List of writing genres
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This article needs attention from an expert in Literature. The specific problem is: overbroad understanding of the term "genre".(June 2020)
Writing genres (more commonly known as literary genres) are categories that distinguish literature (including works of prose, poetry, drama, hybrid forms, etc.) based on some set of stylistic criteria. Sharing literary conventions, they typically consist of similarities in theme/topic, style, tropes, and storytelling devices; common settings and character types; and/or formulaic patterns of character interactions and events, and an overall predictable form.
A literary genre may fall under either one of two categories: (a) a work of fiction, involving non-factual descriptions and events invented by the author; or (b) a work of nonfiction, in which descriptions and events are understood to be factual. In literature, a work of fiction can refer to a short story, novella, and novel, the latter being the longest form of literary prose. Every work of fiction falls into a literary subgenre, each with its own style, tone, and storytelling devices.
Moreover, these genres are formed by shared literary conventions that change over time as new genres emerge while others fade. Accordingly, they are often defined by the cultural expectations and needs of a particular historical and, cultural moment or place.
According to Alastair Fowler, the following elements can be used to define genres: organizational features (chapters, acts, scenes, stanzas); length; mood; style; the reader’s role (e.g., in mystery works, readers are expected to interpret evidence); and the author’s reason for writing (an epithalamion is a poem composed for marriage).
Genres are formed by shared literary conventions that change over time as new genres emerge while others fade. As such, genres are not wholly fixed categories of writing; rather, their content evolves according to social and cultural contexts and contemporary questions of morals and norms.
The most enduring genres are those literary forms that were defined and performed by the Ancient Greeks; definitions sharpened by the proscriptions of modern civilization's earliest literary critics and rhetorical scholars, such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Aeschylus, Aspasia, Euripides, and others. The prevailing genres of literary composition in Ancient Greece were all written and constructed to explore cultural, moral, or ethical questions; they were ultimately defined as the genres of epic, tragedy, and comedy. Aristotle's proscriptive analysis of tragedy, for example, as expressed in his Rhetoric and Poetics, saw it as having 6 parts (music, diction, plot, character, thought, and spectacle) working together in particular ways. Thus, Aristotle established one of the earliest delineations of the elements that define genre.
- Classic (or literary fiction): works with artistic/literary merit that are typically character-driven rather than plot-driven, following a character’s inner story. They often include political criticism, social commentary, and reflections on humanity. These works are part of an accepted literary canon and widely taught in schools.
- Epic: a narrative defined by heroic or legendary adventures presented in a long format.
- Fabulation: A class composed mostly of 20th-century novels that are in a style similar to magical realism, and do not fit into the traditional categories of realism.
- Folklore (folktale)
- Animal tale
- Fable: short story that anthropomorphizes non-humans in order to illustrate a moral lesson
- Fairy tale
- Ghost story
- Legend: story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, that has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material
- Myth: traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods.
- Personal narrative
- Urban legend
- Historical: works that take place in the past—which can be real, imagined, or a combination of both. Many such works involve actual historical figures or historical events within historical settings.
- Meta (aka romantic irony in the context of Romantic literature): uses self-reference to draw attention to itself as a work of art while exposing the "truth" of a story.
- Pop culture: fiction written with the intention of being filled with references from other works and media. Stories in this genre focused solely on using pop culture references.
- Realist: works that are set in a time and place that are true to life (i.e. that could actually happen in the real world), abiding by real-world laws of nature. They depict real people, places, and stories in order to be as truthful as possible.
- Religious or inspirational
- Satire: usually fiction and less frequently in non-fiction, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement.
- Social and political fiction
- Thriller (or suspense): typically dark and suspenseful plot-driven fiction involving a person or group facing imminent harm, and the attempts made to evade that harm. Thrillers regularly use plot twists, red herrings, and cliffhangers, and seldom include comedic elements.
- Urban: fiction set in an urban environment.
- Western: works that follow cowboys, settlers, and outlaws exploring the American frontier and Old West, typically in the late-19th to early-20th century.
- Young adult
Action and adventure
- Adventure fantasy
- Spy: fiction involving espionage and establishment of modern intelligence agencies.
- Spy-Fi: spy fiction that includes elements of science fiction.
- Swashbuckler: fiction based on a time of swordsmen, pirates and ships, and other related ideas, usually full of action.
Comedy (including comic novel, light poetry, and comedic journalism): usually a fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain and sometimes cause intended laughter; but can be contained in all genres.
- Comedy horror
- Surreal comedy
- Tall tale: humorous story with blatant exaggerations, such as swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance.
- Tragicomedy: a work containing elements of both comedy and tragedy.
Crime and mystery
- Caper: fiction told from the point of view of the criminals rather than the investigator. Well-known writers in this genre include W. R. Burnett, John Boland, Peter O’Donnell, and Michael Crichton.
- Legal thriller
- Mystery: fiction that follows a crime (e.g., a murder, a disappearance) as it is committed, investigated, and solved, as well as providing clues and revealing information/secrets as the story unfolds.
- Cozy mystery: mystery fiction that contain no sex, violence, or profanity. Well-known writers in this genre include Dorothy L. Sayers and Elizabeth Daly.
- City mysteries
- Detective: fiction that follows a detective or other investigator (professional, amateur, or retired) as they investigate or solve a mystery/crime. Detective novels generally begin with a mysterious incident (e.g., death). One of the most popular examples is the Sherlock Holmes stories; well-known detective novelists include Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler.
- Historical mystery
- Locked-room mystery
- Police procedural: mystery fiction that feature a protagonist who is a member of the police force. Well-known novelists in this genre include Ed McBain, P. D. James, and Bartholomew Gill.
- Whodunit: mystery fiction that focuses on the puzzle regarding who committed the crime.
Fantasy (including comics and magazines) is a speculative fiction that use imaginary characters set in fictional universes inspired by mythology and folklore, often including magical elements, magical creatures, or the supernatural. Examples: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1885) and the Harry Potter books.
- Fantasy comedy
- Dark or Gothic
- Fantasy of manners
- Magic realism: works that depict the real world, but with magical elements that are considered normal in the world in which the story takes place.
- Mythic: fiction that is rooted in, inspired by, or that in some way draws from the tropes, themes, and symbolism of myth, legend, folklore, and fairy tales.
- Science: science fiction based in elements of fantasy.
- Weird fiction
- Weird West
Horror (including comics and magazines) involves fiction in which plot and characters are tools used to elicit a feeling of dread and terror, as well as events that often evoke fear in both the characters and the reader. Horrors generally focus on themes of death, demons, evil spirits, and the afterlife.
- Body (aka biological): intentionally showcases grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body (including organ transplantation). Example: Frankenstein (1818).
- Erotic (sometimes monster erotica)
- Ghost stories and ghostlore
- Gothic (aka gothic romanticism; and dark romanticism): fiction mixing themes of horror, romance, and death
- Lovecraftian (or Cosmic)
- Monster literature
- Weird fiction
- Weird menace
- Weird West
- Zombie apocalypse
Science fiction (including comics, magazines, novels, and short stories) is speculative fiction with imagined elements that are inspired by natural sciences (physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc.) or social sciences (psychology, anthropology, sociology, etc.). Common elements of this genre include time travel, space exploration, and futuristic societies. (Sci-fi was originally regarded as scientific romance.)
- Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic
- Utopian and dystopian
- Dystopian: fiction set in a society that the author views as being worse than the one in which they live in at the time of writing. Example: Brave New World (1932) and Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
- Utopian: (often satirical) fiction set in a utopia; a community or society that possesses highly desirable or perfect qualities.
- Science fantasy: sci-fi inspired by mythology and folklore, often including elements of magic.
- Space opera: fiction that take place in outer space and center around conflict, romance, and adventure.
- Space Western: fiction that blends elements of sci-fi with those of the western genre.
- Spy-Fi: spy fiction that includes elements of science fiction
- Tech noir
Romantic fiction is those which give primary focus around a love story between two people, usually having an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Also Romance (literary fiction) – works that frequently, but not exclusively, takes the form of the historical romance.
- Romantic fantasy
- Inspirational: combines explicitly Christian themes with the development of a romantic relationship.
- Romantic suspense
- Young Adult
- Literature review: a summary and careful comparison of previous academic work published on a specific topic
- Research article or research paper
- Scientific: scholarly publication reporting original empirical and theoretical work in the natural or social sciences.
- Technical report
- Textbook: authoritative and detailed factual description of a thing
- Thesis (or dissertation): a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author's research and findings.
- Bibliography: an organized listing of books or writings
- Annotated bibliography: a bibliography that provides a summary for each of its entries.
- Biography: a written narrative of a person's life; an autobiography is a self-written biography.
- Creative nonfiction: factual narrative presented in the form of a story so as to entertain the reader.
- Essay: a short literary composition, often reflecting the author's outlook or point of view.
- Journalistic writing: reporting on news and current events
- Reference work: publication that one can refer to for confirmed facts, such as a dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, almanac, or atlas.
- Self-help: a work written with information intended to instruct or guide readers on solving personal problems.
- Travel: literature containing elements of the outdoors, nature, adventure, and traveling.
- True crime
Literary fiction vs. genre fiction
Literary fiction is a term used to distinguish certain fictional works that possess commonly held qualities to readers outside genre fiction. Literary fiction has been defined as any fiction that attempts to engage with one or more truths or questions, hence relevant to a broad scope of humanity as a form of expression. Genre fiction is a term used to distinguish fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre. There are many sources that help readers find and define literary fiction and genre fiction.
This article needs additional citations for verification. (June 2012)
- Academic novel (aka campus novel)
- Adventure fiction
- Echtra - pre-Christian Old Irish literature about a hero's adventures in the Otherworld or with otherworldly beings.
- Apocalyptic literature - details the authors' visions of the end times as revealed by an angel or other heavenly messenger.
- Bildungsroman - "coming of age" story. The German word "Bildung" can mean both "education" and "self-development."
- Crime fiction
- Historical fiction
- Literary nonsense
- Mathematical fiction
- Nonfiction novel
- Novel of manners
- Occupational fiction
- Romance novel
- Political fiction
- Speculative fiction
- Travel literature
- Religious fiction
- Speculative fiction
- By setting
- By theme
- Science fiction
- Alien invasion
- Cyberpunk derivatives
- Solarpunk, aka Hopepunk
- Hard science fiction
- Military science fiction
- Parallel universe, aka alternative universe
- Scientific romance
- Social science fiction
- Soft science fiction
- Space opera
- portal fantasy aka Isekai and Accidental travel
- Speculative cross-genre fiction
- Suspense fiction
- Urban fiction
- Women's fiction
- Workplace tell-all
- General cross-genre
Other nonfiction genres
These are genres belonging to the realm of nonfiction. Some genres listed may reappear throughout the list, indicating cross-genre status.
- Creative nonfiction
- Cult literature
- Diaries and journals
- Erotic literature
- Essay, treatise
- Religious text
- Daily devotional
- Occult literature
- Buddhist texts
- Christian literature
- Hindu literature
- Islamic literature
- Jewish literature
- Wisdom literature
- Scientific writing
- True crime
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