Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Types of Genre in Literature

How do you know what you write? Sort it out here.

City University of New York describes genre:
Genre is a French term derived from the Latin genus, generis, meaning "type," "sort," or "kind." It the classification of what books have in common, either in their formal structures or subject matter, or both.

Why do we divide our reading material into categories? One reason is that grouping works offers us an orderly way to talk about a bewildering number of books. More importantly, if we can point to a genre we get an idea of what we might expect to read. Bookstores need to know how to group their products; libraries need to know where to shelve like material so it can be more easily found, right?

About genre in literature
Genre is an abstract concept, used to classify and describe other abstract objects, namely written works. And I like this quote from The Muse website: "If you believe that a book is a written work because it's printed on paper, think again; it's only a collection of words, which are symbols. The written work only exists in your mind after you read the book." Genres is also applied to music, painting, film, television, and many other arts—even in video games! For example, in music there are genres of classical, folk, rock, heavy metal, pop, blues, big band, etc.; in fine arts, there are genres of still life, sculpture, portrait, landscape, etc.; and in film, there are genres of documentary, animation, thriller, horror, etc.

In written works, genre can be a confusing concept mostly because books can have a combination of formulas that apply to the different genres. One publisher will promote a book in a certain category in hopes that it will sell better. I’ve even seen libraries and book stores categorize books differently. A reviewer may call a book a category different from another one. Sometimes genre is just a matter of perspective.

These definitions are associated with The Muse's definition of literary genre:

  • A literary theme is the central meaning or dominant idea in a literary work; its single unifying or underlying dominant idea; its motif or recurring idea.
  • A literary subject is the basic idea or thing that is explored by a literary work.
  • A literary technique is the body of specialized procedures and methods used to write a literary work.
  • A literary style is the manner of expression used by a writer, including such things as sentence structure, diction, and tone.
Following is the brief definition of most types of main genres found in literature.

All Fiction

The thriller, spy novels, with lots of chasing and not so much dialog; the kind of stories that often solve international crimes, involve espionage of some kind and are usually technical in description of weapons and escapes. Think James Bond—or my new favorite author, Steven James.

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

Fairy Tale
Story about fairies or other magical creatures, usually for children.

which is often lumped in with Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction, which is different. Edgar Allen Poe was an early speculative fiction writer, as was Jules Verne; Fiction with strange or other worldly settings or characters; fiction which invites suspension of reality

General Fiction
What doesn’t fit into one of these tighter sub-categories, like the works of Jane Hamilton, Jane Smiley, Rebecca Rassmussen
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

Product DetailsHistorical Fiction/Buggy Fiction
Story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting. The Deer Run series, written by my friend Elaine Marie Cooper, are such books. She took a family story and wrote a novel based on it. Historical fiction has to have some kind of tie to true events.

Horror/All kinds of “Punk”
Fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread in both the characters and the reader. Think Stephen King. The horror doesn’t have to be graphic, either – M Night Shaymalan in the Sixth Sense; a “punk” example is Steam Punk, etc, which is historical or contemporary-ish that deals with tools run by steam power

Fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain; but can be contained in all genres. Think particularly of Garrison Keillor – the goal is to make ’em laugh.

Story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, which has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material

which includes many sub-categories, such as the Detective or crime story, and the cozy
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. Think Beowulf
Product Details 
New Adult
Often starts with teens who are involved in big events, and grow up, often get married and/or make adult decisions like marriage or having a child. Twilight, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Jill Williamson’s books

Realistic Fiction
Story that can actually happen and is true to life; Rudyard Kipling, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck

Stories where a relationship is the main theme, and the book ends with either a proposal or a wedding

Science Fiction
Story based on impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, usually set in the future or on other planets. A sub-category of this is fan fiction, or license-based fiction. People who are fans of shows like Star Trek can apply to write sequels or parallel dramas based on those shows.

Short Story
Fiction of such brevity that it supports no subplots.

Tall Tale
Humorous story with blatant exaggerations, swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance. Think Paul Bunyon, etc.

Youth Fiction
Children’s literature, story and picture books, chapter books and Young Adult, Coming of Age stories. Does not get to the level of New Adult

Not always historical, Westerns feature cowboy stories of one kind or another, ranching, farming, dealing with large animals in usually an American setting, the mountains, pampas, or west of the Mississippi


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

Product DetailsNarrative Nonfiction
Factual information presented in a format which tells a story. Think Michael Perry, Population 485, Truck, Coop. Who would think a balding farmer could tell such great stories?

Informational text dealing with an actual, real-life subject. Newspaper or magazine or newsletter articles

Verse and rhythmic writing with imagery that creates emotional responses. Shakespeare falls into several categories, as he wrote his dramas in verse.


Public address or discourse
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