Different Types of Literature

What is literature.

Literature generally can be any written work, but it especially is an artistic or intellectual work of writing. The usage of language in literature differs sometimes from the way it is ordinarily used. The difference is the use of artistic tools to create aesthetic beauty in a text. Literature is the depiction of the society. It is a great tool to teach the morality to a society. 

Here is the detailed study about types of literature.

Types of Literature

Below are the main types of literature: Drama, Fable, Autobiography , Biography , Poetry, Prose, Science Fiction, and Journalistic Literature.

Drama is a play in literature, and a playwright composes it. It portrays fictional or non-fictional stories. To explain away certain events, characters, or stories, a drama is produced, using dialogues or actions. It can be performed on stage, radio or on big screens as in films. Conflicts, emotions and impressive characters are required to produce a high-quality drama. There are many forms of drama but some of the most common are:  comedy, tragedy, musical drama  and  melodrama . Let us have a brief explanation of these types of drama.

1. Comedy :  

Comedy is a type of drama, which is lighter in tone. Its purpose is to make the audience laugh and amuse them. It has a happy ending. Very unusual circumstances are there coupled with quick and witty remarks. People consider it as the most entertaining and fun form of drama and literature. An example of a comedy drama is  ’The Comedy of Errors’  by William Shakespeare.

2. Tragedy :  

Tragedy is the type of drama that has a dark theme. It portrays suffering, pain, longing, and often death. An example of a tragedy drama is ‘ Othello ’  by William Shakespeare.

3. Musical Drama :  

A musical drama tells a story with dialogues, songs, music, and dance. These things convey the emotions in the drama. An example of a musical drama is  ‘A Star is Born’ , which starred Lady Gaga.

4. Melodrama :  

Melodrama is a kind of drama that portrays exaggerated emotions like tension or excitement. It arouses the same emotions in the audience and makes them indulged in it. The situation and the dialogues are more important in a melodrama than action. An example of a melodrama is  ‘Still   Life, Brief Encounter’  by Noel Coward.

Writers write a fable when the intention is to provide the audience with a moral story. A fable usually uses animals as characters to convey the story. In Fables, animals act like humans and can speak and understand reasoning. They are a personification of human characteristics and their nature. An example of a fable is the famous story of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ , which almost every child has heard in his childhood. The Animal Farm by George Orwell is also a famous fable. 


  Autobiography is an interesting thing to read because of its teller of the story is the one, about who the story is. The character himself is the writer and describes his life from his own original perspective and experiences. It gives you an insight on the person that is writing it, because they share their true-life events and thoughts. Mostly, famous people write autobiographies to tell their story to their fans and the world. A famous and spectacular example of autobiography is  ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ , a book by Anne Frank.

Biography in literature tells the story of a person from another person’s perspective. Someone else writes it rather than the subject himself. Biography differs from a resume because it enlightens the audience with different aspects of a person’s life. A great example of biography is ‘Unbroken:   A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption’,  by Laura Hillenbrand.

Poetry in literature is a composition of rhythm, sound, and lyrics. The definition of poetry by one of the greatest poets in history, William Wordsworth, is  “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” . The poet composes poetry in a sort of song to develop emotions and imaginations in the listeners’ hearts and minds. Poetry is aesthetic. The poet chooses words carefully, so the listeners can relate themselves to it. The four main types of poetry are haiku, free verse, sonnets ,  and  acrostic   poems . An example of one of the most beautiful books of poetry is  ‘Ariel’ , by Sylvia Plath.

Prose in literature is that form of literature, which is somewhat plain and simple. It has no special grammar structure or a writing pattern to follow. It is written in a usual tone, forming into a natural speech or a conversational tone. Nothing is specific in prose. Paragraphs or sentences can be long or short. Examples of prose include novels, newspapers, textbooks, etc.

Science Fiction

Science fiction, also called “sci-fi,” is a genre of literature where most of the things are imaginary. The stories are about the future technology. These fiction stories also have a relationship to real science laws, because science considers those things possible in the future, according to the scientific laws. Science fictions are sometimes true and sometimes they are just imaginations based on assumptions. Some examples of science fiction are, ‘The Time Machine’  by H. G. Wells,  ‘Spies in Disguise’  by Blue Sky Studios,  ‘A Wrinkle in Time’  by Madeleine L’Engle, etc.

Journalistic Literature

Journalistic Literature is a sort of nonfiction. In literary journalism, the journalist gathers information and then creates and publishes. It combines the facts and reporting with some clever strategies and narrative techniques. These techniques make the reports more engaging and interesting. People call literary journalism also Narrative or New Journalism. Some of the most prominent literary journalists of past and present are Mark Singer, Richard Rhodes, Jack London, Stephen Crane, Tom Wolfe, Henry Mayhew, etc.

Related Articles

What is literature?

History of English literature

What is literary English?

Figurative language in English literature

What is a sonnet?

What is metaphysical poetry?

Definition and types of irony

Literary terms used in English drama

How to answer a literary question?

Shakespearean Tragedy

Greek tragedy versus Shakespearean tragedy

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The Different Types of Literature That Have Stood the Test of Time

There are many types, forms, genres, and ways to categorize literature. Here, we list the two main types of literature along with their sub-categories.

Types of Literature

“Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” ― Ezra Pound

Every language has its own literature. A majority of world’s national literature can be broadly classified into English, Greek, Latin, Roman, African, Indian, American, French, Irish, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Sanskrit, Nepali, Russian, African-American, Canadian literature, etc. Literature is a form of language that deeply influences the minds of people of all ages. Moreover, literature is also studied as a scientific language for various aspects like grammar, usage, lexis, semantics, pragmatics, etc.

Literature is the mirror of society. Thus a book written in a particular time defines people, their thoughts, and the influences of that era. The works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci depict the era of Italian Renaissance, whereas Greek literature mostly comprises the accounts of Greek Gods and Goddesses. Romanticism is about nature and simplicity, while classicism defines complexity. A classic example is that of William Wordsworth who romanticized the Romantic era with his naturalistic writing.

As time changed, so did people and their work, and of course, literature. Today we’re in the post-modernism era, where literary works include a mix of critical and artificial tone of language. Most of the skeptical elements like ambiguity, satire, parody, etc. are the most prominent features found in the current era. These days some authors choose long composition methods to interlink and present more than one story.

Forms of Literature

~ Fiction – Drama, novel, poetry, short story, and frame narrative.

~ Non-Fiction – Autobiography, biography, essay, journal, diary, travel literature, literary criticism, media, and outdoor literature.

Oral literature, epic and mock epic, proverbs, oral poetry, and folklore.

Types of Literature

Oral and written literature are the two major forms of literature. As we all know, almost all type of literature is available in written form. A lot of oral literature too has been made available in the form of books. We will now look into fiction and non-fiction literature as two major types of literature, and also consider the various types of oral literature.

While prose and verse are the two forms of writings. Every piece of writing that has sentence form or paragraphs is the prose, whereas verse is the poetic form of writing. Example of prose – Drama, novel, newspapers, short story, biography, essay, journal, philosophy, travel literature, children’s literature, fantasy and scientific writings, historical writing, diary, etc. Example of Verse – Poetry.

Thus we can conclude that fictional and non-fictional literature are mostly prose literature, except for poetry. Interestingly, if you come across a verse form in a drama, it is termed as dramatic poetry or verse drama!

Fiction Literature – Drama

Drama consists of theatrical dialogs performed on stage, it consists of 5 acts. A drama that has just one act is a ‘one-act play’. Flash play is the shortest 10-minute play. According to Aristotle, there are six elements of drama plot, diction, character, thought, spectacle, and song.


It revolves around the main character, his life, struggle, misfortune and grief, or sometimes, death of the dear ones or the main character. The monologue element is the easiest way in which the misfortune of the main character is expressed, whereas prophecy by witch, ghost etc. are the dark elements used to give tragedy a feel of horror.

Examples of tragedies are ‘The Illiad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer – the two famous Greek tragedies. The four popular tragedies of William Shakespeare are – Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and Othello.


Comedy is full of laughter wherein incidents are handled very lightly. The elements used in comedy are romanticism, exaggeration, surprise, and a comic view of a particular event. Farce, comedy of manners are some of the sub-types of comedy. e.g. Ben Jonson’s ‘Comedy of Humours’, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ by William Shakespeare etc.

Comedy – Farce

The word origins from Latin word ‘farcire’ means ‘to fill or stuff’. Thus, ‘farce’ is a light comic event inserted in the middle of a play or movie to lighten the scene. It intends to make the audience laugh for a while, when the plotline seems to be serious. It can be through humor, nonsense, over exaggeration, or jokes. E.g. Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Robin Hawdon’s ‘Perfect Wedding’, etc.

Comedy – Comedy of Manners

When you laugh due to the class, fashion, or manners of stereotypical character, it’s Comedy of Manners. e.g. Richard Sheridan’s ‘The School for Scandal’ (1777), Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer (1773), Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’ (1964), etc.

Comedy – Melodrama

Melodrama is a blend of two nouns – ‘melody’ and ‘drama’. Currently the term is used for works that lack sophistication, but in 1840s, it was used to denote a musical play. e.g. ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ is one of the popular plays describing cruelty of labor life. It emphasizes sensationalism and in the end, the play concludes with a ‘happy ending.’

Comedy – Tragicomedy

The play that begins with serious mode, but has a happy ending is tragicomedy. e.g. ‘The Visit’ by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Fiction Literature – Novel

Novel is a simple narration of a story without any dialogs like drama. It can be comic, romantic, criminal, detective, adventurous, or a political story, etc.

Novel – Allegory

The story revolves around more than one meaning. What the writer says directly is symbolic and totally different from the meaning conveyed at the end. Political and historical allegory are two forms of allegory. E.g. ‘Tughlak’ is a political allegory written by Girish Karnad, while John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ is a historical allegory.

Novel – Epistolary

Epistolary novels are a collection of letters and mails. Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’ and Henry Fielding’s ‘Joseph Andrew’ are a few notable examples of epistolary novels.

Novel – Feminist

Feminist novels are written by women around the world about women’s issues in a male-dominated society. Simone de Beauvoir (‘She Came to Stay’, ‘The Mandarins,’ and ‘The Second Sex’), Betty Friedan (‘The Feminine Mystique’) and Virginia Woolf (‘A Room of one’s Own’) are a few popular feminist novelists. You’ll surprised to know that a few female writers used male names as their pen names to hide their identity, because male author’s works were supposed to be taken seriously without any bias.

Novel – Gothic

Gothic fiction is a combination of both horror and romance. Melodrama and parody are the elements of Gothic plays. e.g. ‘The Castle of Otranto’ (1764) by Horace Walpole is honored as the first Gothic play in literature.

Novel – Ironic

Ironic novels are known for excessive use of narrative technique. It is a kind of satire on contemporary society about their cultural, social, and political issues. e.g. Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’

Novel – Realism

The realistic novels are based on the truths of society and their problems. It focuses on the plot, structure, and the characters of the novel. e.g. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (1813) by Jane Austen.

Novel – Romance

Romantic novels favor love and relationship, the stories revolve around love affairs of main characters. Some popular sub-categories of romantic novels are paranormal, erotic, suspense, multicultural, and inspirational romance. e.g. ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1847) by Emily Brontë and ‘Portrait of a Lady’ (1881) by Henry James.

Novel – Narration

In narrative style, the writer becomes a third-person narrator who narrates the whole story around its characters. When you’re reading narratives, you feel like you are witnessing a play. As a reader, you get involved in the play and visualize it as if you were present there at that time.

Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is best narrative example of all time, wherein there are two main narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, while there are many characters in between the play. Another example is ‘Diary of Catherine’ that highlights the life of a protagonist.

Novel – Naturalism

Naturalism is based on the theory of Darwin. The concept is as simple, natural, and real as the word ‘naturalism’! In a nutshell, environment has its impact on human beings. So naturalist writers write about reality of life of a person or/and social issues like poverty, violence, corruption, politics etc.

As opposed to romanticism, readers find naturalist plays pessimistic and their tone a bit philosophical. E.g. Rebecca Harding Davis’ ‘Life in the Iron Mills (novella)’, Kate Chopin’s ‘The Awakening’, Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Indian Camp’, ‘The Sun Also Rises”, and ‘A Farewell to Arms’.

Novel – Picaresque

Novel - Picaresque

Like naturalism, Picaresque is also quite contrasting to the concept of romanticism. It involves ideals, themes, and principles that refuse the so-called prejudices of the society. In this type, there is no plot, the main character is a poor, jobless, and always a social victim.

Few science fiction and fantasy novels have the style of picaresque novels. Besides adventure as a prime characteristic, picaresque novel has first-person narration. E.g. Charles Dickens’ ”Great Expectations” and ”David Copperfield”, etc.

Novel – Psychological

These novel is lay greater emphasis on the psychological perspectives of characters. You must have heard about stream of consciousness, flashback, soliloquies etc., these features reveal the psychology of a person. e.g. Samuel Richardson’s ”Pamela”, Henry James’ ”The Portrait of a Lady”, etc.

Novel – Satire

Though satire is a common form seen in comedy novels, this literary device tries to focus on facts of the society and their issues. These novels criticize the contemporary society. e.g. ”Gulliver’s Travels” (1726), by Lemuel Gulliver, ”Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884) by Mark Twain, Kingsley Amis’ ”Lucky Jim” (1954), George Orwell’s ”Animal Farm” (1945), Randell Jarrell’s ”Pictures from an Institution” (1954), etc.

Novel – Stream of Consciousness

Also known as ‘interior monologues’, stream of consciousness is all about the thoughts coming up in the minds of the character. You will not find any sequential narration in such technique of writing. The term has been coined by James Joyce, Dorthy Richardson, and Virginia Woolf.

James Joyce used this term in his book, ‘The Principles of Psychology’ (1890), wherein he defined the concept as: “Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as ‘chain’ or ‘train’ do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life….”

Novel – Science Fiction

It’s the most popular form. Everyone likes to dream, imagine life in space and to know about aliens, robots, paranormal activities and what not. e.g. ‘The Time Machine’, ‘Dune’, ‘Brave new world’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Ringworld’, ‘Planet of Adventure’, ‘Level 7’, ‘Voyage’, (the list goes on and on…) etc.

A novel may also cover diverse categories on social and political aspects like proletarian, protest, government, didactic, materialist, allegorical, Marxist, radical, revolutionary, anti-war, utopian, futuristic, anarchist, social philosophy, speculative, problem play, and novel of ideas, etc.

Fiction Literature – Poetry

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. – William Wordsworth. How well these words explain the sentiment of poetic composition! Free verse is generally found in Greek poetry, whereas rhyming pattern is seen in Persian poems.

Sonnet is the short poem of 14 lines. E.g. ‘To Fanny’ by John Keats and Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets are a few famous examples. Sonnet 18 – ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ is the most popular sonnet that deserves a mention.

Sonnet 18 – Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date: Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimmed, And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed: But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st, Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st, So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Elegy is a mournful poem wherein the poet is lamenting for the dead person or his near ones. e.g. ‘Elegy Written in Country Churchyard’ by Thomas Gray is one of the famous elegies marked as the saddest poem of the ages.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, The plowman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Ode is the formal and long poem, serious in nature. It addresses a person, place, or thing. Previously ode was composed along with music and dance due to its melody. When romantic poets started using it to express their sentiments, it was constrained to the lyrical form. E.g. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight, Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night, Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

Allegory has two symbolic meanings. One is the literal meaning and another is the deep/symbolic meaning. E.g. ‘The Faerie Queene’ by Edmund Spenser is the longest poem written in Spenserian stanza. You will be amazed to see the use of extended metaphor in the poem.

It has Greek origin. Lyric is a short poem which has song-like quality. It is poet’s appeal to his readers about any incident or historical event. If you have read a lyric, you might know that the form of Lyric is almost similar to odes or sonnets. E.g. Emily Dickinson’s ‘I Felt a Funeral in my Brain’

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, And Mourners to-and-fro, Kept treading – treading – till it seemed, That Sense was breaking through – And when they all were seated, A Service, like a, Drum – Kept beating – beating – till I thought, My Mind was going numb.

Fiction Literature – Short Story

Short Stories are wonderful tales of quests and fantasies. The small commercial fiction, true or imaginary, smaller than a novel is known as short story. Short stories have a well-defined structure – easy and no complexity in the beginning, concrete theme, some dialogs and end with resolution.

Short stories can be oral and short-lived tales. Flash fiction is a short story, less than 1000 word count. e.g. Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Three Strangers’, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’, etc.

Fiction Literature – Frame Narrative

Here we find a story within the main story. You must be wondering why would a writer prefer a story within a story and how does he present it? Well, it’s one way to allow the reader to interpret every character in detail. Like… the story about a particular character’s nature, family, work, and attitude etc. to make the character more lively.

There are lots of methods to write a frame narrative. Some writers use dream within a story, some opt for series of stories in the main story, or they use imagery language to represent plots. In an adventure story, the character narrates his own story (main story), within that he mentions different places and people, and their stories etc. are the frame tales. Some of the popular examples of frame narratives are Pegasus, Wuthering Heights, The Flying Horse, The Three Pigs, A Time to keep and the Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays, etc.

Non-fictional Literature

Nonfiction literature is about real things and incidents, so they’re informative and comprise interesting facts, with a total amalgam of analysis and illustrations. The various types have been explained below.

Autobiography and Biography

An autobiography is the story of the author’s own life written by the author himself. For example, ‘Family Life at the White House’ by Bill Clinton is about his life and achievements. ‘Wings of fire’ by Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam is the success story of a poor child, and how he became the President of India.

‘Mein kampf’ by Adolph Hitler not only reveals Hilter’s love for paintings and his career, but also focuses on the history of second World War. Barack Obama’s ‘Dream From My Father’ is one of the best-selling books in the world.

When an author writes about another person’s life story, it is a biography. For example, Plutarch’s ‘Parallel Lives’ written in the 1st century covers all famous Greek and Roman people of that time. Also ‘Steve Jobs’ (2001) by Walter Isaacson, ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand (about Louis Zamperini).

Generally, the authors’ point of view about any particular topic explained in detail is called an essay. Essay has a simple way of narrating the main subject. Therefore they are descriptive, lengthy, subject-oriented, and comparative.

The different types of essays are classified as personal, expository, response, process, persuasive, argumentative, critical, interview, reflective, evaluative, application, compare and contrast essay, and narrative essay, etc.

Journals somewhat look like diaries, but they are different because they record infinite information, analysis, thoughts, experiences, etc. A personal journal is for personal analysis, where one can write his goal, daily thoughts, events, and situations.

Academic journals are for students who do research or dissertation on a particular subject. Creative journals are the imaginative writing of a story, poem, or narrative. Trade journals are used by industries where they dictate practical information.

Dialectical journals is used by students to write on a double-column notebook. The left side is for resources, wherein quotations, references, examples, facts, experiments, and observation are written. The right side can be a series of thoughts, following response, explanations and evaluation.


Diaries are the incidents recorded by the author without any means of publishing them. It is the rough work of one’s daily routine, happenings, memorable days or events in their life. E.g. Anne Frank’s ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ was published by her father in 1940s; it’s a story of a girl trapped during German invade Amsterdam. Second example is ‘The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem’ by Ned Rorem.

Diaries consist of business letters, newsletters, weather listing. Some profound forms of diaries are online diary, travel, fictional, dream, and death diaries.

Remember that the terms diary, blog and journal mean different things, though they can be used interchangeably. When you write something private it’s a diary, when you go one step ahead and add few event or business documents to it, then it becomes journal. Blogs can be in form of a diary or journal, the only difference is that a blog is online. Blogs are digital, while the diary and journal are handwritten.

Travel literature

It is the narration of any tour or foreign visit. Travel literature has details of events, dates, places, languages, culture along with the author’s views. As the author shares his experiences, such piece of writing is also called itinerary or travelogue.

A few of sub-categories of travel literature include Travel guide, Travel journal, and Travel writing for newspapers and magazines. For example, Francis Bacon’s natural philosophies in the middle of Seventeenth century is one of the famous examples of travel literature.

Literary criticism

Literary criticism is the critical study of a piece of literature wherein critics apply different theories, evaluations, discussions, and explanations to the text or essay. This way the work will be studied, criticized, and judged by a set of critics. Plato, Aristotle (Poetics), T.S. Eliot, Saussure and Frye were some of the famous critics.

There are lot of general theories, therefore it is a tough task for a critic to know which theory goes along with the work while criticizing and analyzing it thoroughly. So there are fewer critics than the authors. You will get books on literary criticism in series, or essays published in journals.

Different categories under media

Media includes newspaper, magazine, movies, Internet, radios, etc. It is the newest and widely acceptable type of literature. Everyone follows it due to its multiple objectives to learn, entertain and promote. Newspapers are a collection of daily or weekly news of politics, sports, leisure, fashion, movies, business etc.

Magazines are all about current affairs, events, interviews, and opinions on several issues. It definitely won’t be an exaggeration to say that movies, audio and video CDs that we see today are also a form of digital literature. Have you heard about digital poetry, it is an upcoming trend in poetry.

Outdoor literature

Outdoor literature is the literature of adventure devoted to the whole exploration of an event. Writing about leisure time, or hobbies like horse riding, fishing, trekking can be a part of literature. Some outdoor books are ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ by Mark Twain, ‘Treasure Island’ by Robert Louis, ‘Voyages’ by Richard Hakluyt and ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ by Eric Newby.

Oral Literature

Oral Literature, also known as Orature includes folklore, joke, fable, parable, hearsay, and legend etc. Folklore is a traditional story that has been generating interest since ancient times. Now, almost all oral literature is available so far in written form, they are generally categorized into fictional literature. Folklores are generally superstitious and religious stories. Every nation has its own oral history in their respective languages like Chinese, African, Indian, American folks, etc.

Epic and Mock Epic

Epic is the narrative poem that conveys moral and culture of that period. For example, “The Odyssey” and “Iliad” are one of the largest philosophical epics written by Samuel Butler. If you’re fond of mock epic, read ‘Rape of the Lock’. It’s interesting to see how a minor incident of cutting of curls can give birth to a great mock epic of 794 lines.

They are traditional sayings that influence the lifestyle of people through their culture. You must have heard of these wisdom proverbs, ‘All that glitters is not gold’, ‘Even a small star shines in the darkness’, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’, etc. Proverbs are memorable sayings that are passed from one generation to another.

Proverbs are thoughts of wisdom and experiences. You can relate proverbs with your real-life experiences and take them as advice to overcome a situation. So it’s an oral gift we have to pass on to the next generation.

Oral poetry – Hymns

Poem that is written for praising god or some supernatural being is hymn. It can be in the form of prayer, song, ode etc.

Oral poetry – Psalms

They are sacred songs used in worship of Christian and Jewish religions. E.g. The Bible – “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You Who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me.” Psalm 142:3 (NIV)

Oral poetry – Ballad


Ballad is a narrative poem sung by the poet or group of singers. Its narrative style makes it more lively as if the narrator is taking the listeners to that time and telling a story. Generally, ballads are oral literature, but as we progress, it takes the form of written literature.

If Bishop Thomas Percy would have not published ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry’ (1765), we would have been without the knowledge of this ancestral treasure of poetry. His collection of popular ballads are the first written form of ballad. (Please note, some of the ballads in the book are not written by him). An example of a ballad is ‘Lord Lovel’.

‘Lord Lovel was gone just a year and a day, New countries for to see, When languishing thoughts came over his mind, Lady Nancy he must go see, see, see, Lady Nancy he must go see.’

Folklore – Fairy tales

Hansel and Gretel

Any traditional stories, proverbs or songs are Folklore. Folklore studies culture, its rituals, traditions, and artifacts. A popular type of folklore is a fairy tale. Fairy tales are not real and they are told by someone with a starting phrase like, ‘Once upon a time, there was-‘. that takes you back to your childhood days.

Popular fairy tales include Hansel and Gretel, Cindrella, Tom Thumb, etc. These tales have fictional characters, dragons, witches, spirits, elves as well as supernatural elements like magic and some far-reaching powers, etc.

Folklore – Tall Tales

Tall tales are those wherein you find the exaggeration, imaginary animals and humans performing unbelievable things, and you will laugh at the end due to its humorous nature. While some tall tales end with a moral. They are the basic element of American folk literature, like storytelling.

‘Callin’ the Dog’ from ‘A Mississippi Tall Tale’.

“One man offered a hound dog pup to the person who could tell the biggest lie. Well, those stories started rollin’ in, each one bigger and harder to believe than the one before.

Now, the last man to talk knew he didn’t have a chance of winnin’ that there pup on account of all them tall-tales the others told was so good. So he just said: “I never told a lie in my life.”

“You get the pup!” Said the owner of the hound dog. And everyone else agreed with him.

Folklore – Parables

Parables are the religious or moral stories. They can be written or told in a prose or verse form, they are always found in a narrative form. There are no animal characters (which show emotions) like we have in Fables, and parables describe a universal truth. Bible is an example of parable.

Folklore – Myth

Myths are sacred, so they’ve a deep meaning. These are the tales of origin of the world and people. That’s why you will find gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. You will find lots of adventure, magic, supernatural elements (creatures, giants) in them although they lack scientific proof.

Nature myth has stories of the stars and moon, weather, etc. e.g. Zeus is the god of thunder, lightening. Do you believe in afterlife? Well Chinese, Greek, Roman cultures had myths on rebirth, afterlife, and concepts of hell and heaven.

Other types of folklore include fables (stories with moral), cumulative, trickster (stories of god, goddess, man, spirit, or animal who disobeys normal rules and behavior), beliefs (power that controls human beings), ghost stories, and legends (collection of ancient religious stories of origin and human civilization such as story of Robin Hood), etc.

The above article includes the many types of literature that are known in English literature. Also, there are other types like comic books, cartoons, eBook, and online stories that are constantly adding up to new forms of literature, with every passing day.

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Humanities LibreTexts

1.1: What is Literature?

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  • Page ID 40366

  • Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap
  • City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative

Defining Literature

In order for us to study literature with any kind of depth, first we must decide what constitutes literature. While works like William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are almost universally accepted as literature, other works are hotly debated, or included or excluded based on the context. For example, while most consider Toni Morrison’s Beloved literature, others debate whether more recent publications such as David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or Rupi Kaur’s Instagram poetry constitute literature. And what about the stories told through tweets, like Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” ? What about video games, like Skyrim , or memes, like Grumpy Cat?

Students often throw their hands up in the air over such distinctions, arguing literature is subjective. Isn't it up to individual opinion? Anything can be literature, such students argue. At first glance, it could seem such distinctions are, at best, arbitrary. At worst, such definitions function as a means of enforcing cultural erasure.

However, consider a story about Kim Kardashian’s plastic surgery in People Magazine . Can this be considered on the same level of literary achievement as Hamlet ? Most would concede there is a difference in quality between these two texts. A blurb about Kim Kardashian’s latest plastic surgery, most would agree, does not constitute literature. So how can we differentiate between such works?

Literature vs. literature

As illustrated in the somewhat silly example above, one way we can define what constitutes literature is by identifying what is definitely not literature. For our intents and purposes of defining most terms in this textbook, we will use the Oxford English Dictionary ’s definitions. Many professors who teach Literature use the concept of Big L Literature vs. little l literature (Rollison).

While the definition of little l literature is fairly easy to understand and apply, the definition of Big L Literature remains amorphous. What makes a work “artistic”? How do we define “superior” or “lasting”?

Let’s break down some of the defining qualities of literature in a bit more detail, starting with the word “artistic.”

Exercise 1.1.1

Consider the following works of art. Which of these images do you feel is higher quality or more “artistic”? Which is lower-quality or less artistic? Why? Justify your position by analyzing the elements of each artwork.

man in dark suit stands on mountain overlooking a sea of clouds

While there may be some debate, most students usually respond that Friedrich's painting is more artistic. This is due to several composition differences between the two works:

  • Artist’s skill: it certainly appears as if the first image was produced by an artist with superior skill
  • Fame: for anyone who knows art history, the first image is famous while the other is not
  • Lasting quality: the first image has survived the test of time, remaining popular over two hundred years!
  • Meaning: the first image likely conjures deeper feelings, themes, or ideas, such as isolation and the primacy of nature. This is why this image has become the face of Romanticism.

But what about the images demonstrate the artists’ superior skills? While the second image appears to be produced with a simple doodle, and quickly composed, the first indicates more complexity, attention-to-detail, and craft. Freidrich leverages different colors, textures, shapes, and symbols to evoke a feeling in the viewer. Skilled artists will use different techniques, like the way they move the paintbrush, the pressure they exert or the direction of the brush. They will use textured paintbrushes for a specific effect, such as the difference between the light fluffy clouds and dark mountain rocks. They will use different color pallets to project, as accurately as possible, the feelings they are trying to evoke. In short, while anyone can paint, true artists leverage many different skills, techniques, and materials to render what is in their imagination into a real-life product.

So how does this relate to our attempts to define literature?

Literature is art, but with words.

While the artist uses different colors, paintbrushes, mediums, canvases, and techniques, the writer uses different genres and literary techniques called literary devices . Just like different types of paint, paintbrushes, and artistic tools, there are literally hundreds of literary devices, but some of the most common are metaphor, simile, personification, and imagery. Genre is the type or style of literature. Each genre has its own conventions. Literary genres include creative nonfiction, fiction, drama, and poetry . Works that are literary tend to masterfully use genre conventions and literary devices to create a world in the mind of the reader. Works that are less literary tend to be for practical and/or entertainment purposes, and the writer dedicates less focused energy towards artfully employing literary devices.

However, just because a work is not as literary as another does not mean it cannot be enjoyed. Just like a stick figure or cartoon character might be perfectly fine if intended for a particular audience or purpose, readers can still enjoy People Magazine even though it is not of the same literary quality as Hamlet .

So, to use an example from earlier:

While some literature falls into clear designations of literature or not literature, most works are open to debate. Given the sometimes difficult task of determining whether a work falls into one camp or the other, it may be more helpful to think of Literature less as a dichotomy than a spectrum, with popular magazines on one end and works like Hamlet and Beloved on the other, and most written works falling somewhere between the two extremes.

The Literary Spectrum

This spectrum can be a helpful way to think about literature because it provides a more open-ended way to discuss writing as art than simply labeling works as literary or not. After viewing the above chart, why do you think popular magazines and a Calculus textbook are considered "less literary"? In terms of popular magazines, they do not fit the definition of literature as "lasting" in the sense that they usually fade from relevancy quickly after publication. Additionally, the authors of such magazines are striving for quick entertainment rather than leaving a meaningful impression on the reader. They tend not to use literary devices, such as metaphor, in a masterful way. On the other end, Shakespeare's Hamlet definitely fits the definition of "lasting," in that it has survived hundreds of years. It is full of literary devices used for rhetorical effect and, one would argue, it touches upon deep themes such as death, the afterlife, murder, vengeance, and love, rather than trifling issues such as a starlet's most recent plastic surgery.

Certainly, works of literature are up for debate: that is the quintessential question literary scholars might ask. What makes certain literary works survive the test of time? What makes a story, poem, or drama "good"? While literary scholars are less interested in proving a certain work is "good" or not -- and more focused on analyzing the ways to illuminate a given work -- it can be helpful for you to consider what kinds of literature you like and why you like it. What about the way it was written causes you to feel the way you do about it?

Who Decides What is Literature?

Now that we have at least somewhat clarified the definition of literature, who decides what works are or are not literature? Historically speaking, kings, queens, publishers, literary critics, professors, colleges, and readers (like you!) have decided which works survive and which works do not.

Aristotle was one of the first writers to attempt to decide what works fall into the category of literature, and what works do not. While Aristotle was most famous for his contributions to science and philosophy, he is also considered one of the first literary critics. A literary critic is a person who studies and analyzes literature. A literary critic produces scholarship called literary criticism . An example of this would be Aristotle’s Poetics , in which he identifies the defining qualities of a “good” Tragedy. Aristotle’s analysis of Tragedy was so influential that it is still used today, over two thousand years later!

When a work is officially decided to constitute literature, it enters something called the Canon. Not to be confused with the large metal tube that shoots bombs popular in the 16th through the 19th centuries (cannon), the Literary Canon is a collection of works that are considered by the powers that be to constitute literature. A work that falls into this designation is called canonical. So, to use an example from Aristotle’s Poetics , Aristotle defined Sophocles’ Oedipus Trilogy as the pinnacle of the Tragic Genre. From there, in part due to Aristotle's influence, Greek society valued Oedipus so much that they kept discussing, reading, referencing, and teaching it. Thus, it became a kind of shining example of the Tragic Canon, one which has lasted thousands of years and continues to be read and lauded to this day. Other tragedies, fairly or not, are often judged on their quality in comparison to Sophocles' works. Wild to think that someone who died thousands of years ago still influences what we consider literature today!

Memes and Video Games: Today's Literature?

All this talk of thousands-of-years-old texts might seem out of touch. A lot of people think "old and boring" and literature are synonymous. Students are often surprised to hear that comic books and video games can arguably be considered literature, too. There are plenty of arguments to be made that comic books, such as Maus by Art Spiegalman (1991) or Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) are literature. Cutting edge literary scholars argue video games like Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer (2015) can be considered literary. There is also literature that is published in tweets, like Jennifer Egan's "Black Box" (2012). Some might even consider memes literature!

Generative question: do you think memes can be literary?

chihuahua makes a dramatic face with superimposed text: "me, a writing professor: *assigns 500 word essay*; students: *dramatic chihuahua face*"

A meme is an image or video containing cultural values or ideas, often represented through allusion (implied reference to another work, without naming that work or its author). Memes can spread rapidly spreads through social media. Why? Because the best ones are #relatable; that is, they speak to a common human experience.

Usually memes take the form of text superimposed on an image. For example, the meme above conveys the dramatic reaction students sometimes give when I assign an essay. This is done primarily through a literary device called hyperbole , or exaggeration for rhetorical effect. It conveys its message comically through certain conventions that come along with the meme genre, such as the syntactic structure "me, a [insert noun]" and asterisks, which convey action. Just like in the Shakespearean drama, the colon indicates what each character (me and the students, in this case) is saying or doing. My chihuahua's face looks silly and very dramatic. Through this use of image, text, format, and convention, the meaning I intended to convey was that I was making fun of my students for being over-dramatic about what to me seems like a fairly simple assignment. While some might dismiss memes as shallow, when you start to unravel the layers of meaning, they can actually be very complex and even, dare I say, literary!

Think about a recent meme you have seen, or your favorite meme of all time. Imagine explaining this meme to someone who has no idea what it means. What is the message or idea behind the meme? What cultural reference points does it use to convey its message? In what ways might this meme be considered literature? How might this compare to a short poem, like a haiku?

Not Literature

Let's say you come to the conclusion that a meme, a gossip magazine, or the Twilight Series is not literary. Does that mean you have to feel guilty and give up reading it forever? Or that it is not "good"?

Just because a work is not literary does not mean it is "bad," that it does not have value, or that one cannot enjoy it. Indeed, there are plenty of examples of written works that are on the less literary side of the spectrum but are still fun and enriching to read. Joe Dirt i s not on the same artistic level of cinema as Schindler's List , but my husband still loves watching it. Nothing Taylor Swift has produced is as deep as Tupac Shakur's "Changes" (1992) or Mitski's "Last Words of a Shooting Star" (2014), but listening to Taylor Swift is my guilty pleasure. This is all to say that whether a text is literary or not is not as important as the methods of analyzing texts. In fact, texts which were excluded from literature are often argued into the literary canon through such analysis. Part of what makes analyzing literature so fun is that it means the definition of literature is always up for debate! This is especially important given the history of the canon.

The Problem with the Canon

In an ideal world, literature would be celebrated purely based on its artistic merit. Well-written works would last, poorly-written works would wither from public memory. However, that is not always the case. Works often achieve public prominence or survive based on qualities unrelated to skill or aesthetics, such as an author's fame, wealth, connections, or acceptance by the dominant culture. William Wordsworth, for example, was named Poet Laureate of England and has been taught as one of the "Big Six" major Romantic-era authors ever since. Indeed, he is accepted as part of the Romanticism literary canon. One would be hard-pressed to find a Literature anthology that does not feature William Wordsworth . However, how many people have read or heard of Dorothy Wordsworth , William Wordsworth's sister, who arguably depicted Romantic themes with equal skill and beauty? Or James Hogg, a Scottish contemporary of Wordsworth who was a lower-class shepherd? Similarly, while most readers have encountered F. Scott Fitzgerald or Edgar Allen Poe in their high school literature classes, how many have read Frederick Douglass in these same classes? In short, all artistic skill (arguably) considered equal, why do some authors predominantly feature in the Canon while others do not?

Let’s perform an experimental activity.

  • Find a piece of paper or a whiteboard. On this piece of paper or whiteboard, write down as many works of literature that you feel constitute “Big L Literature.” Perhaps they are works you read in high school, works which have been made into films, or works you have been taught or told are literary masterworks. Don’t turn the page until you have written them down. Try to think of at least 10, but a larger sample size is better. Once you are finished, continue to the next paragraph.
  • Alright, now look at your list. If you know the author of the literary texts you named, write their name next to the work. If you do not know the author, Google the information and write it down. Continue doing this until you have named the author of each work. Once you are finished, read on to the next paragraph.
  • Now, as uncomfortable as it seems, label the gender/race/age/presumed sexual orientation of the authors you listed. After you have categorized them to the best of your ability, consider the following questions:
  • What percentage of the authors are male?
  • What percentage of the authors are white?
  • What percentage of the authors are old/dead?
  • What patterns do you notice? Why do you think this is?

I have replicated this experiment dozens of times in the classroom, and, in most classes, the vast majority of what students have been taught are “Literary Masterworks” are written by (pardon my colloquialism) dead white males. Although, as time progresses, it seems there is increasing but not proportionate representation on average. For example, while women make up about half of the population, over 80% of the most popular novels were written by men ("Battle"). While there are many possible reasons for this discrepancy in representation (which could be the focus of an entire textbook), what does this mean for scholars of literature? For students? For instructors? For society?

As a cultural relic, similar to art, many scholars suggest literature is a reflection of the society which produces it. This includes positive aspects of society (championing values such as love, justice, and good triumphing over evil), but it can also reflect negative aspects of society (such as discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia, historical lack of opportunity for marginalized authors).

For example, enslaved Africans were often prevented from learning to read and write as a form of control. When Phillis Wheatley published her book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) she had to defend the fact that she wrote it, due to popularly held racist views that slaves were incapable of writing poetry. Later, Frederick Douglass wrote about how his enslavers banned him from reading and writing, as they realized "education and slavery were incompatible with each other" (Douglass). He later championed his learning to read and write as the means which conveyed him to freedom. However, even when trying to publish The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass ( 1845) his publishers were forced to prove that it was, in fact, an enslaved person who wrote the story and not a white man who wrote it for him. Slave owners actively attempted to keep this book from circulation as it threatened the institution of slavery upon which they depended. Indeed, to this day, Douglass' book continues to be banned in some prisons for its potential to incite revolution (Darby, Gilroy).

How could Black writers enter the canon en masse if they were not allowed to read or write? Or if they were forced to spend all of their waking hours working? And if those who had the means to read and write had to jump through absurd hoops just to have their works published? And if even those texts which were published were banned?

Similarly, throughout much of Western history, women have been discouraged from pursuing reading and writing, as it distracted from society's expectations for women to focus on motherly and household duties. Until the 1700s, women were not allowed to go to college. Even then, very few went: only the extremely wealthy. It was not until the 19th century that women attended college in representative numbers. Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One's Own that if there are fewer works of literature written by women, it is only because society, historically, has not given women the time, education, funding, or space to do so. In this extended essay, she describes an imaginary sister of William Shakespeare who could have been just as great of a writer had she the same opportunities as her brother.

I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee's life of the poet. She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her.

Woolf argues that in our time those who have been excluded from literature can now join the canon by adding their voices. The inequity of representation in literature -- which has arguably improved, but in many ways persists today -- can be remedied if more people from a wide array of backgrounds and walks of life are empowered to study and create Literature. That is one reason why the current study of literature is so exciting. As a student and budding literary scholar, you have the power to influence culture through your reading and analysis of literature! For one author and scholar's perspective on this topic, please watch this the following TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to see the ways in which such misrepresentations are harmful, and why it is important to veer away from the historically parochial Canon into what Chinua Achebe calls "a balance of stories" (qtd. Bacon).

screen capture of a TED Talk video of "The Danger of a Single Story" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Link to transcript and video.

  • Original video available on TED Talk website
  • Transcript of video

What "single stories" do you know? What are the "single stories" people have told about you? What story would you tell if you could? What kinds of stories do you want to read? Throughout this class, you will get the opportunity to encounter many different voices and stories from all over the world. While we faced hurdles of copyright permissions, the authors of this textbook attempted to embody the values espoused in this TED Talk & Chinua Achebe's conception of the "balance of stories." As you read the textbook, consider the stories which were omitted, why they were omitted, and what works of Literature you would include in this class if you could.

Works Cited

Bacon, Katie. "An African Voice." The Atlantic , 2000.

"Battle of the Authors: Are The Most Popular Rated Fiction Books Written by Men or Women?" Wordery , 1 Mar. 2019.

Darby, Luke. "Illinois Prison Bans Frederick Douglass's Memoir and Other "Racial" Books." GQ , 20 August 2019.

Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. 1845.

Friedrich, Caspar David. "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog." Hamburger Kunsthalle Museum , 1818.

Gilroy, Paul. "Banned Books of Guantánamo: 'An American Slave' by Frederick Douglass." Vice , 14 Nov. 2014.

"literature, n.; 3b & 5" OED Online , Oxford University Press, September 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/109080. Accessed 6 September 2019.

Rollison, David. "Big L vs Little L Literature." Survey of World Literature I. College of Marin, 2008. Lecture.

Wheatley, Phillis. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral . 1773.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. 1929.

Definition of Genre

Genre originates from the French word meaning kind or type. As a literary device, genre refers to a form, class, or type of literary work. The primary genres in literature are poetry, drama / play , essay , short story , and novel . The term genre is used quite often to denote literary sub-classifications or specific types of literature such as comedy , tragedy , epic poetry, thriller , science fiction , romance , etc.

It’s important to note that, as a literary device, the genre is closely tied to the expectations of readers. This is especially true for literary sub-classifications. For example, Jane Austen ’s work is classified by most as part of the romance fiction genre, as demonstrated by this quote from her novel Sense and Sensibility :

When I fall in love, it will be forever.

Though Austen’s work is more complex than most formulaic romance novels, readers of Austen’s work have a set of expectations that it will feature a love story of some kind. If a reader found space aliens or graphic violence in a Jane Austen novel, this would undoubtedly violate their expectations of the romantic fiction genre.

Difference Between Style and Genre

Although both seem similar, the style is different from the genre. In simple terms, style means the characters or features of the work of a single person or individual. However, the genre is the classification of those words into broader categories such as modernist, postmodernist or short fiction and novels, and so on. Genres also have sub-genre, but the style does not have sub-styles. Style usually have further features and characteristics.

Common Examples of Genre

Genres could be divided into four major categories which also have further sub-categories. The four major categories are given below.

  • Poetry: It could be categorized into further sub-categories such as epic, lyrical poetry, odes , sonnets , quatrains , free verse poems, etc.
  • Fiction : It could be categorized into further sub-categories such as short stories, novels, skits, postmodern fiction, modern fiction, formal fiction, and so on.
  • Prose : It could be further categorized into sub-genres or sub-categories such as essays, narrative essays, descriptive essays, autobiography , biographical writings, and so on.
  • Drama: It could be categorized into tragedy, comedy, romantic comedy, absurd theatre, modern play, and so on.

Common Examples of Fiction Genre

In terms of literature, fiction refers to the prose of short stories, novellas , and novels in which the story originates from the writer’s imagination. These fictional literary forms are often categorized by genre, each of which features a particular style, tone , and storytelling devices and elements.

Here are some common examples of genre fiction and their characteristics:

  • Literary Fiction : a work with artistic value and literary merit.
  • Thriller : features dark, mysterious, and suspenseful plots.
  • Horror : intended to scare and shock the reader while eliciting a sense of terror or dread; may feature scary entities such as ghosts, zombies, evil spirits, etc.
  • Mystery : generally features a detective solving a case with a suspenseful plot and slowly revealing information for the reader to piece together.
  • Romance : features a love story or romantic relationship; generally lighthearted, optimistic, and emotionally satisfying.
  • Historical : plot takes place in the past with balanced realism and creativity; can feature actual historical figures, events, and settings.
  • Western : generally features cowboys, settlers, or outlaws of the American Old West with themes of the frontier.
  • Bildungsroman : story of a character passing from youth to adulthood with psychological and/or moral growth; the character becomes “educated” through loss, a journey, conflict , and maturation.
  • Science Fiction : speculative stories derived and/or inspired by natural and social sciences; generally features futuristic civilizations, time travel, or space exploration.
  • Dystopian : sub-genre of science fiction in which the story portrays a setting that may appear utopian but has a darker, underlying presence that is problematic.
  • Fantasy : speculative stories with imaginary characters in imaginary settings; can be inspired by mythology or folklore and generally include magical elements.
  • Magical Realism : realistic depiction of a story with magical elements that are accepted as “normal” in the universe of the story.
  • Realism : depiction of real settings, people, and plots as a means of approaching the truth of everyday life and laws of nature.

Examples of Writers Associated with Specific Genre Fiction

Writers are often associated with a specific genre of fictional literature when they achieve critical acclaim, public notoriety, and/or commercial success with readers for a particular work or series of works. Of course, this association doesn’t limit the writer to that particular genre of fiction. However, being paired with a certain type of literature can last for an author’s entire career and beyond.

Here are some examples of writers that have become associated with specific fiction genre:

  • Stephen King: horror
  • Ray Bradbury : science fiction
  • Jackie Collins: romance
  • Toni Morrison: black feminism
  • John le Carré: espionage
  • Philippa Gregory: historical fiction
  • Jacqueline Woodson: racial identity fiction
  • Philip Pullman: fantasy
  • Flannery O’Connor: Southern Gothic
  • Shel Silverstein: children’s poetry
  • Jonathan Swift : satire
  • Larry McMurtry: western
  • Virginia Woolf: feminism
  • Raymond Chandler: detective fiction
  • Colson Whitehead: Afrofuturism
  • Gabriel García Márquez : magical realism
  • Madeleine L’Engle: children’s fantasy fiction
  • Agatha Christie : mystery
  • John Green : young adult fiction
  • Margaret Atwood: dystopian

Famous Examples of Genre in Other Art Forms

Most art forms feature genre as a means of identifying, differentiating, and categorizing the many forms and styles within a particular type of art. Though there are many crossovers when it comes to genre and no finite boundaries, most artistic works within a particular genre feature shared patterns , characteristics, and conventions.

Here are some famous examples of genres in other art forms:

  • Music : rock, country, hip hop, folk, classical, heavy metal, jazz, blues
  • Visual Art : portrait, landscape, still life, classical, modern, impressionism, expressionism
  • Drama : comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy , melodrama , performance, musical theater, illusion
  • Cinema : action, horror, drama, romantic comedy, western, adventure , musical, documentary, short, biopic, fantasy, superhero, sports

Examples of Genre in Literature

As a literary device, the genre is like an implied social contract between writers and their readers. This does not mean that writers must abide by all conventions associated with a specific genre. However, there are organizational patterns within a genre that readers tend to expect. Genre expectations allow readers to feel familiar with the literary work and help them to organize the information presented by the writer. In addition, keeping with genre conventions can establish a writer’s relationship with their readers and a framework for their literature.

Here are some examples of genres in literature and the conventions they represent:

Example 1: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow , Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out , brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

The formal genre of this well-known literary work is Shakespearean drama or play. Macbeth can be sub-categorized as a literary tragedy in that the play features the elements of a classical tragic work. For example, Macbeth’s character aligns with the traits and path of a tragic hero –a protagonist whose tragic flaw brings about his downfall from power to ruin. This tragic arc of the protagonist often results in catharsis (emotional release) and potential empathy among readers and members of the audience .

In addition to featuring classical characteristics and conventions of the tragic genre, Shakespeare’s play also resonates with modern readers and audiences as a tragedy. In this passage, one of Macbeth’s soliloquies , his disillusionment, and suffering is made clear in that, for all his attempts and reprehensible actions at gaining power, his life has come to nothing. Macbeth realizes that death is inevitable, and no amount of power can change that truth. As Macbeth’s character confronts his mortality and the virtual meaninglessness of his life, readers and audiences are called to do the same. Without affirmation or positive resolution , Macbeth’s words are as tragic for readers and audiences as they are for his own character.

Like  M a cbeth , Shakespeare’s tragedies are as currently relevant as they were when they were written. The themes of power, ambition, death, love, and fate incorporated in his tragic literary works are universal and timeless. This allows tragedy as a genre to remain relatable to modern and future readers and audiences.

Example 2: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy . I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.

The formal genre of this literary work is novel. Walker’s novel can be sub-categorized within many fictional genres. This passage represents and validates its sub-classification within the genre of feminist fiction. Sofia’s character, at the outset, is assertive as a black woman who has been systematically marginalized in her community and family, and she expresses her independence from the dominance and control of men. Sofia is a foil character for Celie, the protagonist, who often submits to the power, control, and brutality of her husband. The juxtaposition of these characters indicates the limited options and harsh consequences faced by women with feminist ideals in the novel.

Unfortunately, Sofia’s determination to fight for herself leads her to be beaten close to death and sent to prison when she asserts herself in front of the white mayor’s wife. However, Sofia’s strong feminist traits have a significant impact on the other characters in the novel, and though she is not able to alter the systemic racism and subjugation she faces as a black woman, she does maintain her dignity as a feminist character in the novel.

Example 3: A Word to Husbands by Ogden Nash

To keep your marriage brimming With love in the loving cup, Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; Whenever you’re right, shut up.

The formal genre of this literary work is poetry. Nash’s poem would be sub-categorized within the genre of humor . The poet’s message to what is presumably his fellow husbands is witty, clear, and direct–through the wording and message of the last poetic line may be unexpected for many readers. In addition, the structure of the poem sets up the “punchline” at the end. The piece begins with poetic wording that appears to romanticize love and marriage, which makes the contrasting “base” language of the final line a satisfying surprise and ironic twist for the reader. The poet’s tone is humorous and light-hearted which also appeals to the characteristics and conventions of this genre.

Synonyms of Genre

Genre doesn’t have direct synonyms . A few close meanings are category, class, group, classification, grouping, head, heading, list, set, listing, and categorization. Some other words such as species, variety, family, school, and division also fall in the category of its synonyms.

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Literature Reviews: Types of Literature

  • Library Basics
  • 1. Choose Your Topic
  • How to Find Books
  • Types of Clinical Study Designs

Types of Literature

  • 3. Search the Literature
  • 4. Read & Analyze the Literature
  • 5. Write the Review
  • Keeping Track of Information
  • Style Guides
  • Books, Tutorials & Examples

Different types of publications have different characteristics.

Primary Literature Primary sources means original studies, based on direct observation, use of statistical records, interviews, or experimental methods, of actual practices or the actual impact of practices or policies. They are authored by researchers, contains original research data, and are usually published in a peer-reviewed journal. Primary literature may also include conference papers, pre-prints, or preliminary reports. Also called empirical research .

Secondary Literature Secondary literature consists of interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to the primary source literature. Examples include review articles (such as meta-analysis and systematic reviews) and reference works. Professionals within each discipline take the primary literature and synthesize, generalize, and integrate new research.

Tertiary Literature Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.

Adapted from the Information Services Department of the Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago , University of Illinois at Chicago.

Types of Scientific Publications

These examples and descriptions of publication types will give you an idea of how to use various works and why you would want to write a particular kind of paper.

  • Scholarly article aka empirical article
  • Review article
  • Conference paper

Scholarly (aka empirical) article -- example

Empirical studies use data derived from observation or experiment. Original research papers (also called primary research articles) that describe empirical studies and their results are published in academic journals.  Articles that report empirical research contain different sections which relate to the steps of the scientific method.

      Abstract - The abstract provides a very brief summary of the research.

     Introduction - The introduction sets the research in a context, which provides a review of related research and develops the hypotheses for the research.

     Method - The method section describes how the research was conducted.

     Results - The results section describes the outcomes of the study.

     Discussion - The discussion section contains the interpretations and implications of the study.

     References - A references section lists the articles, books, and other material cited in the report.

Review article -- example

A review article summarizes a particular field of study and places the recent research in context. It provides an overview and is an excellent introduction to a subject area. The references used in a review article are helpful as they lead to more in-depth research.

Many databases have limits or filters to search for review articles. You can also search by keywords like review article, survey, overview, summary, etc.

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports -- example

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports are not usually peer-reviewed.  A conference article is similar to a scholarly article insofar as it is academic. Conference articles are published much more quickly than scholarly articles. You can find conference papers in many of the same places as scholarly articles.

How Do You Identify Empirical Articles?

To identify an article based on empirical research, look for the following characteristics:

     The article is published in a peer-reviewed journal .

     The article includes charts, graphs, or statistical analysis .

     The article is substantial in size , likely to be more than 5 pages long.

     The article contains the following parts (the exact terms may vary): abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references .

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Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Literature Types (Compared)

  • by Team Experts
  • July 2, 2023 July 3, 2023

Discover the surprising differences between fiction and nonfiction literature types in this eye-opening comparison.

In conclusion, literature types are an essential aspect of written works that help readers understand the content, style, and purpose of a particular piece. Fiction and nonfiction are two major literature types that differ in their narrative style and content. Fiction includes imaginary stories and creative writing, while nonfiction includes fact-based writing and informational texts. Understanding these literature types and their differences can help readers choose the right book for their needs.

What are the Different Literary Types?

Narrative style in fiction and nonfiction writing, real-life events in nonfiction vs creative writing in fiction, informational texts: understanding their role in literature, common mistakes and misconceptions.

Overall, understanding the differences in narrative style between fiction and nonfiction writing is crucial for effective storytelling . While some elements may overlap, such as plot structure and conflict, the use of characterization, dialogue, imagery, tone, mood, setting, theme, foreshadowing, flashback, symbolism, irony, and climax differ greatly between the two styles . It is important to consider these elements when choosing a narrative style and to use them effectively to engage and captivate the reader.

Overall, the key difference between real-life events in nonfiction and creative writing in fiction is the purpose of the writing and the level of fictionalization. Nonfiction aims to inform and educate readers about real-life events, while fiction aims to entertain and engage readers through creative writing. Nonfiction requires accurate and reliable information about real-life events, while fiction requires creative ideas and imaginative storytelling. Nonfiction should be based on real-life events and should not be overly fictionalized, while fiction can be completely made up or based on real-life events with varying degrees of fictionalization. Both nonfiction and fiction require editing and revision to improve the clarity, coherence, and effectiveness of the writing.

Overall, understanding the role of informational texts in literature can provide readers with valuable knowledge and insights on various topics. However, it is important to approach these texts with a critical eye and consider the potential risks of biased or false information. By analyzing the purpose, type, structure, credibility , audience, and impact of informational texts, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

The Write Practice

Literary Genres: Definition and Examples of the 4 Essential Genres and 100+ Subgenres

by Joe Bunting | 1 comment

What are literary genres? Do they actually matter to readers? How about to writers? What types of literary genres exist? And if you're a writer, how do you decide which genre to write in?

Literary Genres: Definition and Examples of the 4 Essential Genres and 100+ Subgenres

To begin to think about literary genres, let's start with an example.

Let's say want to read something. You go to a bookstore or hop onto a store online or go to a library.

But instead of a nice person wearing reading glasses and a cardigan asking you what books you like and then thinking through every book ever written to find you the next perfect read (if that person existed, for the record, they would be my favorite person), you're faced with this: rows and rows of books with labels on the shelves like “Literary Fiction,” “Travel,” “Reference,” “Science Fiction,” and so on.

You stop at the edge of the bookstore and just stand there for a while, stumped. “What do all of these labels even mean?!” And then you walk out of the store.

Or maybe you're writing a book , and someone asks you a question like this: “What kind of book are you writing? What genre  is it?”

And you stare at them in frustration thinking, “My book transcends genre, convention, and even reality, obviously. Don't you dare put my genius in a box!”

What are literary genres? In this article, we'll share the definition and different types of literary genres (there are four main ones but thousands of subgenres). Then, we'll talk about why genre matters to both readers and writers. We'll look at some of the components that people use to categorize writing into genres. Finally, we'll give you a chance to put genre into practice with an exercise .

Table of Contents

Introduction Literary Genres Definition Why Genre Matters (to Readers, to Writers) The 4 Essential Genres 100+ Genres and Subgenres The 7 Components of Genre Practice Exercise

Ready to get started? Let's get into it.

What Are Literary Genres? Literary Genre Definition

Let's begin with a basic definition of literary genres:

Literary genres are categories, types, or collections of literature. They often share characteristics, such as their subject matter or topic, style, form, purpose, or audience.

That's our formal definition. But here's a simpler way of thinking about it:

Genre is a way of categorizing readers' tastes.

That's a good basic definition of genre. But does genre really matter?

Why Literary Genres Matter

Literary genres matter. They matter to readers but they also matter to writers. Here's why:

Why Literary Genres Matter to Readers

Think about it. You like to read (or watch) different things than your parents.

You probably also like to read different things at different times of the day. For example, maybe you read the news in the morning, listen to an audiobook of a nonfiction book related to your studies or career in the afternoon, and read a novel or watch a TV show in the evening.

Even more, you probably read different things now than you did as a child or than you will want to read twenty years from now.

Everyone has different tastes.

Genre is one way we match what readers want to what writers want to write and what publishers are publishing.

It's also not a new thing. We've been categorizing literature like this for thousands of years. Some of the oldest forms of writing, including religious texts, were tied directly into this idea of genre.

For example, forty percent of the Old Testament in the Bible is actually poetry, one of the four essential literary genres. Much of the New Testament is in the form of epistle, a subgenre that's basically a public letter.

Genre matters, and by understanding how genre works, you not only can find more things you want to read, you can also better understand what the writer (or publisher) is trying to do.

Why Literary Genres Matter to Writers

Genre isn't just important to readers. It's extremely important to writers too.

In the same way the literary genres better help readers find things they want to read and better understand a writer's intentions, genres inform writers of readers' expectations and also help writers find an audience.

If you know that there are  a lot  of readers of satirical political punditry (e.g. The Onion ), then you can write more of that kind of writing and thus find more readers and hopefully make more money. Genre can help you find an audience.

At the same time, great writers have always played with and pressed the boundaries of genre, sometimes even subverting it for the sake of their art.

Another way to think about genre is a set of expectations from the reader. While it's important to meet  some  of those expectations, if you meet too many, the reader will get bored and feel like they know exactly what's going to happen next. So great writers will always play to the readers' expectations and then change a few things completely to give readers a sense of novelty in the midst of familiarity.

This is not unique to writers, by the way. The great apparel designer Virgil Abloh, who was an artistic director at Louis Vuitton until he passed away tragically in 2021, had a creative template called the “3% Rule,” where he would take an existing design, like a pair of Nike Air Jordans, and make a three percent change to it, transforming it into something completely new. His designs were incredibly successful, often selling for thousands of dollars.

This process of taking something familiar and turning it into something new with a slight change is something artists have done throughout history, including writers, and it's a great way to think about how to use genre for your own writing.

What Literary Genre is NOT: Story Type vs. Literary Genres

Before we talk more about the types of genre, let's discuss what genre is  not .

Genre is  not  the same as story type (or for nonfiction, types of nonfiction structure). There are ten (or so) types of stories, including adventure, love story, mystery, and coming of age, but there are hundreds, even thousands of genres.

Story type and nonfiction book structure are about how the work is structured.

Genre is about how the work is perceived and marketed.

These are related but  not  the same.

For example, one popular subgenre of literature is science fiction. Probably the most common type of science fiction story is adventure, but you can also have mystery sci-fi stories, love story sci-fi, and even morality sci-fi. Story type transcends genre.

You can learn more about this in my book  The Write Structure , which teaches writers the simple process to structure great stories. Click to check out  The Write Structure .

This is true for non-fiction as well in different ways. More on this in my post on the seven types of nonfiction books .

Now that we've addressed why genre matters and what genre doesn't  include, let's get into the different literary genres that exist (there are a lot of them!).

How Many Literary Genres Are There? The 4 Essential Genres, and 100+ Genres and Subgenres

Just as everyone has different tastes, so there are genres to fit every kind of specific reader.

There are four essential literary genres, and all are driven by essential questions. Then, within each of those essential genres are genres and subgenres. We will look at all of these in turn, below, as well as several examples of each.

An important note: There are individual works that fit within the gaps of these four essential genres or even cross over into multiple genres.

As with anything, the edges of these categories can become blurry, for example narrative poetry or fictional reference books.

A general rule: You know it when you see it (except, of course, when the author is trying to trick you!).

1. Nonfiction: Is it true?

The core question for nonfiction is, “Is it true?”

Nonfiction deals with facts, instruction, opinion/argument reference, narrative nonfiction, or a combination.

A few examples of nonfiction (more below): reference, news, memoir, manuals, religious inspirational books, self-help, business, and many more.

2. Fiction: Is it, at some level, imagined?

The core question for fiction is, “Is it, at some level, imagined?”

Fiction is almost always story or narrative. However, satire is a form of “fiction” that's structured like nonfiction opinion/essays or news. And one of the biggest insults you can give to a journalist, reporter, or academic researcher is to suggest that their work is “fiction.”

3. Drama: Is it performed?

Drama is a genre of literature that has some kind of performance component. This includes theater, film, and audio plays.

The core question that defines drama is, “Is it performed?”

As always, there are genres within this essential genre, including horror films, thrillers, true crime podcasts, and more.

4. Poetry: Is it verse?

Poetry is in some ways the most challenging literary genre to define because while poetry is usually based on form, i.e. lines intentionally broken into verse, sometimes including rhyme or other poetic devices, there are some “poems” that are written completely in prose called prose poetry. These are only considered poems because the author and/or literary scholars  said  they were poems.

To confuse things even more, you also have narrative poetry, which combines fiction and poetry, and song which combines poetry and performance (or drama) with music.

Which is all to say, poetry is challenging to classify, but again, you usually know it when you see it.

Next, let's talk about the genres and subgenres within those four essential literary genres.

The 100+ Literary Genres and Subgenres with Definitions

Genre is, at its core, subjective. It's literally based on the tastes of readers, tastes that change over time, within markets, and across cultures.

Thus, there are essentially an infinite number of genres.

Even more, genres are constantly shifting. What is considered contemporary fiction today will change a decade from now.

So take the lists below (and any  list of genres you see) as an incomplete, likely outdated, small sample size of genre with definitions.

1. Fiction Genres

Sorted alphabetically.

Action/Adventure. An action/adventure story has adventure elements in its plot line. This type of story often involves some kind of conflict between good and evil, and features characters who must overcome obstacles to achieve their goals .

Chick Lit. Chick Lit stories are usually written for women who interested in lighthearted stories that still have some depth. They often include romance, humor, and drama in their plots.

Comedy. This typically refers to historical stories and plays (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a happy ending, often with a wedding.

Commercial. Commercial stories have been written for the sole purpose of making money, often in an attempt to cash in on the success of another book, film, or genre.

Crime/Police/Detective Fiction. Crime and police stories feature a detective, whether amateur or professional, who solves crimes using their wits and knowledge of criminal psychology.

Drama or Tragedy. This typically refers to historical stories or plays (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a sad or tragic ending, often with one or more deaths.

Erotica. Erotic stories contain explicit sexual descriptions in their narratives.

Espionage. Espionage stories focus on international intrigue, usually involving governments, spies, secret agents, and/or terrorist organizations. They often involve political conflict, military action, sabotage, terrorism, assassination, kidnapping, and other forms of covert operations.

Family Saga. Family sagas focus on the lives of an extended family, sometimes over several generations. Rather than having an individual protagonist, the family saga tells the stories of multiple main characters or of the family as a whole.

Fantasy. Fantasy stories are set in imaginary worlds that often feature magic, mythical creatures, and fantastic elements. They may be based on mythology, folklore, religion, legend, history, or science fiction.

General Fiction. General fiction novels are those that deal with individuals and relationships in an ordinary setting. They may be set in any time period, but usually take place in modern times.

Graphic Novel. Graphic novels are a hybrid between comics and prose fiction that often includes elements of both.

Historical Fiction. Historical stories are written about imagined or actual events that occurred in history. They usually take place during specific periods of time and often include real or imaginary characters who lived at those times.

Horror Genre. Horror stories focus on the psychological terror experienced by their characters. They often feature supernatural elements, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, monsters, and aliens.

Humor/Satire. This category includes stories that have been written using satire or contain comedic elements. Satirical novels tend to focus on some aspect of society in a critical way.

LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ novels are those that feature characters who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or otherwise non-heterosexual.

Literary Fiction. Literary fiction novels or stories have a high degree of artistic merit, a unique or experimental style of writing , and often deal with serious themes.

Military. Military stories deal with war, conflict, combat, or similar themes and often have strong action elements. They may be set in a contemporary or a historical period.

Multicultural. Multicultural stories are written by and about people who have different cultural backgrounds, including those that may be considered ethnic minorities.

Mystery G enre. Mystery stories feature an investigation into a crime.

Offbeat/Quirky. An offbeat story has an unusual plot, characters, setting, style, tone, or point of view. Quirkiness can be found in any aspect of a story, but often comes into play when the author uses unexpected settings, time periods, or characters.

Picture Book. Picture book novels are usually written for children and feature simple plots and colorful illustrations . They often have a moral or educational purpose.

Religious/Inspirational. Religious/ inspirational stories describe events in the life of a person who was inspired by God or another supernatural being to do something extraordinary. They usually have a moral lesson at their core.

Romance Genre. Romance novels  or stories are those that focus on love between two people, often in an ideal setting. There are many subgenres in romance, including historical, contemporary, paranormal, and others.

Science Fiction. Science fiction stories are usually set in an imaginary future world, often involving advanced technology. They may be based on scientific facts but they are not always.

Short Story Collection . Short story collections contain several short stories written by the same or different authors.

Suspense or Thriller Genre. Thrillers/ suspense stories are usually about people in danger, often involving crimes, natural disasters, or terrorism.

Upmarket. Upmarket stories are often written for and/or focus on upper class people who live in an upscale environment.

Western Genre. Western stories are those that take place in the west during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Characters include cowboys, outlaws, native Americans, and settlers.

2. Nonfiction Genres

From the BISAC categories, a globally accepted system for coding and categorizing books by the Book Industry Standards And Communications group.

Antiques & Collectibles. Nonfiction books about antiques and collectibles include those that focus on topics such as collecting, appraising, restoring, and marketing antiques and collectibles. These books may be written for both collectors and dealers in antique and collectible items. They can range from how-to guides to detailed histories of specific types of objects.

Architecture. Architecture books focus on the design, construction, use, and history of buildings and structures. This includes the study of architecture in general, but also the specific designs of individual buildings or styles of architecture.

Art. Art books focus on visual arts, music, literature, dance, film, theater, architecture, design, fashion, food, and other art forms. They may include essays, memoirs, biographies, interviews, criticism, and reviews.

Bibles. Bibles are religious books, almost exclusively Christian, that contain the traditional Bible in various translations, often with commentary or historical context.

Biography & Autobiography. Biography is an account of a person's life, often a historical or otherwise famous person. Autobiographies are personal accounts of people's lives written by themselves.

Body, Mind & Spirt. These books focus on topics related to human health, wellness, nutrition, fitness, or spirituality.

Business & Economics. Business & economics books are about how businesses work. They tend to focus on topics that interest people who run their own companies, lead or manage others, or want to understand how the economy works.

Computers. The computer genre of nonfiction books includes any topics that deal with computers in some way. They can be about general use, about how they affect our lives, or about specific technical areas related to hardware or software.

Cooking. Cookbooks contain recipes or cooking techniques.

Crafts & Hobbies.  How-to guides for crafts and hobbies, including sewing, knitting, painting, baking, woodworking, jewelry making, scrapbooking, photography, gardening, home improvement projects, and others.

Design. Design books are written about topics that include design in some way. They can be about any aspect of design including graphic design, industrial design, product design, fashion, furniture, interior design, or others.

Education. Education books focus on topics related to teaching and learning in schools. They can be used for students or as a resource for teachers.

Family & Relationships. These books focus on family relationships, including parenting, marriage, divorce, adoption, and more.

Foreign Language Study. Books that act as a reference or guide to learning a foreign language.

Games & Activities. Games & activities books may be published for children or adults, may contain learning activities or entertaining word or puzzle games. They range from joke books to crossword puzzle books to coloring books and more.

Gardening. Gardening books include those that focus on aspects of gardening, how to prepare for and grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, trees, shrubs, grasses, and other plants in an indoor or outdoor garden setting.

Health & Fitness. Health and fitness books focus on topics like dieting, exercise, nutrition, weight loss, health issues, medical conditions, diseases, medications, herbs, supplements, vitamins, minerals, and more.

History. History books focus on historical events and people, and may be written for entertainment or educational purposes.

House & Home. House & home books focus on topics like interior design, decorating, entertaining, and DIY projects.

Humor. Humor books are contain humorous elements but do not have any fictional elements.

Juvenile Nonfiction. These are nonfiction books written for children between six and twelve years old.

Language Arts & Disciplines. These books focus on teaching language arts and disciplines. They may be used for elementary school students in grades K-5.

Law. Law books include legal treatises, casebooks, and collections of statutes.

Literary Criticism. Literary criticism books discuss literary works, primarily key works of fiction or memoir. They may include biographies of authors, critical essays on specific works, or studies of the history of literature.

Mathematics. Mathematics books either teach mathematical concepts and methods or explore the history of mathematics.

Medical. Medical books include textbooks, reference books, guides, encyclopedias, and handbooks that focus on fields of medicine, including general practice, internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, and more.

Music. Music books are books that focus on the history, culture, and development of music in various countries around the world. They often include biographies, interviews, reviews, essays, and other related material. However, they may also include sheet music or instruction on playing a specific instrument.

Nature. Nature books focus on the natural world or environment, including natural history, ecology, or natural experiences like hiking, bird watching, or conservation.

Performing Arts. Books about the performing arts in general, including specific types of performance art like dance, music, and theater.

Pets. Pet books include any book that deals with animals in some way, including dog training, cat care, animal behavior, pet nutrition, bird care, and more.

Philosophy. Philosophy books deal with philosophical issues, and may be written for a general audience or specifically for scholars.

Photography. Photography books use photographs as an essential part of their content. They may be about any subject.

Political Science. Political science books deal with politics in some way. They can be about current events, historical figures, or theoretical concepts.

Psychology. Psychology books are about the scientific study of mental processes, emotion, and behavior.

Reference. Reference books are about any subject, topic, or field and contain useful information about that subject, topic or field.

Religion. These books deal with religion in some way, including religious history, theology, philosophy, and spirituality.

Science. Science books focus on topics within scientific fields, including geology, biology, physics, and more.

Self-Help. Self-help books are written for people who want to improve their lives in some way. They may be about health, relationships, finances, career, parenting, spirituality, or any number of topics that can help readers achieve personal goals.

Social Science. Focus on social science topics.

Sports & Recreation. Sports & Recreation books focus on sports either from a reporting, historical, or instructional perspective.

Study Aids. Study aids are books that provide information about a particular subject area for students who want to learn more about that topic. These books can be used in conjunction with classroom instruction or on their own.

Technology & Engineering. Technology & engineering nonfiction books describe how technology has changed our lives and how we can use that knowledge to improve ourselves and society.

Transportation. Focus on transportation topics including those about vehicles, routes, or techniques.

Travel. Travel books are those that focus on travel experiences, whether from a guide perspective or from the author's personal experiences.

True Crime. True Crime books focus on true stories about crimes. These books may be about famous cases, unsolved crimes, or specific criminals.

Young Adult Nonfiction.  Young adult nonfiction books are written for children and teenagers.

3. Drama Genres

These include genres for theater, film, television serials, or audio plays.

As a writer, I find some of these genres particularly eye-roll worthy. And yet, this is the way most films, television shows, and even theater productions are classified.

Action. Action genre dramas involve fast-paced, high-energy sequences in which characters fight against each other. They often have large-scale battles, chase scenes, or other high-intensity, high-conflict scenes.

Horror.  Horror dramas focus on the psychological terror experienced by their characters. They often feature supernatural elements, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons, monsters, and aliens.

Adventure. Adventure films are movies that have an adventurous theme. They may be set in exotic locations, feature action sequences, and/or contain elements of fantasy.

Musicals (Dance). Musicals are dramas that use music in their plot and/or soundtrack. They may be comedies, dramas, or any combination.

Comedy (& Black Comedy). Comedy dramas feature humor in their plots, characters, dialogue, or situations. It sometimes refers to historical dramas (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek drama, etc) that contain a happy ending, often with a wedding.

Science Fiction. Science fiction dramas are usually set in an imaginary future world, often involving advanced technology. They may be based on scientific facts but do not have to be.

Crime & Gangster. Crime & Gangster dramas deal with criminals, detectives, or organized crime groups. They often feature action sequences, violence, and mystery elements.

War (Anti-War). War (or anti-war) dramas focus on contemporary or historical wars. They may also contain action, adventure, mystery, or romance elements.

Drama. Dramas focus on human emotions in conflict situations. They often have complex plots and characters, and deal with serious themes. This may also refer to historical stories (e.g. Shakespeare, Greek Literature, etc) that contain a sad or tragic ending, often with one or more deaths.

Westerns. Westerns are a genre of American film that originated in the early 20th century and take place in the west during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Characters include cowboys, outlaws, native Americans, and settlers.

Epics/Historical/Period. These are dramas based on historical events or periods but do not necessarily involve any real people.

Biographical (“Biopics”). Biopics films are movies that focus on real people in history.

Melodramas, Women's or “Weeper” Films, Tearjerkers. A type of narrative drama that focuses on emotional issues, usually involving love, loss, tragedy, and redemption.

“Chick” Flicks. Chick flicks usually feature romantic relationships and tend to be lighthearted and comedic in nature.

Road Stories. Dramas involving a journey of some kind, usually taking place in contemporary setting, and involving relationships between one or more people, not necessarily romantic.

Courtroom Dramas. Courtroom dramas depict legal cases set in courtrooms. They usually have a dramatic plot line with an interesting twist at the end.

Romance. Romance dramas feature love stories between two people. Romance dramas tend to be more serious, even tragic, in nature, while romantic comedies tend to be more lighthearted.

Detective & Mystery. These dramas feature amateur or professional investigators solving crimes and catching criminals.

Sports. Sports dramas focus on athletic competition in its many forms and usually involve some kind of climactic tournament or championship.

Disaster. Disaster dramas are adventure or action dramas that include natural disasters, usually involving earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other disasters.

Superhero. Superhero dramas are action/adventure dramas that feature characters with supernatural powers. They usually have an origin story, the rise of a villain, and a climactic battle at the end.

Fantasy. Fantasy dramas films are typically adventure dramas that feature fantastical elements in their plot or setting, whether magic, folklore, supernatural creatures, or other fantasy elements.

Supernatural. Supernatural dramas feature paranormal phenomena in their plots, including ghosts, mythical creatures, and mysterious or extraordinary elements. This genre may overlap with horror, fantasy, thriller, action and other genres.

Film Noir. Film noir refers to a style of American crime drama that emerged in the 1940s. These dramas often featured cynical characters who struggled, often fruitlessly, against corruption and injustice.

Thriller/Suspense. Thriller/suspense dramas have elements of suspense and mystery in their plot. They usually feature a character protagonist who must overcome obstacles while trying to solve a crime or prevent a catastrophe.

Guy Stories. Guy dramas feature men in various situations, usually humorous or comedic in nature.

Zombie . Zombie dramas are usually action/adventure dramas that involve zombies.

Animated Stories . Dramas that are depicted with drawings, photographs, stop-motion, CGI, or other animation techniques.

Documentary . Documentaries are non-fiction performances that attempt to describe actual events, topics, or people.

“Foreign.”  Any drama not in the language of or involving characters/topics in your country of origin. They can also have any of the other genres listed here.

Childrens – Kids – Family-Oriented . Dramas with children of various ages as the intended audience.

Sexual – Erotic . These dramas feature explicit sexual acts but also have some kind of plot or narrative (i.e. not pornography).

Classic . Classic dramas refer to dramas performed before 1950.

Silent . Silent dramas were an early form of film that used no recorded sound.

Cult . Cult dramas are usually small-scale, independent productions with an offbeat plot, unusual characters, and/or unconventional style that have nevertheless gained popularity among a specific audience.

4. Poetry Genres

This list is from Harvard's Glossary of Poetic Genres  who also has definitions for each genre.

Dramatic monologue


Light verse

Occasional verse

Verse epistle

What Are the Components of Genre In Literature? The 7 Elements of Genre

Now that we've looked, somewhat exhaustively, at examples of literary genres, let's consider how these genres are created.

What are the elements of literary genre? How are they formed?

Here are seven components that make up genre.

  • Form . Length is the main component of form (e.g. a novel is 200+ pages , films are at least an hour, serialized episodes are about 20 minutes, etc), but may also be determined by how many acts or plot lines they have. You might be asking, what about short stories? Short stories are a genre defined by their length but not their content.
  • Intended Audience . Is the story meant for adults, children, teenagers, etc?
  • Conventions and Tropes . Conventions and tropes describe patterns or predictable events that have developed within genres. For example, a sports story may have a big tournament at the climax, or a fantasy story may have a mentor character who instructs the protagonist on the use of their abilities.
  • Characters and Archetypes. Genre will often have characters who serve similar functions, like the best friend sidekick, the evil villain , the anti-hero , and other character archetypes .
  • Common Settings and Time Periods . Genre may be defined by the setting or time period. For example, stories set in the future tend to be labelled science fiction, stories involving the past tend to be labelled historical or period, etc.
  • Common Story Arcs . While every story type may use each of the six main story arcs , genre tends to be defined by specific story arcs. For example, comedy almost always has a story arc that ends positively, same with kids or family genres. However, dramas often (and when referring to historical drama, always) have stories that end tragically.
  • Common Elements (such as supernatural elements, technology, mythical creatures, monsters, etc) . Some genres center themselves on specific elements, like supernatural creatures, magic, monsters, gore, and so on. Genre can be determined by these common elements.

As you consider these elements, keep in mind that genre all comes back to taste, to what readers want to consume and how to match the unlimited variations of story with the infinite variety of tastes.

Read What You Want, Write What You Want

In the end, both readers and writers should use genre for what it is, a tool, not as something that defines you.

Writers can embrace genre, can use genre, without being controlled by it.

Readers can use genre to find stories or books they enjoy while also exploring works outside of that genre.

Genre can be incredibly fun! But only if you hold it in tension with your own work of telling (or finding) a great story.

What are your favorite genres to read in? to write in?  Let us know in the comments!

Now that we understand everything there is to know about literary genres, let's put our knowledge to use with an exercise. I have two variations for you today, one for readers and one for writers.

Readers : Think of one of your favorite stories. What is the literary genre of that story? Does it have multiple? What expectations do you have about stories within that genre? Finally, how does the author of your favorite story use those expectations, and how do they subvert them?

Writers : Choose a literary genre from the list above and spend fifteen minutes writing a story using the elements of genre: form, audience, conventions and tropes, characters and archetypes, setting and time periods, story arcs, and common elements.

When you’re finished, share your work in the Pro Practice Workshop here .  Not a member yet? Join us here !

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Need to analyze The Scarlet Letter or To Kill a Mockingbird for English class, but fumbling for the right vocabulary and concepts for literary devices? You've come to the right place. To successfully interpret and analyze literary texts, you'll first need to have a solid foundation in literary terms and their definitions.

In this article, we'll help you get familiar with most commonly used literary devices in prose and poetry. We'll give you a clear definition of each of the terms we discuss along with examples of literary elements and the context in which they most often appear (comedic writing, drama, or other).

Before we get to the list of literary devices, however, we have a quick refresher on what literary devices are and how understanding them will help you analyze works of literature.

What Are Literary Devices and Why Should You Know Them?

Literary devices are techniques that writers use to create a special and pointed effect in their writing, to convey information, or to help readers understand their writing on a deeper level.

Often, literary devices are used in writing for emphasis or clarity. Authors will also use literary devices to get readers to connect more strongly with either a story as a whole or specific characters or themes.

So why is it important to know different literary devices and terms? Aside from helping you get good grades on your literary analysis homework, there are several benefits to knowing the techniques authors commonly use.

Being able to identify when different literary techniques are being used helps you understand the motivation behind the author's choices. For example, being able to identify symbols in a story can help you figure out why the author might have chosen to insert these focal points and what these might suggest in regard to her attitude toward certain characters, plot points, and events.

In addition, being able to identify literary devices can make a written work's overall meaning or purpose clearer to you. For instance, let's say you're planning to read (or re-read) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. By knowing that this particular book is a religious allegory with references to Christ (represented by the character Aslan) and Judas (represented by Edmund), it will be clearer to you why Lewis uses certain language to describe certain characters and why certain events happen the way they do.

Finally, literary techniques are important to know because they make texts more interesting and more fun to read. If you were to read a novel without knowing any literary devices, chances are you wouldn't be able to detect many of the layers of meaning interwoven into the story via different techniques.

Now that we've gone over why you should spend some time learning literary devices, let's take a look at some of the most important literary elements to know.

List of Literary Devices: 31 Literary Terms You Should Know

Below is a list of literary devices, most of which you'll often come across in both prose and poetry. We explain what each literary term is and give you an example of how it's used. This literary elements list is arranged in alphabetical order.

An allegory is a story that is used to represent a more general message about real-life (historical) issues and/or events. It is typically an entire book, novel, play, etc.

Example: George Orwell's dystopian book Animal Farm is an allegory for the events preceding the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist era in early 20th century Russia. In the story, animals on a farm practice animalism, which is essentially communism. Many characters correspond to actual historical figures: Old Major represents both the founder of communism Karl Marx and the Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin; the farmer, Mr. Jones, is the Russian Czar; the boar Napoleon stands for Joseph Stalin; and the pig Snowball represents Leon Trotsky.


Alliteration is a series of words or phrases that all (or almost all) start with the same sound. These sounds are typically consonants to give more stress to that syllable. You'll often come across alliteration in poetry, titles of books and poems ( Jane Austen is a fan of this device, for example—just look at Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility ), and tongue twisters.

Example: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." In this tongue twister, the "p" sound is repeated at the beginning of all major words.

Allusion is when an author makes an indirect reference to a figure, place, event, or idea originating from outside the text. Many allusions make reference to previous works of literature or art.

Example: "Stop acting so smart—it's not like you're Einstein or something." This is an allusion to the famous real-life theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.


An anachronism occurs when there is an (intentional) error in the chronology or timeline of a text. This could be a character who appears in a different time period than when he actually lived, or a technology that appears before it was invented. Anachronisms are often used for comedic effect.

Example: A Renaissance king who says, "That's dope, dude!" would be an anachronism, since this type of language is very modern and not actually from the Renaissance period.

Anaphora is when a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of multiple sentences throughout a piece of writing. It's used to emphasize the repeated phrase and evoke strong feelings in the audience.

Example: A famous example of anaphora is Winston Churchill's "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech. Throughout this speech, he repeats the phrase "we shall fight" while listing numerous places where the British army will continue battling during WWII. He did this to rally both troops and the British people and to give them confidence that they would still win the war.


An anthropomorphism occurs when something nonhuman, such as an animal, place, or inanimate object, behaves in a human-like way.

Example: Children's cartoons have many examples of anthropomorphism. For example, Mickey and Minnie Mouse can speak, wear clothes, sing, dance, drive cars, etc. Real mice can't do any of these things, but the two mouse characters behave much more like humans than mice.

Asyndeton is when the writer leaves out conjunctions (such as "and," "or," "but," and "for") in a group of words or phrases so that the meaning of the phrase or sentence is emphasized. It is often used for speeches since sentences containing asyndeton can have a powerful, memorable rhythm.

Example: Abraham Lincoln ends the Gettysburg Address with the phrase "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth." By leaving out certain conjunctions, he ends the speech on a more powerful, melodic note.


Colloquialism is the use of informal language and slang. It's often used by authors to lend a sense of realism to their characters and dialogue. Forms of colloquialism include words, phrases, and contractions that aren't real words (such as "gonna" and "ain't").

Example: "Hey, what's up, man?" This piece of dialogue is an example of a colloquialism, since it uses common everyday words and phrases, namely "what's up" and "man."

An epigraph is when an author inserts a famous quotation, poem, song, or other short passage or text at the beginning of a larger text (e.g., a book, chapter, etc.). An epigraph is typically written by a different writer (with credit given) and used as a way to introduce overarching themes or messages in the work. Some pieces of literature, such as Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick , incorporate multiple epigraphs throughout.

Example: At the beginning of Ernest Hemingway's book The Sun Also Rises is an epigraph that consists of a quotation from poet Gertrude Stein, which reads, "You are all a lost generation," and a passage from the Bible.

Epistrophe is similar to anaphora, but in this case, the repeated word or phrase appears at the end of successive statements. Like anaphora, it is used to evoke an emotional response from the audience.

Example: In Lyndon B. Johnson's speech, "The American Promise," he repeats the word "problem" in a use of epistrophe: "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem."


A euphemism is when a more mild or indirect word or expression is used in place of another word or phrase that is considered harsh, blunt, vulgar, or unpleasant.

Example: "I'm so sorry, but he didn't make it." The phrase "didn't make it" is a more polite and less blunt way of saying that someone has died.

A flashback is an interruption in a narrative that depicts events that have already occurred, either before the present time or before the time at which the narration takes place. This device is often used to give the reader more background information and details about specific characters, events, plot points, and so on.

Example: Most of the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a flashback from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, as she engages in a conversation with a visitor named Lockwood. In this story, Nelly narrates Catherine Earnshaw's and Heathcliff's childhoods, the pair's budding romance, and their tragic demise.


Foreshadowing is when an author indirectly hints at—through things such as dialogue, description, or characters' actions—what's to come later on in the story. This device is often used to introduce tension to a narrative.

Example: Say you're reading a fictionalized account of Amelia Earhart. Before she embarks on her (what we know to be unfortunate) plane ride, a friend says to her, "Be safe. Wouldn't want you getting lost—or worse." This line would be an example of foreshadowing because it implies that something bad ("or worse") will happen to Earhart.

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that's not meant to be taken literally by the reader. It is often used for comedic effect and/or emphasis.

Example: "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." The speaker will not literally eat an entire horse (and most likely couldn't ), but this hyperbole emphasizes how starved the speaker feels.

Imagery is when an author describes a scene, thing, or idea so that it appeals to our senses (taste, smell, sight, touch, or hearing). This device is often used to help the reader clearly visualize parts of the story by creating a strong mental picture.

Example: Here's an example of imagery taken from William Wordsworth's famous poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":

When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden Daffodils; Beside the Lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Irony is when a statement is used to express an opposite meaning than the one literally expressed by it. There are three types of irony in literature:

  • Verbal irony: When someone says something but means the opposite (similar to sarcasm).
  • Situational irony: When something happens that's the opposite of what was expected or intended to happen.
  • Dramatic irony: When the audience is aware of the true intentions or outcomes, while the characters are not . As a result, certain actions and/or events take on different meanings for the audience than they do for the characters involved.
  • Verbal irony: One example of this type of irony can be found in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." In this short story, a man named Montresor plans to get revenge on another man named Fortunato. As they toast, Montresor says, "And I, Fortunato—I drink to your long life." This statement is ironic because we the readers already know by this point that Montresor plans to kill Fortunato.
  • Situational irony: A girl wakes up late for school and quickly rushes to get there. As soon as she arrives, though, she realizes that it's Saturday and there is no school.
  • Dramatic irony: In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo commits suicide in order to be with Juliet; however, the audience (unlike poor Romeo) knows that Juliet is not actually dead—just asleep.



Juxtaposition is the comparing and contrasting of two or more different (usually opposite) ideas, characters, objects, etc. This literary device is often used to help create a clearer picture of the characteristics of one object or idea by comparing it with those of another.

Example: One of the most famous literary examples of juxtaposition is the opening passage from Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities :

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …"


Malapropism happens when an incorrect word is used in place of a word that has a similar sound. This misuse of the word typically results in a statement that is both nonsensical and humorous; as a result, this device is commonly used in comedic writing.

Example: "I just can't wait to dance the flamingo!" Here, a character has accidentally called the flamenco (a type of dance) the flamingo (an animal).


Metaphors are when ideas, actions, or objects are described in non-literal terms. In short, it's when an author compares one thing to another. The two things being described usually share something in common but are unalike in all other respects.

A simile is a type of metaphor in which an object, idea, character, action, etc., is compared to another thing using the words "as" or "like."

Both metaphors and similes are often used in writing for clarity or emphasis.

"What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." In this line from Romeo and Juliet , Romeo compares Juliet to the sun. However, because Romeo doesn't use the words "as" or "like," it is not a simile—just a metaphor.

"She is as vicious as a lion." Since this statement uses the word "as" to make a comparison between "she" and "a lion," it is a simile.

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A metonym is when a related word or phrase is substituted for the actual thing to which it's referring. This device is usually used for poetic or rhetorical effect .

Example: "The pen is mightier than the sword." This statement, which was coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, contains two examples of metonymy: "the pen" refers to "the written word," and "the sword" refers to "military force/violence."

Mood is the general feeling the writer wants the audience to have. The writer can achieve this through description, setting, dialogue, and word choice .

Example: Here's a passage from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: "It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors." In this passage, Tolkien uses detailed description to set create a cozy, comforting mood. From the writing, you can see that the hobbit's home is well-cared for and designed to provide comfort.


Onomatopoeia is a word (or group of words) that represents a sound and actually resembles or imitates the sound it stands for. It is often used for dramatic, realistic, or poetic effect.

Examples: Buzz, boom, chirp, creak, sizzle, zoom, etc.

An oxymoron is a combination of two words that, together, express a contradictory meaning. This device is often used for emphasis, for humor, to create tension, or to illustrate a paradox (see next entry for more information on paradoxes).

Examples: Deafening silence, organized chaos, cruelly kind, insanely logical, etc.


A paradox is a statement that appears illogical or self-contradictory but, upon investigation, might actually be true or plausible.

Note that a paradox is different from an oxymoron: a paradox is an entire phrase or sentence, whereas an oxymoron is a combination of just two words.

Example: Here's a famous paradoxical sentence: "This statement is false." If the statement is true, then it isn't actually false (as it suggests). But if it's false, then the statement is true! Thus, this statement is a paradox because it is both true and false at the same time.


Personification is when a nonhuman figure or other abstract concept or element is described as having human-like qualities or characteristics. (Unlike anthropomorphism where non-human figures become human-like characters, with personification, the object/figure is simply described as being human-like.) Personification is used to help the reader create a clearer mental picture of the scene or object being described.

Example: "The wind moaned, beckoning me to come outside." In this example, the wind—a nonhuman element—is being described as if it is human (it "moans" and "beckons").

Repetition is when a word or phrase is written multiple times, usually for the purpose of emphasis. It is often used in poetry (for purposes of rhythm as well).

Example: When Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the score for the hit musical Hamilton, gave his speech at the 2016 Tony's, he recited a poem he'd written that included the following line:

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.

Satire is genre of writing that criticizes something , such as a person, behavior, belief, government, or society. Satire often employs irony, humor, and hyperbole to make its point.

Example: The Onion is a satirical newspaper and digital media company. It uses satire to parody common news features such as opinion columns, editorial cartoons, and click bait headlines.

A type of monologue that's often used in dramas, a soliloquy is when a character speaks aloud to himself (and to the audience), thereby revealing his inner thoughts and feelings.

Example: In Romeo and Juliet , Juliet's speech on the balcony that begins with, "O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" is a soliloquy, as she is speaking aloud to herself (remember that she doesn't realize Romeo's there listening!).

Symbolism refers to the use of an object, figure, event, situation, or other idea in a written work to represent something else— typically a broader message or deeper meaning that differs from its literal meaning.

The things used for symbolism are called "symbols," and they'll often appear multiple times throughout a text, sometimes changing in meaning as the plot progresses.

Example: In F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby , the green light that sits across from Gatsby's mansion symbolizes Gatsby's hopes and dreams .

A synecdoche is a literary device in which part of something is used to represent the whole, or vice versa. It's similar to a metonym (see above); however, a metonym doesn't have to represent the whole—just something associated with the word used.

Example: "Help me out, I need some hands!" In this case, "hands" is being used to refer to people (the whole human, essentially).

While mood is what the audience is supposed to feel, tone is the writer or narrator's attitude towards a subject . A good writer will always want the audience to feel the mood they're trying to evoke, but the audience may not always agree with the narrator's tone, especially if the narrator is an unsympathetic character or has viewpoints that differ from those of the reader.

Example: In an essay disdaining Americans and some of the sites they visit as tourists, Rudyard Kipling begins with the line, "Today I am in the Yellowstone Park, and I wish I were dead." If you enjoy Yellowstone and/or national parks, you may not agree with the author's tone in this piece.


How to Identify and Analyze Literary Devices: 4 Tips

In order to fully interpret pieces of literature, you have to understand a lot about literary devices in the texts you read. Here are our top tips for identifying and analyzing different literary techniques:

Tip 1: Read Closely and Carefully

First off, you'll need to make sure that you're reading very carefully. Resist the temptation to skim or skip any sections of the text. If you do this, you might miss some literary devices being used and, as a result, will be unable to accurately interpret the text.

If there are any passages in the work that make you feel especially emotional, curious, intrigued, or just plain interested, check that area again for any literary devices at play.

It's also a good idea to reread any parts you thought were confusing or that you didn't totally understand on a first read-through. Doing this ensures that you have a solid grasp of the passage (and text as a whole) and will be able to analyze it appropriately.

Tip 2: Memorize Common Literary Terms

You won't be able to identify literary elements in texts if you don't know what they are or how they're used, so spend some time memorizing the literary elements list above. Knowing these (and how they look in writing) will allow you to more easily pinpoint these techniques in various types of written works.

Tip 3: Know the Author's Intended Audience

Knowing what kind of audience an author intended her work to have can help you figure out what types of literary devices might be at play.

For example, if you were trying to analyze a children's book, you'd want to be on the lookout for child-appropriate devices, such as repetition and alliteration.

Tip 4: Take Notes and Bookmark Key Passages and Pages

This is one of the most important tips to know, especially if you're reading and analyzing works for English class. As you read, take notes on the work in a notebook or on a computer. Write down any passages, paragraphs, conversations, descriptions, etc., that jump out at you or that contain a literary device you were able to identify.

You can also take notes directly in the book, if possible (but don't do this if you're borrowing a book from the library!). I recommend circling keywords and important phrases, as well as starring interesting or particularly effective passages and paragraphs.

Lastly, use sticky notes or post-its to bookmark pages that are interesting to you or that have some kind of notable literary device. This will help you go back to them later should you need to revisit some of what you've found for a paper you plan to write.

What's Next?

Looking for more in-depth explorations and examples of literary devices? Join us as we delve into imagery , personification , rhetorical devices , tone words and mood , and different points of view in literature, as well as some more poetry-specific terms like assonance and iambic pentameter .

Reading The Great Gatsby for class or even just for fun? Then you'll definitely want to check out our expert guides on the biggest themes in this classic book, from love and relationships to money and materialism .

Got questions about Arthur Miller's The Crucible ? Read our in-depth articles to learn about the most important themes in this play and get a complete rundown of all the characters .

For more information on your favorite works of literature, take a look at our collection of high-quality book guides and our guide to the 9 literary elements that appear in every story !

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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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    American literature, the body of written works produced in the English language in the United States.. Like other national literatures, American literature was shaped by the history of the country that produced it. For almost a century and a half, America was merely a group of colonies scattered along the eastern seaboard of the North American continent—colonies from which a few hardy souls ...

  16. List of writing genres

    A literary genre may fall under either one of two categories: (a) a work of fiction, involving non-factual descriptions and events invented by the author; or (b) a work of nonfiction, in which descriptions and events are understood to be factual.

  17. Literary Genres: Definition and Examples of the 4 Essential Genres and

    100+ Genres and Subgenres The 7 Components of Genre Practice Exercise Ready to get started? Let's get into it. What Are Literary Genres? Literary Genre Definition Let's begin with a basic definition of literary genres: Literary genres are categories, types, or collections of literature.

  18. Literature

    Romance. Coming-of-age stories. Historical fiction. Contemporary fiction. Fantasy. Science Fiction. All of these types and genres appeal to different people, and can teach us different things about writing. Mystery, for example, is a great way to work on our prediction and context clues skills.

  19. Literary Theory: Understanding 15 Types of Literary Criticism

    4. Reader-response: Reader-response criticism is rooted in the belief that a reader's reaction to or interpretation of a text is as valuable a source of critical study as the text itself. 5. The new criticism: New critics focused on examining the formal and structural elements of literature, as opposed to the emotional or moral elements.

  20. What Are the Two Types of Literature?

    There are two kinds of literature: written and oral. Novels and poetry are examples of written literature. It also features writing, fiction, mythology, novels, and short tales categories. Non-fiction books, such as history, biographies, essays, and reports are examples of written literature.

  21. The 31 Literary Devices You Must Know

    General Education Need to analyze The Scarlet Letter or To Kill a Mockingbird for English class, but fumbling for the right vocabulary and concepts for literary devices? You've come to the right place. To successfully interpret and analyze literary texts, you'll first need to have a solid foundation in literary terms and their definitions.

  22. Lit-2

    Literature 2 readings on literary masterpieces unit an introduction to literature module definition and types of literature objectives: at the end of the lesson. Skip to document. University; High School; Books; Discovery. ... T. Eliot categorized poetry as "The fusion of two poles of mind, emotion and thought." ...

  23. Writing 101: All the Different Types of Characters in Literature

    A main character should be three dimensional and compelling; they should be the kind of dynamic character that readers and viewers can spend days with and not grow bored. Equally important are supporting characters, from sidekicks to love interests to parental figures to villains and anti-heroes. There are three ways to categorize character types.