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What Are the Different Genres of Literature?

Get to Know the 14 Main Literary Genres

Humans have collected thousands, if not millions, of stories over the last millennia. Humans simply love telling stories, and as humans evolved, so did their stories. Today, literature comprises different literary genres and subgenres. Read about them and see which literary genres examples you have read.

Definition of Genre

The word “genre” is a French word meaning “kind” or “type” and is used for any type of subject. However, in English, this word is used to refer to types of literature or artistic work. These are used to classify different forms of art, music, movies, and literature based on their form and content or subject matter.

In literature, which will be the focus of this article, there are two types of genres. The first set of genres are the forms of literature, which are fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and play. Meanwhile, the other are the literary genres, which include fantasy, romance, historical, and many more. You will find that these story genres of literature are also used to classify movies and TV series as well as learn more about the different genres of literature below.

What Are the Different Genres of Literature?

You are most likely familiar with the different genres of literature. If you have read a short story, a novel, a poem, or seen a theater production, then you have read at least one type of genre. Here are the definitions and examples of genres of literature:

  • Fiction – refers to prose—short stories, novels, and novellas—that were created in the author’s imagination. Examples of fiction are “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • Creative non-fiction – tells stories that are completely true or happened in real life. You may be familiar with Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl.
  • Poetry – expresses feelings and ideas through images, literary devices, meter, and rhyme. Some of the most popular poems are Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”
  • Play or drama – tells stories through dialogues, theme, set design, music, and acting. Famous plays are Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, and Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart.

Main Literary Genres

The genres of literature discussed earlier are further divided into the main literary genres. These are often mistaken as novel genres, but they are actually applicable to different genres of literature. As you will see, in the genre definition and examples, they are more concerned with the content or type of story told rather than the format in which they are delivered.

Literary fiction

Literary fiction refers to fiction that has high artistic value and is often associated with highbrow. These are works that contain social commentary, political criticism, or reflections on the human condition. In addition, literary fiction is known for not following conventional storytelling formulas, often pushing the boundaries of what is considered fiction. You will find that literary fiction often focuses on the character more than the plot, and makes use of symbolism, metaphors, and allegory.

Examples:

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

Realist literature

Realist literature depicts narratives, people, and places that happen in everyday life, or the mundane. These stories abide by the rules of our world and could really happen in real life. Nevertheless, realist works provide insight into society and its aspects, such as class, culture, and morality.

Examples:

  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Magic realism

Magic realism evolved from realist literature. Its paradoxical name comes from its paradoxical nature. Magic realism stories are set in a world that resembles the real world but fantastical elements are considered normal. This genre’s examples tell stories that have political or social commentary.

Examples:

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Bildungsroman

This genre is a combination of two German words “Bildung,” meaning education, and “Roman,” meaning novel. As its name suggests, Bildungsroman focuses on a character’s maturity or coming of age following an experience where they learn about the true nature of the world.

Examples:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Historical

Like the study of history, historical fiction is concerned with events that take place in the past. Historical fiction is often based on true events or people but is confabulated for various purposes.

Examples:

  • Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Western

Western fiction draws inspiration from the American Old West and is often set in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. These stories are dominated by cowboys, settlers, outlaws exploring the Wild West. Perhaps you are more familiar with Western films like those by Clint Eastwood, which came from Western fiction.

Examples:

  • The Time it Never Rained by Elmer Kelton
  • The Revenant by Michael Punke
  • No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Romance

The common misconception is that romance fiction is only about love stories. While romantic love is indeed one of the most common themes among romance fiction, romance, in fact, tackles values and principles of the past that are believed to be lost in the current time, often offering a sentimental view of the past.

Examples:

  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

Speculative fiction

Speculative fiction is a supergenre that includes stories that are inspired by the question “what if?” Stories in this genre are set in a world different from our world and explore the possibilities surrounding it.

Examples:

  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Fantasy

This is one of the genres that fall under speculative fiction. Fantasy stories involve events and characters that could not happen or exist in the real world. These often involve magic and characters based on myth or folklore.

Examples:

  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • A Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin and Phyllis Eisenstein
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Science fiction

Another genre under speculative fiction, science fiction revolves around fictional elements or possibilities based on science. These may include futuristic developments in technology such as space exploration and time travel.

Examples:

  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Dystopian

Also under speculative fiction, dystopian stories are set in a fictional society that represents the worst possible scenarios for humans. Dystopian stories depict war, poverty, oppression, and various forms of injustice. Given its subject matter, dystopian fiction also typically offers social commentary.

Examples:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Mystery

This genre is sometimes called “detective fiction.” These stories revolve around a mystery or a case that needs to be solved. They are told in a suspenseful style, revealing small details to keep the reader on the edge of their seats.

Examples:

  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Thriller

This genre is also suspenseful as it focuses on the anticipation of a shocking or potentially gruesome event or crime. Thriller stories are dark and mysterious. It also has subgenres: psychological thrillers, legal thrillers, epic thrillers, and horror thrillers.

Examples:

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Horror

Horror fiction is known for its scary, shocking, and repulsive stories that often feature supernatural elements like monsters, ghosts, vampires, witches, evil spirits and the like.

Examples:

  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Whether you’re a bookworm or not, knowing the various literary genres will empower you to better understand and appreciate short stories and novels (as well as movies). Which genre will you read next?

 

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