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What is literature?
Literature, a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by their authors’ intentions and their execution’s perceived aesthetic excellence. Literature may be classified according to various systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter.
Definitions of the word literature tend to be circular. Collegiate Dictionary considers literature to be “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.” The 19th-century critic Walter Pater referred to “the matter of imaginative or artistic literature” as a “transcript, not of mere fact, but of fact in its infinitely varied forms.” But such definitions assume that the reader already knows what literature is. And indeed, its central meaning, at least, is clear enough. Deriving from the Latin littera, “a letter of the alphabet,” literature is first and foremost humankind’s entire body of writing; after that, it is the body of writing belonging to a given language or people; then it is individual pieces of writing. But already, it is necessary to qualify these statements. To use the word writing when describing the literature is itself misleading, for one may speak of “oral literature” or “the literature of preliterate peoples.” The art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page; they are there solely because of the craft of writing. As an art, literature might be described as the organization of words to give pleasure. Yet through words, literature elevates and transforms experience beyond “mere” pleasure. Literature also functions more broadly in society as a means of both criticizing and affirming cultural values.
How did literature evolve?
Taken to mean only written works, literature was first produced by some of the world’s earliest civilizations—those of Ancient Egypt and Sumeria—as early as the 4th millennium BC; taken to include spoken or sung texts, it originated even earlier, and some of the first written works may have been based on a pre-existing oral tradition. As urban cultures and societies developed, there was a proliferation in the forms of literature. Developments in print technology allowed for literature to be distributed and experienced on an unprecedented scale, culminating in electronic literature in the twenty-first century.
Forms of Literature:
Literature is a form of human expression. But not everything expressed in words—even when organized and written down—is counted as literature. Those writings that are primarily informative—technical, scholarly, journalistic—would be excluded from the rank of literature by most, though not all, critics. Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art. Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess artistic merit and fail if they do not. The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. The writer need not even pursue it to attain it. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all.
The purest (or, at least, the most intense) literary form is the lyric poem, and after it comes elegiac, epic, dramatic, narrative, and expository verse. Most literary criticism theories base themselves on an analysis of poetry because the aesthetic problems of literature are there presented in their simplest and purest form. Poetry that fails as literature is not called poetry at all but verse. Many novels—certainly all the world’s great novels—are literature, but thousands are not considered. Most great dramas are considered literature (although the Chinese, possessors of one of the world’s greatest dramatic traditions, consider their plays, with few exceptions, to possess no literary merit whatsoever). The craft of writing involves more than mere rules of prosody. The work’s structure must be manipulated to attract the reader. First, the literary situation has to be established. The reader must be directly related to the work, placed in it—given enough information on who, what, when, or why—so that his attention is caught and held (or, on the other hand, he must be deliberately mystified, to the same end).
In the 20th century, the poetry methods also changed drastically, although the “innovator” here might be said to have been Baudelaire. The disassociation and recombination of ideas of the Cubists, the free association of ideas of the Surrealists, dreams, trance states, the poetry of preliterate people—all have been absorbed into the practice of modern poetry. This proliferation of form is not likely to end. The effort that once was applied to perfecting a single pattern in a single form may in the future be more and more directed toward the elaboration of entirely new “multimedia” forms, employing the resources of all the established arts. At the same time, writers may prefer to simplify and polish the forms of the past with a rigorous, Neoclassicist discipline. In a worldwide urban civilization, which has taken to itself the styles and discoveries of all cultures past and present, the future of literature is quite impossible to determine.
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What is Literature? || Definition & Examples
"what is literature": a literary guide for english students and teachers.
View the full series: The Oregon State Guide to English Literary Terms
- Guide to Literary Terms
- BA in English Degree
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What is Literature? Transcript (English and Spanish Subtitles Available in Video; Click HERE for Spanish Transcript)
By Evan Gottlieb & Paige Thomas
The question of what makes something literary is an enduring one, and I don’t expect that we’ll answer it fully in this short video. Instead, I want to show you a few different ways that literary critics approach this question and then offer a short summary of the 3 big factors that we must consider when we ask the question ourselves.
Let’s begin by making a distinction between “Literature with a capital L” and “literature with a small l.”
“Literature with a small l” designates any written text: we can talk about “the literature” on any given subject without much difficulty.
“Literature with a capital L”, by contrast, designates a much smaller set of texts – a subset of all the texts that have been written.
So what makes a text literary or what makes a text “Literature with a capital L”?
Let’s start with the word itself. “Literature” comes from Latin, and it originally meant “the use of letters” or “writing.” But when the word entered the Romance languages that derived from Latin, it took on the additional meaning of “knowledge acquired from reading or studying books.” So we might use this definition to understand “Literature with a Capital L” as writing that gives us knowledge--writing that should be studied.
But this begs the further question: what books or texts are worth studying or close reading ?
For some critics, answering this question is a matter of establishing canonicity. A work of literature becomes “canonical” when cultural institutions like schools or universities or prize committees classify it as a work of lasting artistic or cultural merit.
The canon, however, has proved problematic as a measure of what “Literature with a capital L” is because the gatekeepers of the Western canon have traditionally been White and male. It was only in the closing decades of the twentieth century that the canon of Literature was opened to a greater inclusion of diverse authors.
And here’s another problem with that definition: if inclusion in the canon were our only definition of Literature, then there could be no such thing as contemporary Literature, which, of course, has not yet stood the test of time.
And here’s an even bigger problem: not every book that receives good reviews or a wins a prize turns out to be of lasting value in the eyes of later readers.
On the other hand, a novel like Herman Melville’s Moby-Di ck, which was NOT received well by critics or readers when it was first published in 1851, has since gone on to become a mainstay of the American literary canon.
As you can see, canonicity is obviously a problematic index of literariness.
So… what’s the alternative? Well, we could just go with a descriptive definition: “if you love it, then it’s Literature!”
But that’s a little too subjective. For example, no matter how much you may love a certain book from your childhood (I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar ) that doesn’t automatically make it literary, no matter how many times you’ve re-read it.
Furthermore, the very idea that we should have an emotional attachment to the books we read has its own history that cannot be detached from the rise of the middle class and its politics of telling people how to behave.
Ok, so “literature with a capital L” cannot always by defined by its inclusion in the canon or the fact that it has been well-received so…what is it then? Well, for other critics, what makes something Literature would seem to be qualities within the text itself.
According to the critic Derek Attridge, there are three qualities that define modern Western Literature:
1. a quality of invention or inventiveness in the text itself;
2. the reader’s sense that what they are reading is singular. In other words, the unique vision of the writer herself.
3. a sense of ‘otherness’ that pushes the reader to see the world around them in a new way
Notice that nowhere in this three-part definition is there any limitation on the content of Literature. Instead, we call something Literature when it affects the reader at the level of style and construction rather than substance.
In other words, Literature can be about anything!
The idea that a truly literary text can change a reader is of course older than this modern definition. In the English tradition, poetry was preferred over novels because it was thought to create mature and sympathetic reader-citizens.
Likewise, in the Victorian era, it was argued that reading so-called “great” works of literature was the best way for readers to realize their full spiritual potentials in an increasingly secular world.
But these never tell us precisely what “the best” is. To make matters worse, as I mentioned already, “the best” in these older definitions was often determined by White men in positions of cultural and economic power.
So we are still faced with the question of whether there is something inherent in a text that makes it literary.
Some critics have suggested that a sense of irony – or, more broadly, a sense that there is more than one meaning to a given set of words – is essential to “Literature with a capital L.”
Reading for irony means reading slowly or at least attentively. It demands a certain attention to the complexity of the language on the page, whether that language is objectively difficult or not.
In a similar vein, other critics have claimed that the overall effect of a literary text should be one of “defamiliarization,” meaning that the text asks or even forces readers to see the world differently than they did before reading it.
Along these lines, literary theorist Roland Barthes maintained that there were two kinds of texts: the text of pleasure, which we can align with everyday Literature with a small l” and the text of jouissance , (yes, I said jouissance) which we can align with Literature. Jouissance makes more demands on the reader and raises feelings of strangeness and wonder that surpass the everyday and even border on the painful or disorienting.
Barthes’ definition straddles the line between objectivity and subjectivity. Literature differs from the mass of writing by offering more and different kinds of experiences than the ordinary, non-literary text.
Literature for Barthes is thus neither entirely in the eye of the beholder, nor something that can be reduced to set of repeatable, purely intrinsic characteristics.
This negative definition has its own problems, though. If the literary text is always supposed to be innovative and unconventional, then genre fiction, which IS conventional, can never be literary.
So it seems that whatever hard and fast definition we attempt to apply to Literature, we find that we run up against inevitable exceptions to the rules.
As we examine the many problematic ways that people have defined literature, one thing does become clear. In each of the above examples, what counts as Literature depends upon three interrelated factors: the world, the text, and the critic or reader.
You see, when we encounter a literary text, we usually do so through a field of expectations that includes what we’ve heard about the text or author in question [the world], the way the text is presented to us [the text], and how receptive we as readers are to the text’s demands [the reader].
With this in mind, let’s return to where we started. There is probably still something to be said in favor of the “test of time” theory of Literature.
After all, only a small percentage of what is published today will continue to be read 10, 20, or even 100 years from now; and while the mechanisms that determine the longevity of a text are hardly neutral, one can still hope that individual readers have at least some power to decide what will stay in print and develop broader cultural relevance.
The only way to experience what Literature is, then, is to keep reading: as long as there are avid readers, there will be literary texts – past, present, and future – that challenge, excite, and inspire us.
Interested in more video lessons? View the full series:
The oregon state guide to english literary terms, contact info.
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2 (page 19) p. 19 What is literature and does it matter?
- Published: July 2011
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The question ‘What is literature?’ arises because critics and theorists hope, by saying what literature is, to promote what they consider the most pertinent critical methods and to dismiss methods that neglect the most basic and distinctive aspects of literature. In the context of recent theory, the question ‘What is literature?’ matters because theory has highlighted the literariness of texts of all sorts. To reflect on literariness is to keep before us, as resources for analysing these discourses, reading practices elicited by literature: the suspension of the demand for immediate intelligibility, reflection on the implications of means of expression, and attention to how meaning is made and pleasure produced.
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writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.
the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.
the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.
the profession of a writer or author.
literary work or production.
any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.
Archaic . polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.
Origin of literature
Synonym study for literature, other words from literature.
- pre·lit·er·a·ture, noun
Words Nearby literature
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023
How to use literature in a sentence
If you want to understand the flamboyant family of objects that make up our solar system—from puny, sputtering comets to tremendous, ringed planets—you could start by immersing yourself in the technical terms that fill the scientific literature .
Poway Unified anticipates bringing forward two new courses – ethnic studies and ethnic literature – to the school board for review, said Christine Paik, a spokeswoman for the district.
The book she completed after that trip, Coming of Age in Samoa, published in 1928, would be hailed as a classic in the literature on sexuality and adolescence.
He also told Chemistry World he envisages the robots eventually being able to analyze the scientific literature to better guide their experiments.
Research also suggests that reading literature may help increase empathy and understanding of others’ experiences, potentially spurring better real-world behavior.
The research literature , too, asks these questions, and not without reason.
She wanted to know what happened over five years, or even 10, but the scientific literature had little to offer.
The religion shaped all facets of life: art, medicine, literature , and even dynastic politics.
Speaking of the literature you love, the Bloomsbury writers crop up in your collection repeatedly.
literature in the 14th century, Strohm points out, was an intimate, interactive affair.
All along the highways and by-paths of our literature we encounter much that pertains to this "queen of plants."
There cannot be many persons in the world who keep up with the whole range of musical literature as he does.
In early English literature there was at one time a tendency to ascribe to Solomon various proverbs not in the Bible.
He was deeply versed in Saxon literature and published a work on the antiquity of the English church.
Such unromantic literature as Acts of Parliament had not, it may be supposed, up to this, formed part of my mental pabulum.
British Dictionary definitions for literature
/ ( ˈlɪtərɪtʃə , ˈlɪtrɪ- ) /
written material such as poetry, novels, essays, etc, esp works of imagination characterized by excellence of style and expression and by themes of general or enduring interest
the body of written work of a particular culture or people : Scandinavian literature
written or printed matter of a particular type or on a particular subject : scientific literature ; the literature of the violin
printed material giving a particular type of information : sales literature
the art or profession of a writer
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
What Is a Novel? Definition and Characteristics
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A novel is a narrative work of prose fiction that tells a story about specific human experiences over a considerable length.
Prose style and length, as well as fictional or semi-fictional subject matter, are the most clearly defining characteristics of a novel. Unlike works of epic poetry, it tells its story using prose rather than verse ; unlike short stories , it tells a lengthy narrative rather than a brief selection. There are, however, other characteristic elements that set the novel apart as a particular literary form.
Key Takeaways: What Is A Novel?
- A novel is a work of prose fiction that tells a narrative over an extended length.
- Novels date as far back as 1010's Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu; European novels first appeared in the early seventeenth century.
- Novels overtook epic poetry and chivalric romances as the most popular mode of storytelling, with an emphasis on the personal reading experience.
- Today, novels come in a wide array of subgenres
Definition of a Novel
For the most part, novels are dedicated to narrating individual experiences of characters , creating a closer, more complex portrait of these characters and the world they live in. Inner feelings and thoughts, as well as complex, even conflicting ideas or values are typically explored in novels, more so than in preceding forms of literature. It’s not just the stories themselves that are more personal, but the experience of reading them as well. Where epic poetry and similar forms of storytelling were designed to be publicly read or consumed as an audience, novels are geared more towards an individual reader.
The following traits must be present for a work to be considered a novel:
- Written in prose, as opposed to verse . Narrators may have different degrees of knowledge or different points of view ( first person versus third person and so on). While stylized novels such as epistolary novels do exist, the key distinction here is between prose and verse.
- Of considerable length/word count. There is no specific word count that automatically makes a work a novel, but in general, a short novel would be considered a novella, and even shorter than that would be short fiction.
- Fictional content. Semi-fictionalized novels (such as historical works inspired by true events or persons) exist, but a work of pure non-fiction would not be classified as a novel.
- Individualism, both on the page and for the intended audience.
In the everyday vernacular, the novel has come to be associated most closely with fiction , as opposed to nonfiction. For the most part, that association stands: not all fiction is novels, but all novels are fiction. A non-fiction prose work that is of the same length as a novel could fall into several other categories, such as historiography, biography, and so on.
Although a novel is typically a work of fiction, many novels do weave in real human history. This can range from full-fledged novels of historical fiction, which focus on a specific era in history or depict semi-fictional narrative about real historical persons, to works of fiction that simply exist in the “real” world and carry that baggage and implications. There also are early modern works of historical nonfiction that were embellished with unconfirmed traditions or made-up speeches for dramatic effect. Despite this, for most purposes we can assume that, when we’re talking about novels, we’re talking about works of narrative fiction.
Types of Novels
Novels come in all styles imaginable, with every author bringing their own unique voice to the table. There are a handful of major subgenres that tend to make up a large share of the market, although there are many other genres (and mash-ups of genres) out there. A few of the major types of novels you might need to know about:
Mystery novels revolve around a crime that must be solved, often a murder but not always. The traditional format will have a detective—either professional or amateur—as the protagonist, surrounded by a group of characters who help solve the crime or are suspects. Over the course of the story, the detective will sift through clues, including false leads and red herrings, to solve the case. Some of the best-known novels of all time fall into the mystery genre, including the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels, and Agatha Christie’s novels. Christie’s And Then There Were None is the world’s best-selling mystery novel.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
One of the more popular genres of novels is science fiction and fantasy, which both deal with speculative world building. The lines between the two are often blurred, but in general, science fiction tends to imagine a world that’s different because of technology, while fantasy imagines a world with magic. Early science fiction included the works of Jules Verne and continued on through George Orwell’s seminal classics such as 1984 ; contemporary science fiction is a highly popular genre. Some of the best-known novels in Western literature are fantasy novels, including the Lord of the Rings series, The Chronicles of Narnia , and Harry Potter ; they owe their debt to European epic literature.
Thriller novels are occasionally combined with other genres, most often with mystery or science fiction. The defining characteristic is that these novels are often designed to induce a sense of fear, suspense, or psychological horror in the reader. Early versions of this genre included The Count of Monte Cristo (a revenge thriller) and Heart of Darkness (a psychological/horror thriller). More contemporary examples might be the novels of Stephen King.
Romance novels of the present day have some things in common with “romances” of the past: the idea of romantic love as an end goal, the occasional scandal, intense emotions at the center of it all. Today’s romances, however, are more specifically focused on telling a story of a romantic and/or sexual love between characters. They often follow highly specific structures and are all but required to have an optimistic or “happy” resolution. Romance is currently the most popular novel genre in the United States.
Just like its name suggests, historical fiction is simply a fictional story that takes place at some real, past time in human history. Some instances of historical fiction involve fictional (or semi-fictional) stories about actual historical figures, while others insert wholly original characters into real-life events. Iconic works of historical fiction include Ivanhoe , A Tale of Two Cities , Gone with the Wind , and The Hunchback of Notre Dame .
Realist fiction is, quite simply, fiction that eschews heightened genre or style to attempt to tell a story that “could” take place in the world as we know it. The focus is on representing things truthfully, without romanticization or artistic flourishes. Some of the best-known realist authors include Mark Twain , John Steinbeck , Honoré de Balzac, Anton Chekov, and George Eliot.
Novel Structure and Elements
A novel can be structured in a myriad of ways. Most commonly, novels will be structured chronologically, with story segments divided into chapters. However, this is not the only structural option for authors.
Dividing Up the Story
Chapters tend to revolve around some small portion of the novel that is unified by a character, theme, or piece of plot. In larger novels, chapters may be grouped together into even larger sections, perhaps grouped by time period or an overarching portion of the story. The division into smaller "chunks" of story is one of the defining elements of a novel; a story that's short enough to not need such divisions is likely not lengthy enough to qualify as a full-lengthy novel.
Timelines and Points of View
Authors may choose to structure novels in a variety of different ways. Instead of telling a story chronologically , for instance, the story may toggle between different time periods in order to maintain suspense or make a thematic point. Novels may also switch between the perspectives of multiple characters, rather than focusing on a single character as the sole protagonist. A novel may be told in the first person (narrated by a character) or in the third person (narrated by an outside "voice" with varying degrees of knowledge).
Regardless of the time frame, a novel’s plot will often follow what is known as the three-act structure. The opening chapters will be concerned with acquainting readers with the main cast of characters and the world of the story, before a specific incident, typically referred to as the “inciting incident,” shakes up the status quo and launches the “real” story. From that point, the story (now in “Act 2”) will enter a series of complications as the protagonist pursues some goal, encountering obstacles and smaller goals along the way. At the midpoint of the story, there will often be some major shift that raises the stakes, all leading up to the emotional and narrative climax towards the end of the novel. “Act 3” concerns itself with this finale and the fallout .
- Burgess, Anthony. "Novel." Encyclopaedia Britannica , https://www.britannica.com/art/novel .
- Doody, Margaret Anne. The True Story of the Novel . New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996.
- Kuiper, Kathleen, ed. Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature . Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995.
- Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel . University of California Press, 2001.
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What is characterization? Here’s a quick and simple definition:
Characterization is the representation of the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative. Characterization may occur through direct description, in which the character's qualities are described by a narrator, another character, or by the character him or herself. It may also occur indirectly, in which the character's qualities are revealed by his or her actions, thoughts, or dialogue.
Some additional key details about characterization:
- Early studies of literature, such as those by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, saw plot as more important than character. It wasn't until the 15th century that characters, and therefore characterization, became more crucial parts of narratives.
- Characterization became particularly important in the 19th century, with the rise of realist novels that sought to accurately portray people.
Here's how to pronounce characterization: kar-ack-ter-ih- zey -shun
Direct and Indirect Characterization
Authors can develop characterization in two ways: directly and indirectly. It's important to note that these two methods are not mutually exclusive. Most authors can and do use both direct and indirect methods of characterization to develop their characters.
In direct characterization, the author directly describes a character's qualities. Such direct description may come from a narrator, from another character, or through self-description by the character in question. For instance, imagine the following dialogue between two characters:
"That guy Sam seems nice." "Oh, no. Sam's the worst. He acts nice when you first meet him, but then he'll ask you for money and never return it, and eat all your food without any offering anything in return, and I once saw him throw a rock at a puppy. Thank God he missed."
Here the second speaker is directly characterizing Sam as being selfish and cruel. Direct characterization is also sometimes called "explicit characterization."
In indirect characterization, rather than explicitly describe a character's qualities, an author shows the character as he or she moves through the world, allowing the reader to infer the character's qualities from his or her behavior. Details that might contribute to the indirect characterization of a character are:
- The character's thoughts.
- The character's actions.
- What a character says (their choice of words)
- How a character talks (their tone, dialect, and manner of speaking)
- The character's appearance
- The character's movements and mannerisms
- How the character interacts with others (and how others react to the character)
Indirect characterization is sometimes called "implicit characterization."
Indirect Characterization in Drama
It's worth noting that indirect characterization has an additional layer in any art form that involves actors, including film, theater, and television. Actors don't just say the words on the script. They make choices about how to say those words, how to move their own bodies and in relation to other character. In other words, actors make choices about how to communicate all sorts of indirect details. As a result, different actors can portray the same characters in vastly different ways.
For instance, compare the way that the the actor Alan Bates plays King Claudius in this play-within-a-play scene from the 1990 movie of Hamlet, versus how Patrick Stewart plays the role in the same scene from a 2010 version. While Bates plays the scene with growing alarm and an outburst of terror that reveals his guilt, Stewart plays his Claudius as ice cold and offended, but by no means tricked by Hamlet's little play-within-a-play into revealing anything.
Round and Flat Characters
Characters are often described as being either round or flat.
- Round characters : Are complex, realistic, unique characters.
- Flat characters : Are one-dimensional characters, with a single overarching trait and otherwise limited personality or individuality.
Whether a character is round or flat depends on their characterization. In some cases, an author may purposely create flat characters, particularly if those characters will appear only briefly and only for a specific purpose. A bully who appears in a single scene of a television show, for instance, might never get or need more characterization than the fact that they act like a bully.
But other times authors may create flat characters unintentionally when round characters were necessary, and such characters can render a narrative dull, tensionless, and unrealistic.
Some types of characters appear so often in narratives that they come to seen as archetypes —an original, universal model of which each particular instance is a kind of copy. The idea of the archetype was first proposed by the psychologist Carl Jung, who proposed that there were twelve fundamental "patterns" that define the human psyche. He defined these twelve archetypes as the:
While many have disagreed with the idea that any such twelve patterns actually psychologically define people, the idea of archetypes does hold a lot of sway among both those who develop and analyze fictional characters. In fact, another way to define round and flat character is to think about them as they relate to archetypes:
- Flat characters are easy to define by a single archetype, and they do not have unique personal backgrounds, traits, or psychology that differentiates them from that archetype in a meaningful way.
- Round characters may have primary aspects that fit with a certain archetype, but they also may be the combination of several archetypes and also have unique personal backgrounds, behaviors, and psychologies that make them seem like individuals even as they may be identifiable as belonging to certain archetypes.
Good characterization often doesn't involve an effort to avoid archetype altogether—archetypes are archetypes, after all, because over human history they've proved to be excellent subjects for stories. But successful authors will find ways to make their characters not just archetypes. They might do so by playing with or subverting archetypes in order to create characters who are unexpected or new, or more generally create characters whose characterization makes them feel so unique and individual that their archetype feels more like a framework or background rather than the entirety of who that character is.
The characters of nearly every story—whether in literature, film, or any other narrative—have some characterization. Here are some examples of different types of characterization.
Characterization in Hamlet
The famous literary critic Harold Bloom has argued in his book The Invention of the Human that "Personality, in our sense, is a Shakespearean invention." Whether or not you agree with that, there's no doubting that Shakespeare was a master of characterization. One way he achieved such characterization was through his characters delivering soliloquies . The excerpt of a soliloquy below is from Hamlet , in which Hamlet considers suicide:
To be, or not to be? That is the question— Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep— No more—and by a sleep to say we end The heartache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished! To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause.
Hamlet's soliloquy is not simply him saying what he thinks. As he delivers the soliloquy, he discovers what he thinks. When he says "To die, to sleep. To sleep," he is all-in on the idea that suicide is the right course. His words "perchance to dream" flow directly out of his thoughts about death as being like "sleep." And with his positive thoughts of death as sleep, when he first says "perchance to dream" he's thinking about having good dreams. But as he says the words he realizes they are deeper than he originally thought, because in that moment he realizes that he doesn't actually know what sort of dreams he might experience in death—they might be terrible, never-ending nightmares. And suddenly the flow of his logic leaves him stuck.
In showing a character experiencing his own thoughts the way that real people experience their thoughts, not as a smooth flow but as ideas that spark new and different and unexpected ideas, Shakespeare gives Hamlet a powerful humanity as a character. By giving Hamlet a soliloquy on the possible joy of suicide he further captures Hamlet's current misery and melancholy. And in showing how much attention Hamlet pays to the detail of his logic, he captures Hamlet's rather obsessive nature. In other words, in just these 13 lines Shakespeare achieves a great deal of characterization.
Characterization in The Duchess of Malfi
In his play the The Duchess of Malfi , John Webster includes an excellent example of direct characterization. In this speech, the character Antonio tells his friend about Duke Ferdinand:
The Duke there? A most perverse and turbulent nature; What appears in him mirth is merely outside. If he laugh heartily, it is to laugh All honesty out of fashion. … He speaks with others' tongues, and hears men's suits With others' ears; will seem to sleep o’th' bench Only to entrap offenders in their answers; Dooms men to death by information, Rewards by hearsay.
Ferdinand directly describes the Duke as deceitful, perverse, and wild, and as a kind of hollow person who only ever laughs for show. It is a devastating description, and one that turns out to be largely accurate.
Characterization in The Great Gatsby
Here's another example of direct characterization, this time from The Great Gatsby . Here, Nick Carraway, the narrator of the novel, describes Tom and Daisy Buchanan near the end of the novel.
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
But The Great Gatsby, like essentially all other literature, doesn't solely rely on direct characterization. Here is Nick, earlier in the novel, describing Gatsby:
He stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.
This is an example of indirect characterization. Nick isn't describing Gatsby character directly, instead he's describing how Gatsby is behaving, what Gatsby is doing. But that physical description—Gatsby reaching out with trembling arms toward a distant and mysterious green light—communicates fundamental aspects of Gatsby's character: his overwhelming yearning and desire, and perhaps also the fragility inherent such yearning.
Why Do Writers Use Characterization?
Characterization is a crucial aspect of any narrative literature, for the simple reason that complex, interesting characters are vital to narrative literature. Writers therefore use the techniques of characterization to develop and describe characters':
- History and background
- Interests and desires
- Skills and talents
- Self-conception, quirks, and neuroses
Such characteristics in turn make characters seem realistic and also help to drive the action of the plot, as a plot is often defined by the clash of actions and desires of its various characters.
Other Helpful Characterization Resources
- Wikipedia entry on characterization: A brief but thorough entry.
- Archetypal characters: The website TV tropes has built a vast compendium of different archetypal characters that appear in film and television (and by extension to books).
- Encyclopedia Britannica on characters: A short entry on flat and round characters.
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Literary Genres: Definition and Examples of the 4 Essential Genres and 100+ Subgenres
by Joe Bunting | 1 comment
What are literary genres? Do they actually matter to readers? How about to writers? What types of literary genres exist? And if you're a writer, how do you decide which genre to write in?
To begin to think about literary genres, let's start with an example.
Let's say want to read something. You go to a bookstore or hop onto a store online or go to a library.
But instead of a nice person wearing reading glasses and a cardigan asking you what books you like and then thinking through every book ever written to find you the next perfect read (if that person existed, for the record, they would be my favorite person), you're faced with this: rows and rows of books with labels on the shelves like “Literary Fiction,” “Travel,” “Reference,” “Science Fiction,” and so on.
You stop at the edge of the bookstore and just stand there for a while, stumped. “What do all of these labels even mean?!” And then you walk out of the store.
Or maybe you're writing a book , and someone asks you a question like this: “What kind of book are you writing? What genre is it?”
And you stare at them in frustration thinking, “My book transcends genre, convention, and even reality, obviously. Don't you dare put my genius in a box!”
What are literary genres? In this article, we'll share the definition and different types of literary genres (there are four main ones but thousands of subgenres). Then, we'll talk about why genre matters to both readers and writers. We'll look at some of the components that people use to categorize writing into genres. Finally, we'll give you a chance to put genre into practice with an exercise .
Table of Contents
Introduction Literary Genres Definition Why Genre Matters (to Readers, to Writers) The 4 Essential Genres 100+ Genres and Subgenres The 7 Components of Genre Practice Exercise
Ready to get started? Let's get into it.
What Are Literary Genres? Literary Genre Definition
Let's begin with a basic definition of literary genres:
Literary genres are categories, types, or collections of literature. They often share characteristics, such as their subject matter or topic, style, form, purpose, or audience.
That's our formal definition. But here's a simpler way of thinking about it:
Genre is a way of categorizing readers' tastes.
That's a good basic definition of genre. But does genre really matter?
Why Literary Genres Matter
Literary genres matter. They matter to readers but they also matter to writers. Here's why:
Why Literary Genres Matter to Readers
Think about it. You like to read (or watch) different things than your parents.
You probably also like to read different things at different times of the day. For example, maybe you read the news in the morning, listen to an audiobook of a nonfiction book related to your studies or career in the afternoon, and read a novel or watch a TV show in the evening.
Even more, you probably read different things now than you did as a child or than you will want to read twenty years from now.
Everyone has different tastes.
Genre is one way we match what readers want to what writers want to write and what publishers are publishing.
It's also not a new thing. We've been categorizing literature like this for thousands of years. Some of the oldest forms of writing, including religious texts, were tied directly into this idea of genre.
For example, forty percent of the Old Testament in the Bible is actually poetry, one of the four essential literary genres. Much of the New Testament is in the form of epistle, a subgenre that's basically a public letter.
Genre matters, and by understanding how genre works, you not only can find more things you want to read, you can also better understand what the writer (or publisher) is trying to do.
Why Literary Genres Matter to Writers
Genre isn't just important to readers. It's extremely important to writers too.
In the same way the literary genres better help readers find things they want to read and better understand a writer's intentions, genres inform writers of readers' expectations and also help writers find an audience.
If you know that there are a lot of readers of satirical political punditry (e.g. The Onion ), then you can write more of that kind of writing and thus find more readers and hopefully make more money. Genre can help you find an audience.
At the same time, great writers have always played with and pressed the boundaries of genre, sometimes even subverting it for the sake of their art.
Another way to think about genre is a set of expectations from the reader. While it's important to meet some of those expectations, if you meet too many, the reader will get bored and feel like they know exactly what's going to happen next. So great writers will always play to the readers' expectations and then change a few things completely to give readers a sense of novelty in the midst of familiarity.
This is not unique to writers, by the way. The great apparel designer Virgil Abloh, who was an artistic director at Louis Vuitton until he passed away tragically in 2021, had a creative template called the “3% Rule,” where he would take an existing design, like a pair of Nike Air Jordans, and make a three percent change to it, transforming it into something completely new. His designs were incredibly successful, often selling for thousands of dollars.
This process of taking something familiar and turning it into something new with a slight change is something artists have done throughout history, including writers, and it's a great way to think about how to use genre for your own writing.
What Literary Genre is NOT: Story Type vs. Literary Genres
Before we talk more about the types of genre, let's discuss what genre is not .
Genre is not the same as story type (or for nonfiction, types of nonfiction structure). There are ten (or so) types of stories, including adventure, love story, mystery, and coming of age, but there are hundreds, even thousands of genres.
Story type and nonfiction book structure are about how the work is structured.
Genre is about how the work is perceived and marketed.
These are related but not the same.
For example, one popular subgenre of literature is science fiction. Probably the most common type of science fiction story is adventure, but you can also have mystery sci-fi stories, love story sci-fi, and even morality sci-fi. Story type transcends genre.
You can learn more about this in my book The Write Structure , which teaches writers the simple process to structure great stories. Click to check out The Write Structure .
This is true for non-fiction as well in different ways. More on this in my post on the seven types of nonfiction books .
Now that we've addressed why genre matters and what genre doesn't include, let's get into the different literary genres that exist (there are a lot of them!).
How Many Literary Genres Are There? The 4 Essential Genres, and 100+ Genres and Subgenres
Just as everyone has different tastes, so there are genres to fit every kind of specific reader.
There are four essential literary genres, and all are driven by essential questions. Then, within each of those essential genres are genres and subgenres. We will look at all of these in turn, below, as well as several examples of each.
An important note: There are individual works that fit within the gaps of these four essential genres or even cross over into multiple genres.
As with anything, the edges of these categories can become blurry, for example narrative poetry or fictional reference books.
A general rule: You know it when you see it (except, of course, when the author is trying to trick you!).
1. Nonfiction: Is it true?
The core question for nonfiction is, “Is it true?”
Nonfiction deals with facts, instruction, opinion/argument reference, narrative nonfiction, or a combination.
A few examples of nonfiction (more below): reference, news, memoir, manuals, religious inspirational books, self-help, business, and many more.
2. Fiction: Is it, at some level, imagined?
The core question for fiction is, “Is it, at some level, imagined?”
Fiction is almost always story or narrative. However, satire is a form of “fiction” that's structured like nonfiction opinion/essays or news. And one of the biggest insults you can give to a journalist, reporter, or academic researcher is to suggest that their work is “fiction.”
3. Drama: Is it performed?
Drama is a genre of literature that has some kind of performance component. This includes theater, film, and audio plays.
The core question that defines drama is, “Is it performed?”
As always, there are genres within this essential genre, including horror films, thrillers, true crime podcasts, and more.
4. Poetry: Is it verse?
Poetry is in some ways the most challenging literary genre to define because while poetry is usually based on form, i.e. lines intentionally broken into verse, sometimes including rhyme or other poetic devices, there are some “poems” that are written completely in prose called prose poetry. These are only considered poems because the author and/or literary scholars said they were poems.
To confuse things even more, you also have narrative poetry, which combines fiction and poetry, and song which combines poetry and performance (or drama) with music.
Which is all to say, poetry is challenging to classify, but again, you usually know it when you see it.
Next, let's talk about the genres and subgenres within those four essential literary genres.
The 100+ Literary Genres and Subgenres with Definitions
Genre is, at its core, subjective. It's literally based on the tastes of readers, tastes that change over time, within markets, and across cultures.
Thus, there are essentially an infinite number of genres.
Even more, genres are constantly shifting. What is considered contemporary fiction today will change a decade from now.
So take the lists below (and any list of genres you see) as an incomplete, likely outdated, small sample size of genre with definitions.
1. Fiction Genres
Action/Adventure. An action/adventure story has adventure elements in its plot line. This type of story often involves some kind of conflict between good and evil, and features characters who must overcome obstacles to achieve their goals .
Chick Lit. Chick Lit stories are usually written for women who interested in lighthearted stories that still have some depth. They often include romance, humor, and drama in their plots.
Comedy. This typically refers to historical stories and plays (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a happy ending, often with a wedding.
Commercial. Commercial stories have been written for the sole purpose of making money, often in an attempt to cash in on the success of another book, film, or genre.
Crime/Police/Detective Fiction. Crime and police stories feature a detective, whether amateur or professional, who solves crimes using their wits and knowledge of criminal psychology.
Drama or Tragedy. This typically refers to historical stories or plays (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a sad or tragic ending, often with one or more deaths.
Erotica. Erotic stories contain explicit sexual descriptions in their narratives.
Espionage. Espionage stories focus on international intrigue, usually involving governments, spies, secret agents, and/or terrorist organizations. They often involve political conflict, military action, sabotage, terrorism, assassination, kidnapping, and other forms of covert operations.
Family Saga. Family sagas focus on the lives of an extended family, sometimes over several generations. Rather than having an individual protagonist, the family saga tells the stories of multiple main characters or of the family as a whole.
Fantasy. Fantasy stories are set in imaginary worlds that often feature magic, mythical creatures, and fantastic elements. They may be based on mythology, folklore, religion, legend, history, or science fiction.
General Fiction. General fiction novels are those that deal with individuals and relationships in an ordinary setting. They may be set in any time period, but usually take place in modern times.
Graphic Novel. Graphic novels are a hybrid between comics and prose fiction that often includes elements of both.
Historical Fiction. Historical stories are written about imagined or actual events that occurred in history. They usually take place during specific periods of time and often include real or imaginary characters who lived at those times.
Horror Genre. Horror stories focus on the psychological terror experienced by their characters. They often feature supernatural elements, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, monsters, and aliens.
Humor/Satire. This category includes stories that have been written using satire or contain comedic elements. Satirical novels tend to focus on some aspect of society in a critical way.
LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ novels are those that feature characters who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or otherwise non-heterosexual.
Literary Fiction. Literary fiction novels or stories have a high degree of artistic merit, a unique or experimental style of writing , and often deal with serious themes.
Military. Military stories deal with war, conflict, combat, or similar themes and often have strong action elements. They may be set in a contemporary or a historical period.
Multicultural. Multicultural stories are written by and about people who have different cultural backgrounds, including those that may be considered ethnic minorities.
Mystery G enre. Mystery stories feature an investigation into a crime.
Offbeat/Quirky. An offbeat story has an unusual plot, characters, setting, style, tone, or point of view. Quirkiness can be found in any aspect of a story, but often comes into play when the author uses unexpected settings, time periods, or characters.
Picture Book. Picture book novels are usually written for children and feature simple plots and colorful illustrations . They often have a moral or educational purpose.
Religious/Inspirational. Religious/ inspirational stories describe events in the life of a person who was inspired by God or another supernatural being to do something extraordinary. They usually have a moral lesson at their core.
Romance Genre. Romance novels or stories are those that focus on love between two people, often in an ideal setting. There are many subgenres in romance, including historical, contemporary, paranormal, and others.
Science Fiction. Science fiction stories are usually set in an imaginary future world, often involving advanced technology. They may be based on scientific facts but they are not always.
Short Story Collection . Short story collections contain several short stories written by the same or different authors.
Suspense or Thriller Genre. Thrillers/ suspense stories are usually about people in danger, often involving crimes, natural disasters, or terrorism.
Upmarket. Upmarket stories are often written for and/or focus on upper class people who live in an upscale environment.
Western Genre. Western stories are those that take place in the west during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Characters include cowboys, outlaws, native Americans, and settlers.
2. Nonfiction Genres
From the BISAC categories, a globally accepted system for coding and categorizing books by the Book Industry Standards And Communications group.
Antiques & Collectibles. Nonfiction books about antiques and collectibles include those that focus on topics such as collecting, appraising, restoring, and marketing antiques and collectibles. These books may be written for both collectors and dealers in antique and collectible items. They can range from how-to guides to detailed histories of specific types of objects.
Architecture. Architecture books focus on the design, construction, use, and history of buildings and structures. This includes the study of architecture in general, but also the specific designs of individual buildings or styles of architecture.
Art. Art books focus on visual arts, music, literature, dance, film, theater, architecture, design, fashion, food, and other art forms. They may include essays, memoirs, biographies, interviews, criticism, and reviews.
Bibles. Bibles are religious books, almost exclusively Christian, that contain the traditional Bible in various translations, often with commentary or historical context.
Biography & Autobiography. Biography is an account of a person's life, often a historical or otherwise famous person. Autobiographies are personal accounts of people's lives written by themselves.
Body, Mind & Spirt. These books focus on topics related to human health, wellness, nutrition, fitness, or spirituality.
Business & Economics. Business & economics books are about how businesses work. They tend to focus on topics that interest people who run their own companies, lead or manage others, or want to understand how the economy works.
Computers. The computer genre of nonfiction books includes any topics that deal with computers in some way. They can be about general use, about how they affect our lives, or about specific technical areas related to hardware or software.
Cooking. Cookbooks contain recipes or cooking techniques.
Crafts & Hobbies. How-to guides for crafts and hobbies, including sewing, knitting, painting, baking, woodworking, jewelry making, scrapbooking, photography, gardening, home improvement projects, and others.
Design. Design books are written about topics that include design in some way. They can be about any aspect of design including graphic design, industrial design, product design, fashion, furniture, interior design, or others.
Education. Education books focus on topics related to teaching and learning in schools. They can be used for students or as a resource for teachers.
Family & Relationships. These books focus on family relationships, including parenting, marriage, divorce, adoption, and more.
Foreign Language Study. Books that act as a reference or guide to learning a foreign language.
Games & Activities. Games & activities books may be published for children or adults, may contain learning activities or entertaining word or puzzle games. They range from joke books to crossword puzzle books to coloring books and more.
Gardening. Gardening books include those that focus on aspects of gardening, how to prepare for and grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plants in an indoor or outdoor garden setting.
Health & Fitness. Health and fitness books focus on topics like dieting, exercise, nutrition, weight loss, health issues, medical conditions, diseases, medications, herbs, supplements, vitamins, minerals, and more.
History. History books focus on historical events and people, and may be written for entertainment or educational purposes.
House & Home. House & home books focus on topics like interior design, decorating, entertaining, and DIY projects.
Humor. Humor books are contain humorous elements but do not have any fictional elements.
Juvenile Nonfiction. These are nonfiction books written for children between six and twelve years old.
Language Arts & Disciplines. These books focus on teaching language arts and disciplines. They may be used for elementary school students in grades K-5.
Law. Law books include legal treatises, casebooks, and collections of statutes.
Literary Criticism. Literary criticism books discuss literary works, primarily key works of fiction or memoir. They may include biographies of authors, critical essays on specific works, or studies of the history of literature.
Mathematics. Mathematics books either teach mathematical concepts and methods or explore the history of mathematics.
Medical. Medical books include textbooks, reference books, guides, encyclopedias, and handbooks that focus on fields of medicine, including general practice, internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and more.
Music. Music books are books that focus on the history, culture, and development of music in various countries around the world. They often include biographies, interviews, reviews, essays, and other related material. However, they may also include sheet music or instruction on playing a specific instrument.
Nature. Nature books focus on the natural world or environment, including natural history, ecology, or natural experiences like hiking, bird watching, or conservation.
Performing Arts. Books about the performing arts in general, including specific types of performance art like dance, music, and theater.
Pets. Pet books include any book that deals with animals in some way, including dog training, cat care, animal behavior, pet nutrition, bird care, and more.
Philosophy. Philosophy books deal with philosophical issues, and may be written for a general audience or specifically for scholars.
Photography. Photography books use photographs as an essential part of their content. They may be about any subject.
Political Science. Political science books deal with politics in some way. They can be about current events, historical figures, or theoretical concepts.
Psychology. Psychology books are about the scientific study of mental processes, emotion, and behavior.
Reference. Reference books are about any subject, topic, or field and contain useful information about that subject, topic or field.
Religion. These books deal with religion in some way, including religious history, theology, philosophy, and spirituality.
Science. Science books focus on topics within scientific fields, including geology, biology, physics, and more.
Self-Help. Self-help books are written for people who want to improve their lives in some way. They may be about health, relationships, finances, career, parenting, spirituality, or any number of topics that can help readers achieve personal goals.
Social Science. Focus on social science topics.
Sports & Recreation. Sports & Recreation books focus on sports either from a reporting, historical, or instructional perspective.
Study Aids. Study aids are books that provide information about a particular subject area for students who want to learn more about that topic. These books can be used in conjunction with classroom instruction or on their own.
Technology & Engineering. Technology & engineering nonfiction books describe how technology has changed our lives and how we can use that knowledge to improve ourselves and society.
Transportation. Focus on transportation topics including those about vehicles, routes, or techniques.
Travel. Travel books are those that focus on travel experiences, whether from a guide perspective or from the author's personal experiences.
True Crime. True Crime books focus on true stories about crimes. These books may be about famous cases, unsolved crimes, or specific criminals.
Young Adult Nonfiction. Young adult nonfiction books are written for children and teenagers.
3. Drama Genres
These include genres for theater, film, television serials, or audio plays.
As a writer, I find some of these genres particularly eye-roll worthy. And yet, this is the way most films, television shows, and even theater productions are classified.
Action. Action genre dramas involve fast-paced, high-energy sequences in which characters fight against each other. They often have large-scale battles, chase scenes, or other high-intensity, high-conflict scenes.
Horror. Horror dramas focus on the psychological terror experienced by their characters. They often feature supernatural elements, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, monsters, and aliens.
Adventure. Adventure films are movies that have an adventurous theme. They may be set in exotic locations, feature action sequences, and/or contain elements of fantasy.
Musicals (Dance). Musicals are dramas that use music in their plot and/or soundtrack. They may be comedies, dramas, or any combination.
Comedy (& Black Comedy). Comedy dramas feature humor in their plots, characters, dialogue, or situations. It sometimes refers to historical dramas (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek drama, etc) that contain a happy ending, often with a wedding.
Science Fiction. Science fiction dramas are usually set in an imaginary future world, often involving advanced technology. They may be based on scientific facts but do not have to be.
Crime & Gangster. Crime & Gangster dramas deal with criminals, detectives, or organized crime groups. They often feature action sequences, violence, and mystery elements.
War (Anti-War). War (or anti-war) dramas focus on contemporary or historical wars. They may also contain action, adventure, mystery, or romance elements.
Drama. Dramas focus on human emotions in conflict situations. They often have complex plots and characters, and deal with serious themes. This may also refer to historical stories (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a sad or tragic ending, often with one or more deaths.
Westerns. Westerns are a genre of American film that originated in the early 20th century and take place in the west during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Characters include cowboys, outlaws, native Americans, and settlers.
Epics/Historical/Period. These are dramas based on historical events or periods but do not necessarily involve any real people.
Biographical (“Biopics”). Biopics films are movies that focus on real people in history.
Melodramas, Women's or “Weeper” Films, Tearjerkers. A type of narrative drama that focuses on emotional issues, usually involving love, loss, tragedy, and redemption.
“Chick” Flicks. Chick flicks usually feature romantic relationships and tend to be lighthearted and comedic in nature.
Road Stories. Dramas involving a journey of some kind, usually taking place in contemporary setting, and involving relationships between one or more people, not necessarily romantic.
Courtroom Dramas. Courtroom dramas depict legal cases set in courtrooms. They usually have a dramatic plot line with an interesting twist at the end.
Romance. Romance dramas feature love stories between two people. Romance dramas tend to be more serious, even tragic, in nature, while romantic comedies tend to be more lighthearted.
Detective & Mystery. These dramas feature amateur or professional investigators solving crimes and catching criminals.
Sports. Sports dramas focus on athletic competition in its many forms and usually involve some kind of climactic tournament or championship.
Disaster. Disaster dramas are adventure or action dramas that include natural disasters, usually involving earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other disasters.
Superhero. Superhero dramas are action/adventure dramas that feature characters with supernatural powers. They usually have an origin story, the rise of a villain, and a climactic battle at the end.
Fantasy. Fantasy dramas films are typically adventure dramas that feature fantastical elements in their plot or setting, whether magic, folklore, supernatural creatures, or other fantasy elements.
Supernatural. Supernatural dramas feature paranormal phenomena in their plots, including ghosts, mythical creatures, and mysterious or extraordinary elements. This genre may overlap with horror, fantasy, thriller, action and other genres.
Film Noir. Film noir refers to a style of American crime drama that emerged in the 1940s. These dramas often featured cynical characters who struggled, often fruitlessly, against corruption and injustice.
Thriller/Suspense. Thriller/suspense dramas have elements of suspense and mystery in their plot. They usually feature a character protagonist who must overcome obstacles while trying to solve a crime or prevent a catastrophe.
Guy Stories. Guy dramas feature men in various situations, usually humorous or comedic in nature.
Zombie . Zombie dramas are usually action/adventure dramas that involve zombies.
Animated Stories . Dramas that are depicted with drawings, photographs, stop-motion, CGI, or other animation techniques.
Documentary . Documentaries are non-fiction performances that attempt to describe actual events, topics, or people.
“Foreign.” Any drama not in the language of or involving characters/topics in your country of origin. They can also have any of the other genres listed here.
Childrens – Kids – Family-Oriented . Dramas with children of various ages as the intended audience.
Sexual – Erotic . These dramas feature explicit sexual acts but also have some kind of plot or narrative (i.e. not pornography).
Classic . Classic dramas refer to dramas performed before 1950.
Silent . Silent dramas were an early form of film that used no recorded sound.
Cult . Cult dramas are usually small-scale, independent productions with an offbeat plot, unusual characters, and/or unconventional style that have nevertheless gained popularity among a specific audience.
4. Poetry Genres
This list is from Harvard's Glossary of Poetic Genres who also has definitions for each genre.
What Are the Components of Genre In Literature? The 7 Elements of Genre
Now that we've looked, somewhat exhaustively, at examples of literary genres, let's consider how these genres are created.
What are the elements of literary genre? How are they formed?
Here are seven components that make up genre.
- Form . Length is the main component of form (e.g. a novel is 200+ pages , films are at least an hour, serialized episodes are about 20 minutes, etc), but may also be determined by how many acts or plot lines they have. You might be asking, what about short stories? Short stories are a genre defined by their length but not their content.
- Intended Audience . Is the story meant for adults, children, teenagers, etc?
- Conventions and Tropes . Conventions and tropes describe patterns or predictable events that have developed within genres. For example, a sports story may have a big tournament at the climax, or a fantasy story may have a mentor character who instructs the protagonist on the use of their abilities.
- Characters and Archetypes. Genre will often have characters who serve similar functions, like the best friend sidekick, the evil villain , the anti-hero , and other character archetypes .
- Common Settings and Time Periods . Genre may be defined by the setting or time period. For example, stories set in the future tend to be labelled science fiction, stories involving the past tend to be labelled historical or period, etc.
- Common Story Arcs . While every story type may use each of the six main story arcs , genre tends to be defined by specific story arcs. For example, comedy almost always has a story arc that ends positively, same with kids or family genres. However, dramas often (and when referring to historical drama, always) have stories that end tragically.
- Common Elements (such as supernatural elements, technology, mythical creatures, monsters, etc) . Some genres center themselves on specific elements, like supernatural creatures, magic, monsters, gore, and so on. Genre can be determined by these common elements.
As you consider these elements, keep in mind that genre all comes back to taste, to what readers want to consume and how to match the unlimited variations of story with the infinite variety of tastes.
Read What You Want, Write What You Want
In the end, both readers and writers should use genre for what it is, a tool, not as something that defines you.
Writers can embrace genre, can use genre, without being controlled by it.
Readers can use genre to find stories or books they enjoy while also exploring works outside of that genre.
Genre can be incredibly fun! But only if you hold it in tension with your own work of telling (or finding) a great story.
What are your favorite genres to read in? to write in? Let us know in the comments!
Now that we understand everything there is to know about literary genres, let's put our knowledge to use with an exercise. I have two variations for you today, one for readers and one for writers.
Readers : Think of one of your favorite stories. What is the literary genre of that story? Does it have multiple? What expectations do you have about stories within that genre? Finally, how does the author of your favorite story use those expectations, and how do they subvert them?
Writers : Choose a literary genre from the list above and spend fifteen minutes writing a story using the elements of genre: form, audience, conventions and tropes, characters and archetypes, setting and time periods, story arcs, and common elements.
When you’re finished, share your work in the Pro Practice Workshop here . Not a member yet? Join us here !
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).
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What are characteristics of modern literature?
July 31, 2022
The Main Characteristics of Modern Literature: The characteristics of the Modern Literature can be categorized into Individualism, Experimentation, Symbolism, Absurdity and Formalism .
What defines modern literature?
Modern literature refers to the modernist period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries . It is the period where literature was written, explained, and spoken. It was parted to give to the essence of both prose and verse.
What are the themes and characteristics of modernism?
What are 5 characteristics of modernism?
- Individualism. In Modernist literature, the individual is more interesting than society. …
- Experimentation. Modernist writers broke free of old forms and techniques. …
- Absurdity. The carnage of two World Wars profoundly affected writers of the period. …
- Symbolism. …
What are the characteristics of modernist art and literature?
Although many different styles are encompassed by the term, there are certain underlying principles that define modernist art: A rejection of history and conservative values (such as realistic depiction of subjects); innovation and experimentation with form (the shapes, colours and lines that make up the work) with a
What are the main themes of modern English literature?
Both Modernist and Postmodern fiction explore the themes of alienation, transformation, consumption, and the relativity of truth . However, each movement approaches these themes from a different vantage point, since the methods of modernism and postmodernism are distinct.
What are characteristics of literature?
5 essential qualities of good literature
- Literature should have a theme. …
- It should explain the relevance of the theme. …
- Literature should have a compelling idea. …
- Literature should have good style and grammar. …
- Literature should sound genuine.
What are the 5 characteristics of modern art?
5 main characteristics of modern art
- Expansive innovation. Expansive organization of visual elements in a composition. …
- Artist value. The “actual worth” of an artist’s work is the artist’s own estimation of its worth. …
- Symbolism. …
- Reaction to the environment. …
Why is modern literature important?
It enables us to envisage the future and its possibilities, enriches our understanding of identity, citizenship and culture, inviting us to think imaginatively about these matters and to explore the forms in which they may be communicated.
What is an example of modernism in literature?
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway . Like Joyce’s Ulysses, this novel is set over the course of one day, in June 1923. And, like Joyce’s work, it’s one of the finest modernist novels in the English language. Originally titled ‘The Hours’, Mrs Dalloway is perhaps Woolf’s best-known work.
Why it is called modern literature?
Literary modernism, or modernist literature, originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in Europe and North America, and is characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional ways of writing, in both poetry and prose fiction writing .
What is modern period in English literature?
Modernism is a period in literary history which started around the early 1900s and continued until the early 1940s . Modernist writers in general rebelled against clear-cut storytelling and formulaic verse from the 19th century.
What are the characteristics of modern poetry?
20th Century (Modern) Poetry characteristics
- Diverse Variety of Themes.
- Romantic Elements.
- Humanitarian and Democratic Note.
- Religion and Mysticism.
Who is the father of modern literature?
William Shakespeare is considered by many to be the father of modern English Literature. It is not just his popularity and influence on modern writers that allows for this title to be attributed to him but because of the massive contributions he made to the development of the English language.
How do you read modernist literature?
Study Advice: 5 Tips for Reading Modernist Literature
- Take your time. Modernism is all about the language, so reading any of these works hastily or skipping to the end defeats the purpose. …
- Know that keeping track of the plot (if there even is one) is not the number one priority. …
- Keep reading. …
- Reread. …
What makes modern literature different from other types of literature?
Modern literature refers to the literature dating from late nineteenth century to nineteen sixties while the contemporary literature refers to the literature dating from the Second World War to the present. Thus, the main difference between modern and contemporary literature is their time period .
What are the most important characteristics of modern short story?
The short story is usually concerned with a single effect conveyed in only one or a few significant episodes or scenes. The form encourages economy of setting, concise narrative, and the omission of a complex plot; character is disclosed in action and dramatic encounter but is seldom fully developed .
What are 5 characteristics of modernism art?
What are the themes of modern period.
The major literary themes of the Modernist Era are confusion, isolation, and disillusionment . These themes reflect the mindset of the American people and the feelings that plagued them throughout the early 1900s.
Which of the following are characteristics of modernity?
The four key characteristics of modernity are the rise of science and rational thought, individualism, industrialisation, and urbanisation . However, there are other characteristics such as the increased role of the state as well.
What is one of the defining characteristics of modern era?
The modern era is closely associated with the development of individualism, capitalism, urbanization and a belief in the possibilities of technological and political progress .
What are the three characteristics of modern society?
Three characteristics ofmodern society are the decline of small, traditional communities, and expansion ofindividual choice, and social diversity .
What are the main three phases of modernity?
Three phases of modernity are distinguished here: eurocentric, westcen- tric, and polycentric modernity .
What are the 4 characteristics of modern society?
Rise of representative democracy . Increasing role of science and technology. Urbanization. Mass literacy.
What is modernity based on?
It is generally agreed that ‘modernity’ refers to a powerful set of cultural, political, economic, and spatial relationships that have fundamentally influenced the nature of social life, the economy, and the use and experience of time and space.
What is an example of modernity?
Modernity is the state of being current, or up with the times. An example of something representing modernity is a smart phone . The quality of being modern or contemporary. He was impressed by the architecture’s modernity.
How do you describe modern?
Modern means relating to the present time , as in modern life. It also means up-to-date and not old, as in modern technology. Apart from these general senses, modern is often used in a more specific way to refer to the current historical period.
What is the full meaning of modern?
Definition of modern (Entry 1 of 2) 1a : of, relating to, or characteristic of the present or the immediate past : contemporary the modern American family. b : of, relating to, or characteristic of a period extending from a relevant remote past to the present time modern history.
How many types of modern are there?
Answer: Modern media comes in many different formats, including print media (books, magazines, newspapers), television, movies, video games, music, cell phones, various kinds of software, and the Internet .
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Home » What Is Literary Fiction? Main Characteristics Explained
What Is Literary Fiction? Main Characteristics Explained
The term literary fiction depicts the novels that have artistic merit. It is popular in the book trade and is one of the most commercial genres of fiction. However, there are no boundaries that can define the term adequately. This fiction genre has developed in recent decades, and there is no specific set of criteria that can bound it. However, there are a few characteristics that can help you to determine it. Read this post until the end to explore some important aspects of literary fiction. Let’s start!
Table of Contents
Characteristics Of Literary Fiction
The term literary fiction indicates a work of fiction that has superior qualities. This fiction work revolves around social concerns, reflection on the human condition, and political criticism. Besides, it has a slower pace as compared to the other genre fiction. In addition to it, literary fiction is also different when it comes to the complexity of the writing style. Saricks defines it as elegantly written, lyrical, and layered. Some other essential qualities of this fiction form are originality, the excellence of writing, and artistic merit. When you develop in details, you can find the below-given attributes as the main characteristics of the literary work of fiction:
1: It Is A More Creative Way Of Storytelling
Literary fiction is not bound to a specific set of rules, and therefore, the authors of this fiction are free to make their own rules as they proceed further with it. It never misses surprising the readers with its unpredictable nature.
There are no specific rules to write. However, it is often more creative, complex, and layered. The authors utilize the freedom to push the limits of what’s acceptable, which sometimes yields extraordinary results. You can take an example of Italo Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.” It is written in the second person and elaborates on your attempt to read a novel. Imagine you are reading a novel about you reading a novel. Mind-boggling! Isn’t it?
2: It Explores The Human Conditions
Genre fiction aims to distract the reader by light entertainment. Contrarily, the objective of literary fiction is far more introspective and needs extra mind storming. By exploring the human condition, literary literature as a whole tries to make sense of the world around us.
Rohinton Mistry’s “A Fine Balance” best explains this characteristic of literary fiction. It demonstrates the fretful story of Indians in the 1970s and 1980s. The fiction revolves around the four characters finding a balance between hope and deep misery in their lives. The book was written many decades ago, yet, it is applicable in today’s life. It is a hallmark of the literary form of fiction that it is timeless. Where the genre fiction is focused on the plot, literary fiction includes in-depth studies on the characters.
3: Literary Fiction Is Not Based On A Formula
Literary fiction does not adhere to any guidelines, unlike genre fiction, which follows a loose but predictable plot. For the reader, something can happen that can be both thrilling and startling. Sometimes, literary fiction picks a theme from the other form and turns it upside down. George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” can be taken as the best example in which the idea of good conquering evil is challenged.
David Barnett’s article Nineteen Eighty-Four walks a subtle line between the two fiction, written for the Guardian. The contemporary critics perceived it to be genre fiction, what we consider classic literary fiction today.
4: It Is More Complex To Read
Stories discussing the human condition aren’t very fun to read. By default, with unflinching sincerity, they have to deal with a challenging subject matter. When you, as the reader, want to escape, it can be slightly uneasy to think about these problems.
To express a deeper meaning, it can rely on symbolism or allegory . There is almost always a deeper takeaway than just a simple story.
5: Its Main Focus Is On The Protagonists
Unlike the genre fiction that often remains tied to the plot, literary fiction has this relationship with the characters. It explores and defines the characters, and that is the main driving force of the story. It doesn’t only show the protagonists in action but also shows how the action changes the characters.
6: Its Ending Is Often Ambiguous
Typically, endings in the literary form of fiction are tragic, abrupt, or left up to your interpretation. Nothing is justifiable in it, which leaves the reader desperate to find sense in anything.
7: It Is A Critically Acclaimed Form Of Fiction
Literary fiction contains more artistic merits. Intellectual critics highly acknowledge this form of fiction . Besides, movies on this literature form bags more awards and accolades, as it pushes the limitations and involves a unique vision. Critics love this form of literature. However, you don’t need to spend your time and money on this fiction. You can develop a creative perspective even by reading other genres of fiction.
Primary Differences Between Genre And Literary Forms
The below-given list described the key differences between the two different forms of fiction:
- Genre fiction has some specific rules, whereas literary fiction is free from rules, and it often offers a fresh perspective.
- You can read genre fiction to make your mood light and enjoy it. On the other hand, literary fiction is more complex and layered and can make you introspect deeply.
- Where genre fiction is based on the plot, the other form often focuses on the characters.
- In genre fiction, the truth often prevails over evil. However, the other form of fiction challenges the reader’s mind to find meaning in the ambiguous endings of the story.
- Sometimes, it takes the plot of the genre fiction and changes it upside down to give a new perspective to the readers.
This blog elaborates on the major characteristics of literary fiction and how this differs from genre fiction. If you liked reading this post and need to get more, visiting our blog section can help.
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