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What is a Genre? || Definition & Examples

"what is a genre": a literary guide for english students and teachers.

View the full series: The Oregon State Guide to English Literary Terms

What is a Genre? Transcript (English and Spanish Subtitles Available in Video)

By Ehren Pflugfelder , Oregon State University Associate Professor of Rhetoric

Click Here for Spanish Transcript

You know that moment when you’re watching a movie, and it’s been really captivating, and you’re getting interested in the characters, and a little bit lost in the story, when something shifts and you can sense what might happen next? Well in those moments, you might be experiencing what it’s like to recognize genre. And genre is a term frequently used to define the elements that repeat themselves in similar kinds of movies, books, television shows, music, and more.

I like to define genre. Genre? Jean? Jahnrah?

Uh, let’s just go with genre (zhan-rah). OK. Genre is what some might call “typified rhetorical action” and what that means is that there are features that repeat again and again, over time, with few differences, in part because audiences expect certain things to happen or because they want certain kinds of experiences. Genre is the name we use to describe the categories that have developed over time for what we read, what we watch, and what we listen to. And the kinds of genres that exist in one culture at one time may not exist in another culture at another time – they’re constantly changing.

The main kinds of literary genre that you might be familiar with are fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. But those are the biggest categories we can think of, really. For example, non-fiction can encompass everything from a memoir, to a to a biography, to an instruction manual. All are kinds of non-fiction writing – the only thing that ties them together is that they’re not made up. The same is true for fiction and poetry, too, and when we read poetry or prose fiction, we, as the audience, have some expectations as to what should be included. That is, when we read fiction, we expect the narrative to be made up, and when we read poetry, we expect that the each line of a poem match with other lines in a particular way, or it rhyme in the manner of a  sonnet , or break rules of punctuation, or simply take us through a lot of figurative language in a very short amount of time.

But those are the big genre categories. Genre gets especially interesting when we find even smaller categories like action movies, or superhero action movies, or parody superhero action movies. So think of the superhero genre this way: there’s usually an evil villain trying to do something terrible that the superhero is going to try and stop; there’s usually smaller fight scenes throughout the movie and a big fight scene at the end where the superhero, or group of superheroes, triumph, often by using their superpowers. The reason I didn’t have to mention a SPOILER ALERT is because I didn’t give any of the plot away, and you all know that superhero movies follow this pattern. That narrative pattern , and all the other ways that we can describe other repeating features, are what makes up a genre.

What’s more is that more than one genre can exist at once. Think of Ant Man. It’s a superhero movie, an action movie, a comedy, and a parody of other superhero movies. In fact, parodies are where we really see how genres work. After all, the reason Ant Man is funny is because it’s making fun of our expectations of what a superhero movie should be – its making fun of the genre of superhero movies.


Ant Man Image

We use these same terms and descriptions to analyze literary works, works of nonfiction, and poetry, too. So, if I want to understand gothic novels, like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, or Dracula by Bran Stoker, I’m going to look for literary tropes that they share. Some of those tropes could be similar kinds of characters , plots, settings , or themes . Is there a creepy stranger in a cape? Is there danger lurking in the shadows? Is there a haunted castle? Are you encouraged to think of the sinister side of humanity? If so, you might be reading a gothic novel. When I analyze a genre, I’m likely to compare and contrast those features and try to understand how one novel adheres to the conventions of a particular genre or breaks away from our expectations and does something different. We can describe a genre by showing how similar features are repeated, and those elements include most any of the many literary terms that are featured in the other videos in this series. For a gothic novel, we might see metaphors  that connect events to scary or dangerous things, we might see foreshadowing of horrible events yet to come, or we might see a flashback to something terrifying that happened in them past and that changes how characters act in the present. All of these are features of a particular genre.

Now, one thing not to confuse with the idea of a genre is that of a medium. A medium is the form in which something is delivered, so we might say the medium of gothic novel is a printed book, or the medium of a superhero movie is that of film. Medium describes the kind of technology that is used to convey a story to us, but doesn’t necessarily help us understand the genre of what we’re reading or watching. People often ask me is email a genre of writing? And I respond by asking when writing an email if we’re required to write in a particular way. And for the most part, we’re not. In email, you can write a love letter, you can write an angry message to the company that sold you a dodgy product, or you can write a poem. Email itself might suggest certain kinds of writing – for example, you shouldn’t break up with someone through email – but it’s a medium that can hold lots of different genres – it itself is not a genre. Describing and analyzing genre is a powerful way to understand how narratives work, and a really useful way to make sense of stories and texts that surround us.

Further Resources for Teachers:

Other examples of texts that parody the genres within which they work include Jorge Luis Borges's short story "Death and the Compass," Karen Russell's "Vampires in the Lemon Grove," Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Tamarisk Hunter," William Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, and Chris Ware's strange short graphic narrative "Thrilling Adventure Stories (I Guess)." For an example of a character who laughs at the genre he has found himself in, see our "What is a Flashback?" video.

Writing prompt: Select one of the above examples and explain how the author invokes the genre being parodied through the example's form or content. Next, try to explain the significance of the parody. What insight does the parody provide into the limitations of the genre? What tone or attitude does the poem or short story take towards the genre it parodies?

Interested in more video lessons? View the full series:

The Oregon State Guide to English Literary Terms

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What is Genre? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples

Genre definition.

A  genre  (ZHAWN-ruh) is a category of literature in which different works share certain accepted conventions. Ancient Greek writers identified three main literary genres— poetry ,  prose , and  drama —as a way of categorizing the written word. But, over the subsequent centuries, evolving literary customs required the addition of numerous genres and subgenres to this list; naturally, some genres virtually disappeared as their popularity dwindled. Today, the four main literary genres are fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry.

The word  genre  comes from the French for “kind, sort, or style.”

Characteristics of Genre

Every genre shares certain overarching characteristics, though how these characteristics present themselves differ.

Form describes how a writer constructs, structures, and organizes a written work. Form in poetry consists of  meter ,  rhythm , line length, and number of  stanzas , among other factors. Form in fiction and drama follows generally agreed-upon ideas of  plot : a beginning, rising action, a climax, falling action, a resolution, and a conclusion. Nonfiction form can vary greatly depending on the type of work, but it still usually adheres to a basic plot structure.

Style is the way a writer uses words and language to convey meaning,  mood , and story. Style in poetry typically involves intensely descriptive language to paint a vivid mental picture, while style in fiction focuses on plot and character development through certain literary techniques and word choices. Nonfiction style can be more emotionally detached and journalistic, like in a  biography  of a political figure, or it can be very personal and intimate, as is the case in most  memoirs . Dramatic style is the approach a playwright takes to tell their story and explore the themes of the work; for example, they might employ farcical elements and plenty of jokes in a comedy, and serious dialogue and ominous  settings  in a drama.

A subject is the topic the genre centers on. Broad subjects appear across multiple genres, such as the struggle of good versus evil, quests and adventures, and the eternal mysteries of life, love, and death. Narrower subjects, however, tend to fall into specific genres; you would likely classify an epic quest about futuristic space exploration as a work in the  science fiction  genre.

Technique and style share similarities, but technique is more formal in nature. It consists of the methods a writer uses to construct language and present their story.  Metaphors  and  imagery  are common poetic techniques.  Foreshadowing  and  exposition  are popular among writers of fiction and nonfiction. Playwrights often use techniques of symbolism and  allegory  to make larger statements about human nature.

Tone  is the attitude of the writer. Poetic tone is philosophical, engaged, and observant. In fiction and nonfiction, tone is the writer’s viewpoint and  perspective  on the story. In drama, tone is the overall way the playwright presents the work and the mood they set; for example, you probably wouldn’t mistake a  Shakespearean tragedy  for a bedroom sex  farce , as the former would have a serious tone and the latter would have a lighter, sillier one.

Major Genres and Subgenres

Beyond the four basic genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama), there are narrower subsets of each, called subgenres. The difference between genres and subgenres is somewhat malleable, as most people think of common subgenres as genres in and of themselves.

Take, for example, romance novels. Technically, romance novels are a subgenre of fiction. However, many people consider romance as a distinct genre because it contains so many subgenres: historical romance, contemporary romance, supernatural romance, romantic mysteries, romantic science fiction, etc.

Other fiction subgenres that often stand on their own include fantasy, science fiction,  mysteries  and suspense novels, thrillers, and  children’s  and young adult fiction. Of course, you can easily break these down into further subgenres: high and low fantasy and sword-and-sorcery; space operas, cyberpunk, and dystopias; noir, cozy mysteries, and police procedurals; horror, psychological thrillers, and legal thrillers; and picture books, “social problem” novels, and coming-of-age novels.

Autobiographies , biographies, creative nonfiction, memoirs, journalism, and science writing are popular nonfiction subgenres. Poetry subgenres include contemporary poetry, classic poetry, confessional poetry, and slam poetry. Comedies, tragedies, farces,  satires , comedies of manners, family dramas, and musicals are subgenres of drama.

All these subgenres can function as standalone genres and can be further divided into even smaller subgenres. Also, note that a genre is a system of classification, while categories are divisions within a system of classification. So, this makes the terms  subgenre  and  category  interchangeable.

The Function of Genre

Genre establishes a general code for writers to follow based on the accepted standards. This code also inspires many writers to challenge the conventions of genre and create works that defy them; for instance, Truman Capote’s classic  In Cold Blood  is often classified as a nonfiction novel, thereby spanning two genres.

Individual genres serve specific functions. Fiction and poetry spark the reader’s imagination, provide entertainment, and encourage new ways of experiencing the world. Nonfiction is primarily educational, introducing readers to subjects and ideas and sharing valuable insights. Drama is entertaining and stirs readers/viewers to think about the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, the foibles of human nature, and the points in communion we all share, as well those areas of divergence that divide us.

The end goal of genre is to set the reader’s expectation of the work. For example, you have a general idea of the type of work you’re going to read when you pick up a book of poetry; you wouldn’t mistake it for a novel or play.

Genres Outside of Literature

Genre classifications outside of literature serve the same purpose: to shape one’s expectations of the work and appeal to a specific audience by following a basic set of standards.

Film and television genres include drama, comedy, action/adventure, mystery, horror, and documentary. Pop, country, hip-hop, R&B, classical, and dance are all genres of music. The gaming world consists of many genres as well, such as role-playing, simulations, and shooter games.

Examples of Genre in Literature

1. William Shakespeare,  Hamlet

Shakespeare’s plays are all dramas that are further classified as comedies, tragedies, or histories.  Hamlet  is a tragedy because, in the end, nearly all the major characters are dead. The ghost of the King of Denmark instructs his son, Hamlet, to avenge his murder by killing the new king, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius. Hamlet pretends to be mad so he can seek revenge, while a suspicious Claudius also plots to kill Hamlet. The final scene culminates in a duel, in which the King, Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s opponent, and Hamlet all die.

2. Rachel Carson,  Silent Spring

Carson’s 1962 environmental science book is a classic work of nonfiction. She documents the dangers of pesticides, the malfeasance of the chemical industry, and the failure of elected officials to protect the public and the environment. Aspects of the book speak to humankind’s relationship to the natural world and how, in recent years, humans have developed the power to destroy nature in major, irreversible ways.

3. James Baldwin,  If Beale Street Could Talk

Baldwin’s 1974 novel is a work of fiction. It also falls into several subgenres, including romance/love story, African American literature, and social novel. Set in Harlem, New York, in the 1970s, it chronicles the relationship between 19-year-old Tish and 22-year-old Fonny. After they become engaged, Tish discovers she is pregnant. Then, police arrest Fonny after another woman accuses him of rape. The inequities of the criminal justice system keep Tish and Fonny apart, forcing them to fashion their own version of marriage and family with Fonny behind bars.

Further Resources on Genre

An English teacher provides an overview of genres and subgenres in  an informative YouTube video .

Writers Write looks at  the 17 most popular genres/subgenres and why they matter .

Owlcation delves into the differences between  genre and form .

Electric Lit has  a list of books  that they think proves that genre distinctions are bogus.

On the other end of the spectrum, Oxford University Press discusses  why literary genres are essential .

Related Terms

  • Autobiography
  • Dramatic Monologue
  • Figurative Language
  • Narrative Poem
  • Point of View
  • Rhyme Scheme
  • Science Fiction

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Definition of genre

Did you know.

Genre , as you might guess from the way it sounds, comes straight from French, a language based on Latin. It's closely related to genus , a word you may have encountered in biology class. Both words contain the gen- root because they indicate that everything in a particular category (a genre or a genus) belongs to the same "family" and thus has the same origins. So the main genres of classical music would include symphonies, sonatas, and opera, and the major genres of literature would include novels, short stories, poetry, and drama. But within the category of novels, we could also say that detective novels, sci-fi novels, romance novels, and young-adult novels are separate genres.

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Example Sentences

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'genre.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

French, from Middle French, kind, gender — more at gender

1770, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Phrases Containing genre

  • sub - genre

Articles Related to genre

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Dictionary Entries Near genre

Cite this entry.

“Genre.” Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of genre, more from merriam-webster on genre.

Nglish: Translation of genre for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of genre for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about genre

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Definition of Genre

Genre originates from the French word meaning kind or type. As a literary device, genre refers to a form, class, or type of literary work. The primary genres in literature are poetry, drama / play , essay , short story , and novel . The term genre is used quite often to denote literary sub-classifications or specific types of literature such as comedy , tragedy , epic poetry, thriller , science fiction , romance , etc.

It’s important to note that, as a literary device, the genre is closely tied to the expectations of readers. This is especially true for literary sub-classifications. For example, Jane Austen ’s work is classified by most as part of the romance fiction genre, as demonstrated by this quote from her novel Sense and Sensibility :

When I fall in love, it will be forever.

Though Austen’s work is more complex than most formulaic romance novels, readers of Austen’s work have a set of expectations that it will feature a love story of some kind. If a reader found space aliens or graphic violence in a Jane Austen novel, this would undoubtedly violate their expectations of the romantic fiction genre.

Difference Between Style and Genre

Although both seem similar, the style is different from the genre. In simple terms, style means the characters or features of the work of a single person or individual. However, the genre is the classification of those words into broader categories such as modernist, postmodernist or short fiction and novels, and so on. Genres also have sub-genre, but the style does not have sub-styles. Style usually have further features and characteristics.

Common Examples of Genre

Genres could be divided into four major categories which also have further sub-categories. The four major categories are given below.

  • Poetry: It could be categorized into further sub-categories such as epic, lyrical poetry, odes , sonnets , quatrains , free verse poems, etc.
  • Fiction : It could be categorized into further sub-categories such as short stories, novels, skits, postmodern fiction, modern fiction, formal fiction, and so on.
  • Prose : It could be further categorized into sub-genres or sub-categories such as essays, narrative essays, descriptive essays, autobiography , biographical writings, and so on.
  • Drama: It could be categorized into tragedy, comedy, romantic comedy, absurd theatre, modern play, and so on.

Common Examples of Fiction Genre

In terms of literature, fiction refers to the prose of short stories, novellas , and novels in which the story originates from the writer’s imagination. These fictional literary forms are often categorized by genre, each of which features a particular style, tone , and storytelling devices and elements.

Here are some common examples of genre fiction and their characteristics:

  • Literary Fiction : a work with artistic value and literary merit.
  • Thriller : features dark, mysterious, and suspenseful plots.
  • Horror : intended to scare and shock the reader while eliciting a sense of terror or dread; may feature scary entities such as ghosts, zombies, evil spirits, etc.
  • Mystery : generally features a detective solving a case with a suspenseful plot and slowly revealing information for the reader to piece together.
  • Romance : features a love story or romantic relationship; generally lighthearted, optimistic, and emotionally satisfying.
  • Historical : plot takes place in the past with balanced realism and creativity; can feature actual historical figures, events, and settings.
  • Western : generally features cowboys, settlers, or outlaws of the American Old West with themes of the frontier.
  • Bildungsroman : story of a character passing from youth to adulthood with psychological and/or moral growth; the character becomes “educated” through loss, a journey, conflict , and maturation.
  • Science Fiction : speculative stories derived and/or inspired by natural and social sciences; generally features futuristic civilizations, time travel, or space exploration.
  • Dystopian : sub-genre of science fiction in which the story portrays a setting that may appear utopian but has a darker, underlying presence that is problematic.
  • Fantasy : speculative stories with imaginary characters in imaginary settings; can be inspired by mythology or folklore and generally include magical elements.
  • Magical Realism : realistic depiction of a story with magical elements that are accepted as “normal” in the universe of the story.
  • Realism : depiction of real settings, people, and plots as a means of approaching the truth of everyday life and laws of nature.

Examples of Writers Associated with Specific Genre Fiction

Writers are often associated with a specific genre of fictional literature when they achieve critical acclaim, public notoriety, and/or commercial success with readers for a particular work or series of works. Of course, this association doesn’t limit the writer to that particular genre of fiction. However, being paired with a certain type of literature can last for an author’s entire career and beyond.

Here are some examples of writers that have become associated with specific fiction genre:

  • Stephen King: horror
  • Ray Bradbury : science fiction
  • Jackie Collins: romance
  • Toni Morrison: black feminism
  • John le Carré: espionage
  • Philippa Gregory: historical fiction
  • Jacqueline Woodson: racial identity fiction
  • Philip Pullman: fantasy
  • Flannery O’Connor: Southern Gothic
  • Shel Silverstein: children’s poetry
  • Jonathan Swift : satire
  • Larry McMurtry: western
  • Virginia Woolf: feminism
  • Raymond Chandler: detective fiction
  • Colson Whitehead: Afrofuturism
  • Gabriel García Márquez : magical realism
  • Madeleine L’Engle: children’s fantasy fiction
  • Agatha Christie : mystery
  • John Green : young adult fiction
  • Margaret Atwood: dystopian

Famous Examples of Genre in Other Art Forms

Most art forms feature genre as a means of identifying, differentiating, and categorizing the many forms and styles within a particular type of art. Though there are many crossovers when it comes to genre and no finite boundaries, most artistic works within a particular genre feature shared patterns , characteristics, and conventions.

Here are some famous examples of genres in other art forms:

  • Music : rock, country, hip hop, folk, classical, heavy metal, jazz, blues
  • Visual Art : portrait, landscape, still life, classical, modern, impressionism, expressionism
  • Drama : comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy , melodrama , performance, musical theater, illusion
  • Cinema : action, horror, drama, romantic comedy, western, adventure , musical, documentary, short, biopic, fantasy, superhero, sports

Examples of Genre in Literature

As a literary device, the genre is like an implied social contract between writers and their readers. This does not mean that writers must abide by all conventions associated with a specific genre. However, there are organizational patterns within a genre that readers tend to expect. Genre expectations allow readers to feel familiar with the literary work and help them to organize the information presented by the writer. In addition, keeping with genre conventions can establish a writer’s relationship with their readers and a framework for their literature.

Here are some examples of genres in literature and the conventions they represent:

Example 1: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow , Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out , brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

The formal genre of this well-known literary work is Shakespearean drama or play. Macbeth can be sub-categorized as a literary tragedy in that the play features the elements of a classical tragic work. For example, Macbeth’s character aligns with the traits and path of a tragic hero –a protagonist whose tragic flaw brings about his downfall from power to ruin. This tragic arc of the protagonist often results in catharsis (emotional release) and potential empathy among readers and members of the audience .

In addition to featuring classical characteristics and conventions of the tragic genre, Shakespeare’s play also resonates with modern readers and audiences as a tragedy. In this passage, one of Macbeth’s soliloquies , his disillusionment, and suffering is made clear in that, for all his attempts and reprehensible actions at gaining power, his life has come to nothing. Macbeth realizes that death is inevitable, and no amount of power can change that truth. As Macbeth’s character confronts his mortality and the virtual meaninglessness of his life, readers and audiences are called to do the same. Without affirmation or positive resolution , Macbeth’s words are as tragic for readers and audiences as they are for his own character.

Like  M a cbeth , Shakespeare’s tragedies are as currently relevant as they were when they were written. The themes of power, ambition, death, love, and fate incorporated in his tragic literary works are universal and timeless. This allows tragedy as a genre to remain relatable to modern and future readers and audiences.

Example 2: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy . I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.

The formal genre of this literary work is novel. Walker’s novel can be sub-categorized within many fictional genres. This passage represents and validates its sub-classification within the genre of feminist fiction. Sofia’s character, at the outset, is assertive as a black woman who has been systematically marginalized in her community and family, and she expresses her independence from the dominance and control of men. Sofia is a foil character for Celie, the protagonist, who often submits to the power, control, and brutality of her husband. The juxtaposition of these characters indicates the limited options and harsh consequences faced by women with feminist ideals in the novel.

Unfortunately, Sofia’s determination to fight for herself leads her to be beaten close to death and sent to prison when she asserts herself in front of the white mayor’s wife. However, Sofia’s strong feminist traits have a significant impact on the other characters in the novel, and though she is not able to alter the systemic racism and subjugation she faces as a black woman, she does maintain her dignity as a feminist character in the novel.

Example 3: A Word to Husbands by Ogden Nash

To keep your marriage brimming With love in the loving cup, Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; Whenever you’re right, shut up.

The formal genre of this literary work is poetry. Nash’s poem would be sub-categorized within the genre of humor . The poet’s message to what is presumably his fellow husbands is witty, clear, and direct–through the wording and message of the last poetic line may be unexpected for many readers. In addition, the structure of the poem sets up the “punchline” at the end. The piece begins with poetic wording that appears to romanticize love and marriage, which makes the contrasting “base” language of the final line a satisfying surprise and ironic twist for the reader. The poet’s tone is humorous and light-hearted which also appeals to the characteristics and conventions of this genre.

Synonyms of Genre

Genre doesn’t have direct synonyms . A few close meanings are category, class, group, classification, grouping, head, heading, list, set, listing, and categorization. Some other words such as species, variety, family, school, and division also fall in the category of its synonyms.

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The Write Practice

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?

Literary Genres: Definition and Examples of the 4 Essential Genres and 100+ Subgenres

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 just 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

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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 .

Alright, now that we've addressed why genre matters and what genre doesn't  include, let's start getting into the different literary genres that exist (there are a lot of them!).

How Many Literary Genres Are There? The 4 Essential Genres, and 1000+ 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 that their work is “fiction.”

3. Drama: Is it performed?

Drama is a genre of literature that has some kind of performance. 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

Sorted alphabetically.

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 (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 (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.

Dramatic monologue


Light verse

Occasional verse

Verse epistle

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.

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, post your story using the practice box below. Then, be sure to give feedback on the practices of three others writers.

Enter your practice here:

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Joe Bunting

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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Genres in Literature

In literature, every piece of writing falls under a general category, also known as a genre. We experience genres is other parts of our daily lives, such as movies and music, and in each case, the individual genres typically have distinctive styles in terms of how they are composed. At the most basic level, there are essentially three main genres for literature - poetry, prose and drama - and each can be broken down even further, resulting in dozens of subgenres for each. Some resources will cite only two genres: fiction and non-fiction, though many classics will argue that fiction and non-fiction can, and do, both fall under poetry, drama or prose.  

While there is much debate over what constitutes a genre in literature, for the purposes of this article, we will break down the classic three. From there, we will outline some of the subgenres for each, including those that some believe should be classified as main genres.

Poetry is a style of writing that tends to be written in verses, and typically employs a rhythmic and measured approach to composition. It characteristically is known for evoking emotional responses from readers through its melodic tone and use of creative language that is often imaginative and symbolic in nature. The word “poetry” comes from the Greek word “poiesis” which essentially means, making, which is translated into the making of poetry. Poetry is typically divided into two main subgenres, narrative and lyric, which each have additional types that fall under their respective umbrellas. For example, narrative poetry includes ballads and epic tales, while lyric poetry includes sonnets, psalms and even folk songs. Poetry can be fiction or nonfiction.

Prose is essentially identified as written text that aligns with the flow of conversation in sentence and paragraph form, as opposed to verses and stanzas in poetry . Writing of prose employs common grammatical structure and a natural flow of speech, not a specific tempo or rhythm as is seen in traditional poetry. Prose as a genre can be broken down into a number of subgenres including both fiction and non-fiction works. Examples of prose can range from news, biographies and essays to novels, short stories, plays and fables. The subject matter, if it is fiction versus nonfiction and length of the work, are not taken into consideration when classifying it as prose, but rather the style of writing that is conversational is what lands works in this genre.

Drama is defined as theatrical dialogue that is performed on stage and traditionally is comprised of five acts. It is generally broken down into four subgenres including comedy, melodrama, tragedy and farce. In many cases, dramas will actually overlap with poetry and prose, depending on the writing style of the author. Some dramatic pieces are written in a poetic style, while others employ a more casual writing style seen in prose, to better relate to the audience. Like both poetry and prose, dramas can be fiction or nonfiction, though most are fictional or inspired by real life, but not completely accurate.

The Genre and Subgenre Debate

Beyond these three basic genres, if you conduct an online search for “genres of literature,” you will find dozens of conflicting reports that claim any number of main genres that exist. There is often debate over what constitutes genre, but in most cases, there is a misunderstanding of the difference between genre and subject matter. It’s common for subject matter to be considered a genre in not only literature, but also in movies and even games, both of which are often based on or inspired by books . These subjects can include biography, business, fiction, history, mystery, comedy, romance and thrillers. Subjects may also include cooking, self help, diet and fitness, religion and many many more.  

Subjects and subgenres, however, can often be intermixed. Though, it can be a challenge to determine how many subgenres or subjects actually exist, as there are differing opinions on each, and new ones are created regularly. For example, young adult writing has become increasingly popular, and some would classify it as a subgenre of prose.

The difference between genre and subject is often blurred by the world around us. Think of a time when you last visited a bookstore or library. Most likely, the books were divided into sections - fiction and non-fiction for sure - and further categorized based on the type of books, such as self-help, historic, science fiction and others. Many people assume that these categorizations of subject matter are genre, and as a result, common language today has adopted a casual use of genre to mean subject.

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What is Genre in Literature? Definition, Examples of Literary Genres

Genre is a category of art that can be identified by form, content, and style. In literature, genre is the classification of a work of writing by the type of writing and/or content.

What is Genre?

Genre is the classification of a literary work by its form, content, and style into categories such as poetry, drama, fiction, and non-fiction. From there, literature can be further classified into subgenres. Each genre varies in its features and functions and understanding what major genre category a work of literature falls into will help to bring deeper understanding to that work.

Types of Literary Genre

Poetry – this genre consists of writing that follows meter and rhythm for every line written. Another feature of the poetry genre is that writing is organized into schemes such as stanzas, meter, and/or rhyme. Subgenres of poetry include epic poem, narrative, romantic, dramatic, and lyric.

Drama – this is a type of literature that is meant to be performed in front of an audience. Subgenres of drama include comedy, tragedy, and tragicomedy.

Prose – the prose genre of literature consists of complete sentences organized into paragraphs. Prose writing is focused around telling a story consisting of characters and a plot. Prose subgenres include fiction and non-fiction.

Fiction – this literary genre consists of writing that is not real. Often, fiction writers rely on the complexity of figurative language in order to create completely untrue events, characters, and settings which stimulate readers’ imaginations.

Nonfiction – the nonfiction category is a genre in which writing ranges from academic papers to creative works. Nonfiction can be used to inform and it can also be used to tell a narrative story, like in an autobiography or memoir.

The Purpose of Genre

Genres are important because they give structure to what types of writing can be worked with. For authors, they can choose what type of genre they write best in and specialize in that genre. However, many writers choose to publish in and experiment with several different genres from poetry to nonfiction.

Ultimately, what genres do for readers is to classify literature into categories. This can be for the purpose of study, work, or pleasure. Within genres, scholars at large tend to analyze the importance of particular works within the context of the genre in which it is published. This adds to discussions about literary canons as a whole. This type of framework for analyzing literature is incredibly important in terms of the impact that writing has on people.

This framework that genres provides also allows us to keep up with contemporary and emerging genres such as website media and television. In turn, greater understanding of literature as a whole results from continuing genre developments and studies.

Recap: What is Genre in Literature?

Genres allow forms of literature to be classified according to form, content, and style. Major genres include poetry, drama, prose, fiction, and nonfiction and each of these categories can be further broken down into subgenres. Classifying literature by genre helps foster the study and understanding of literature as a whole.

Literary Genres — Definition, Types, and Examples

Daniel Bal

Genres of literature

Genre is the classification of literature based on its content, form, or style. Each genre has a specific set of characteristics, and while literary works do not need to abide strictly by those traits, each example of a genre must display some of the associated features.

what is the literature genre

Types of genres

Some of the most popular literary genres include drama, fantasy, mystery, nonfiction, thriller, and the following:

An autobiography is an account of the writer’s own life; a biography is an account of an individual’s life written by someone else.

Often associated with a coming-of-age story, bildungsroman works focus on a character’s literal or metaphorical journey through loss, personal growth, and maturation; many of these works are written for young adults.


A drama depicts fictional or non-fictional events through performance (i.e., play).

Works of fantasy incorporate magical and supernatural elements. They are typically set in an imaginary world that features fantastic and mythical characters and events.

Historical fiction novels combine historical figures and events with fictional stories.

Horror stories aim to create feelings of fear, dread, repulsion, and terror in the reader.

Magical realism consists of works that accurately depict the real world while including fantastical elements. These elements are not considered unrealistic by the characters in the work.

Magical realism

A mystery , also known as detective fiction or procedural, follows the main character attempting to solve a mystery. Mystery novels often turn the reader into a detective by only providing certain information as the plot progresses.

Nonfiction writing is based on facts, real people, and actual events, making the genre mainly informational or instructional.

Science fiction , or sci-fi , focuses on predictions of what the world might become in the future. Science fiction authors attempt to create details that are technically possible and based on scientific or rational thought, causing the genre to differ from fantasy. Science fiction settings are sometimes in outer space or a dystopian Earth.

Science fiction

Thrillers incorporate plots driven by suspense and typically keep the reader guessing through twists and cliffhangers.

Westerns focus on settlers, cowboys, and outlaws exploring America’s western frontier.

Each genre category can be distinguished by its characteristics, even though some may overlap. New genres are created as cultures and taste change and others fade away. Some different genres also have sub-genres under them, such as the following:

A romantic comedy is a funny love story.

Time travel novels may combine historical fiction and science fiction to show historical events from a future perspective or time period.

Fairy tales are typically children’s stories with an element of magic or fantasy and sometimes a moral.

Gothic fiction became popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, featuring mystery and horror stories often taking place in medieval castles. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a famous example.

Dystopian fiction imagines a future society with suffering or injustice.

Action-adventure stories follow the protagonist’s quest to reach some sort goal.

Espionage novels, like Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, detail a spy’s activities.

Graphic novels are novels in comic-strip format and became popular in the late 21st century.


Genre examples

The following list categorizes various literary works into the appropriate genre:


I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is an autobiographical account of Yousafzai’s experience of being shot by the Taliban due to her activism in the fight to provide girls and women with access to education.

Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert details a portrait of Winston Churchill’s youth, education, and early military career in a biography.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee follows the growth of young Scout Finch as she becomes familiar with the effects of racism.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a coming-of-age novel that tracks the growth of protagonist Holden Caufield as he comes to terms with who he is and how he fits into the world around him.

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is a tragic play that follows Oedipus as he discovers the truth behind his ill-fated life.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Willian Shakespeare is a comedy that satirizes the idea of love by detailing the lives of four Athenian youths.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a fantastical novel that follows Alice through various absurd and illogical scenarios after falling down a rabbit hole and ending up in Wonderland.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien details the journey of various mythological beings traveling to save their world from personified evil.

Historical Fiction

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck follows the fictional Joad family who heads west after losing their farm because of the Dust Bowl to find work as the Great Depression impacts the entire country.

Beloved by Toni Morrison is set after the Civil War and tells the story of a formerly enslaved person whose house is haunted by an evil spirit.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe shows the protagonist’s guilt after committing a murder as a beating heart under his floorboards where he hid the body.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson follows a parapsychologist as he attempts to legitimize the study of the paranormal. Therefore, he invites a group of people to spend the summer in a supposedly haunted house.

Magical Realism

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez details the creation of a utopian city in the middle of a swamp through the eyes of the Buendia family. The town survives for a hundred years until a five-year storm nearly wipes it from existence.

The House of the Spirits by Isabella Allende follows the Trueba family and their deep connection with the spirit world as they traverse through a turbulent world.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is the story of ten people invited to a mansion. With the hosts remaining unknown, each guest must confront their troubling pasts.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown follows symbologist Robert Langford as he attempts to decode a set of riddles that will help shed light on a murder in the Louvre.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is a published version of Anne’s diary, which tells of her Jewish family’s experience hiding from the Nazis during World War II.

Night by Elie Wiesel details his experiences as a fifteen-year-old boy during the Holocaust as he is forced to live in multiple concentration camps with his father.

Science Fiction

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is set in the year 2540. Huxley predicts a radical future that revolves around science and efficiency and the removal of emotions and individuality.

1984 by George Orwell predicts a future where everyone is constantly under surveillance by the Party, a group that has brainwashed the citizens into blindly following its leader, Big Brother.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn details the disappearance of a woman and the resulting investigation that suggests her husband is a murderer.

Misery by Stephen King follows a famous author as a deranged fan imprisons him. When the author is seriously injured due to a car crash, the fan brings him into her house but forbids him from leaving.

Shane by Jack Schaefer follows events occurring in a small outpost in Wyoming when the mysterious titular character who refuses to carry a gun arrives as a cattle driver attempts to take land from a family.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton focuses on the conflict between two men as they search for dinosaur bones in the 1860s.

Gothic literature

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What is a Genre? Definition, Examples of Genres in Literature

Home » The Writer’s Dictionary » What is a Genre? Definition, Examples of Genres in Literature

Genre definition: Genre is the organization and classification of writing.

What is Genre in Literature?

What does genre mean? Genre is the organization of literature into categories based on the type of writing the piece exemplifies through its content, form, or style.

Example of Literary Genre

The poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke fits under the genre of poetry because its written with lines that meter and rhythm and is divided into stanzas.

It does not follow the traditional sentence-paragraph format that is seen in other genres

Types of Literary Genre

There are a few different types of genre in literature. Let’s examine a few of them.

Poetry : Poetry is a major literary genre that can take many forms. Some common characteristics that poetry shares are that it is written in lines that have meter and rhythm. These lines are put together to form stanza in contrast to other writings that utilize sentences that are divided into paragraphs. Poetry often relies heavily on figurative language such as metaphors and similes in order to convey meanings and create images for the reader.

Drama : This literary genre is often also referred to as a play and is performed in front of an audience. Dramas are written through dialogue and include stage directions for the actors to follow.

Prose : Prose is a type of writing that is written through the use of sentences. These sentences are combined to form paragraphs. This type of writing is broad and includes both fiction and non-fiction.

Fiction : Fiction is a type of prose that is not real. Authors have the freedom to create a story based on characters or events that are products of their imaginations. While fiction can be based on true events, the stories they tell are imaginative in nature.

Like poetry, this genre also uses figurative language; however, it is more structural in nature and more closely follows grammatical conventions. Fiction often follows Freytag’s plot pyramid that includes an exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, and dénouement.

Nonfiction : Nonfiction is another type of prose that is factual rather than imaginative in nature. Because it is more factual and less imaginative, it may use less figurative language. Nonfiction varies however from piece to piece. It may tell a story through a memoir or it could be strictly factual in nature like a history textbook.

The Function of Genre

Genre is important in order to be able to organize writings based on their form, content, and style.

For example, this allows readers to discern whether or not the events being written about in a piece are factual or imaginative. Genre also distinguishes the purpose of the piece and the way in which it is to be delivered. In other words, plays are meant to be performed and speeches are meant to be delivered orally whereas novels and memoirs are meant to be read.

Summary: What Are Literary Genres?

Define genre in literature: Genre is the classification and organization of literary works into the following categories: poetry, drama, prose, fiction, and nonfiction. The works are divided based on their form, content, and style. While there are subcategories to each of these genres, these are the main categories in which literature is divided.

Final Example:

The short story “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe is a fictional short story that is written in prose. It fits under the prose category because it is written using complete sentences that follow conventional grammar rules that are then formed into paragraphs.

The story is also identified as fictional because it is an imagined story that follows the plot structure.

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what is the literature genre

Genre Tips: How to Write Literary Fiction

what is the literature genre

Ironically, the term literary fiction is often used in opposition to the term “genre,” which I guess means we have the “literary genre” and the “genre genre.” (And now that I think about it that way, it cracks me up. #sorrynotsorry :p ) Literary fiction is a somewhat contested term, used by some writers to indicate a “higher level” of writing and by others as a crack at elitism. Back in the day when what is properly considered “genre fiction” was classed only as lowbrow pop fiction for the masses, literary fiction was the domain of the “serious” writer. These days, however, when so many “genre” entries are themselves high art, the borders of what is literary fiction and what is not have become a bit mistier.

It also used to be (and still is to some degree) considered a rule that genre fiction focuses on plot (i.e., events happening to the protagonist), whilst literary fiction focuses more on character and theme (i.e., how the protagonist reacts to events). Although each of these approaches create significantly different reading experiences (both of which are legitimate and wonderful in their own right), this argument between “plot and character” has been largely responsible for creating the dualistic idea that story must be one or the other—and that one must be better than the other. Of course, the truth is story requires both plot and character. You can’t have one without the other. All stories have plot except perhaps the most wildly experimental novels (which, honestly, I would class as a genre of its own).

So if we can’t narrow down the strict definition of literary fiction as fiction that…

…then how  can we determine what is literary fiction—and what is not?

5 Tips for How to Write Literary Fiction

Unlike genres such as romance and mystery , literary fiction is not defined by its beats. Nor is it strictly a milieu backdrop like fantasy and historical fiction . It can be set anywhere, anytime. It can focus on love stories, on murder investigations, on supernatural evil, on presidential assassinations, on slices of life. It can feature characters who are human, animal, or even inanimate.

It’s kind of like that old saw: “You know it when you see it.” For my money, literary fiction is primarily defined by attitude and  perspective.  Any story could be told as literary fiction; what makes it so is  how it is told.

Although literary fiction contains all the same structural pieces as any other type of story, it is more intent on the journey than the destination. It looks around.  It wants to see and observe; it wants to stop and ask questions. Usually, it does so from a slightly distanced perspective. Even if it utilizes a deep POV that puts readers right there in the characters’ heads, what is evoked is the sense of being one step back from the action, observing, commenting, noticing the deeper meaning.

Sound interesting? Then let’s take a quick overview of how to write literary fiction.

Story Structure in Literary Fiction: Understanding How to Intertwine Inner and Outer Conflict

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165

Structuring Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

The notion that “literary fiction” is synonymous with “plot-less fiction” is a misconception. What’s true is that literary fiction is not as dependent upon or hemmed in by specific  beats  as are genres like romance and mystery. However, the basic structural arc underlying a story’s plot becomes all the more important in supporting and unifying the often sprawling and sometimes abstract events and motifs within a literary story.

What’s also true is that the plot in literary fiction is often less concerned with its story’s external conflict (even if it’s rip-roaring) and more concerned with the characters’ internal conflict . You might say literary fiction is more interested in character arc than structure. But (surprise!) that, too, is a false paradigm. Why? Because the mechanics of character arc are inherently structural.

Plot structure can be viewed as the emergent of character arc. The entire arc of what we recognize as story is merely the externalized structure of the natural and inevitable pattern of human transformation. In short, if a literary story creates a magnificent character arc, you can be sure it is also well structured.

The structural beats in any story will tell you what it is about. In a literary story, those beats will focus intently on the inner conflict and evolution of the characters. Even if you’re writing your story with a relatively loose focus on structure, just double-checking that the ten major structural moments are all focused on your character’s internal journey will help you ensure both plot and character are powerfully aligned.

Those structural elements are:

For Example: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved classic  The Great Gatsby is a pitch-perfect example of how external conflict (of which there is plenty, as Gatsby jets around NYC, causing and enduring all manner of havoc) can play out primarily through the lens of a character’s internal conflict (in this instance, through the observations of narrator Nick Carraway, who stands at a remove from the relational machinations of Gatsby and the other characters and who undergoes a Disillusionment Arc as a result).

>>Click here for examples of Nick’s Disillusionment Arc used in the series “How to Write a Negative Character Arc”

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (affiliate link)

Character in Literary Fiction: Backstory As the Origin of Motivation

what is the literature genre

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

Genre fiction asks, “What will happen?” Literary fiction, however, is often more concerned with, “What did happen?” Its most urgent question is, “Why?”

Although sometimes this exploration may offer an external plot that is intent on uncovering revelations new to the main characters, it just as often focuses on diving deep into an exploration of the characters’ own pasts. Memories, feelings, events, old hurts, lost loves, delusions, and dreams—all are excavated and reexamined in the characters’ search for meaning.

Backstory and its motivating “Ghosts” are important catalysts for the character arc in any type of story, but in literary fiction the uncovering of how the past has affected the future is often of primary importance. Alternate timelines are a popular device in literary fiction, allowing backstory to be explored side by side with the characters’ current dilemmas. Even when a story is told in a linear fashion, it is understood that much of what we see is context for a final realization.

This emphasis on the causal effects within a character’s personal development doesn’t necessarily require a huge or shocking event in the character’s backstory. Rather, the emphasis is on the  why of how characters ended up where they did or are making the choices they are currently faced with.

For Example: Toni Morrison’s finely-wrought Beloved drops a horrifyingly shocking backstory bomb halfway through when it reveals what happened to main character Sethe’s “almost crawling” baby girl. In a different type of story, this revelation might have been played for all the drama it was worth. In this quiet exploration of the effects of slavery, the revelation is equally quiet, made all the more horrifying by its unflinching deliberateness in examining the reasons for and effects of Sethe’s choices. Although it is a huge plot moment, it is chiefly utilized as an exploration of character.

what is the literature genre

Beloved by Toni Morrison (affiliate link)

Theme in Literary Fiction: Theme as Message vs. Theme as Question

what is the literature genre

Writing Your Story’s Theme (Amazon affiliate link)

Although theme will emerge from any well-constructed plot and/or character arc , literary fiction is noted for its conscious exploration and execution of its themes. Heavy-handed themes that present themselves as “answers” to their readers are not welcome in any type of story, and this becomes all the more true in a literary story that very likely will be exploring its themes “on purpose.”

For example, a genre action story about a brave naval admiral may express themes of courage, duty, and honor merely through the external actions and outcomes in the plot . A literary story will go deeper in examining the character’s interiority, as he struggles literally with these questions in his own mind.

Ironically, this means literary fiction can easily come across as far more moralistic and “on the nose” than most genre fiction. The key to any successful exploration of theme is focusing less on the answers or “lessons” and more on the questions that are inherent within the character’s struggles . There is never any need to spell out a thematic premise for audiences; the outcome of the plot events will always present the author’s thesis on how certain causes lead to certain effects.

Particularly in literary fiction, which can sometimes be more open-ended than other types of stories, thematic emphasis should be less on proving a certain point and more on an honest exploration of how certain thematic questions affect the characters’ outlooks and choices. Arguably more than in any other genre, allowing characters to choose wrong and then showing the effects of those choices in the end can be especially powerful in literary fiction.

For Example:   The Remains of Day by Kazuo Ishiguro utilizes flashbacks to explore the choices of its protagonist, lifetime butler Stevens, who chose to remain loyal to his Nazi-sympathizing employer, not because he agreed with the politics but because he was so identified with his work. This raises questions he must explore in his present as he seeks to reunite with a woman he might have married, had he made different choices.

what is the literature genre

The Remains of Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (affiliate link)

Scene Structure in Literary Fiction: Controlling Pacing via Action and Reaction

That certain “attitude” of literary fiction, its focus on the interiority of is characters, and its leisurely pacing can be tricky to define, much less evoke in one’s own writing. One of the best hacks can be found in scene structure .

Scenes can be divided into two basic parts: action and reaction. These two parts are sometimes referred to as “scene” (action) and “sequel” (reaction), which can then be divided down further into three parts apiece:

Scene (Action) :

Sequel (Reaction) :

Stories that emphasize external action usually put more weight upon the action half of the scene. In these stories, sometimes the reaction half may be summarized rather than dramatized to allow the narrative to return to the action as quickly as possible.

Literary stories, however, flip the script. In literary fiction, the reaction or “sequel” is usually more markedly emphasized. The action still happens , just as in any story. Indeed, literary stories can be just as full of war-time explosions, psychopathic murderers, and passionate trysts in the rain as any other type of story. The difference is that the action portion of the scene will not always be heavily dramatized. In some instances, the action may not be dramatized in the story’s “real time” at all, but rather looked back upon from the character’s reaction phase.

For Example: I first noticed the use of this technique when reading Kathryn Magendie’s  Sweetie , about a timid young girl who befriends a feral mountain child. The book’s leisurely emphasis of sequels over scenes takes nothing away from its potency or urgency.

Sweetie Kathryn Magendie

Sweetie by Kathryn Magendie (affiliate link)

Prose in Literary Fiction: When Beauty Is Truth and Truth Is Beauty

Those who love to read literary fiction or want to write it often return to the genre again and again simply for the beautiful artistry of its prose. Although beautiful prose can be found in any genre, it is a necessity in literary fiction. Not only does it help pull readers into a story in which it’s possible that, strictly speaking, not much is happening, it is also an important tool for deepening the story’s thematic exploration.

Readers of literary fiction expect more from the genre than just a good story (although they expect that too). They expect a kind of truth from the prose that is found nowhere more strongly than in poetry. Literary novels are, in their way, like beautiful prose poems. Their word choices are exquisite—every syllable chosen not just for its efficacy, but for its symbolic effect. More than that, the prose creates a mirror that is held up to both our darkest and most beautiful parts. Those mirrors are only clear when the wordcraft has been honed to communicate not just to the readers’ conscious mind, but to the parts of them that exist beyond the words.

For Example:  One of the most gorgeous books ever written, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern evokes its fantasy worldscape through prose that is, as one reviewer put it , “seductive and mysterious.” This is also a wonderful example of a “genre” story that crosses over into literary fiction.

what is the literature genre

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (affiliate link)

More than anything else, literary fiction is a style. It evokes an effect that allows it to explore life itself with a magnifying glass—to go deep in observing the tiniest details and the most tempestuous human experiences. It is a beautiful genre that can be melded with almost any other style to create unforgettable stories that appeal to many different types of readers.

Stay Tuned:  Next week, guest poster Oliver Fox will close out the series by talking about Horror!

Previous Posts in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are your thoughts on how to write literary fiction? Tell me in the comments!

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what is the literature genre

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel , Structuring Your Novel , and Creating Character Arcs . A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

what is the literature genre

Thanks for another wonderful post! This entire series has been helpful to me. I especially appreciate your clear and concise description of “Literary” fiction – a classification that has baffled and, at times, irritated me in the past.

what is the literature genre

So glad you’ve enjoyed the series!

what is the literature genre

I typically don’t read or write literary fiction, but I do recall reading some of Patricia MacLachlan’s books when I was eleven or twelve. Her writing style was full of prose, and it inspired me to use more literary elements in my own writing.

Yes, it’s hard to beat a book with beautiful prose.

what is the literature genre

This article has helped me to see that the elements of my two novels fit into this genre of literary fiction. I appreciate your clarification, despite the “misty” nature of the concept.

I love stories that sort of blur the line over into a more literary style.

what is the literature genre

Profound, thought-provoking, memorable. Wouldn’t these words all describe literary fiction? We all have our writing goals, and I think most of us want to write exciting best sellers. But I wonder which type of novels are read over and over and treasured on our book shelves, in our minds, and in our hearts? Which novels have we read over and over and passed on to friends and family? In my life there are few such novels. Personally, I think the literary novels create a world where you look forward to visiting everyday in your easy chair. To me, that’s something even better than excitement. That’s enchantment.

Oooo! “Enchantment.” I think you’re exactly right!

Beautifully said!

what is the literature genre

Thank you for your well thought out, detailed post. When asked what genre I’m writing in I say ‘literary fiction’ but until now I couldn’t have provided a succinct description of what that is. Now I can. 🙂 More importantly, you’ve given me a couple things to contemplate in depth and to use as I work on my novel. Many thanks.

That’s great! Happy writing. 🙂

what is the literature genre

This is the best article on literary fiction that I’ve found on the web. Seriously. I’m finally certain what “genre” to use when I query. Thanks.

Glad it was helpful! Good luck with the querying.

what is the literature genre

While I was reading your description of literary fiction, with the strong character focus, and the emphasis on `why’ they act as they do, I thought to myself `hey, maybe this is secretly my genre, and I never knew!’ Then I got to the bit about beautiful prose… Nope, my prose is strictly utilitarian. But I do have a deep appreciation for beautiful writing, and I love a strong focus on characters inner lives, the `why’ behind the `what,’ if you will.

This isn’t to say that only literary fiction emphasizes character. Any genre can choose to spend a lot of exploration on the “why” of things.

what is the literature genre

I didn’t write anything last week, but I meant to. I found your description of the various types of mysteries succinct and edifying. I am finding all of this series to be interesting and helpful. I usually try not to read literary fiction because in my experience (which I have to admit is limited) it leaves me feeling let down in the end. Maybe it’s way to close to reality. It’s usually ‘haunting’. In my opinion, literary fiction changes you, in a way that commonly called genre fiction does not. Having said that, I think that Daphne du Maurier borders on literary fiction, and I’ve read ‘Rebecca’ many times. I still find it haunting. I consider Anita Shreve to be literary, and her prose is beautiful, and I have re-read some of her books. I’m still angry with Donna Tartt over ‘The Little Friend’. I enjoyed the book, but I am still frustrated by not having a difinitive answer about how Robin died. You get my drift…

what is the literature genre

Terrific essay, as are most you write. Writers toss around the term literary fiction, claiming that’s what they write, when it’s clear they aren’t. This essay puts it in perspective. I’ve always thought the genre is more concerned with the beauty of prose, the paradoxes in life, the humanity of people with their flaws and near perfections than it is concerned with sales or fitting into a specific genre. A book on what constitutes literary fiction would make a great addition to my reference shelf. Any ideas Ms. Weiland? And don’t tell me to try it. I’m not up to it.

Glad you enjoyed the post, Dennis! I’m not familiar with any particular guide that discusses literary fiction specifically. Perhaps someone else will chime in with a resource?

I was implying you could write one 😉

Hah. You never know. 😉

what is the literature genre

Thank you so much for this post! I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what genre my WIP is because it mainly focuses on character, theme, and ‘stop and think’ moments though it has plenty of plot too. I now realize that it fits perfectly into the literary fiction category! You did an excellent job in laying everything out so clearly, thanks again!

Literary is such a beautiful genre. It can also be one of the toughest to write, because there are so fewer places to hide than in genre fiction. But when it’s done well, it’s simply magic.

what is the literature genre

The more I listen to these genre essays, the more I realize that, at least for me, writing is more a continuum than a particular genre. Writing can, and probably should, have elements of many of them. Maybe not all at once, but over the course of a career I think a writer should touch all these bases. That’s the adventure of writing!

Honestly, that’s my preferred experience as well. As I mentioned at the top of the series, I haven’t written much about specific genres in the past, mostly because I don’t really experience stories *as* genres. Genres are, of course, useful when you’re hunting down a particular type of book. But good storytelling is just good storytelling.

what is the literature genre

I think it was Matt Bird who said literary fiction is about “the workings of fate,” compared to genre stories that are about the hero’s agency. I don’t think this is a hard and fast rule, but an interesting insight nonetheless.

I’ve always loved stories that blend literary theme and style with genre plotting. It’s a spectrum in the sense that stories aren’t just one or the other, but it’s also a tug-of-war because pushing a story in one direction necessarily pulls it away from the other.

Nobody asked for books suggestions but here they are anyway: anything and everything written by Michel Faber (my personal favorite is “The Book of Strange New Things”). He has such a solid, innate sense of structure, so his books *feel* well paced, but they’re totally literary. I think the reason they keep me engaged is because I love character change, and his characters are always changing on every single page. It’s not for no reason he’s my favorite author of all time.

I appreciate that insight as well! I think there is a lot more blurring of the lines between those two approaches these days, and those stories are often some of my favorites.

what is the literature genre

I went through a phase of reading literary fiction, which I loved. This article describes it so well, everything I appreciated about it but didn’t know how to say. I’m interested in character interiors, and in the truth and beauty aspect of literary fiction. Thanks for this wonderful series.

Truth and beauty. Always. 🙂

what is the literature genre

Thanks again for a most helpful and interesting post. I can now reevaluate my stories which didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. It’s now another new beginning for me. mikiel

Rise, phoenix, rise!

what is the literature genre

What makes a work “literature” has always been a bit of a mystery. You made it so clear that I now can’t believe that “what makes a work literature” was ever a question. Your books on writing and this podcast are great! Thank you!

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  1. Chart Literary Genres Chart

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  3. Genres of Literature

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  1. Various Genres of Literature. English literature Class BA Sem 1

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  3. What is literature and different genres of literature,what is literature and its types in urdu

  4. Genres of Children's Literature

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  1. Literature

    literature, a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter.

  2. Literary genre

    A literary genre is a category of literature.Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or length (especially for fiction).They generally move from more abstract, encompassing classes, which are then further sub-divided into more concrete distinctions. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined, and even the rules designating genres ...

  3. Genre

    genre, (French: "kind" or "sort") a distinctive type or category of literary composition, such as the epic, tragedy, comedy, novel, and short story. Despite critics' attempts to systematize the art of literature, such categories must retain a degree of flexibility, for they can break down on closer scrutiny. For example, hybrid forms such as the tragicomedy and prose poem are possible.

  4. What Are the Different Genres of Literature? A Guide to 14 Literary

    The 14 Main Literary Genres The 14 Main Literary Genres 1. Literary Fiction. Literary fiction novels are considered works with artistic value and literary merit. They often include political criticism, social commentary, and reflections on humanity.

  5. Literary genre

    A literary genre is a style of writing. Your favorite literary genre might be science fiction, for example. The word genre means "artistic category or style," and you can talk about a movie's genre, or the genre of music that drives you crazy. When you use the term literary genre, you make it clear that you're talking about books and writing.

  6. What is a Genre? || Definition & Examples

    The main kinds of literary genre that you might be familiar with are fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. But those are the biggest categories we can think of, really. For example, non-fiction can encompass everything from a memoir, to a to a biography, to an instruction manual.

  7. 1.1: What is Literature?

    Genre is the type or style of literature. Each genre has its own conventions. Literary genres include creative nonfiction, fiction, drama, and poetry. Works that are literary tend to masterfully use genre conventions and literary devices to create a world in the mind of the reader. Works that are less literary tend to be for practical and/or ...

  8. Genre in Literature: Definition & Examples

    A genre (ZHAWN-ruh) is a category of literature in which different works share certain accepted conventions. Ancient Greek writers identified three main literary genres—poetry, prose, and drama—as a way of categorizing the written word. But, over the subsequent centuries, evolving literary customs required the addition of numerous genres and subgenres to this list; naturally, some genres ...

  9. Genre Definition & Meaning

    1 : a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content a classic of the gothic novel genre 2 : kind, sort 3 : painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usually realistically Did you know?

  10. What Are Literary Genres? (Plus 16 Types To Try)

    A literary genre is a category that authors use to describe the primary content and tone of their writing. The genre an author chooses can help them determine what type of plot, characters and setting to create. Literary genres typically describe writing styles such as poetry, essays, novels, short stories and plays.

  11. Genre

    The primary genres in literature are poetry, drama / play, essay, short story, and novel. The term genre is used quite often to denote literary sub-classifications or specific types of literature such as comedy, tragedy, epic poetry, thriller, science fiction, romance, etc.

  12. List of writing genres

    Writing genres (more commonly known as literary genres) are categories that distinguish literature (including works of prose, poetry, drama, hybrid forms, etc.) based on some set of stylistic criteria.

  13. Literary Genres: Definition and Examples of the 4 Essential Genres and

    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.

  14. Genre Definition and Examples in Literature

    At the most basic level, there are essentially three main genres for literature - poetry, prose and drama - and each can be broken down even further, resulting in dozens of subgenres for each.

  15. What is Genre in Literature? Definition, Examples of Literary Genres

    Genre is the classification of a literary work by its form, content, and style into categories such as poetry, drama, fiction, and non-fiction. From there, literature can be further classified into subgenres.

  16. Literary Genres

    Genre is the classification of literature based on its content, form, or style. Each genre has a specific set of characteristics, and while literary works do not need to abide strictly by those traits, each example of a genre must display some of the associated features. Literary genres definition Types of genres

  17. What is a Genre? Definition, Examples of Genres in Literature

    Genre is the organization of literature into categories based on the type of writing the piece exemplifies through its content, form, or style. Example of Literary Genre The poem "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke fits under the genre of poetry because its written with lines that meter and rhythm and is divided into stanzas.

  18. 8 Popular Book Genres: A Guide to Popular Literary Genres

    The world of literature abounds with different genres. Broadly speaking, the fiction world is divided into two segments: literary fiction and genre fiction. Literary fiction typically describes the kinds of books that are assigned in high school and college English classes, that are character driven and describe some aspect of the human condition. Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners ...

  19. Literature

    Literary forms can be broken down into genres, subcategories that share similar styles, topics, and characteristics. Writing is sometimes further classified by meaning , which is the author's message.

  20. The Definition of Genre in Literature

    The Definition of Genre in Literature Chris Mills Apr 11, 2023 4:20 PM EDT Image by Varad Anadate from Pixabay Genre and Form in Literature In the world of literature, one of the most confusing concepts is genre. What is genre?

  21. Genre Tips: How to Write Literary Fiction

    The notion that "literary fiction" is synonymous with "plot-less fiction" is a misconception. What's true is that literary fiction is not as dependent upon or hemmed in by specific beats as are genres like romance and mystery.However, the basic structural arc underlying a story's plot becomes all the more important in supporting and unifying the often sprawling and sometimes ...

  22. Disney's Black mermaid is no breakthrough

    The publisher's summary describes a science fiction novel that combines the alien-encounter genre with African mythology to create a vast narrative network of characters, human and nonhuman ...

  23. The True Literary Genre of Usogui : r/Usogui

    The True Literary Genre of Usogui. Usogui is such a diverse and versatile manga that it can be very difficult to really tell what it is "about", what its main overarching lesson is, and what genre it even is. Sure, Usogui is a gambling manga, but to typify it as only gambling in genre does it a huge injustice and fails to answer so many loose ...