A literary genre
is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique
, or even (as in the case of fiction) length. Genre should not be confused with age category, by which literature may be classified as either adult, young-adult
, or children's
. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined, often with subgroups.
The most general genres in literature are (in loose chronological order) epic, tragedy, comedy, novel, short story, and creative nonfiction. They can all be in the genres prose or poetry, which shows best how loosely genres are defined. Additionally, a genre such as satire, allegory or pastoral might appear in any of the above, not only as a sub-genre (see below), but as a mixture of genres. Finally, they are defined by the general cultural movement of the historical period in which they were composed. The concept of "genre" has been criticized by Jacques Derrida.
Genres are often divided into sub-genres. Literature
, for instance, is divided into three basic kinds of literature, classic genres of Ancient Greece, poetry
, and prose
. Poetry may then be subdivided into epic
, and dramatic
. Subdivisions of drama include foremost comedy
, while eg. comedy itself has sub-genres, including farce
, comedy of manners
, and so on. However, any of these terms would be called "genre", and its possible more general terms implied.
Dramatic poetry, for instance, might include comedy, tragedy, melodrama, and mixtures like tragicomedy. This parsing into sub-genres can continue: "comedy" has its own genres, for example, including comedy of manners, sentimental comedy, burlesque comedy, and satirical comedy.
Creative nonfiction can cross many genres but is typically expressed in essays, memoir, and other forms that may or may not be narrative but share the characteristics of being fact-based, artistically-rendered prose.
Often, the criteria used to divide up works into genres are not consistent, and may change constantly, and be subject of argument, change and challenge by both authors and critics. However, even a very loose term like fiction ("literature created from the imagination, not presented as fact, though it may be based on a true story or situation") is not universally applied to all fictitious literature, but instead is typically restricted to the use for novel, short story, and novella, but not fables, and is also usually a prose text.
Genres may easily be confused with literary techniques, but, though only loosely defined, they are not the same; examples are parody, Frame story, constrained writing, stream of consciousness.
List of literary genres
- Bakhtin, M. M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
- John D. Dorst Neck-Riddle as a Dialogue off Genres: Applying Bakhtin's Genre Theory The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 96, No. 382 (Oct. - Dec., 1983), pp. 413-433 doi:10.2307/540982
- Derrida, Jacques The Law of Genre [Critical Inquiry] Vol. 7, No. 1, On Narrative. (Autumn, 1980), pp. 55-81. essay contained in On Narrative W.J.T. Mitchell, ed. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.