Genre

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The term genre (/(d)ʒɑn.ɹə/, from French genre, meaning 'kind, sort') refers to a particular category of literature, music, film, or other forms of art or entertainment; a genre or category is defined by various conventions that have developed over time. Conventions refer to typical stylistic criteria, characteristics, or standards that are socially agreed upon, that is, that the artists and the public have come to agree upon, in terms of the various techniques and characteristics that they expect or typically use for audiences of a particular genre. The concept of genre and conventions can apply to any kind of written, spoken, audio, or visual products, whether they are more entertainment driven and commercially motivated, or more serious, aesthetic, or artistic.


The first to define genre in the Western tradition was Aristotle, in his book The Poetics, in which he specified features that were characteristic of and appropriate for each genre, such as poetry (including odes and epic poems), prose, comedy, drama, and tragedy. Some genre categories today may be fairly rigid, while others may be more flexible. Genres can change over time, and new ones may emerge, as genres are created, and old ones fall out of use. Major genres may be divided into subcategores (see examples below). Some works may fall into multiple genre or subgenre categories by borrowing and recombining their stylistic conventions. The term genre generally applies to larger works, as opposed to the individual styles of shorter stand-alone texts or pieces.


1 Literature

Literary genres are often distinguished by the following stylistic characteristics.

  • literary techniques
  • tone
  • content
  • length
  • intended audience


Common literary genres include:

  1. Prose or poetry - which other genres may be classified under.
  2. epic
  3. tragedy
  4. comedy
  5. novel
  6. parody
  7. short story
  8. poetry


More specific genre categories include the following fictional varieties. Each of these can consist of multiple subgenres.

  1. Literary fiction, dealing with characters and their inner lives and perspectives
  2. Romance
  3. Action adventure, which involves a protagonist in danger and action (which is often fast-paced)
  4. Suspense/Thriller, which involves a protagonist in danger
  5. Science fiction
  6. Fantasy, which has mythical or magical elements, such as Lord of the Rings
  7. Fairy tale
  8. Legend
  9. Speculative fiction, which is set in a somewhat different world or timeline; this may overlap with some types of science fiction or alternative histories.
  10. Young adult, with teenagers or very young adults as major characters, and aimed at teenage and young adult audiences
  11. New adults, with college-age major characters, aimed at young adult audiences
  12. Mystery, in which a protagonist solves a crime
  13. Police procedurals, in which a police officer or detective solves a crime
  14. Westerns: stories that are set in the old American West. Plots and characters include cowboys, settlers, outlaws, native Americans ("Indians"), miners, and stories of survival, romance, or adventure.
  15. Family saga, involving two or more generations of families
  16. Women's fiction, involving female characters and typical situations of women
  17. Magical realism, in which characters' lives involve magical events, which they don't find unusual; a good example is Cien Anos de Soledad (100 Years of Solitude) by Gabriel Marquez.
  18. Play
  19. Musical
  20. Satire
  21. Horror


There are also some nonfiction genres, such as these.

  1. Memoir
  2. Biography
  3. Essay
  4. Personal narrative
  5. Reference works
  6. Textbook


More serious non-fiction, rhetorical (i.e., persuasive) and academic writing can include the following. See also the page on academic writing genres.

  1. Rhetorical, persuasive, or argumentative essay
  2. Problem-solution essay
  3. Research essay or paper
  4. Thesis: a major work involving original research for an advanced university degree
  5. Conference paper
  6. Monograph: a research-based academic book


2 Literary and narrative techniques

The following are techniques that are commonly used in literature and in film. Literary and film techniques can first be considered by the following general literary and film elements that often define their genre.

  1. Setting
  2. Plot
  3. Perspective
  4. Style elements or devices
  5. Character
  6. Theme


Common plot techniques include the following.

  1. backstories
  2. cliffhangers
  3. deus ex machina (a magical solution to a problem appears out of nowhere, in a way that is unrelated to the story)
  4. flashback
  5. framing device (an important scene at the beginning or end of a work that is out of chronological order, but sets the tone or theme of the work
  6. frame story (a story within a story; the outer story is the frame story)
  7. foreshadoing (scenes or events that suggest what is to happen later in a story)
  8. narrator
  9. narrative hook (an opening that gets the readers' attention)
  10. plot twist (an unexpected change in the plotline)
  11. poetic justice (bad characters get what they deserve, or good characters get what they deserve)
  12. unreliable narrator (the narrator is not sincere, impartial, or accurate in telling the story)


Perspective can include first person narration, second person narration, or third person narration. Narration can also be multiperspective, or told from the viewpoints of multiple characters. Perspective can be told from the standpoint of the protagonist, or another character who serves as an audience surrogate—a person with whom the audience identifies and helps the audience to understand plots and characters (such as Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes mysteries). An author surrogate is another character based on the author and author's views. At times, characters may break the fourth wall; breaking the fourth wall refers to the invisible "wall" between the actors on a stage and the audience. This occurs when a character addresses the audience directly, as if the character is aware that s/he is a character in a story. This is sometimes used effectively in some comedy films or shows.


Numerous stylistic devices exist, such as:

  1. allegory
  2. alliterateion
  3. rhetorical amplification (sentences embellished with unusually formal or complex language)
  4. euphemism (indirect language for something that might be inappropriate to say, e.g., saying that someone "passed away" instead of "died")
  5. imagery (e.g., very visual descriptions)
  6. metaphors (including specific types like metonomy and synecdoche)
  7. overstatement (exaggeration, for emphasis)
  8. onomatopoeia (words that imitate sounds, e.g., "crash", "boom", "bang", "meow", "woof woof")
  9. oxymoron (contradictory expressions, like "pretty ugly")
  10. paradox
  11. parody
  12. pathos (emotional appeal, e.g., by creating deep sympathy for a character)
  13. satire
  14. sound symbolism: Sounds that imitate non-auditory sensations, such as using /i/ vowel sounds for things that are cute or childlike (teeny weeny), as in baby talk. Better and more direct examples exist in Korean and Japanese, which have many sound symbolic words, such as the Korean 쨍쨍, which represents a blazing, glaring sun.
  15. sensory detail (like imagery, but with descriptions that invoke physical sensations)
  16. understatement (deliberately understating something for descriptive, dramatic, or humorous effect)


A common narrative and thematic device includes motifs, or recurring elements that have a symbolic or narrative significance (for example, the repeated occurrences of the phrase "bad wolf" in the first two seasons of the revived Dr Who series). Other common narrative and thematic devices include different types of irony, or a discrepancy between expectation and reality.

  1. Situational irony: A discrepancy between what is expected and what actually happens.
  2. Dramatic irony: A character is unaware of important information that has been revealed to the audience.
  3. Verbal irony: A person states one thing, which means something different than what others understand. This is not the same as sarcasm, where a person intentionally plays with two interpretations of what s/he says in order to, e.g., criticize someone.


Some character development techniques can include personification (assigning human traits to non-living things or abstract ideas), hamartia or a fatal moral flaw (one that leads to the downfall of a hero), and pathos or projection, in which a main character's mood is projected onto the atmosphere or inanimate objects (e.g., in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," the narrator's depression is projected onto the ambience of the whole story, including the stormy, cold weather).


2.1 Tropes

TV shows, films, and novels of certain genres often employ tropes, or common plot elements, devices, or events. Certain tropes are associated with certain genres, and may contribute to the theme of the work. Sometimes they are overused, or used unnecessarily, and become cliché. Some examples include:


Science fiction tropes
  1. Time travel
  2. Characters travel back in time and return to find that they have altered their contemporary history and reality
  3. Parallel worlds / universes
  4. Characters encounter a parallel universe, where there exist evil alternate versions of themselves (e.g., Star Trek: Discovery, season 1)
  5. First contact between humans and aliens
  6. Killer aliens, e.g., evil aliens come to earth
  7. Cryosleep. Characters are in deep cryogenic sleep for a long journey; then something goes wrong, e.g., with the cryostasis; or they are discovered by ship with better travel technology; maybe the sleepers were humans, who have difficulty adjusting to life in their new reality after hundreds of years of sleep.
  8. Generation ships. Large ships carry large populations, who live on the ships generation after generation; often they are escaping a disaster on their home world, or colonizing distant worlds.
  9. Uploaded consciousness: humans have uploaded their consciousness to machines
  10. Evil AI technology, or AI uprisings (like the Terminator movies)
  11. Cyborgs, often evil cyborgs (human-machine hybrids or alien-machine hybrids), such as the Borg in Star Trek, the Cybermen in Dr Who, or terminators in the Terminator movies.
  12. Wormholes allowing for instant travel between distant parts of the galaxy
  13. Nanotechnology, often nanotech that is out of control or malevolent
  14. Alien artifacts: remains of ancient aliens are discovered, e.g., on another planet
  15. Interspecies romance, e.g., between a human and an alien
  16. Clones
  17. Bodily modifications or transformations
  18. Artificially enhanced intelligence: a human gets an intelligence boost from technology, or from an alien influence
  19. Supraluminal travel, i.e., faster-than-light travel: A necessary trope because space is just too big
  20. Dystopian governments or societies (dystopian sci-fi): society and government have collapsed, or have undergone a disaster such as ecological / climate collapse, nuclear war, plague, or some other major apocalypse
  21. Robots, including human-like robots that become or want to become more human; or those who don't like humans
  22. God-like aliens, as they are so advanced that they have god-like powers and intelligence


Horror or action movie tropes
  1. Characters fleeing bad people try to start a car; the car won't start, or takes a long time to start.
  2. Characters realize that a killer is pursuing them, so the split up, which makes it easier for the killer to catch all of them.
  3. A villain is a supernatural reincarnation of a person who died a horrible and unfair death
  4. Abandoned buildings
  5. Haunted buildings
  6. Ineffective barricades against killers who attempt to storm a building
  7. Screaming, especially weak screaming females
  8. Killer whatever—often an animal, person, or natural substance that has mutated (e.g., the film Arachnophobia)
  9. Characters running from a killer, who run into places that are difficult to escape
  10. Jump scares: a sudden scare, often when something scary suddenly appears or happens, causing viewers to experience a jump of fright
  11. Phone suddenly dies when calling for help
  12. Vengeful spirit or ghost
  13. The final survivor—one last person has survived a killer, often a female last survivor; she often outsmarts the killer and escapes.


3 Film

Films might be classified as full-length feature films, short films, and documentaries. Many genres and subgenres exist, and various techniques can be used such as tropes and literary techniques. Basic film genres include many of the literary genres, plus a few more that are more unique to visual media, such as the following.

  1. Drama
  2. Documentary
  3. Musical
  4. Western
  5. War film
  6. Horror
  7. Romance
  8. Romantic comedy
  9. Crime film
  10. Science fiction


The visual medium allows for numerous subtypes and combinations. For example, the documentary format can be combined with drama, called a docudrama, in which real events are dramatized by actors. It can be combined with satire and humor for mockumentary, or a fictional, documentary-style humor film (such as This is Spinal Tap, a famous American mockumentary from the 1980s). Science fiction can include the following subtypes and crossover forms.

  1. Hard science fiction: science and technology, rather than other genre elements, are central to the plot; science concepts and terms are explained in detail.
  2. Soft sci-fi: science is secondary to character-driven plots
  3. Apocalyptic sci-fi: Plots center around an earth-shattering or catastropic event, such as an alien invasion (like Independence Day)
  4. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi: events after an apocalyptic catastrophe
  5. Dystopian sci-fi: e.g., stories taking place in a fictional society that exists as a police state
  6. Sci-fi horror (e.g., the film Event Horizon)
  7. Sci-fi humor (e.g., the UK TV series Red Dwarf)
  8. Sci-fi fantasy
  9. Military sci-fi
  10. Robot fiction
  11. Social science fiction: This explores future societies, sometimes for purposes of social satire
  12. Steampunk: More modern or futuristic elements are introduced to or combined with an earlier historical setting; famous examples include Metropolis (Germany, 1927)
  13. Cyberpunk: Based on cybernetics scenarios and plots, often in dystopian futuristic settings
  14. Alternate history
  15. Speculative fiction: This may be on the periphery of science fiction, as it includes elements of fantasy, supernatural fiction, alternate histories, or other scenarios that differ from known history. Good examples would be the British TV series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, which blend elements of time travel, cop drama, alternate history, and psychological thriller.

4 Music

Many musical genres and subgenres exist, and the terms genre, style and form may be used interchangeably, as they can be difficult to distinguish.

  1. "Classical" music includes classical proper (from the classical period of the 18th century), baroque, romanticism, impressionism, minimalism, experimentalism, and others.
  2. Renaissance styles include dance, madrigal, motet, canzona, and ricercar
  3. Jazz includes vocal jazz, big band, swing, progressive jazz, acid jazz, fusion, lounge, Latin jazz, rhythm & blues / blues, and soft jazz.
  4. Rock includes classic rock / pop, rockabilly, blues rock, heavy metal, rap / hip-hop, punk / new wave / alternative.


5 Painting & visual arts

Examples include:

  1. Genre painting, which involve scenes of everyday life, and/or people who are not identified, and are not specific individuals, but general, unnamed people in a scene
  2. History painting, including narrative, religious, mythological, and allegorical subjects or characters
  3. Portrait painting
  4. Landscape, or a landscape scene, and cityscape
  5. Animal painting
  6. Still life


6 See also


Other pages
  1. Academic writing genres on English Wiki
  2. List of writing genres at Wikipedia
  3. Paragraph styles