I. What is a Genre?
A genre is a category of literature identified by form, content, and style. Genres allow literary critics and students to classify compositions within the larger canon of literature. Genre (pronounced ˈzhän-rə) is derived from the French phrase genre meaning “kind” or “type.”
II. Types and Examples of Genres
Literature could be divided into countless genres and subgenres, but there are three main genres which preside over most subgenres. Here are the main genres in literature:
As poetry has evolved, it has taken on numerous forms, but in general poetry is the genre of literature which has some form of meter or rhyme with focus based on syllable counts, musicality, and division of lines (lineation). Unlike prose which runs from one end of the page to the other, poetry is typically written in lines and blocks of lines known as stanzas.
Here is an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Prose encompasses any literary text which is not arranged in a poetic form. Put simply, prose is whatever is not poetry. Prose includes novels, short stories, journals, letters, fiction and nonfiction, among others. This article is an example of prose.
Drama is a text which has been written with the intention of being performed for an audience. Dramas range from plays to improvisations on stage. Popular dramas include Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.
Here is a trailer of a film adaptation of Williams’ Streetcar:
III. The Importance of Using Genres
Genres give writers a specific type of literature to work within. They allow writers to specialize in one genre or to dabble in others. Students in creative writing may focus in a variety of genres from poetry to prose to nonfiction to playwriting. Genres allow us to classify literature, to deem what is appropriate for a certain type of literature, and to judge the merit of literature based on its genre. In general, genre is a classifying tool which allows us to compare and contrast works within the same genre and to study how works broaden or challenge certain genre-based constraints. New genres like media (writing for television, film, websites, radios, billboards, etc.) and the graphic novel (comic books) are expanding what we consider literature today.
IV. Genres in Literature
The three main genres in literature are prose, poetry, and drama, but there are many more subgenres, or genres within genres. Here are a few examples of other genres in literature:
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Maus is an example of a literary genre called the graphic novel, sometimes better known as the comic book. In Maus, Spiegelman tells the story of the Holocaust using animal characters.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
THE FIRST TEN LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL
1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with you in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10.These will be the years you look back on fondly.
TEN MORE LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL
1. You will use algebra in your adult lives.
2.Driving to school is a privilege that can be taken away.
3. Students must stay on campus during lunch.
4. The new text books will arrive any day now.
5. Colleges care more about you than your SAT scores.
6. We are enforcing the dress code.
7. We will figure out how to turn off the heat soon.
8. Our bus drivers are highly trained professionals.
9. There is nothing wrong with summer school.
10. We want to hear what you have to say.
Speak is an example of young adult fiction, another subgenre of prose. YA fiction appeals to young adults from the ages of twelve to eighteen with coming-of-age stories about various subjects from high school struggles to family conflict to relationships.
There are numerous genres in literature, including poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, short stories and novels, dramas, fables, fairytales, legends, biographies, and reference books. The list goes on with countless genres and subgenres categorizing literature in numerous ways based on numerous characteristics and styles of writing.
V. Genres in Pop Culture
Genres are not limited to literature. There are genres of movies, television shows, and songs as well. Here are a few examples of genres in pop culture.
Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook is considered by many to be the quintessential example of the romance genre in both fiction books and movies. Other movie genres include drama, comedy, romantic comedy, sci-fi, animated, and fantasy.
Aerosmith’s “Dream On” is a prime example of a song which falls into the musical genre of rock. Other musical genres include pop, punk, classical, indie, and country, to name a few.
VI. Related Terms: Style vs. Genre
Often, an aspect of what allows us to define a genre is the specific style of the writing. The mystery genre purposely uses suspense and withholding certain information from the reader. Different subgenres of poetry are written in different styles: haikus tend to be peaceful or playful, sonnets are often romantic, and free verse is free to hop styles with or without rhyme, with or without line breaks. The difference between style and genre is that genre is an overarching type of literature, whereas style can be considered an aspect of a genre or even of a specific writer’s voice. Here is an example of style versus genre:
We have no idea what’s going on! Who knows? Who could possibly know? Who murdered Mr. Brown?! Everyone is panicking! No one knows what to do! This is insane!
The style of this writing is choppy, overly dramatic, and panicked.
This story investigates the murder of Mr. Brown, who was found dead in the library.
The genre, on the other hand, is the murder mystery.
VII. In Closing
Genres allow us to divide various types of literature, music, movies, and other art forms into classifiable groups. Beyond the classical genres of prose, poetry, and drama in literature, there are numerous subgenres ranging from fantasy to nonfiction.