What is Genre?

Genres are fun. They help us classify all types of things into groups that help us stay organized. There can be genres for books, plays, musicals, short stories, poems, and so much more. The groupings we choose for genres can be general and conventional in nature or they can be very detailed. A genre within a genre, if you will. Genres have been around for as long as people have been placing things within groups based on some sort of similarity. They've also served a variety of functions. Here are a few of those functions:

Classification - Books, etc...can be grouped based on many features. One of those features is what stands out to make one such book similar to another. It's something that tells a reader or someone who may be organizing these things how two or more books are alike. These are also features that distinguish the difference these books may have from others.

Prescription - When an author is writing for a particular purpose, they'll likely follow a set of standards or rules that inform them of a path they must follow. In order to fit into a particular genre, the author must abide by certain enforced rules or suggested customs.

Interpretation - The same guidance followed by authors within the above prescription section also assists readers with what to expect when spending time interpreting a book's meaning.

Evaluation - When books, movies, and other artistic endeavors are grouped together by some sort of similarity, their evaluation makes much more sense. If someone compared Moby Dick to an Encyclopedia, it would be like critiquing apples and oranges. If that same someone compared Moby Dick to a similar piece of fiction writing, an individual who read or listened to the critique would be able to make a sensible interpretation of the critique.

The classification of genre has changed throughout time. If we think back a few thousands years to Greece and Rome, we'll see that the primary genres were narrative, song, and performance drama. And within those genres were more refined ones: comedy, tragedy, etc... Back in those days, genres were fairly fixed, meaning they didn't change very much. When someone created a play or wrote a book, it generally had to fit in an existing grouping. In today's world, things are much more flexible. It's not even known whether a complete list of genres even exists because of the almost constant sub-categorization of sub-categories. If you were to visit the Amazon.com of a thousand years ago, you'd have something like four categories of books to choose from. Today, a cursory glance at a website near the top of Google's results for a search of genres tells me there are 144, just for fiction. From Fantasy to Dark Fantasy to Fairy Tale, the list goes on and on. If you'd like to take a look at this list, you can see it in this post. And remember, genres don't only apply to books. They apply to many areas of modern society. Browsing through the list of genres I just mentioned reminds me of all the grouping that are applied to video games as well. Go to any library, book store, or used video game store and you'll get the picture.

As stated above, genres are always evolving. There's always a new classification to place something in and individuals rarely agree on a best list. There are, however, tried and true generic classifications to place stories in. They are:

Fiction/Non-fiction - Is the story real or not? Are the events factual or not?

Prose/Verse - How was the story told? What was the literary style?

Narrative/Drama - Was the story expressed verbally or was it demonstrated?

Novel/Novella/Short Story
- How long is the story?

Topic/Content - What's the story about? Adventure? Fantasy? Thriller? Humor? Mystery?

As you can see, the list of how stories are grouped can go on for quite some time. And if you were to ask an author for their story's proposed genre, you may receive a very different answer than if you were to ask a reader of the same story. Everyone's opinions differ, but author's tend to be rather specific. That may explain why there are so many genres today.

Genres help us group the never ending supply of new stories introduced to society every single day. And by no means are our current lists here to stay. As with the changing tide, opinions on which genres best capture our current mood change as well. Old genres disappear as new more descriptive ones arise. And as story type and subject come into fashion, so will new genres. Take Locked Room and Paranormal for instance. I can't imagine these having been around for very long. But, someone out there felt there was a need for them, so here they are. While the largest and most popular narrative fiction genres have been and may currently be novel and short story, there's no guarantee that these two will exist in future decades. Perhaps they'll be completely replaced by something else.

What are some of the craziest genres have you ever heard of? What's your favorite?
 
What is Genre? was posted on 08-24-2020 by JodyBuchanan in the Writing Forum.
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