An Overview of Literary Genres

Introduction

What are the main literary genres? Under which genre does your literary composition fall? Before answering these questions, it is important to clarify the meaning of the word "genre". "Genre" comes from an old French word, "gender" – or "gender" as we know it. "Genre" has since been used to describe the style or category of art, literature, music, or any other type of discourse, written or spoken.

A literary genre therefore means a category of literary composition or endeavor: a category meant to describe the writing style, technique, tone, length, and content of certain literary forms. While literary genres are flexibly and loosely defined, it's important to note that a literary genre is different from the format of a literary composition or endeavor. (Comic books, graphic novels, and coffee table books are therefore not considered genres, since these describe only the format in which the literary content is made.) One kind of literary genre can also be used along with another, different literary genre (cross-genres); or have more specific sub genres under it.

The most common types of literary genres include:

Fiction

  • Adventure
  • Children's literature
  • Young adult fiction
  • Comic / Humor (Black comedy, Parody, Satire)
  • Drama
  • Erotic fiction
  • Fantasy (books and stories of a type of fiction that contain elements such as characters or settings that could not exist in life as we know it today – examples include stories with characters such as dragons or animals with human characteristics, and settings which may be magical or of the other-world)
  • Folk Tales and Fairy Tales
  • Historical fiction (fiction based on historical events or people, but with most of the story fictionalized)
  • Horror
  • Literary fiction
  • Metafiction
  • Mystery / Suspense / Thriller (books and stories that involve a suspenseful event, often a crime of some type, with the reader using clues from the story to gradually discover what has actually happened)
  • Myth and Legend
  • Occupational fiction (Hollywood, legal, medical, musical, sports)
  • Political
  • Pulp fiction
  • Religious fiction
  • Science fiction / speculative fiction
  • Short story
  • Fantasy
  • Women's fiction (Romance novels, Chick lit

Non-fiction

  • Biography (a biography is a non-fictional account of someone's life, often written by someone other than the subject of the biography)
  • Autobiography
  • Memoir
  • Creative non-fiction
  • Essay
  • Poetry
  • History
  • Narrative non-fiction
  • Religious
  • Speech

As mentioned, the literary genre can be determined by the writing style, technique, tone, length, and content of the composition. Examples of literary genres determined by:

  • Style and technique: poetry, drama
  • Tone: religious, children's literature, women's fiction
  • Length: short story, novel
  • Content: science fiction (sci-fi), fantasy, comic / humor

It is obvious that the fiction categories or genres cover a wide range of works, and that's why sub genres have been introduced: to narrow down the difference between what might appear in one story and what might not appear in another, similar one. So, while legal dramas and sports fiction may both fall under occupational fiction, one does not expect to read about arenas and athletes in the former, or courtrooms and attorneys in the latter.

Therefore, the further down or the narrower one goes with categorizing from the broadest genre, the more specific the sub genre / cross-genre becomes. Not only does this allow for a more effective organization of books and literary compositions (in libraries and bookstores, for example); it also enables fairer, more accurate comparisons of writers and authors with similar styles or content.

Additional Writing Resources