What is Genre?

Definition – Why Genre Matters – The Five Pillars of Genre – Freebie

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome to the first talk on Genre. Today I want to spend some time defining what genre really is. This definition will be important for building our understanding the rest of the year on genre. I am specifically going to be talking about the literary genres, but keep in mind that there are musical genres, movie genres, and genres of many different types, and they are worth looking into if you are interested in writing music, writing for movies and television, or if some other writing style applies.

Defining Genre

So what is a genre, anyway? Merriam-Webster tells us that a genre is “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” When looking at a literary genre specifically, definitions.net defines it as “a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even length.”

It’s a lot of words that are trying to describe the category in which our books are put into.

Why Does Genre Matter?

When you walk into your local library, your favorite local bookstore, or scroll online for your latest e-read, you generally end up in the same place every time. The one aisle. For me, I stop by the Young Adult shelves, the Adult Fantasy and the Adult Science Fiction shelves at the minimum. If they have a separate place for manga and graphic comics, I’ll also browse over there. The shelves and virtual shelves are categorized based on their literary genres. 

Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it makes that much of a difference to put our books in these arbitrary boxes and shoehorn them into spaces that fit onto already-established shelves. But here’s where it does matter.

  • When Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and His Dark Materials started, they were solidly a book series for young children, but by the time they were finished, they were dealing with much darker themes and older characters, appropriate for young adults. Do you still put the entire series on the shelves for six year olds? Split them into two places in the shop? Only put them in the place for teens when the early books are too easy for them to read?
  • If you pick up a book with a bare chest Fabio character and a girl in a pretty dress on the cover, you generally have some ideas about what that book is going to promise you. Romance, most likely. If you are then thrown into a High Fantasy novel with no romantic element whatsoever, you might be very surprised, if not disappointed, in your pick of novel based on the promises the cover made you.
  • Genres can and do set expectations for the reader. Knowing the conventions of the genre you are trying to write for, and meeting them well and in surprising and new ways can make you a favorite of readers, gaining you a readership that would follow you and buy every book you write.

The Five Pillars of Genre

There are five overarching genre categories and many subcategories within those main categories. We will be going into much greater depth on each of these categories and their subcategories in the following months, but for now, let me touch on the five main genres, so you can begin to familiarize yourself with them.

Folk Tale

Folk Tales can most easily be described as the tales that people tell one another. Creation stories, fisherman’s tales, old wives’ tales, tall tales, fairy tales, myths, and legends, are all these sort of folk tale types of story.


I think most people are familiar with poetry, but if you would like a really great step through the thought process on what defines poetry, I highly recommend the Writing Excuses podcast put out by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette-Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells; specifically starting with Season 16, Episode 11: What is Poetry?


Plays, musicals, and anything you would watch performed live on a stage, (yes, even comedians), are likely to fall under the category of drama.


Anything that is not meant to be untrue falls under the category of non-fiction. Biographies, autobiographies, textbooks, self-help books, memoirs, and histories are all examples of non-fiction. 


Fiction, therefore, is anything not meant to be real or true. Fantasy, anything with fiction in the name, like Historical Fiction and Science Fiction, and so much more. 


As a reminder, I have a freebie for you that will help you through the entire year. This year is going to be a fun ride, and I hope you will come along for the journey. If you want your very own PDF to follow along, you can grab those pages totally for free by clicking the link below!


Discussion Questions

  1. What categories do you think make up the five pillars of genre?
  2. What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
  3. How many genres and subgenres can you name?
  4. What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

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