Everyone has types of stories that they tend to enjoy and types that they do not. I myself will read, play, or watch most things with magic in them. These story types each have their own name, like fantasy or romance, which helps us talk about and categorize them. This is genre, the literary device we’re covering today! We won’t be delving deep into any one genre to understand its features today (maybe in the future!), but if you have a genre you want to know more about, feel free to ask about it in the comments or connect with me on Twitter or Instagram.
What is Genre?
Genre is a type of categorization for different creative works based on characteristics that they have in common with other works. You might be familiar with words like fantasy, documentary, or mystery. Each of these are genres, but there’s more to genre than just these. I feel like the folks over at LiteraryDevices.net do a great job of defining genre when they call it:
“a type of art, literature, or music characterized by a specific form, content, and style.”
Genres are categories of types of stories based on similar themes and features that the stories share. These are the form, content, and style mentioned in the above definition. In a way, genre lays out the rules of what typically happens in a particular type of work, as well as what style that work is written in.
Form and Style: How the Work is Presented
Our many creative ideas have a number of forms that they can take. We can write a novel or poem, compose a song, or maybe paint a picture about our creative idea. These are one level of genre, what the above definition calls form. Works classified by genre are usually written with similar form. Different forms also typically have different common genres or main genre groups that are different from other forms. Novels, for example, will have different genres than video games, though they will also share some of their genres as you will see later.
In the case of written work, for example, a genre might be poetry, drama (plays), fiction, non fiction, and prose (which is written work that tells a story that isn’t poetry or a drama). What it means to have similar form within a genre is that if you looked at something like this, you’d likely call it a poem because it looks like a poem:
This has all happened before
and it will happen again.
What do you hear, Starbuck?
Nothing but the rain.
And it will happen again
while Adama leads the fleet through space, hearing
nothing but the rain
driving on the hollow hulls of ships.
(For simplicity, I pulled this excerpt from a poem I wrote called This Has All Happened Before)
Likewise, you would likely take a look at something written like this and categorize it as a drama:
SCENE I. The same. LYSANDER, DEMETRIUS, HELENA, and HERMIA
Enter TITANIA and BOTTOM; PEASEBLOSSOM, COBWEB, MOTH, MUSTARDSEED, and other Fairies attending; OBERON behind unseen
Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.
Scratch my head Peaseblossom. Where’s Mounsieur Cobweb?
(Excerpt from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Another example would be video game genres. People like to know what kind of game they’re about to play before they play it, just like any other media type. In order to help with this process, we have genres that indicate what kind of gameplay you’ll see in a game such as JRPG, first person shooter, platformer, and open world.
Anybody interested in art will likely be able to name genres like contemporary, pop, abstract, or art Deco. Similarly, fans of music might be able to name classical, rap, hip hop, rock, metal, blues, and other musical genres. Readers of poetry, likewise, will likely be familiar with genres like epic poetry, sonnet, ballad, tragedy, and song.
The main trick that there is to understanding genre is remembering what each genre label usually tells you about what you can expect a particular creative work will be like. Do you need to memorize every genre? No, but it can be useful to be familiar with them! For the most part, you’ll become familiar with different genres by experiencing different creative works and paying attention to their listed genre.
Content: What the Work is About
Genre also tells you what a work is about. I pointed some of these labels out earlier when I alluded to mystery and fantasy. These labels help us know what the work will be like beyond its form. There are quite a lot of genres out there. You can get an idea of how many there are by popping over to Wikipedia and looking at their list of literary genres, which lists genres of literary works, not including any other form like video games or music.
Why are there so many genres? I would hazard a guess and say that people like to be precise when categorizing things, and when we come across a work that doesn’t fit accurately into an established genre, we like to create new ones for it.
Knowing the ins and outs of individual genres might be a little more intuitive if you are familiar with words like ‘fantasy’, ‘mystery’, ‘poetry’, or ‘action’. From consuming popular media, you might already know that if a movie says it is an action film, there will be a focus on an epic story, explosions, possibly some bad-guy punching, and lots of drama and movement. Likewise, someone might know that if they’re holding a comic that claims to be ‘historical fiction’, they’re in for a story inspired by real history. Keep in mind also that many works, especially nowadays, fit into multiple genre categories, or don’t fit nicely into any common ones.
Here are a few examples with a brief list of characteristics that landed the work in its genre:
Daughter of Smoke and Bone: Fantasy novel– written prose, magic, angels, parallel worlds, fantasy creatures, fiction
Hamilton: Historical musical, hiphop– a musical recounting the history of Alexander Hamilton, music written in a hiphop style, non-fiction, a play told mostly through singing rather than spoken dialogue
The Best We Could Do: Graphic novel memoir (also called an illustrated memoir)– graphic novel format, telling a real-life story (non-fiction), telling the true story of a person or people
Ni no Kuni II: Fantasy JRPG– video game, from Japan, player takes on the role of an existing character, side quests and fetch quests, turn-based fight system, magic, fantasy creatures, multiple worlds, fiction
Ready Player One: Science fiction movie, novel adaptation– movie length and format, takes place in a future with considerably advanced technology as a main feature, takes place in a virtual world, is a movie adaptation of a novel, fiction
Relax Camp: Slice of life anime– anime-style art, from Japan, heavy focus on scenery and food, may have little overarching plot or little to no conflict per episode or the conflict is centered around daily life, focus on characters’ everyday activities, fiction. (Actually, this anime is more likely part of a sub-genre of the slice of life genre, called iyashikei, or healing anime. Some genres have sub-genres, which just means that there is a notable section of works that fit into that genre that have more specific features related to one another but still fit into the larger genre category. Iyashikei, for example, tend to have no conflict, placing focus on everyday life, scenery, and food.)
What are some of your favorite genres? Want to know more about a particular genre? Please share in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact me” page.
And as always, if you have a literary device you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!