List of writing genres

"Written genres" (more commonly known as "literary genres") are those works of prose, poetry, drama, hybrid forms, or other literature that are distinguished by shared literary conventions, similarities in topic, theme, style, tropes, or common settings, character types, or formulaic patterns of character interactions and events, and an overall predictable form. Genres are not wholly fixed categories of writing, but their content evolves according to social and cultural contexts and contemporary questions of morals and norms. The most enduring genres are those literary forms that were defined and performed by the Ancient Greeks, definitions sharpened by the proscriptions of our earliest literary critics and rhetorical scholars such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Aeschylus, Aspasia, Euripides and others. The prevailing genres of literary composition in Ancient Greece were all written and constructed to explore cultural, moral, or ethical questions; they were ultimately defined as the genres of epic, tragedy, and comedy. Aristotle's proscriptive analysis of tragedy, for example, as expressed in his Rhetoric and Poetics, saw it as having six parts (music, diction, plot, character, thought, and spectacle) working together in particular ways. Thus Aristotle establishes one of the earliest delineations of the elements that define genre.

Literary genres are often defined by the cultural expectations and needs of a particular historical and, cultural moment or place.

The major literary genres defined by topic are:

Other major genres are clustered together based on the form of how they are written, from the constrained syllables of a haiku to the controlled rhymes of a limerick.

Other genres are defined by their primary audiences:

Genre categories: fiction and nonfiction

A genre may fall under one of two categories: fiction and nonfiction. Any genre can be either a work of fiction (nonfactual descriptions and events invented by the author) or a work of nonfiction (a communication in which descriptions and events are understood to be factual).

Common genres: fiction

Subsets of genres, known as common genres (or sub-genres), have developed from the types of genres in written expression.

  • Classic – fiction that has become part of an accepted literary canon, widely taught in schools
  • Comics/graphic novel – comic magazine or book based on a sequence of pictures (often hand-drawn) and words
  • Contemporary – living or occurring at the same time
  • Crime/detective – fiction about a crime, how the criminal gets caught and serve time, and the repercussions of the crime
  • Fable – legendary, supernatural tale demonstrating a useful truth
  • Fairy tale – story about fairies or other magical creatures
  • Fan fiction – fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, or book. Usually published on online platforms such as Fanfiction.net or Archive of Our Own.
  • Fantasy – fiction in an unreal setting that often includes magic, magical creatures, or the supernatural
  • Folktale – the songs, stories, myths, and proverbs of a people or "folk" as handed down by word of mouth
  • Historical fiction – story with fictional characters and events in a historical setting
  • Horror – fiction in which events evoke a feeling of dread and sometimes fear in both the characters and the reader
  • Humor – usually a fiction full of fun, fancy, and excitement, meant to entertain and sometimes cause intended laughter; but can be contained in all genres
  • Legend – story, sometimes of a national or folk hero, that has a basis in fact but also includes imaginative material
  • Magical realism – story where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment
  • Meta fiction (also known as romantic irony in the context of Romantic works of literature) – uses self-reference to draw attention to itself as a work of art while exposing the "truth" of a story
  • Mystery – fiction dealing with the solution of a crime or the revealing of secrets
  • Mythology – legend or traditional narrative, often based in part on historical events, that reveals human behavior and natural phenomena by its symbolism; often pertaining to the actions of the gods
  • Mythopoeia – fiction in which characters from religious mythology, traditional myths, folklore and/or history are recast into a re-imagined realm created by the author
  • Picture book – picture storybook is a book with very little words and a lot of pictures; picture stories are usually for children
  • Realistic fiction – story that is true to life
  • Romance  – genre which, place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending".
  • Science fiction – story based on the impact of actual, imagined, or potential science, often set in the future or on other planets
  • Short story – fiction of great brevity, usually supports no subplots
  • Suspense/thriller – fiction about harm about to befall a person or group and the attempts made to evade the harm
  • Swashbuckler – story based on a time of pirates and ships and other related ideas, usually full of action
  • Tall tale – humorous story with blatant exaggerations, such as swaggering heroes who do the impossible with nonchalance
  • Theological fiction – explores the theological ideas which shape attitudes towards religious expression.
  • Western  – fiction set in the American Old West frontier and typically in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century

Common genres: nonfiction

  • Biography  – a narrative of a person's life; when the author is also the main subject, this is an autobiography or memoir
  • Essay  – a short literary composition that reflects the author's outlook or point
  • Owner's manual (also Instruction manual, User's guide)  – an instructional book or booklet that is supplied with consumer products such as vehicles, home appliances, toys and computer peripherals
  • Journalism – reporting on news and current events
  • Lab report  – a report of an experiment
  • Memoir  – factual story that focuses on a significant relationship between the writer and a person, place, or object; reads like a short novel
  • Narrative nonfiction/personal narrative  – factual information about a significant event presented in a format that tells a story
  • Reference book  – such as a dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, almanac, or atlas
  • Self-help book  – information with the intention of instructing readers on solving personal problems
  • Speech  – public address or discourse
  • Textbook  – authoritative and detailed factual description of a thing

Literary fiction vs. genre fiction

Literary fiction is a term used to distinguish certain fictional works that possess commonly held qualities to readers outside genre fiction. Literary fiction has been defined as any fiction that attempts to engage with one or more truths or questions, hence relevant to a broad scope of humanity as a form of expression. Genre fiction is a term used to distinguish fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.[1] There are many sources that help readers find and define literary fiction and genre fiction.[2][3]