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Literary Genres Essay

Genre is the division of texts on the basis of formal, thematic, or stylistic criteria. The Oxford English Dictionary specialized definition delineates genre as: “A particular style or category of works of art; especially a type of literary work characterized by a particular form, style, or purpose.” (OED) .

A genre is contrastingly an instrument of restriction and a mode of liberation. A literary genre is like a tool that may be employed conceptually within and outside of an individual text and conveyed with equal flair by the author, the reader, and/or the critic. Once a piece of literature falls under a specified genre, it is expected to contain the norms and elements of its particular category.

The three most general and encompassing classifications of genre are prose, drama, and poetry. Some critics refer to the big three as modes, and reserve the term genre for the sub-categories of the modes. For instance, the genre sonnet is under poetry, novel is under prose, and tragedy is under drama (“Genre – Classical Origins…”).

Generally, the construction of genre is aimed for a systematic division of literary works, although there is still much room for ambiguity in its definition. Literary works are commonly classified into genres for easier access and understanding. But if the definition of genre itself is vague, the task of classifying a piece of literature in accordance to its appropriate category would be tedious yet meaningless.

Most of the time, a genre is defined based on a general theme. For instance, a story with love as its theme falls under romantic genre as a crime story automatically falls under mystery. In line with this stereotyping, the question is if theme is the central basis of defining a particular genre. For David Borwell, themes seem inadequate as a basis for defining genres, as ‘any theme may appear in any genre’ (qtd. in Chandler 1)

Writers, readers, and critics may argue that style is something intrinsic to a work, thus, it is also a basis for categorizing pieces of literature. Style is open to a fluid range of distinctions, while a theme is categorically discrete. “Form, style, or purpose” allows a genre to be defined on the level of the formal and final cause. Thus, J. Swales defines genre as “a more or less standardized communicative event with a goal or set of goals mutually understood by the participants in that event and occurring within a functional rather than a social or personal setting.” (qtd. in Clinton 1).

The problem in delineating genre is that the categorization process is very subjective. For Jane Feuer, a genre is “ultimately an abstract conception rather than something that exists empirically in the world”. In reality, one theorist’s genre may just be another’s sub-genre (qtd. in Chandler 1).

Conventional definitions of genres classify in accordance with content and form; by content, themes or settings, and by form, structure and style. Sometimes, these characteristics are lavishly shared in different texts. On another note, a certain piece of literature may contain this type of them central to a particular genre and a style similar to another genre, which makes the piece a combination of genres. It is important to note that genres are not discrete systems, they may overlap (Chandler 2000).

In the present, short stories and/or poems are categorized into different common ‘genres’, such as mystery, romance, fantasy, science fiction, etc. The bases for these classifications usually rely on the similarities of theme, setting, characters and plot of the story.

The romantic fiction genre is undeniably one of the most popular genres of all time, but not only that, it is also one of the oldest and most distinguished. It pre-dates several centuries ago, from the poems of Catullus and Sappho and The Aeneid of Virgil, which are considered as the medieval verses of courtly love. William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an epic love story. It is indeed a timeless pride of the romantic fiction genre.

Logically, the theme is centered on a love relationship. Because of its unsurprising theme, it is the twisted plot of each love story that must be sufficiently substantial for the reader to maintain interest in the story. The fascinating aspect of this genre is that it can appeal to anyone, since every one must have had a share of the intricate feeling of love.

Since love is inexplicable, writers do not have a difficult time playing with the plot and creating conflicts in the genre.  The main idea can be focused on love quarrels, third parties, family setbacks, or social dilemmas, etc., each of which have been ceaselessly used in the many romantic fiction stories ever created. The style varies for the author though, for he or she may engage in either a humorous or serious tone.

Readers of paperback genre romances may prefer love stories with happy endings. In the present era, romantic comedies are very inviting to readers. Literary pieces have evolved form books to movies to television series.  On the other hand, a tragic romance, like the timeless Romeo & Juliet, remains a legendary and respectable literary style.

As the society continues to evolve, romances take the form of modern fairy tales. True enough, love is still the central theme, but today’s trend features a less positive side of the genre, such as divorce, life-threatening illness, and third-party relationships. Characters may do less intense sacrifices in the name of love as compared to the tragic romantic fiction. Nevertheless, the romantic fiction genre is fully-defined by its celebrated theme; love (Bennett).

Mystery fiction is another genre which is a loosely-defined term for detective or crime fiction. Generally, the plot employs a detective, who is either professional or merely driven by consequences, to investigate and solve a crime. In some cases, mystery books are patterned from true stories.

This genre’s technique is to invoke suspense in its readers, so that even the reluctant ones, become enthusiastic in knowing the sequence of events. The characters should be intriguing and mystifying to hold the readers’ interest.

They should be complex such that the reader cannot easily predict the certain character’s actions. In addition, plots contain very dynamic twists and conflicts involve explosive revelations. The secrets and revelations define the mystery fiction genre.  In the academic scenario, mentors use mystery stories as vehicles for invoking critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills (Newingham).


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