5 Pillars of Genre

Folk Tale – Poetry – Drama – Non-Fiction – Fiction

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome to the blog. Today I want to go over the five biggest genre categories that encompass nearly every book you will ever write. There are a few exceptions, but these main categories are considered the five pillars of genre. Genre is a tool that you can use at any stage of the writing process, not just at the marketing end, and these genre categories will be the basis of what I’m going to be talking about for the rest of the year. So let’s dive in.

Folk Tale

Wikipedia defines a folktale or folk tale as “a folklore genre that typically consists of a story passed down from generation to generation orally.” This simple definition may seem too simple at first glance, but is actually exactly what the folktale genre is about. Folktales are usually passed down by mouth, and what makes them different from one another is sometimes difficult to discern. The main thing that categorizes a folk tale subgenre is how the story is being told, and the level of belief the person listening has upon receiving the tale. 

To elaborate on this further, folk tales are all the little stories that we are told throughout our journey in this life. They are the ones that teach us where we came from as people. They are the ones that caution us on how to behave and give us morals and values. They can be based in reality, or totally made up. They can be someone’s boastful account of how an event happened, or unquestionably accurate. Whether you believe it or not is entirely up to you.

Poetry

Again starting with a definition, this time from book-genres.com, “Books in the poetry genre contain words that follow a rhythm or structure, and sometimes rhyme, that are designed [to] evoke emotion and thought. Books can be, but aren’t often written entirely in poetic form.” To this I would add that you can also write a single poem, or a collection of poems that are compiled into a book. 

Often, putting any definition on poetry is actually limiting its potential. The form itself sometimes matters and sometimes doesn’t. Sometimes the structure is rigid, sometimes it breaks off in the last few lines and does something else, and sometimes poetry is completely fluid. One of my most favorite analogies comes from the Writing Excuses podcast where writing is likened to speaking whereas poetry is likened to singing. If someone starts singing to you instead of casually conversing, you pay attention. Somehow the act of singing the words rather than speaking them focuses the attention on them more specifically, and in poetry, if nowhere else, the specific words matter.

Drama

Literarydevices.net says that “Drama is a mode of fictional representation through dialogue and performance. It is one of the literary genres, which is an imitation of some action. Drama is also a type of play written for theater, television, radio, and film.” I personally think this is the most accurate definition thus far, though I assure you that I’ve done my best to find decent definitions up until now. Simply put, drama is anything you write with the intention that it is meant to be performed.

Even someone as prolific as Lin Manuel Miranda didn’t jump on stage and randomly burst into song for Hamilton. All of your favorite television shows, Netflix films, musicals, and music have to be written and composed in advance. Whether teams of people are storyboarding an idea, you’re collabing on your song, or you largely work on your screenplay alone, all the writing that results in an end product that is not a traditional book is likely to fall under this drama category.

Non-Fiction

You may be thinking that non-fiction isn’t a genre, but if I haven’t already convinced you in previous posts, I’m going to be spending a lot more time convincing you that, yes, in fact, it is. Straight from the Masterclass of Malcolm Gladwell, “Nonfiction is a broad genre of writing that encompasses all books that aren’t rooted in a fictional narrative.” I love this definition in its simplicity, because ultimately, nonfiction tends to be prose writing with a focus on factual events and real people. 

Textbooks, self-help books, autobiographies, and many more things fall under this category of non-fiction. While it may seem like it has a pretty wide range of books that this might encompass, each style of books has its own structure that lends to the way that the writing comes across and is told. Any time a book is trying to teach you something specific, recollect past events as truthfully as possible, or convince you of something, it is most likely a non-fiction book.

Fiction

Fiction is the big one. According to dictionary.com, fiction is “the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, especially in prose form.” Just about everything we’ve covered other than non-fiction is technically fiction, but there’s a super special category broken out for any other fiction that has not already been covered.

This encompasses so many subgenres that it’s going to take up a lot of the year just in talking about them all. Westerns, romances, science fiction, historical fictions, fantasy, crime, horror, and more all fit into this major category of general fiction. While most of these are novel format, fiction can be written in novella length or even shorter.

Next Week

In our next post, we will be talking about the Folktale genre and I will be giving you a more in-depth introduction to folklore.

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?

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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