Genre: Definition, Meaning & Types (2023)

In literary terms, genres can be expressed in writing, orally, or in digital formats.There are numerous genres and a variety of criteria by which they are classified.

genre meaning

A genre is a way of categorizing types or classes of literature. In common use, genres help us group or organize literary works into recognizable styles, common conventions, settings, and themes.

Different genres include poetry, novels, plays, short stories, blogs, letters, etc. Some genres branch into subgenres.For example, there are many other types of short stories: the novella, the short story, the flash fiction, the micro fiction, and the six-word stories.The distinction between short story subgenres depends on their word count.Genres are not themes.Genres are used to categorize literature while themes are what a particular story is about.

Genres are analyzed based on their tone, plot, subject, setting, and language.

Examples of genres in literary works

Jane Austenspride and prejudice(1813) is categorized asromance novelsbecause it is told from a female perspective.The plot focuses on a romantic relationship between two people with an optimistic ending when the main couple get married.Romantic utterances are also common in romance novels, as the sensual tone of the following words fits the romance novel category:

I have fought in vain.That will not do.My feelings are not suppressed.You must allow me to tell you how much I admire and love you.

An elegy is a type of poem.Elegies are categorized according to their dirges, use of elegiac couplets and epitaphs, or involve serious reflections on nature and death.Thomas Grays'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard' (1751) is the most famous example of an elegy for her meditation on death.

The curfew rings the death knell of farewell day,

The roaring furnace slowly winds over the line,

The tiller trudges homeward his weary way,

And leaves the world to darkness and me.

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Compared to Mr. Darcy's passionate confession of love, the tone of Gray's poem is sad, set in a churchyard, and using phrases like 'farewell day', 'tired' and 'darkness' as associations with death.

Genre criteria can be evaluated by:

  • The overall image and imagery of the work (its aesthetic qualities).
  • How language is used to imply a genre (its rhetoric).
  • The literary techniques used by the author to communicate the themes and conventions of the genre (its communicative qualities).
  • The general purpose of the work;i.e. how the genre supports the novel's message (its function).

Genres have an evolution tree.Imagine a large tree representing a genre.Over time, the tree grows branches called subgenres.These branches can grow even further and either represent more specific subgenres or direct you to text that best fits that branch.

Genre: Definition, Meaning & Types (1)Genres and subgenres can be conceptualized as a tree with many different branches - pixabay

history of the genus

The genre began as an absolute (fixed) classification system for ancient Greek literature,which Plato and Aristotle (in Poetics, 335 BC) explored in their literary and dramatic theories of poetry and drama.In Aristotle's time, literary works were categorized according to who spoke in the text.There were three basic types of text:

  • Lyrics (spoken in the first person throughout)
  • Epic /Narrative(if thattellerthen speaks in the first personlets characters speak for themselves)
  • Drama (when characters do all the talking)
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Aristotle defined several specific genera:Epic, tragedy, comedy and satire.For Aristotle, poetry, prose and performance had specific design features that were appropriate to their genre.Mixing language patterns and genres wouldn't work well.The speech patterns from any of Shakespeare's comedies would look very strange in his tragedies.

Tip: Think about how the comedic lines and puns in Much Ado About Nothing would sound in Macbeth's dark and murderous surroundings.

New genres have been added since the 18th century.These include the biography, the essay, and the novel, all of which weakened the concept of fixed genres.The short lyrical poem replaced the genres of epic and tragedy as the epitome of the poetic genre, and criteria for evaluating literature – such as “sincerity”, “intensity”, “high seriousness” – have been widely used since the Romantic period.

After 1950, an emphasis on genres was revived through a set of classification principles.Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye proposed an archetypal theory in which the four major genres of comedy, romance, tragedy and satire "are held to manifest the enduring forms produced by the human imagination".¹Many current critics view genres asarbitrary methods of classification, while some structuralist critics conceive of genre as a set of conventions and codes that enable the writing of a specific literary text.Ludwig Wittgenstein applied the idea of ​​family resemblance to genera.Family trees allow us to group subgenres with some similarities (but not all) to specific genres.

Some critics and authors object to naming works after a genrebecause they fear that the literary text will be pigeonholed.This could undermine the seriousness of the text and result in their work being judged on categories that don't exactly fit the text.

Tip: Some authors are comfortable crossing or mixing genres in their work (like Stephen King, China Mieville, and Anne Carson).Don't try to apply a genre to a text!

Genres are based on expressly agreed upon or socially deduced conventions.They can have strict or flexible guidelines to suit the reader's expectations of the plot and setting.

The four main families of genres arecomedy, romance, tragedy and satire.


Although "genre" is a term with a specific meaning, it can be a confusing concept if you are unfamiliar with it. Here are some synonyms for "genre" to help you better understand the term:

  • group
  • Category
  • Sentence
  • Typ
  • sort by
  • diversity
  • Class

Fiction and film genres - Examples

In the book trade, genre fiction is a work of fiction written to place it within a specific literary genre in order to most appeal to the reader who is already familiar with the genre.Such genre fiction usually has stricter guidelines.These guidelines are based on what type of books the publisher believes will sell well.

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Common fiction genres are:

  • Classic (literary) fiction:AWorks of literary value and aesthetic value.These works are more character-driven than plot-driven.
  • Contemporary Fiction:The fiction takes place in the same time period as the reader, depending on when (or where) the reader lived.
  • Fantasiesy:works with imaginary settings and characters, usually with some kind of world building or magic.Many writers choose to rework folklore and mythology to open up or increase the reader's familiarity.
  • Historical:Novels set in the past and usually containing historical events and characters.Historical fiction often relies on a mixture of realism and imagination.
  • Science-Fiction:Fiction dealing with scientific or futuristic settings, with either dystopian or utopian themes.It's a kind of speculative fiction that involves time travel, space travel, parallel universes, and futuristic technology.
  • (Black Mirror (2011) and Star Trek are perhaps the best-known examples of this genre).

  • Bildungsroman:The growing upNarrativeusually explores the character's life from childhood to adulthood and her navigation through society and issues of morality.
  • Romantic:Focuses on a romantic relationship leading to a happy breakup.It is often confused with the literary fiction form romance.
  • Realism:The depiction of realistic events and settings, either to critique society or to explore the everyday life of the characters.
  • horror:Fiction intended to frighten, shock, or repel readers.The genre is inspired by gothic fiction and often features terrifying creatures or everyday fears.
  • Crime:The fictional depiction of crime, criminals and police procedures.Suspense and mystery are crucial to the plot.

What are the criteria for genres?

Genres help organize information in form, content, and style.Here we will look at the genre criteria for historical fiction and crime fiction to see how they differ:

Genre criteria for historical fiction:Crime Genre Criteria:
Can be based on past events, periods or people that happened.Researching a type of crime and/or focusing on victims and their suffering.
Credible or accurate historical research and evidence is available.Settings are backdrops for criminal investigations or actions.
The plot revolves around a larger or smaller historical event.Violence, murder, theft or drugs are part of it.
Elements of realism for the character's life - or some form of authenticity for the time depicted.The idea is that criminals must be brought to justice.
Conflicts and tensions allow the reader to compare the present with the past.Using register (a variety of language used by a specific group of people who have the same profession) and language to emphasize a crime motive: legal, police, court dates.

For the author, the criteria of a particular genre help to write within (or subvert) the conventions of the genre.

Additionally, these criteria will help the reader decide what kind of books to read based on the genres they have read before.Have you ever wandered into Waterstones and knew immediately where to buy your favorite books from the genre?Or scrolled through Netflix's romance and crime sections to decide what type of show to watch next?

Tip: think of thoseLayoutfrom bookstores.What genres are most promoted in a bookstore?What genres are easiest to find in a bookstore?How many books of a certain genre are in a category?Notice what genres are in the top 10 best sellers, it might just tell you what genre is popular at the moment!

music genres

Genres don't just apply to fiction. Music is also divided into genres, with each genre having a different typical style. Some genres of music are:

(Video) Literary Genres and Subgenres (Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Poetry) - Video and Worksheet

  • Classic
  • rock
  • Pop
  • Rap
  • Land
  • Volk
  • Jazz
  • rhythmand blues
  • Soul
  • Punk
  • Reggae

How are genres created?

That depends on the topics and the literary epoch!

Genres are formed by conventions that change over time.In this article, we'll use historical fiction as an example to show you how the genre has changed over time and what lyrics correlate with the genre or subgenre (some you might recognize from the latest TV shows!).

Example of a genre fiction topic tree:

Genre: Definition, Meaning & Types (2)The historical fiction topic tree includes many subgenres.

The genre of historical fiction is diverse.Authors take different approaches or use different conventions to represent the past.As the image above shows, there have been countless debates about how historical fiction should be written, presented, and structured.

Top tip: Historical romance is considered frivolous and fantasy-fulfilling, while literary historical fiction is favored by literary critics for its philosophical approaches to depicting the past.Do you think it's fair to compare these genres and subgenres when the action of these works takes place in an environment set in the past?

Genre - key takeaways

  • Genre is a term for any category or grouping of literature based on specific criteria.
  • Genres are based on agreed upon or socially derived conventions.They can have strict or flexible policies.
  • The most common genres are romance, satire, comedy, and tragedy.
  • Genres evolve based on what is popular with the reading public.
  • Genres are used to categorize literature while themes are what a particular story is about.

1 MH Abrams and Geoffrey Galt Harpham,A glossary of literary terms(2012).


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