What is Genre?

What is Genre?

All About Genre Series #1


By Leigh Holland.

One of the most common dilemmas new writers encounter is determining genre. After all, there are so many categories to choose from. One look at the genre choices on Amazon can be dizzying and daunting. I frequently hear, “What is Genre? What genre am I really writing in currently? Why isn’t there a guide for new writers on this topic?” Well, this series is all about genre.

Let’s start with a very basic question. What is Literature? Simply put, literature is the written word, text, script, etc. In the modern era, there are a wide variety of types of literature. Everywhere we look, we can find examples of literature.

To name a few with examples:

Digital Literature: blog posts, audiobooks, comment and discussion board sections, web page, podcast, and even your text messages

Marketing and News Literature: billboards, bench ads, bus ads, radio, streaming, television commercials, host’s monologue, news and weather reports, and quiz shows.

Ephemera: fortune cookies, tweets, greeting cards, instant messages

Business Literature: print ad, flyer, bulletin board posting, job application, resumes, menu, postcards, want ads, business cards, and product labels.

Government and Legal Literature: ordinances, statutes, tax forms, constitution, police reports, contracts, and political speeches.

Personal Use: bumper stickers, t-shirt text, tattoo text, scrapbooks, personal correspondence, genealogy, and sermons.

Scholastic Literature: dictionaries, encyclopedias, curriculum, textbooks, thesis, and quizzes.

Scientific Literature: Peer reviewed papers, raw data, scientific textbooks.

Periodical Literature: editorials, advice columns, journals, obituaries, magazine and news articles.

General Literature: character sketches, blueprints, reviews, lectures, lesson plans, narrative non-fiction, computer programming languages, technical manuals, and war correspondence.

We are enveloped in a lovely, literature-soaked world. When we say “genre”, we’re talking about writings that fall in the four broad mega-genres under that gigantic literature umbrella. Many of the examples above can fall under one or more of these categories.

These four mega-genres are:

Poetry: Poetry evokes emotion using patterned sounds. There are many styles of poetry. This is not a complete list, but some examples include: ballads, cinquain, didactic, doggerel, epic, free verse, haiku, iambic pentameter, limerick, ode, quatrain, rhapsody, sonnet, and villanelle.

Drama: Drama is literature written to be performed or spoken orally. Examples include plays, speeches, and reader’s theater.

Non-Fiction: Informational, analytical, and factual writings, these can include memoirs, biographies, essays, scholastic, legal, governmental, and technical writings.

Fiction: Stories from an author’s imagination focusing on plot and/or character. This can include many genres and subgenres. Most new writers trying to figure out how to classify their work are writing fiction.

What is the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction?

We may hear people say the term “genre fiction” as if such works were in some way inferior. There’s nothing wrong with writing genre fiction. Genre is two things simultaneously: 1. A method for categorizing literature so that it is easier to understand from the outset what it is and how it might be marketed, and 2. An unspoken contract between the writer and the reader in which the writer promises the reader the book will meet the requirements of the genre. The emphasis in genre fiction is placed on entertaining a wide audience and selling books to them. This doesn’t mean genre fiction isn’t “good”, its emphasis and audience is different, and it’s marketed differently.

Literary fiction differs from genre fiction in a few ways. Where genre fiction is concerned with plot, faster pacing, and engaging dialogue, literary fiction’s focus is on theme. Literary fiction usually has themes that are concerned with the human condition and put forth a social or political commentary. Literary fiction develops in-depth characters who drive the plot and elicit emotional responses from the reader. This style of fiction is often elegantly written, containing more exposition and inner dialogue than genre fiction typically does.

This series will deal with genre fiction and its subgenres.


1 Comment

  1. I worked for many years as the fiction cataloguer for a large public library system. I’m interested in how you will approach this complicated subject. Determining genre was a huge part of my job and was often difficult to pin down when genres overlapped frequently.


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