We hear the word genre a lot these days, whether it’s in relation to films, music or literature, this singular word is enough to tell us an incredible amount of information about something, before we even experienced it. There are two main categories within literary genre; fiction and non-fiction, and within these are numerous sub-categories, which we know as genres.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes genre as:
“Genre from French genre, “kind” or “sort”, from Latin genus (stem gener-), Greek γένος, génos) is any category of literature, music or other forms of art or entertainment, whether written or spoken, audio or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time as new genres are invented and the use of old ones are discontinued. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.”
So, we know that genres tell us about the nature of something, but where does the word originate?
The word’s roots lie all the way back in ancient Greek, when the now famous Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato devised a system for classifying literature. They felt that as more and more literature was being produced it was essential to divide it into ‘genres’ in order to simplify and keep track of them all. Literature originally only had three genres: poetry, drama and prose, which is obviously a whole lot less than the number of genres we have today! As even more literature was produced, with wider themes, more in-depth styles and specific speech and language patterns, there became the need for more genres to be introduced and so we have the following list of genres today (of which I am sure I have missed some out, there is that many!):
- Fairy Tale
- Science Fiction
- Short Story
- Real Life
- Tall Tale
- Magical Realism
These genres can also combine to form sub-genres, for example a comedy may have tragic elements to it and would therefore be categorised with the sub-genre of ‘tragicomedy’.
Genres continue to be reassessed, reordered and redefined as audience tastes change. As the world around us continue to evolve and experience new things, so too do the books we read.
Over the next few weeks I am going to be taking a much closer look at each genre to discover what style, language, themes and characters they have in common and to give you some examples of literature that falls into a particular category.