Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II)
Genres of Imaginative Literature
Fiction | Poetry | Drama | VCCS Litonline
Genre means class or type. If you've ever studied science, you know
another word for classifications, genus, from the same Latin root.
In the arts, genre classifications are usually related to characteristics of style,
form, and presentation. For example, fiction typically is read silently, poetry read
aloud, and drama performed on stage.
The genres of imaginative literature do not always look alike. Prose fiction on the
page looks like prose nonfiction, the text arranged from page margin to page margin
without regard for the relationship between the words and the margins.
Printed poetry, on the other hand, is recognizable by lines that end based on sound or
appearance or meaning rather than on the page margins. Drama in print looks different from
fiction and poetry; dramatic scripts usually have character names followed by dialogue and
usually have no narrator.
Before the twentieth century, genre classifications were easier to recognize and
explain than they are now. One genre from the past hardly exists any longer, the epic,
which was part of an oral tradition that presented the cultural history of a people in
lyrics that when eventually written down, for example by Homer in The Odyssey or
Virgil in The Aeneid, resembled what we call poetry in their rhythms and word
Many works seem to defy the boundaries of genre or to use multiple genres. For example,
the dialogue of some of Robert Frost's poems seems almost like the dialogue in plays. The
plays of ancient Greece were written in poetic form. Jean Toomer's Cane resembles
a novel and a book of short stories; it contains songs and a drama.
Like literature, visual and performing arts have genres. Drama is both a literary and a
performing art. And subgenres provide further classifications. Poetry genres include
narrative, lyric, sonnet, ballad. Dramatic genres include the familiar tragedy and comedy
as well as expressionism, realism, and theater of the absurd. Fiction includes novels,
short stories, mysteries, romances, and satire.
Many introductory literature courses are structured around these genres although some
courses are structured around topics like childhood or work or around motifs like war and
peace or self-deception.
VCCS Litonline incorporates an introduction to each of the major
genres of imaginative literature.
Top | Fiction
| Poetry | Drama
VCCS Litonline Genres of Imaginative Literature http://vccslitonline.vccs.edu/vcgenre.htm
| developed by D. Reiss