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

what is genre literary term

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.

  • Paradise Lost by John Milton is an epic poem

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.

  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is a drama. Specifically, it is a tragedy.

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.

  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is an example of prose. Being a memoir, it would be considered non-fiction prose.

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.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a fictional novel with a narrative plot structure.

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 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Franke is nonfiction, given that it is nothing more than a historical figure’s preserved diary.

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.