Form and Genre.

Form and Genre

It is important to have your form and genre clearly defined in your mind before beginning your writing project. People often use these terms interchangeably, however form should not be confused with genre.

Form is what gives your piece of writing structure and an identifiable shape. It is the container that holds all your ideas, but isn’t the writing itself. For example if a particular piece of writing is said to be a novel, we only know something about the length or size of it. Think of it like a human skeleton. The skeleton gives you an indication of the height and build of a person, but doesn’t really tell us much about what makes this person them. This is the form of your writing.

Genre, on the other hand, is the essence of your writing. It is what defines your writing. Genre is all the details that let us know what the person is really like, giving substance to the skeleton. For instance, if we are handed a mystery novel to read, then we should know what that particular novel would entail. A mystery, of course! This is the genre of your writing.

Writing can take a great number of forms and each one has its own set of guidelines and importance in the world of the written word. The following is a list of common literary forms, but is by no means the only forms used.

  • Essay.
  • Novel.
  • Novella.
  • Poetry.
  • Short story.
  • Play.
  • Screenplay.

The list of genres is even more extensive, and can be defined into broad categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Creative Non-fiction, Plays and Poetry.

Fiction: is any form that describes imaginary events and people. It can be broken down into even more descriptive terms.

  • Adventure: a story full of action and daring.
  • Children’s story or novel: aimed at children.
  • Detective: story of a detective who solves crime.
  • Installment fiction: A novel published one episode at a time.
  • Fable: A story that teaches a lesson.
  • Fairy tale: a story about magical creatures, or a false story designed to trick people.
  • Folk tale: is a story typically passed on by word of mouth with origins in popular culture.
  • Tall tale, yarn: A piece of writing with unbelievable elements related as if it were true, usually an exaggeration of true events.
  • Fantasy: A story that has supernatural elements.
  • Historical fiction: A story based on known historical events but freely makes up dialogue and additional events.
  • Horror: A story to thrill and frighten readers.
  • Humor: A story to make readers laugh.
  • Mystery: A story based around a puzzle or crime.
  • Myth and legend: Typically a story based on superhuman beings or events of ancient times.
  • Romance: A story based on love, usually with a happy ending.
  • Parody: A comic imitation of a piece of writing or person.
  • Satire: A story that employs humor in the form of irony, innuendo, or derision to expose the folly and wickedness of human nature.
  • Science fiction: A story based around a world that is currently unknown and unachievable.
  • Spy story: A story about international espionage.
  • Thriller: A story that produces an atmosphere of extreme suspense or excitement.
  • Young adult: Stories aimed at 12-17 years old.

Non-Fiction: writing that is informative or factual rather then fictional. Includes the following:

  • Biography/Autobiography: A true narrative of a real person’s life.
  • Essay: A short literary composition on a subject that typically presents the personal view of the author.
  • Speech: public address or discourse.
  • Textbook: instructive book for use in studying a particular subject.
  • Self-help book: designed to instruct readers on personal problems and how to overcome them.

Creative non-fiction: True stories written using the techniques typically utilized in fiction; like scene setting, dialogue and detailed description, to make them more interesting and personal.

  • Biography/autobiography: A true narrative of a real person’s life.
  • Memoir: An autobiography dealing with specific events or people.
  • Diary/journal: personal record of events and musings.
  • Travel Writing: A record of the people, events, sights and feelings from the writers’ point of view whilst touring a foreign place.
  • Food Writing: works of writing around the topic of food.
  • Blog: A personal web log or journal that can contain anything from do it yourself blogs to political viewpoints.
  • Literary journalism: factual reporting combines with narrative techniques and styles that are traditionally associated with works of fiction.
  • Comedy: Designed to make the audience laugh
  • Serious drama: A play that deals with serious issues, but doesn’t delve into the realm of tragedy.
  • Musical: A play with songs and dancing.
  • Screenplay: A play written specifically for a movie.
  • Tragedy: A play showing a character’s heroic and moral struggle that ends in defeat.
  • Epic poem: a long narrative poem centered on a hero and his adventures.
  • Haiku: A Japanese form of poetry 17 syllables in length. It can be written in 3 lines arranged in a pattern of 5, 7, 5, or in one long line.
  • Limerick: A poem with rhyming pattern aabba
  • Lyric poem: A short poem conveying powerful emotion
  • Free verse or open form poetry: poetry without structure, this form relies on content, sound, image, and format.
  • Sonnet: a structured rhyme of 14 lines with rhymes in a pattern of abab cdcd efef gg
  • Nursery rhyme: rhyming poems for children

These lists of genres could go on and on. There are so many more out there, including the intriguing possibilities of writing cross-genres. The important thing is to remember there is a difference between form and genre, and both need to be clearly formulated in your mind before you begin.

Useful Links:

I found these pages helpful to clarify and further enhance my knowledge and understanding of form and genre:

Form and Genre – Tameri Guide For Writers

What is Genre vs Form in Literature – KMW

Understanding Literary Form – Exploring the Arts Foundation.