Literary Genre: an introduction

An initial guide to the study of genre within literature.



Genre can be defined as a style or category of art, music, or literature. Genres can be determined by literary techniques, tone, content, or even length. The fine distinction between genres is flexible and often blurred, sometimes being loosely defined and often with subgroups.


''Genre' is a word for types of writing; it is also therefore a word for habits of reading. Though novelists might like to cheat expectations, they need readers to have expectations that can be cheated. Genre alerts us to the readerly expectations learned from similar books' - John Mullan 'How novels work'

Genres create expectations for a reader regarding the events of a given text. Often these expectations allow for the imagination of the reader to jump to conclusions and generate predictions for the duration of the text. Often, writers will use generic conventions - parts of plot or style that are specific to that genre - and occasionally mis up or blur these conventions for effect.


Genres are often divided into subgenres, just as literature is divided into the three classic forms, poetry, prose and drama. For example, a piece of dramatic poetry might include tragedy, comedy, melodrama, etc. As such, there are many different styles of genre within literature - Crime, Fantasy, Historical, Comedy, and Tragedy, to name a few.

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