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50+ Literary Genres and Subgenres Every Student Should Know
So many genres, so little time to read them all…
Once kids learn to read, they unlock a very rich world of books and other writings to explore. This list of literary genres and subgenres offers definitions and examples for a wide array of writing styles. Encourage students to explore them all!
What are literary genres?
Source: The Chalkboard Unicorn
A genre (ZHAHN-ruh) is a category of literature in which the various works share certain characteristics. We often break writing into four main literary genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama. (Some people consider fiction and nonfiction to be one category called prose.)
Each of the literary genres has its own set of subgenres. There’s no definitive list of literary subgenres, and authors regularly invent new styles. For our list, we’ve chosen common literary genres and subgenres that students should learn to recognize. This is not a complete list by any means.
Students should also understand that many literary works fit into multiple categories, so narrowing down the literary genres and subgenres can be difficult. Still, knowing these different types can help kids learn which types of books they enjoy most and make it easier to find more of them.
Stories, poems, and plays that tell imaginary tales are called fiction. The people and events may be completely imaginary or based on real people and events but in fictionalized form.
When fiction is written as it is spoken, it’s known as prose. If the structure includes a focus on rhyme and rhythm, we call it poetry. Prose fiction can be broken down into categories by its length.
We use the term “novel” to describe a long piece of fiction, often described as “book-length.” Graphic novels use illustrations to help tell the tale, while novels in verse are very long poems that tell a story.
Examples: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Novellas are shorter than full-length novels but longer than a short story. There’s no one accepted definition of the length of a novella; they generally range from 10,000 to 50,000 words.
Examples: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
A short story tells a complete tale with a fully developed theme, but it’s shorter than a novel or novella. They’re usually about 10,000 words or less.
Examples: “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
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While fiction is one of the major literary genres, it can be broken down into many categories known as subgenres. These subgenres describe the style and/or subjects of the literary work. It’s important to note that many works of fiction can fit into multiple subgenres.
Also described as a “coming-of-age” book, the bildungsroman (German for “education book”) tells the story of a protagonist from childhood to adulthood. It explores their moral and psychological growth, and is often (but not always) written in the first person.
Examples: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Originally, this term was used to describe long poems that tell the story of a hero’s journey’s and adventures. Over the years, this term has evolved to include novels and plays that trace a person or family’s history over a long period of time.
Examples: The Odyssey by Homer, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Fables are short stories that teach a specific moral. Aesop is the most famous author of fables; his tales often use animals to tell the story and state the moral at the end.
Examples: “The Tortoise and the Hare” by Aesop, Fables for Our Time by James Thurber
Fairy tales are highly fictionalized short stories that generally include magic and fantastical characters. They’re usually intended for children and often feature a protagonist who receives a “happy ending” and an antagonist (villain) who is punished in the end.
Examples: “Cinderella” by the Brothers Grimm, “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen
Fantasy works are set in imaginary magical worlds and include mythical creatures like dragons, witches, vampires, and more. Avoid confusing this genre with science fiction; remember that fantasy deals with the impossible, while sci-fi explores the possible. (The two are frequently combined, though, and many works have characteristics of each.)
Examples: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
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Folktales are similar to fairy tales but originally were passed down orally rather than being written down. Therefore, they often don’t have attributed authors. Many folktales have more realistic settings than fairy tales.
Examples: Paul Bunyan stories, “Headless Horseman”
Stories that involve ghosts, otherworldly beings, and mystical happenings that cannot be explained rationally fall into the category of gothic or horror. These novels seek to cause a sense of fear in their readers. Gothic novels were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and gave rise to horror writers like Stephen King.
Examples: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Any fiction writing set in the past, in a real place and time, fits the definition of historical fiction. The characters can be real people or imaginary ones living through the events of that time.
Examples: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
- 16 Page-Turning Historical Fiction Books for Readers of All Ages
Legends and myths are ancient tales that explain early history or natural events, often using supernatural characters. Greek, Roman, and Egyptian myths remain popular today, though all cultures have their own myths and legends that have been passed down for hundreds or thousands of years. As most started as oral tradition, they rarely have attributed authors.
Examples: “Theseus and the Minotaur,” “Robin Hood,” “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”
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In a mystery, the characters must solve a puzzle, usually a crime of some sort. Generally, the solution isn’t revealed until the end of the story. The reader can use clues to try to solve the mystery themselves as they read.
Examples: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
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Roman à clef
French for “novel with a key,” a roman à clef (pronounced “roh-MAHN ah clay”) is a story about real-life people and events, thinly disguised as fiction. The characters are given fictional names, and other details may be changed slightly. The “key” is the hints the author gives the reader to help them make the connection between fact and fiction.
Examples: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Animal Farm by George Orwell
Any writing that primarily focuses on the love story between two (or more) people is a romance. These stories often have happy or emotionally satisfying endings, though some end tragically instead.
Examples: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Satire ridicules a topic or person, in an attempt to provoke the reader into rethinking their opinions on the subject. They may use irony, caricature, parody, and other literary devices, and characters and plots are often exaggerated or extreme to make the author’s point.
Examples: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Also called sci-fi, this form of fiction speculates about potential changes to the real world based on scientific principles. Many sci-fi works focus on space travel, parallel universes, and time travel. They often take place in the future or on distant planets or worlds. Generally science fiction is considered to be stories that are possible based on our understanding of science, while fantasy works include magic or other supernatural elements. The two are often combined, and many works fit into both categories.
Examples: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
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In utopian literature, the writer imagines a “perfect” world, while dystopian writing posits a dark and cataclysmic future or alternate present. In many cases, the imaginary world is initially presented as utopian, but as more details emerge, the dystopian elements become clear. Therefore, these literary genres are often lumped together.
Examples: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The opposite of fiction is nonfiction, which focuses on information and facts about real people, events, and other topics. Nonfiction can be full-length books or shorter compositions like articles or essays. It also includes “how-to” writing like cookbooks and self-help books.
There are many categories of nonfiction, usually based on the topic or subject. Here are some common nonfiction subgenres kids should learn about.
A biography tells the story of a person’s life, usually from birth to death. When a person writes their own biographical work, it’s called an autobiography.
Examples: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
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An essay is a short nonfiction work on a specific topic. It’s usually a personal reflection on a subject, in which the author shares their own experiences and thoughts. Sometimes authors publish their essays together in collections as books. These collections can include essays on related topics or simply be a compilation of an author’s works.
Examples: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, Walden by Henry David Thoreau
This catch-all category includes any nonfiction book that seeks to tell its readers about a specific topic. It often uses illustrations, diagrams, and quotes from original sources.
Examples: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt
Any nonfiction book that focuses on real people or events of the past is a history book. Biographies and autobiographies can fall into this category, but histories usually encompass a larger group of people and their impact on contemporary events.
Examples: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, 1776 by David McCullough
While memoirs are similar to autobiographies, they differ in a few small ways. Memoirs don’t generally try to tell the entire story of a person’s life. Instead, they reflect on a person’s experiences during important parts of their life. They are nearly always written in the first person.
Examples: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
In narrative nonfiction, the author tells the tale of a real person or event in a way that feels more like a fiction story. The information is factual, but the style is entertaining and engaging.
Examples: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
When an author writes about their travel experiences, we call it a travelogue or simply “travel writing.” Usually, the author recounts a specific trip or series of related journeys. They describe the people and places they see along the way, offering their own thoughts and opinions about these encounters.
Examples: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
Also called verse, poetry gives special importance to the use of words, imagery, and rhythm. Poems are individual works of poetry. Poems usually break down into lines and stanzas rather than sentences and paragraphs. They can be fiction or nonfiction and of any length from a few lines to an entire book.
We can break poetry into subgenres based on characteristics like rhyme scheme (or lack thereof), rhythmic patterns, subject, and more. Here are some common poetic literary genres kids should know. See their definitions and details here: 15 Types of Poetry to Teach Kids and Teens .
- Blackout Poetry
- Blank Verse
- Concrete Poetry
- Narrative Poetry
- Sonnet (Shakespearean and Petrarchan)
- 70 Must-Share Poems for Your Elementary Classroom
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This literary genre includes plays, musical, operas, and operettas, written to be performed in front of an audience. Students often study plays in literature classes, reading them instead of seeing them performed. They can be short, or longer works broken into multiple scenes and acts.
While dramatic works can be nonfictional, they are usually fiction. Experts break plays and other dramatic works into multiple categories. These are the most common.
Make them laugh! Comedies are light and humorous dramatic works. The Greeks and Romans used this term for plays where the hero faces adversity and overcomes it in the end. By Shakespeare’s time, comedies involved humor, silly situations, and happy endings all around, and that’s how we usually use the term today.
Examples: The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
A farce is a type of comedy, with exaggerated characters and improbable situations. There’s usually a lot of physical comedy, with characters taking ludicrous circumstances and happenings very seriously.
Examples: The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
A tragedy tells the story of a protagonist with a tragic flaw, which ultimately leads to their downfall. Tragedies can also relate terrible or sorrowful events, from the point of view of one or more characters.
Examples: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
As the name implies, these dramatic works have elements of both comedy and tragedy. They can have sad or happy endings, or even those that are inconclusive. They often tell tragic tales, with enough humor to lighten the overall mood throughout.
Examples: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Today, we use this term almost exclusively to describe Shakespeare’s plays about real historical people and events. These dramatic works were very popular during Elizabethan times.
Examples: Richard III and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, playwrights began writing dramatic works to draw attention to social issues or problems. Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw are well-known for this subgenre.
Examples: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw
We believe in encouraging kids to read all kinds of literary genres and books, including these 16 Banned Books to Read Before 12th Grade .
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Stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action.
Narration demonstrating a useful truth, especially in which animals speak as humans; legendary, supernatural tale.
Story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children.
Fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality.
Narrative literary works whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
Fiction in Verse
Full-length novels with plot, subplot(s), theme(s), major and minor characters, in which the narrative is presented in (usually blank) verse form.
The songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or "folk" as handed down by word of mouth.
Story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting.
Fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader.
Fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain; but can be contained in all genres
Story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, which has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material.
Fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the unraveling of secrets.
Legend or traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods.
Verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that creates emotional responses.
Story that can actually happen and is true to life.
Story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets.
Fiction of such brevity that it supports no subplots.
Humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance.
Narrative of a person's life, a true story about a real person.
A short literary composition that reflects the author's outlook or point.
Factual information presented in a format which tells a story.
Informational text dealing with an actual, real-life subject.
Public address or discourse.
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Types of genres are categories of literature that are generally determined by technique, length, tone, and content. When we list literary forms in broader terms, they can be more abstract, flexible, and loosely defined. However, as we get more specific and into subcategories, the distinctions and rules of the genre become crystal clear.
What are the literature genres? Though we may think there are several types of written art forms, there are actually only 3 genres of literature. You may be wondering, what are the three genres of literature? Poetry, drama, and prose. That’s right. All the other genre types fit into one of these three categories. Students will typically encounter these narrative types of literature in English for most of what they read and write about in school. Therefore, they must be able to identify examples of literary artistic expressions, know their key characteristics, and list the genres of literature.
Keep reading to learn more about the different literary genres examples, along with ways for students and teachers to storyboard their forms of literature examples. In the genres of literature chart below, each of the storyboards and examples can be copied and used in an assignment with your students.
Literary Genres Examples
Here are some literary forms examples for you to check out. Different types of genres have different purposes. As you read through these examples, notice how the techniques, lengths, tones, and contents change.
Literary forms can be classified in many ways. In this section, we will take a closer look at 3 genres of literature: poetry, drama, and prose. Understanding the different classifications of literary expression in English will not only enhance your students’ reading experience but improve their writing skills too.
Types of Literary Genres
Poetry is a genre of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre — to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the literal or mundane meaning. Poetry has a very long history, dating back to prehistoric times with the creation of hunting chants and burial songs.
Among the different genre examples, poetry is considered by many to be the most intense literature genre. It allows a writer to express their deepest emotions and thoughts in a very personal way. It relies heavily on figurative language, rhythm, and imagery to relay its message to readers. Poetic writing uses beautiful language to express deep thoughts and feelings. Poetic expressions can help you understand your emotions and thoughts better, and it also helps you learn how to write more expressively.
Sub-Genres of Poetry
- Songs and Ballads
Drama is a mode of fictional representation through dialogue and performance. It is one of the kinds of literature which includes epic poetry, lyric poetry, and novel. Aristotle’s Poetics defines drama as “a representation of an action that is whole and complete and has a beginning, a middle, and an end.”
Drama is often performed on stage in front of a live audience, but it can also be presented in other forms, such as radio, film, and television. It is usually written by a playwright, although it can be adapted from other sources, such as novels, short stories, poems, or even real-life events. Or it can be read silently by individuals.
It contains dialogue, and actors impersonate the characters. Imaginary characters are frequently introduced to its narratives, allowing the playwright to explore complex human emotions and conflicts through both real-life and fantastical figures. Characters often encounter conflict, whether internal or external, as it serves as a driving force for character development and narrative tension. It is usually divided into acts or scenes and relies on props or imaginative dialogue to create a visual experience for the audience. Dramatic literary works are a good place to start, as they are usually pretty easy to understand at face value and captivates the audience with cliffhangers and mind-capitulating events.
Sub-Genres of Drama
This form of literary expression has no formal metrical structure. It applies a natural flow of speech, and ordinary grammatical structure, rather than rhythmic structure, such as in the case of traditional poetry. Prose is an example of literary text that is typically written in paragraphs, although there are some exceptions, such as in the case of drama or fiction.
Prose can be found in books, magazines, newspapers, online articles, blogs, etc. It is the most common form of writing. Examples of famous works of prose include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee & Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. The prose is simple, straightforward language. It can be either fiction or nonfiction . The prose is typically divided into paragraphs, and it uses regular grammar. It can be either serious or funny.
Fiction is narrative writing that originates from the author’s imagination. It is designed to entertain, but it can also inspire, inform, or persuade.
Sub-Genres of Fiction
- Short Story
- Myths and Legends
- Historical Fiction
Nonfiction is writing that is based on true events, people, places, and facts. It is designed to inform, and sometimes to entertain.
Sub-Genres of Nonfiction
- Diaries and Journals
- Narrative Nonfiction
What Are the Three Genres of Literature?
The main examples of genres in literature are poetry, drama, and prose. Poetry is a genre in literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning. Drama is a mode of fictional representation through dialogue and performance. The prose is a form of language that has no formal metrical structure. It applies a natural flow of speech and ordinary grammatical structure, rather than rhythmic structure, such as in the case of traditional poetry. Genres of literature in English then fall into subcategories, which make up the three genres of literature.
Forms of literature examples are:
- Poetry: Ballads, Lyric, Epic, Dramatic, Narrative
- Drama: Tragedy, Comedy, History, Melodrama, Musical
- Prose: Fiction (Novel, Novella, Short Story), Nonfiction (Autobiography, Biography, Essay)
Genres of Literature Chart
A literature genres list would include categories like fiction, non-fiction, and folklore, but may also cover specialized types such as science fiction, romance, mystery, and historical fiction, offering a comprehensive overview of the literary landscape.
Genre types subcategories can be explained as the following:
Different types of literature being classified by genres and subgenres help people better understand the diversity of literary styles, themes, and techniques employed by authors. Each type has its own purpose and style. Whether you’re looking for a light read or something more heavy and informative, there’s definitely a literary genre out there for you.
A Note About Speeches...
While not one of the primary genres of literature, speeches are important historical documents or moments and literature, and they don’t always fit neatly into one of the three primary genre categories. A speech is a formal address given to an audience. Speeches can be found in prose, drama, and poetry, and their primary goals are to persuade, inform, demonstrate, or entertain a reader, an audience, or other characters. They can also be used in nonfiction or fiction, depending on their purpose and use.
Why Use Storyboarding to Learn About Literary Genres Types?
Storyboarding is the perfect way to learn and remember the different genres of literature. When you storyboard, you can visually see how each literary genre differs from the next. You can also track and compare the subcategories within genres, identify key characteristics of each, and even explore the relationships between genres. All of this will help you better understand and remember the genres of literature, making it easier to identify them when you encounter them in your reading.
How Can Storyboard That Enhance the Learning Experience of the Three Genres of Literature?
Storyboard That can help students better understand the three genres of literature by providing a visual representation of each one. By storyboarding, students can identify key characteristics of each genre and see how they differ from one another. Additionally, Storyboard That is a great way to compare and contrast genres, as well as explore the relationships between them. All of this will help students better remember the genres of literature and be able to identify them when they encounter them in their reading.
Looking to add a little creative flair to your literature class? Check out Storyboard That’s easy-to-use, online storyboard creator! With our drag-and-drop software, you can create engaging, visually appealing graphic organizers to help your students learn about the different genres of literature. Plus, our easy-to-use tools make it simple to add text, images, and multimedia content to your storyboards, so you can really bring your lessons to life.
Where to Start When Learning About Literary Genres
If you’re just starting to learn about literary narrative types, the best place to begin is with the three primary genres: prose, drama, and poetry. These genres are the foundation for all other types of literature, so it’s crucial to have a strong understanding of them before moving on to anything else. Each genre will approach plot development, conflict resolution, and the art of delivering a satisfying conclusion in unique and captivating ways, reflecting the rich tapestry of literary expression.
In terms of choosing between the three, poetry tends to be the most complicated to understand as it can go against the usual laws of grammar. There are a lot of deeper meanings within poetry, so it can be hard to break down as a newbie. Start with some short, simple prose articles such as newspaper pieces and short novels.
When you start to get the underlying meanings behind the prose, you can then start to dive into some simple drama. Look into Greek tragedies and Shakespearean plays, as they are a great starting point. These genres will give you a better understanding of the basics before progressing on to more.
When you’re ready to go deeper, poetry is the next stepping stone. Children’s poetry is a great starting point to give you a good foundation of poetic structure and meaning. Then you can go further into complicated poetry, such as that of the Elizabethans and Victorians.
Once you feel comfortable with the three primary genres, you can start exploring the many subgenres that exist within each one. There are endless possibilities when it comes to different types of narratives, so there’s no need to rush. If you enjoy literature with comedic elements, begin by exploring the comedy genre.
Reading Material to Start With
Start with article number one and work your way down the list. When you are happy you understand each article within the genre, move on to the next set of articles.
- A Washington Post Newspaper Report of Hurricane Ian
- The short story called "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe
- The historical fiction novel by Christopher Paul Curtis: Bud, Not Buddy .
- "The Miracle Worker" by William Gibson
- The famous play by the one and only William Shakespeare, “Romeo & Juliet”
- "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller
- "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
- "A Poison Tree" by William Blake
- "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou
How to Get a Deeper Understanding
To get a deeper meaning of each genre, get your pen and paper ready and start to highlight the key ideas throughout. It can help to get your understanding of the writings by doing a summary for each one. Once you have done this, start to think about the following key things for each genre:
- What is the author’s purpose?
- Who is the audience?
- What are the main ideas?
- How does the structure help to emphasize the purpose?
- What literary devices are used and why?
- How does the author’s style contribute to the meaning of the text?
Plays can be trickier as you cannot always rely on the written word to give you all the information. This is where watching a performance of the play can come in handy, as it will give you a much better understanding. In addition to the above, when watching a play, you should also be thinking about:
- How does the stagecraft contribute to the meaning of the play?
- What do the costumes and makeup tell us about the characters?
- How does the lighting help to create mood and atmosphere?
- What do the sound effects and music add to the play?
When reading poetry, it is essential to think about both the literal and figurative meanings of the words. This can be difficult at first, but there are some helpful strategies that you can use. For example, you can try reading the poem aloud or reading it multiple times. You can also look up words you don’t understand and try to break the poem down into smaller chunks. In addition to the above, when reading poetry, you should also be thinking about:
- What is the speaker’s tone?
- What is the poem's mood?
- What are the main themes of the poem?
- How does the poet use literary devices to create meaning?
- What is the poem’s form, and how does it contribute to the meaning?
Using a storyboard exercise like StoryBoard That can be helpful when trying to understand the genres. You can map out the key ideas and events for each one, as well as the literary devices that are used. This is a great way to see the genres side-by-side, compare and contrast them and visualize things better.
- Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Genres
- Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements
- The Five Act Play Structure
How To Incorporate Multicultural Perspectives Into The Study Of Literary Genres
Select texts from diverse authors and cultures.
Choose texts that represent a variety of cultures and perspectives, and that offer insights into different literary traditions and styles. This might involve reading and researching texts from authors and cultures that are different from your own and seeking out recommendations from colleagues, libraries, or online resources.
Discuss Cultural Context and Historical Background
Provide background information and historical context for each text, including information about the author and the cultural and historical context in which the text was written. This can help students understand the unique perspectives and literary traditions represented in each text.
Explore Themes and Literary Devices From Multicultural Perspectives
Encourage students to explore themes and literary devices from a variety of cultural perspectives, such as examining the role of family or community in different cultures, or analyzing how language and storytelling are used in different literary traditions.
Foster Discussion and Collaboration
Encourage open discussion and collaboration among students, and create opportunities for them to share their own perspectives and experiences. This can help students build empathy and understanding for different cultures and perspectives.
Encourage Independent Research and Exploration
Encourage students to research and explore additional texts and authors from different cultures and perspectives on their own. Provide resources and recommendations for students to pursue independent reading and research.
Integrate Multimedia and Other Resources
Integrate multimedia and other resources, such as videos, podcasts, or guest speakers, to enhance students' understanding of different cultures and perspectives. This can help bring the text to life and make it more relevant and engaging for students.
Frequently Asked Questions about Literary Genres
What is a literary genre.
A literary genre is a category or type of literature characterized by common themes, styles, and narrative conventions. It serves as a way to classify and categorize literary works based on shared characteristics and elements. Common literary forms include fiction, non-fiction, and various subgenres within these categories, such as science fiction, romance or love stories, mystery, and historical fiction. This literary genre definition encapsulates the essence of storytelling, providing a framework for understanding and appreciating the various forms, themes, and styles that contribute to the rich tapestry of literature.
What are some examples of different types of fiction genres?
Some well known types of fiction are: mystery, realistic fiction, historical fiction, fables and fairy tales, adventure, magical realism, and science fiction.
What are some examples of different types of nonfiction?
Some common types are biographies, autobiographies, speeches, letters, and informational texts.
What are the 3 forms of literature?
The three main forms of literature are prose, poetry, and drama. Prose encompasses written or spoken language without a metrical structure and includes written forms like novels, short stories, essays, and articles. Poetry employs heightened and imaginative language, often with rhyme and meter, to evoke emotions and convey complex ideas. Drama is written for performance and includes plays, scripts, and screenplays intended for actors to act out on stage or screen. These three forms represent the foundational structure of literary expression, offering diverse avenues for storytelling, creativity, and artistic communication.
What are the five main genres?
- Fiction: This genre includes works of imaginative storytelling that are not based on real events. It encompasses various subgenres such as science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and mystery.
- Non-fiction: Non-fiction literature is based on real events, facts, and information. This genre includes biographies, autobiographies, essays, memoirs, and other works that present factual content.
- Poetry: Poetry is a form of literary expression that uses rhythmic and metaphorical language to evoke emotions and convey ideas. It often relies on heightened language and various poetic devices.
- Drama: Drama involves the portrayal of characters in conflict, usually in a play format. It explores human emotions and relationships through dialogue and performance. Classic examples include works by playwrights like William Shakespeare.
- Mystery/Thriller: This genre revolves around suspenseful and puzzling narratives. Mystery literature often involves solving a crime or uncovering hidden truths, while thrillers aim to keep readers on the edge of their seats with tension and excitement.
What are the categories of literature?
Here are some common categories used to classify literature:
- Genre: Fiction: Includes novels, short stories, and novellas. This category encompasses a wide range of genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and more. Non-fiction: Involves works based on real events, facts, and information. This category includes biographies, autobiographies, essays, memoirs, and journalistic works.
- Form: Poetry: Characterized by the use of rhythmic and metaphorical language. Poetry often focuses on emotional expression and aesthetic qualities of language. Drama: Consists of plays and scripts written for performance. It includes tragedies, comedies, and other theatrical forms.
- Period or Movement: Classical Literature: Refers to works from ancient Greece and Rome. Medieval Literature: Covers works from the Middle Ages. Renaissance Literature: Encompasses the revival of arts and learning in Europe during the Renaissance. Modern Literature: Includes works from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. Contemporary Literature: Encompasses works from the mid-20th century to the present.
- Nationality or Cultural Identity: American Literature, British Literature, World Literature: Literature can be classified based on the nationality or cultural identity of the author or the setting of the work.
- Literary Movements: Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, Postmodernism: Literature can be categorized based on the dominant artistic and intellectual movements of a particular time.
- Themes or Topics: Social Issues: Literature that addresses and explores societal problems, inequalities, and issues. Historical Fiction: Works set in a specific historical period, often incorporating historical events and figures.
- Age Group: Children's Literature, Young Adult Literature, Adult Literature: Works are sometimes categorized based on the target age group of the readers.
What are subgenres?
Subgenres in literature refer to more specific categories or classifications within the broader genres. They help to further define and categorize works based on shared characteristics, themes, or stylistic elements.
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Literary Genres: Definition and Examples of the 4 Essential Genres and 100+ Subgenres
by Joe Bunting | 1 comment
What are literary genres? Do they actually matter to readers? How about to writers? What types of literary genres exist? And if you're a writer, how do you decide which genre to write in?
To begin to think about literary genres, let's start with an example.
Let's say want to read something. You go to a bookstore or hop onto a store online or go to a library.
But instead of a nice person wearing reading glasses and a cardigan asking you what books you like and then thinking through every book ever written to find you the next perfect read (if that person existed, for the record, they would be my favorite person), you're faced with this: rows and rows of books with labels on the shelves like “Literary Fiction,” “Travel,” “Reference,” “Science Fiction,” and so on.
You stop at the edge of the bookstore and just stand there for a while, stumped. “What do all of these labels even mean?!” And then you walk out of the store.
Or maybe you're writing a book , and someone asks you a question like this: “What kind of book are you writing? What genre is it?”
And you stare at them in frustration thinking, “My book transcends genre, convention, and even reality, obviously. Don't you dare put my genius in a box!”
What are literary genres? In this article, we'll share the definition and different types of literary genres (there are four main ones but thousands of subgenres). Then, we'll talk about why genre matters to both readers and writers. We'll look at some of the components that people use to categorize writing into genres. Finally, we'll give you a chance to put genre into practice with an exercise .
Table of Contents
Introduction Literary Genres Definition Why Genre Matters (to Readers, to Writers) The 4 Essential Genres 100+ Genres and Subgenres The 7 Components of Genre Practice Exercise
Ready to get started? Let's get into it.
What Are Literary Genres? Literary Genre Definition
Let's begin with a basic definition of literary genres:
Literary genres are categories, types, or collections of literature. They often share characteristics, such as their subject matter or topic, style, form, purpose, or audience.
That's our formal definition. But here's a simpler way of thinking about it:
Genre is a way of categorizing readers' tastes.
That's a good basic definition of genre. But does genre really matter?
Why Literary Genres Matter
Literary genres matter. They matter to readers but they also matter to writers. Here's why:
Why Literary Genres Matter to Readers
Think about it. You like to read (or watch) different things than your parents.
You probably also like to read different things at different times of the day. For example, maybe you read the news in the morning, listen to an audiobook of a nonfiction book related to your studies or career in the afternoon, and read a novel or watch a TV show in the evening.
Even more, you probably read different things now than you did as a child or than you will want to read twenty years from now.
Everyone has different tastes.
Genre is one way we match what readers want to what writers want to write and what publishers are publishing.
It's also not a new thing. We've been categorizing literature like this for thousands of years. Some of the oldest forms of writing, including religious texts, were tied directly into this idea of genre.
For example, forty percent of the Old Testament in the Bible is actually poetry, one of the four essential literary genres. Much of the New Testament is in the form of epistle, a subgenre that's basically a public letter.
Genre matters, and by understanding how genre works, you not only can find more things you want to read, you can also better understand what the writer (or publisher) is trying to do.
Why Literary Genres Matter to Writers
Genre isn't just important to readers. It's extremely important to writers too.
In the same way the literary genres better help readers find things they want to read and better understand a writer's intentions, genres inform writers of readers' expectations and also help writers find an audience.
If you know that there are a lot of readers of satirical political punditry (e.g. The Onion ), then you can write more of that kind of writing and thus find more readers and hopefully make more money. Genre can help you find an audience.
At the same time, great writers have always played with and pressed the boundaries of genre, sometimes even subverting it for the sake of their art.
Another way to think about genre is a set of expectations from the reader. While it's important to meet some of those expectations, if you meet too many, the reader will get bored and feel like they know exactly what's going to happen next. So great writers will always play to the readers' expectations and then change a few things completely to give readers a sense of novelty in the midst of familiarity.
This is not unique to writers, by the way. The great apparel designer Virgil Abloh, who was an artistic director at Louis Vuitton until he passed away tragically in 2021, had a creative template called the “3% Rule,” where he would take an existing design, like a pair of Nike Air Jordans, and make a three percent change to it, transforming it into something completely new. His designs were incredibly successful, often selling for thousands of dollars.
This process of taking something familiar and turning it into something new with a slight change is something artists have done throughout history, including writers, and it's a great way to think about how to use genre for your own writing.
What Literary Genre is NOT: Story Type vs. Literary Genres
Before we talk more about the types of genre, let's discuss what genre is not .
Genre is not the same as story type (or for nonfiction, types of nonfiction structure). There are ten (or so) types of stories, including adventure, love story, mystery, and coming of age, but there are hundreds, even thousands of genres.
Story type and nonfiction book structure are about how the work is structured.
Genre is about how the work is perceived and marketed.
These are related but not the same.
For example, one popular subgenre of literature is science fiction. Probably the most common type of science fiction story is adventure, but you can also have mystery sci-fi stories, love story sci-fi, and even morality sci-fi. Story type transcends genre.
You can learn more about this in my book The Write Structure , which teaches writers the simple process to structure great stories. Click to check out The Write Structure .
This is true for non-fiction as well in different ways. More on this in my post on the seven types of nonfiction books .
Now that we've addressed why genre matters and what genre doesn't include, let's get into the different literary genres that exist (there are a lot of them!).
How Many Literary Genres Are There? The 4 Essential Genres, and 100+ Genres and Subgenres
Just as everyone has different tastes, so there are genres to fit every kind of specific reader.
There are four essential literary genres, and all are driven by essential questions. Then, within each of those essential genres are genres and subgenres. We will look at all of these in turn, below, as well as several examples of each.
An important note: There are individual works that fit within the gaps of these four essential genres or even cross over into multiple genres.
As with anything, the edges of these categories can become blurry, for example narrative poetry or fictional reference books.
A general rule: You know it when you see it (except, of course, when the author is trying to trick you!).
1. Nonfiction: Is it true?
The core question for nonfiction is, “Is it true?”
Nonfiction deals with facts, instruction, opinion/argument reference, narrative nonfiction, or a combination.
A few examples of nonfiction (more below): reference, news, memoir, manuals, religious inspirational books, self-help, business, and many more.
2. Fiction: Is it, at some level, imagined?
The core question for fiction is, “Is it, at some level, imagined?”
Fiction is almost always story or narrative. However, satire is a form of “fiction” that's structured like nonfiction opinion/essays or news. And one of the biggest insults you can give to a journalist, reporter, or academic researcher is to suggest that their work is “fiction.”
3. Drama: Is it performed?
Drama is a genre of literature that has some kind of performance component. This includes theater, film, and audio plays.
The core question that defines drama is, “Is it performed?”
As always, there are genres within this essential genre, including horror films, thrillers, true crime podcasts, and more.
4. Poetry: Is it verse?
Poetry is in some ways the most challenging literary genre to define because while poetry is usually based on form, i.e. lines intentionally broken into verse, sometimes including rhyme or other poetic devices, there are some “poems” that are written completely in prose called prose poetry. These are only considered poems because the author and/or literary scholars said they were poems.
To confuse things even more, you also have narrative poetry, which combines fiction and poetry, and song which combines poetry and performance (or drama) with music.
Which is all to say, poetry is challenging to classify, but again, you usually know it when you see it.
Next, let's talk about the genres and subgenres within those four essential literary genres.
The 100+ Literary Genres and Subgenres with Definitions
Genre is, at its core, subjective. It's literally based on the tastes of readers, tastes that change over time, within markets, and across cultures.
Thus, there are essentially an infinite number of genres.
Even more, genres are constantly shifting. What is considered contemporary fiction today will change a decade from now.
So take the lists below (and any list of genres you see) as an incomplete, likely outdated, small sample size of genre with definitions.
1. Fiction Genres
Action/Adventure. An action/adventure story has adventure elements in its plot line. This type of story often involves some kind of conflict between good and evil, and features characters who must overcome obstacles to achieve their goals .
Chick Lit. Chick Lit stories are usually written for women who interested in lighthearted stories that still have some depth. They often include romance, humor, and drama in their plots.
Comedy. This typically refers to historical stories and plays (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a happy ending, often with a wedding.
Commercial. Commercial stories have been written for the sole purpose of making money, often in an attempt to cash in on the success of another book, film, or genre.
Crime/Police/Detective Fiction. Crime and police stories feature a detective, whether amateur or professional, who solves crimes using their wits and knowledge of criminal psychology.
Drama or Tragedy. This typically refers to historical stories or plays (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a sad or tragic ending, often with one or more deaths.
Erotica. Erotic stories contain explicit sexual descriptions in their narratives.
Espionage. Espionage stories focus on international intrigue, usually involving governments, spies, secret agents, and/or terrorist organizations. They often involve political conflict, military action, sabotage, terrorism, assassination, kidnapping, and other forms of covert operations.
Family Saga. Family sagas focus on the lives of an extended family, sometimes over several generations. Rather than having an individual protagonist, the family saga tells the stories of multiple main characters or of the family as a whole.
Fantasy. Fantasy stories are set in imaginary worlds that often feature magic, mythical creatures, and fantastic elements. They may be based on mythology, folklore, religion, legend, history, or science fiction.
General Fiction. General fiction novels are those that deal with individuals and relationships in an ordinary setting. They may be set in any time period, but usually take place in modern times.
Graphic Novel. Graphic novels are a hybrid between comics and prose fiction that often includes elements of both.
Historical Fiction. Historical stories are written about imagined or actual events that occurred in history. They usually take place during specific periods of time and often include real or imaginary characters who lived at those times.
Horror Genre. Horror stories focus on the psychological terror experienced by their characters. They often feature supernatural elements, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, monsters, and aliens.
Humor/Satire. This category includes stories that have been written using satire or contain comedic elements. Satirical novels tend to focus on some aspect of society in a critical way.
LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ novels are those that feature characters who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or otherwise non-heterosexual.
Literary Fiction. Literary fiction novels or stories have a high degree of artistic merit, a unique or experimental style of writing , and often deal with serious themes.
Military. Military stories deal with war, conflict, combat, or similar themes and often have strong action elements. They may be set in a contemporary or a historical period.
Multicultural. Multicultural stories are written by and about people who have different cultural backgrounds, including those that may be considered ethnic minorities.
Mystery G enre. Mystery stories feature an investigation into a crime.
Offbeat/Quirky. An offbeat story has an unusual plot, characters, setting, style, tone, or point of view. Quirkiness can be found in any aspect of a story, but often comes into play when the author uses unexpected settings, time periods, or characters.
Picture Book. Picture book novels are usually written for children and feature simple plots and colorful illustrations . They often have a moral or educational purpose.
Religious/Inspirational. Religious/ inspirational stories describe events in the life of a person who was inspired by God or another supernatural being to do something extraordinary. They usually have a moral lesson at their core.
Romance Genre. Romance novels or stories are those that focus on love between two people, often in an ideal setting. There are many subgenres in romance, including historical, contemporary, paranormal, and others.
Science Fiction. Science fiction stories are usually set in an imaginary future world, often involving advanced technology. They may be based on scientific facts but they are not always.
Short Story Collection . Short story collections contain several short stories written by the same or different authors.
Suspense or Thriller Genre. Thrillers/ suspense stories are usually about people in danger, often involving crimes, natural disasters, or terrorism.
Upmarket. Upmarket stories are often written for and/or focus on upper class people who live in an upscale environment.
Western Genre. Western stories are those that take place in the west during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Characters include cowboys, outlaws, native Americans, and settlers.
2. Nonfiction Genres
From the BISAC categories, a globally accepted system for coding and categorizing books by the Book Industry Standards And Communications group.
Antiques & Collectibles. Nonfiction books about antiques and collectibles include those that focus on topics such as collecting, appraising, restoring, and marketing antiques and collectibles. These books may be written for both collectors and dealers in antique and collectible items. They can range from how-to guides to detailed histories of specific types of objects.
Architecture. Architecture books focus on the design, construction, use, and history of buildings and structures. This includes the study of architecture in general, but also the specific designs of individual buildings or styles of architecture.
Art. Art books focus on visual arts, music, literature, dance, film, theater, architecture, design, fashion, food, and other art forms. They may include essays, memoirs, biographies, interviews, criticism, and reviews.
Bibles. Bibles are religious books, almost exclusively Christian, that contain the traditional Bible in various translations, often with commentary or historical context.
Biography & Autobiography. Biography is an account of a person's life, often a historical or otherwise famous person. Autobiographies are personal accounts of people's lives written by themselves.
Body, Mind & Spirt. These books focus on topics related to human health, wellness, nutrition, fitness, or spirituality.
Business & Economics. Business & economics books are about how businesses work. They tend to focus on topics that interest people who run their own companies, lead or manage others, or want to understand how the economy works.
Computers. The computer genre of nonfiction books includes any topics that deal with computers in some way. They can be about general use, about how they affect our lives, or about specific technical areas related to hardware or software.
Cooking. Cookbooks contain recipes or cooking techniques.
Crafts & Hobbies. How-to guides for crafts and hobbies, including sewing, knitting, painting, baking, woodworking, jewelry making, scrapbooking, photography, gardening, home improvement projects, and others.
Design. Design books are written about topics that include design in some way. They can be about any aspect of design including graphic design, industrial design, product design, fashion, furniture, interior design, or others.
Education. Education books focus on topics related to teaching and learning in schools. They can be used for students or as a resource for teachers.
Family & Relationships. These books focus on family relationships, including parenting, marriage, divorce, adoption, and more.
Foreign Language Study. Books that act as a reference or guide to learning a foreign language.
Games & Activities. Games & activities books may be published for children or adults, may contain learning activities or entertaining word or puzzle games. They range from joke books to crossword puzzle books to coloring books and more.
Gardening. Gardening books include those that focus on aspects of gardening, how to prepare for and grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plants in an indoor or outdoor garden setting.
Health & Fitness. Health and fitness books focus on topics like dieting, exercise, nutrition, weight loss, health issues, medical conditions, diseases, medications, herbs, supplements, vitamins, minerals, and more.
History. History books focus on historical events and people, and may be written for entertainment or educational purposes.
House & Home. House & home books focus on topics like interior design, decorating, entertaining, and DIY projects.
Humor. Humor books are contain humorous elements but do not have any fictional elements.
Juvenile Nonfiction. These are nonfiction books written for children between six and twelve years old.
Language Arts & Disciplines. These books focus on teaching language arts and disciplines. They may be used for elementary school students in grades K-5.
Law. Law books include legal treatises, casebooks, and collections of statutes.
Literary Criticism. Literary criticism books discuss literary works, primarily key works of fiction or memoir. They may include biographies of authors, critical essays on specific works, or studies of the history of literature.
Mathematics. Mathematics books either teach mathematical concepts and methods or explore the history of mathematics.
Medical. Medical books include textbooks, reference books, guides, encyclopedias, and handbooks that focus on fields of medicine, including general practice, internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and more.
Music. Music books are books that focus on the history, culture, and development of music in various countries around the world. They often include biographies, interviews, reviews, essays, and other related material. However, they may also include sheet music or instruction on playing a specific instrument.
Nature. Nature books focus on the natural world or environment, including natural history, ecology, or natural experiences like hiking, bird watching, or conservation.
Performing Arts. Books about the performing arts in general, including specific types of performance art like dance, music, and theater.
Pets. Pet books include any book that deals with animals in some way, including dog training, cat care, animal behavior, pet nutrition, bird care, and more.
Philosophy. Philosophy books deal with philosophical issues, and may be written for a general audience or specifically for scholars.
Photography. Photography books use photographs as an essential part of their content. They may be about any subject.
Political Science. Political science books deal with politics in some way. They can be about current events, historical figures, or theoretical concepts.
Psychology. Psychology books are about the scientific study of mental processes, emotion, and behavior.
Reference. Reference books are about any subject, topic, or field and contain useful information about that subject, topic or field.
Religion. These books deal with religion in some way, including religious history, theology, philosophy, and spirituality.
Science. Science books focus on topics within scientific fields, including geology, biology, physics, and more.
Self-Help. Self-help books are written for people who want to improve their lives in some way. They may be about health, relationships, finances, career, parenting, spirituality, or any number of topics that can help readers achieve personal goals.
Social Science. Focus on social science topics.
Sports & Recreation. Sports & Recreation books focus on sports either from a reporting, historical, or instructional perspective.
Study Aids. Study aids are books that provide information about a particular subject area for students who want to learn more about that topic. These books can be used in conjunction with classroom instruction or on their own.
Technology & Engineering. Technology & engineering nonfiction books describe how technology has changed our lives and how we can use that knowledge to improve ourselves and society.
Transportation. Focus on transportation topics including those about vehicles, routes, or techniques.
Travel. Travel books are those that focus on travel experiences, whether from a guide perspective or from the author's personal experiences.
True Crime. True Crime books focus on true stories about crimes. These books may be about famous cases, unsolved crimes, or specific criminals.
Young Adult Nonfiction. Young adult nonfiction books are written for children and teenagers.
3. Drama Genres
These include genres for theater, film, television serials, or audio plays.
As a writer, I find some of these genres particularly eye-roll worthy. And yet, this is the way most films, television shows, and even theater productions are classified.
Action. Action genre dramas involve fast-paced, high-energy sequences in which characters fight against each other. They often have large-scale battles, chase scenes, or other high-intensity, high-conflict scenes.
Horror. Horror dramas focus on the psychological terror experienced by their characters. They often feature supernatural elements, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, monsters, and aliens.
Adventure. Adventure films are movies that have an adventurous theme. They may be set in exotic locations, feature action sequences, and/or contain elements of fantasy.
Musicals (Dance). Musicals are dramas that use music in their plot and/or soundtrack. They may be comedies, dramas, or any combination.
Comedy (& Black Comedy). Comedy dramas feature humor in their plots, characters, dialogue, or situations. It sometimes refers to historical dramas (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek drama, etc) that contain a happy ending, often with a wedding.
Science Fiction. Science fiction dramas are usually set in an imaginary future world, often involving advanced technology. They may be based on scientific facts but do not have to be.
Crime & Gangster. Crime & Gangster dramas deal with criminals, detectives, or organized crime groups. They often feature action sequences, violence, and mystery elements.
War (Anti-War). War (or anti-war) dramas focus on contemporary or historical wars. They may also contain action, adventure, mystery, or romance elements.
Drama. Dramas focus on human emotions in conflict situations. They often have complex plots and characters, and deal with serious themes. This may also refer to historical stories (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a sad or tragic ending, often with one or more deaths.
Westerns. Westerns are a genre of American film that originated in the early 20th century and take place in the west during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Characters include cowboys, outlaws, native Americans, and settlers.
Epics/Historical/Period. These are dramas based on historical events or periods but do not necessarily involve any real people.
Biographical (“Biopics”). Biopics films are movies that focus on real people in history.
Melodramas, Women's or “Weeper” Films, Tearjerkers. A type of narrative drama that focuses on emotional issues, usually involving love, loss, tragedy, and redemption.
“Chick” Flicks. Chick flicks usually feature romantic relationships and tend to be lighthearted and comedic in nature.
Road Stories. Dramas involving a journey of some kind, usually taking place in contemporary setting, and involving relationships between one or more people, not necessarily romantic.
Courtroom Dramas. Courtroom dramas depict legal cases set in courtrooms. They usually have a dramatic plot line with an interesting twist at the end.
Romance. Romance dramas feature love stories between two people. Romance dramas tend to be more serious, even tragic, in nature, while romantic comedies tend to be more lighthearted.
Detective & Mystery. These dramas feature amateur or professional investigators solving crimes and catching criminals.
Sports. Sports dramas focus on athletic competition in its many forms and usually involve some kind of climactic tournament or championship.
Disaster. Disaster dramas are adventure or action dramas that include natural disasters, usually involving earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other disasters.
Superhero. Superhero dramas are action/adventure dramas that feature characters with supernatural powers. They usually have an origin story, the rise of a villain, and a climactic battle at the end.
Fantasy. Fantasy dramas films are typically adventure dramas that feature fantastical elements in their plot or setting, whether magic, folklore, supernatural creatures, or other fantasy elements.
Supernatural. Supernatural dramas feature paranormal phenomena in their plots, including ghosts, mythical creatures, and mysterious or extraordinary elements. This genre may overlap with horror, fantasy, thriller, action and other genres.
Film Noir. Film noir refers to a style of American crime drama that emerged in the 1940s. These dramas often featured cynical characters who struggled, often fruitlessly, against corruption and injustice.
Thriller/Suspense. Thriller/suspense dramas have elements of suspense and mystery in their plot. They usually feature a character protagonist who must overcome obstacles while trying to solve a crime or prevent a catastrophe.
Guy Stories. Guy dramas feature men in various situations, usually humorous or comedic in nature.
Zombie . Zombie dramas are usually action/adventure dramas that involve zombies.
Animated Stories . Dramas that are depicted with drawings, photographs, stop-motion, CGI, or other animation techniques.
Documentary . Documentaries are non-fiction performances that attempt to describe actual events, topics, or people.
“Foreign.” Any drama not in the language of or involving characters/topics in your country of origin. They can also have any of the other genres listed here.
Childrens – Kids – Family-Oriented . Dramas with children of various ages as the intended audience.
Sexual – Erotic . These dramas feature explicit sexual acts but also have some kind of plot or narrative (i.e. not pornography).
Classic . Classic dramas refer to dramas performed before 1950.
Silent . Silent dramas were an early form of film that used no recorded sound.
Cult . Cult dramas are usually small-scale, independent productions with an offbeat plot, unusual characters, and/or unconventional style that have nevertheless gained popularity among a specific audience.
4. Poetry Genres
This list is from Harvard's Glossary of Poetic Genres who also has definitions for each genre.
What Are the Components of Genre In Literature? The 7 Elements of Genre
Now that we've looked, somewhat exhaustively, at examples of literary genres, let's consider how these genres are created.
What are the elements of literary genre? How are they formed?
Here are seven components that make up genre.
- Form . Length is the main component of form (e.g. a novel is 200+ pages , films are at least an hour, serialized episodes are about 20 minutes, etc), but may also be determined by how many acts or plot lines they have. You might be asking, what about short stories? Short stories are a genre defined by their length but not their content.
- Intended Audience . Is the story meant for adults, children, teenagers, etc?
- Conventions and Tropes . Conventions and tropes describe patterns or predictable events that have developed within genres. For example, a sports story may have a big tournament at the climax, or a fantasy story may have a mentor character who instructs the protagonist on the use of their abilities.
- Characters and Archetypes. Genre will often have characters who serve similar functions, like the best friend sidekick, the evil villain , the anti-hero , and other character archetypes .
- Common Settings and Time Periods . Genre may be defined by the setting or time period. For example, stories set in the future tend to be labelled science fiction, stories involving the past tend to be labelled historical or period, etc.
- Common Story Arcs . While every story type may use each of the six main story arcs , genre tends to be defined by specific story arcs. For example, comedy almost always has a story arc that ends positively, same with kids or family genres. However, dramas often (and when referring to historical drama, always) have stories that end tragically.
- Common Elements (such as supernatural elements, technology, mythical creatures, monsters, etc) . Some genres center themselves on specific elements, like supernatural creatures, magic, monsters, gore, and so on. Genre can be determined by these common elements.
As you consider these elements, keep in mind that genre all comes back to taste, to what readers want to consume and how to match the unlimited variations of story with the infinite variety of tastes.
Read What You Want, Write What You Want
In the end, both readers and writers should use genre for what it is, a tool, not as something that defines you.
Writers can embrace genre, can use genre, without being controlled by it.
Readers can use genre to find stories or books they enjoy while also exploring works outside of that genre.
Genre can be incredibly fun! But only if you hold it in tension with your own work of telling (or finding) a great story.
What are your favorite genres to read in? to write in? Let us know in the comments!
Now that we understand everything there is to know about literary genres, let's put our knowledge to use with an exercise. I have two variations for you today, one for readers and one for writers.
Readers : Think of one of your favorite stories. What is the literary genre of that story? Does it have multiple? What expectations do you have about stories within that genre? Finally, how does the author of your favorite story use those expectations, and how do they subvert them?
Writers : Choose a literary genre from the list above and spend fifteen minutes writing a story using the elements of genre: form, audience, conventions and tropes, characters and archetypes, setting and time periods, story arcs, and common elements.
When you’re finished, share your work in the Pro Practice Workshop here . Not a member yet? Join us here !
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).
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Genres in Literature
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
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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