with less explosions/more realistic conflict. Relatively. But I like the idea of a twisting plot that keeps you guessing where it’s going and what’s going to happen next. Maybe if “Rear Window” is suspense, “Vertigo” would be more of a Thriller?

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  2. PLKphoto

    I think crime-caper should also have a bit of a comedic element to it (hence the “caper” part). So it may be the heist of the century, but it may or may not succeed, and there will be lots of comedic downfalls along the way. Sometimes people write a straight-up crime drama for that category in NYCM, but I’ve never seen those stories do as well as those with a comedic twist.

    Of course, I haven’t gotten that genre yet, myself…

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  3. Pingback: Make ’em Laugh: Comedic Writing (Part One) – Liz Schriftsteller

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