A way of categorizing various forms (novel, poem, drama, short story) of literature. Different genres are characterized by similarities in style, subject matter, tone, or other elements. Genres can be fiction or non-fiction.
Common genres in fiction:
- Fairy Tale: Fairy tales are stories that demonstrate morals and cultural truths, e.g., Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
- Fantasy: Alternate worlds, timelines, and universes are explored in fantasy stories, which seek to supplant individuals from reality into an entirely imagined realm, e.g., The Lord of the Rings.
- Historical Fiction: Real events and/or places are used in historical fiction. Gary Paulsen writes historical fiction for teens.
- Horror: Horror stories are meant to evoke a feeling of terror or dread in the reader; in other words, the purpose is to scare and enthrall. Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King are examples.
- Humor: These stories are meant to make you laugh. Many columnists such as Dave Barry and Louis Sachar write humor.
- Mystery: The purpose of a mystery story is to introduce the reader to a criminal act, and draw him or her into solving the case, much like a detective. The Sherlock Holmes stories are some of the most popular of the genre.
- Realistic Fiction: These stories can actually happen and are true to life.
- Science Fiction: Stories about advances in science, technology, or space exploration are known as “Sci-Fi.” Ray Bradbury is a prominent author in this genre.
Common genres in non-fiction:
- Autobiography: These are stories written by a person about his or her own life. One of Roald Dahl’s autobiographies is titled Boy: Tales of Childhood.
- Biography: A story written about a person is known as biography. Biographies have been written about many famous people, such as Abraham Lincoln, in Russell Freedman’s Lincoln: A Photobiography.
- Essay: These works demonstrate an individual’s unique point of view on a subject; a concise genre of writing that explores and idea or argues a point.
- Speech: Addresses given by individuals to the public about many different subjects are called speeches. Speeches are usually delivered before live audiences. Presidents, kings, and social heroes all wrote speeches, including a very famous one by Martin Luther King entitled, “I Have a Dream.”
There is a difference between “genre” and “form,” though the terms are frequently used interchangeably.
Books don’t always fit easily into one specific genre. In fact, the opposite is true. Even the most popular genres can be mixed and matched, with bits of one combining with pieces of another. Polly Shulmann’s novel, The Grimm Legacy, for example, is part fairy tale, part fantasy, part romance. This is because literature is about people and lives and big ideas. On the other hand, sometimes even within each genre category, there are sub-categories worth using as identifiers. For example, the fantasy genre can be split into all kids of sub-genres according to theme or setting. Each of these sub-genres can be split even more: comic fantasy, dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, superhero fantasy, etc.
Still, certain motifs and themes of literature stay constant over time and serve as threads that tie stories together and unite literary works in a variety of ways. By sorting literature into categories, readers can understand bigger concepts, truths that connect us over time and space.