quiltlef.gif (8176 bytes) VCCS Litonline Introduction to Literature
English 112 (English Composition II) 

Genres of Imaginative Literature

Quilt: Fiction Fiction | Quilt: Poetry Poetry | Quilt: Drama Drama | VCCS Litonline

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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 choices. 

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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.

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VCCS Litonline Genres of Imaginative Literature http://vccslitonline.vccs.edu/vcgenre.htm | developed by D. Reiss |

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