What Are the Different Genres of Literature - Definition, Types, Examples

Literature spans different formats and topics. Get to know the four main genres of literature and the 14 main literary genres. Use this knowledge of literary genres to write a great literary analysis.

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What Are the Different Genres of Literature - Definition, Types, Examples

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. Students must learn the different types of literature so they would not be overwhelmed by the subjective nature of literature review writing.

Definition of Genre

Genre is a French word that means “kind” or “type.” It has been adopted by the English language to refer to types, forms, or classes of work. It is used to classify types of music and literature, for example. Here, we’ll focus on genres in literature, which cover two types of classifications. The first, the genres of literature or the different forms of literature, which are fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and play. While the second is the literary genres or the sub-classifications of literature, which include comedy, romance, science fiction, thriller, and tragedy. Read on to learn about the genres of literature and the main literary genres’ definition and examples.

What Are the Different Genres of Literature?

There are four genres of literature. These have existed for a long time, and some started the tradition of literature. Today, these genres make up the books and various literary content you will find both online and offline. Continue below for literature genre definition and examples.

Fiction

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 them have 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 consists of the plot, setting, character/s, conflict, and theme. Different writers have developed their specific 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.


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 be 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.

Poetry

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 tradition, poetry is characterized by meter and rhyme. Think Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Over time, different styles and schools of poetry evolved. And, from having a strict meter and rhyme, contemporary poems evolved to free verse, which is characterized by their rhythm and sound. Experimental writers flock to poetry to play with structure and language.

Play

 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 were 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. Today, plays continue to be staged all around the world, but another version has emerged—films, which use similar elements as plays but are executed differently.

 These are the four main literary genres to guide you in reading and 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.

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Main Literary Genres

All the genres of literature convey a story in one way or another. Works of literature are further divided into classifications based on the type of story, the storytelling devices, the devices, elements, style, and tone that they employ. These classifications are the literary genres, which generally tell the audience what to expect from a piece of literature. Get to know these types of genres with definitions and examples.

Literary fiction

This novel genre is considered to have high artistic value and literary merit. They often offer social commentary, political criticism, or reflections on humanity. These are often the type of novels or stories read and written about in English and Literature classes.

Mystery

Mystery stories revolve around solving a mystery, often in the form of a case, a detective is solving. As such, this is also sometimes called “detective fiction.” You may recognize this genre from their extremely interesting hooks and suspenseful pace where they reveal clues or details about the case slowly to keep the reader on the edge of their seats.

Thriller

Thriller stories are often confused with mystery and horror, but these genres are quite different. Thriller stories are dark, mysterious, and suspenseful. This type of story focuses on the fear of a future crime instead of one occurring or one that’s already happened. Within this genre are more sub-genres—legal thrillers, psychological thrillers, epic thrillers, and horror thrillers.

Horror

Horror fiction focuses on scaring, shocking, and sometimes repulsing the readers. Works under this genre often feature monsters, ghosts, vampires, witches, and the like, and explore themes of death, evil spirits, and the afterlife.

Science Fiction

This genre features or revolves around fictional elements based on or inspired by science. These stories include time travel, space exploration, aliens, and futuristic technologies.

Fantasy

This genre falls under the speculative story genres, which means that it involves a slow raveling of a mystery, but often without the dark element. Fantasy stories usually involve imaginary characters, such as talking animals, and are set in imaginary universes that usually don’t adhere to the rules of our world.

Romance

Romantic stories focus on the romantic relationship between two people. These stories are often lighthearted, often ending positively as love conquers all. Romance novels are popular for the feeling of excitement brought about by love.

Historical

Historical novels’ stories take place in the past and sometimes revolve around historical figures. This type of fiction embellishes historical events or facts with imaginary plots, but they still do require intense research.

Western

Western fiction tells stories of cowboys, settlers, and outlaws exploring the American Old West. Since these stories are set in the 18th and 19th centuries, these may be classified as a type of historical fiction.  

Bildungsroman

Works under this genre focus on a character who grows up psychologically and morally as a naïve youth into an adult. The character goes through a profound conflict, encounters profound loss, or sets out on a journey that allows them to grow as a person in the end.

Speculative Fiction

This is a supergenre that includes science fiction, fantasy, dystopian, and many more, which all ask the question “what if”. Speculative fiction is often set in a different world from ours and may involve supernatural as well as futuristic elements.  

Dystopian

Dystopian novels became more popular in the late 2010s. This is a sub-genre of science fiction, but this type of novel is set in a world or society that is far worse than ours, ravaged by war, poverty, oppression, disease, and so on. Dystopian fiction is also often a social commentary.

Magic Realism

Magic realism is a type of genre that depicts our world truthfully but incorporates magical elements. However, these magical elements are considered normal in the world of magical realism. This genre is often associated with Latin American authors.

Realist Literature

This type of literature depicts a story that happens in the real world. The characters, setting, and stories appear as if they can really happen in the real world as the writer attempts to stay true to the current laws of nature.

These are the most common literary genres today. As you can see, these genres can expand into sub-genres, as well as be combined with other genres. There is really no limit here, only our generations’ writers’ creativity.

Literary Genres Examples

To help you gain a better understanding of the types of literature, here are some literary genre examples.

Literary Fiction

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus

Mystery

  • A Study in Scarlet; The Sign of the Four; The Hound of the Baskervilles; The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Thriller

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (The Millennium Trilogy) by Stieg Larsson
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Horror

  • Hannibal Lecter Series by Thomas Harris
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Science Fiction

 Fantasy

  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

 Romance

Historical

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

 Bildungsroman

Speculative Fiction

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Dystopian

Magic Realism

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

 Realist Literature

Have you read any of these novels? Surely, you have encountered more examples of these different genres both in and outside your classes. These examples will hopefully give you a deeper understanding of the genres of literature and consequently write a great literary analysis.

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