Literary Genres

Literary genres (also known as writing genres) are different categories that a work of literature may belong to. Indeed, the word genre comes from the french word genre and it means “kind.” It’s implicit, then, that there are social conventions about each literary genre.1

These genres are not set in stone. In fact, there are increasingly more and more literary genres nowadays–hundreds, at this point2–as literature becomes more diversified and we try to classify them all in predictive patterns.3

Ultimately, genres are just useful labels to communicate what to expect from a work of literature.

History of Literary Genres

Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, whose writings covered a wide variety of subjects, including poetry, theatre, rhetoric and linguistics—all of which contributed to his analysis of literature, including an early distinguishing of the various literary genres.

These teachings by Aristotle continue to influence today’s understanding of literature and its genres. Which is why it’s so important that, before we learn the various literary genres that are commonly referred today, we learn their early beginnings.

book Rhetoric by Aristotle
Rhetoric (Dover Thrift Editions) paperback written by Aristotle
Page count: 192 (unabridged)
ISBN: 978-0486437934

Around 350 B.C., the philosopher Aristotle wrote a book called Rhetoric, where he divided literature into three different literary genres:

  • Deliberative rhetoric discusses the results of an action in the future;
  • Forensic rhetoric is the discussion of an action of the past;
  • Epideictic oratory is the praise or blame of an action that is presently happening.4
book Poetics by Aristotle
Poetics (Dover Thrift Editions) paperback by Aristotle
Page count: 64 (unabridged)
ISBN: 978-0486295770

Later, in his book Poetics, Aristotle identified another three literary genres:

  • Epic is a long narration of heroic doings related to events significant to a culture, large number of people, or even a nation;
  • Tragedy is a story based on human suffering, including the awful events that the story’s main character goes through, that ends with a unhappy ending;
  • Comedy is a humorous story that induces laughter to the reader, and it has a happy ending5

Now you know where the study of the various literary genres began.

As the past two-thousand years went by, our understanding of literary genres and how we distinguish them was refined by countless scholars.

Nowadays, however, it doesn’t seem to take a scholar to define new genres of literature. Now, readers, authors, publishers, scholars, university professors, all of them come up with new literary genres all the time. It’s a much more dynamic than it ever has ever been.

Now that you understand the roots of the distinguishment of the various literary genres, let’s learn what literary genres are not. This is especially important because literary genres and literary forms are often confused, but they are actually very different from one another.

Difference between Literary Genres and Literary Forms

Before you learn more about literary genres, it’s important to understand the difference between literary genres and and literary forms.

The main literary forms are nonfiction prose, fiction prose, poetry and drama. These present the narrative–the written words, whether that is fiction stories or facts–in different structures.

On the other hand, literary genres are more about the content itself.7

List of Literary Genres

Despite the wide range of opinions of which is a valid literary genre and which one isn’t, everyone seems to agree that certain criteria is used to both distinguish one literary genre from another as well as to explain what it is about.

The criteria that defines a literary genre are the literary techniques, the literary tone, and the content.

Although, over time, hundreds upon hundreds of literary genres have been defined2, only a minority is commonly used. This minority of literary genres are the ones that have broad enough differences to be confidently distinguished from one to another.

The literary genres are categorized into two different types: fiction and nonfiction.

Fiction literary genres are the ones whose content is the result of the author’s creative imagination. It might even be based on parts of the real world, but the characters and the story will be fictional.8

Nonfiction literary genres are those that are exclusively based on facts and truth. Nonfiction books are often used to popularize a fact or a collection or facts.

Although no book can be both fiction and nonfiction, a single book may belong to two or more fiction literary genres, just like a single book an belong to two or more nonfiction ones. For instance, historical romance books combine the literary genre of historical fiction and the one of romance. 10

List of Fiction Literary Genres

Fiction literature is a category that encompasses many different genres. These works of literature usually come in the form of novels, novellas, short stories, and flash fiction.11

These works of a literature typically belong to specific genres. In fact, these works are often called genre fiction, as they are written so that they fit in a specific literary genre.12

Although what follows is not the most comprehensible list possible–as aforementioned, there are hundreds of literary genres and subgenres–these are the most popular fiction literary genres:

  • Children’s
  • Erotica
  • Fantasy
  • Dystopian
  • Young Adult
  • Science Fiction
  • Gothic
  • Utopian
  • Vampire
  • War
  • Cyberpunk
  • Gay
  • BDSM
  • Post Apocalyptic
  • Detective
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Contemporary Romance
  • Chick Lit
  • Steampunk
  • Alternate History
  • Western
  • Literary Fiction
  • Historical Mystery
  • Western Romance
  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Adventure
  • Mystery
  • Horror
  • Feminist
  • Thriller
  • Lesbian
  • Pirate
  • Crime
  • Epistolary
  • Historical Romance
  • Drama
  • Apocalypse
  • Erotic Thriller
  • Action
  • Fable
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Transgender
  • Satire
  • Cozy Mystery
  • Espionage
  • Noir
  • Legal Thriller

List of nonfiction literary genres

As aforementioned, there’s also a huge variety of nonfiction literary genres. These are the most popular ones:

  • Christian
  • Travel
  • Spiritual
  • Medical
  • Guidebook
  • Political
  • Essay
  • Religious
  • How to
  • Bibliography
  • Memoir
  • Thesis
  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Autobiography
  • Literary Criticism
  • Reference
  • True Crime
  • LGBT
  • Devotional
  • True Story
  • Humorous
  • Scientific
  • History

Questions & Answers

What are the eight most popular literary genres?

The eight most popular literary genres are children’s, christian, romance, erotica, historical fiction, fantasy, psychology and mystery.

What are the seven most popular fiction literary genres?

The seven most popular fiction literary genres are children’s, romance, erotica, historical fiction, fantasy, adventure and dystopian.

How many literary genres are there?

There are hundreds of literary genres. However, in our research to find the literary genres that have a significant readerbase, we found forty-eight fiction genres and twenty-four nonfiction genres, bringing the total of literary genres to seventy-two.

What literary genre means?

Literary genres are ways to categorize works of literature. There are social conventions for each literary genre, and each one will approach different topics, will have a specific style, settings and character types.

What are examples of literary genres?

Some of the most popular examples of literary genres include children’s, christian, romance, erotica, historical fiction, fantasy and psychology.

What are three genres of literature?

In his work Poetics, Aristotle defined three literary genres: epic, a narration of heroic deeds; tragedy, a story based on human suffering; and comedy, a funny and humorous story.

How do you identify a literary genre?

Each specific literary genre will have different qualities that distinguishes them from other genres. These are: topics, style, settings, and character types. For instance, if a story is about a character with magic powers living in a kingdom of ancient times, the story’s literary genre is fantasy.

Can a book belong to multiple literary genres?

Most books actually belong to multiple literary genres. A book mostly belongs to the genre of science fiction, it will often have elements of romance, mystery, action, or adventure. The lines that separate the various literary genres can get quite blurry.

What literary genre belongs a book of recipes?

Books with recipes belong to the literary genre of cookbooks. These books will typically include a collection of recipes and/or various cooking techniques.

Why are literary genres important?

Literary genres help define both writers and readers. This is their importance. For writers, it helps them fulfill the readers’ expectations: when a reader is picking up a fantasy book, they know to expect magic, kings, dragons, etc. For readers, it helps them find the kind of books they are looking for, as bookstores are usually divided by literary genres.

What are the two main genres of literature?

The two main literary genres are fiction and nonfiction. Each of these are then divided into multiple genres.

Is realistic fiction a literary genre?

Realistic fiction is a literary genre, and its stories feature characters, settings and events that resemble those of the real world.

Why is it important to read different literary genres?

By reading various literary genres, as opposed to limiting yourself to one or two genres, you expose yourself to the possibility of finding a genre that you enjoy reading even more. Also, it gives you a wider understanding of the variety of literature out there.

Why is studying literary genres important?

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, by realizing the various existing literary genres you can learn to better categorize works of literature. In turn, this will help you to more easily and succinctly communicate what a certain piece of literature is about.


References

1 Bathkin Circle, The | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2021-03-26
2 List of writing genres. Wikipedia, Retrieved 2021-03-26.
3 Carolyn R. Miller (1984) Genre as social action, Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70:2, 151-167, DOI: 10.1080/00335638409383686
4 Aristotle (2004). Rhetoric. ISBN 978-0486437934.
5 Aristotle (1997). Poetics. ISBN 978-0486295770.
6 Frye, Northrop (2000). Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. ISBN 978-0691069999.
7 Literary Forms & Genres: How they Affect Meaning. Study.com. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
8 Fiction | Literature | Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
9 Learn About Nonfiction: Definition, Examples, and 9 Essential Nonfiction Genres. MasterClass. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
10 Historical Romance Books. Goodreads. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
11 Short Fiction Forms: Novella, Novelette, Short Story, and Flash Fiction Defined. Author Learning Center. Retrieved 2021-03-26.
12 Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction. HuffPost. Retrieved 2021-03-26.