The Four Literary Genres

Literature is one of the major forms of expression in our society today. Even other artistic media, such as film, are inspired by literature. Like other art forms, literature is classified into four main literary genres (and sub-genres)—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama.


The most popular literary genre nowadays is fiction. Fiction, in literature, is any work that is created by the imagination, or in other words, not real. These stories may be based on real events or persons, but most of it has been altered. Fiction often includes novels, short stories, and novellas. More modern fiction, such as flash fiction, experiments on form and length. Fiction focuses on the narrative that transpires and the meanings ascribed to them by their authors. Here, the art of storytelling is most important, which is comprised of the plot, setting, character/s, conflict, and theme. Different writers have developed their own styles, foreshadowing future events or holding back certain details as they please. For example, Anton Chekhov is renowned for stories where the plot is stagnant, but with very vivid characters.

four literary genres fiction story narrative prose

Creative Non-fiction

This literary genre is the opposite of fiction, although they are very similar in terms of components and their usage of storytelling techniques. Creative non-fiction makes use of stories, people, or events that really happened. The strain for most writers of creative non-fiction is the need to 100% true to the facts—they cannot alter any minor detail or exaggerate anything. In fact, the only detail non-fiction writers can change are the names of the characters or places to protect the people involved. Non-fiction is commonly employed by or about celebrities and political figures to shed light on a controversial event in their life or to inspire others. An example is Malala Yousafzai, who after recovering from being attacked by terrorists in her country, shared her story and her advocacy through her autobiography titled I Am Malala. Creative non-fiction includes personal narrative essays, biographies, autobiographies or memoirs, and literary journalism.

four literary genres nonfiction non-fiction reportage prose


Probably the oldest literary genre, dating back to prehistoric times when poetry was still part of oral tradition. Poets like Homer told epic stories through poetry. Due to its origin in oral history, poetry is characterized by meter and rhyme. Think Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Over time, different styles and schools of poetry evolved. And, from having strict meter and rhyme, contemporary poems are often in free verse, which is characterized by its rhythm and sound. Brave, experimental writers flock to poetry to play with structure and language.

four literary genres poetry poem verse meter rhyme


The play is the most elusive of literary genres. Being a performance, there is no sole creator to which we can ascribe its greatness or failure. It is a collaboration between the playwright, the director, light technician, costume designer, actors, and at times even the audience. Plays primarily make use of dialogues between characters, so stage direction and acting are prominent components. In prehistoric times, play and poetry are merged, but now, although there are some overlaps, the line between the two is more clear-cut. Shakespeare is a popular playwright whose works continue to be re-staged. These are the four main literary genres to guide you in reading and in your literary analyses. Knowing the literary genre will make it easier for you to analyze it. If you need more help with your literary analysis, don’t hesitate to ask us.

four literary genres play theater drama