Imagine a magical tree that takes you off to unknown magical worlds when you tug on its branches. Literature is like that enchanted tree. Just like that tree with different branches, literature also has various forms and genres. Before digging deep into the classification of literary genres, we must know what “genre” means. Genre is a specific style or category of art, music, or literature. Literature has five main genres – namely fiction, non-fiction, drama, folktale, and poetry. Let us understand these.
Fiction is the most popular genre of literature that transports the reader to a world of imagination. These stories are filled with imaginary characters and events. Fiction is further divided into 6 sub-genres – fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, horror, contemporary fiction, and science fiction.
- Fantasy deals with characters or settings that cannot possibly exist in the real world because of the presence of magical elements in them. The most popular example of fantasy is The Harry Potter series, Twilight series, etc.
- Historical fiction features made-up stories that accurately portray life during a particular period in history. An example is The Da Vinci Code.
- Mystery consists of suspense-filled stories dealing with crime solving and uncovering a culprit. Some of the most well know mystery books are The Nancy Drew novels, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Famous Five and The Hercule Poirot Novels, etc.
- Contemporary fiction has made-up stories that take place in the present day and have characters that face modern-day difficulties and issues. Some of the famous contemporary fiction books are Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, etc.
- Through science-fiction, the readers explore new and exciting realities that are made possible by imagined technologies or social changes. The greatest science-fiction books ever written are The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, etc.
- Horror belongs to speculative fiction and is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust through its imaginary ghastly figures or the presence of some kind of unearthly creature or spirits. Some of the spookiest horror novels of all time are Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn, Hell House by Richard Matheson, etc.
Non-fiction portrays the real lives of people and events through autobiographies, biographies, and memoirs. Some worth reading non-fictional works are A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, Hiroshima by John Hersey, etc.
A drama or a play is a story created especially for stage performances. William Shakespeare has given us some of the most iconic dramas of all time such as Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, etc.
Folktale also referred to as Mythology, tells stories of original oral literature and is meant to pass specific moral lessons. These tales have a timeless quality. It mainly falls under children’s literature. The most common books of folktale are The Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Goldilocks and the three bears, etc.
Now, all these literary genres can be found in two forms. Those are poetry and prose.
Under poetry we have –
- Sonnets – derived from the Italian word “sonetto” – a 14 line poem, divided into 3 parts. The First 8 lines are the ‘octave’, the last six lines are the ‘sestet’. The last two lines are called ‘couplet’. Giacomo Da Lentini is credited for the invention of Sonnets.
- Haiku – a traditional 3 line Japanese poem. It has 17 syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Its origin can be traced back to as far as the 9th century.
- Limerick – a humorous and frequently rude form of verse, where the first and the fifth line rhyme. The third and fourth lines are shorter and share a different rhyme.
Under prose we have –
- Novel – a long work of narrative fiction, normally written in a story form and published as a book. There are also graphic novels that use illustrations to tell a story.
- Novella – a work of narrative prose fiction, which is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.
- Short story – a piece of prose fiction that is typically read in one sitting. It focuses on self-contained incidents or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a single effect or mood.
These are the genres and forms of literature one comes across as a reader or a student of literature. If you want to explore literature in more detail, check here. Comment below and let me know, what your favorite literary genre is.