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This is the "Forms and Genres" page of the "English" guide.
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Last Updated: Nov 8, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Forms and Genres Print Page


  • Writing: Topic Page
    The visible recording of language peculiar to the human species. Writing enables the transmission of ideas over vast distances of time and space and is a prerequisite of complex civilization. Where, and by whom writing was first developed remains unknown, but scholars place the beginning of writing at 6,000 B.C.
  • Literature: Topic Page
    Words set apart in some way from ordinary everyday communication. In the ancient oral traditions, before stories and poems were written down, literature had a mainly public function - mythic and religious.
  • Criticism: Topic Page
    The interpretation and evaluation of literature and the arts. It exists in a variety of literary forms: dialogues (Plato, John Dryden), verse (Horace, Alexander Pope), letters (John Keats), essays (Matthew Arnold, W. H. Auden), and treatises (Philip Sydney, Percy Bysshe Shelley).
  • Literary criticism: Topic Page
    Assessment and interpretation of literary works. The term ‘criticism’ is often taken to mean exclusively adverse comment, but in fact it refers to all literary assessment, whether positive or negative.


  • Novel: Topic Page
    In modern literary usage, a sustained work of prose fiction a volume or more in length. It is distinguished from the short story and the fictional sketch, which are necessarily brief.
  • Historical novel: Topic Page
    Genre of fictional prose narrative set in the past.
  • Short story: Topic Page
    Short work of prose fiction, usually consisting of between 500 and 10,000 words, which typically either sets up and resolves a single narrative point or depicts a mood or an atmosphere. The form has a long history and examples of its popularity and success include Aesop's Fables and the tales of The Thousand and One Nights.
  • Romance: Topic Page
    In literature, tales of love and chivalric adventure, in verse or prose, that became popular in France about 1200 and spread throughout Europe. It had antecedents in many works from classical antiquity, but developed as a distinctive genre in the context of the aristocratic court.
  • Mystery: Topic Page
    Or mystery story, literary genre in which the cause (or causes) of a mysterious happening, often a crime, is gradually revealed by the hero or heroine; this is accomplished through a mixture of intelligence, ingenuity, the logical interpretation of evidence, and sometimes sheer luck.
  • Detective fiction: Topic Page
    Genre of novel or short story in which a mystery is solved mainly by the action of a professional or amateur detective. Where the mystery to be solved concerns a crime, the work may be called crime fiction.
  • Science fiction
    From Science in the Contemporary World: An Encyclopedia
    Science fiction is the literature of the scientific age. Born in adventure pulp magazines during the first half of the twentieth century, the science fiction genre began to mature in the 1940s and 1950s. Although many of the early stories suffered from simplistic characters and juvenile plots, speculations on the impact of science and technology, and extrapolations of possible future directions of science and technology, have proved to be insightful and useful.


  • Poetry: Topic Page
    Imaginative literary form, particularly suitable for describing emotions and thoughts. Poetry is highly ‘compressed’ writing, often using figures of speech to talk about one thing in terms of another, such as metaphor and simile, that allows the reader to ‘unpack’ the poem's meaning for itself.
  • Rhyme: Topic Page
    Or rime, the most prominent of the literary artifices used in versification. Although it was used in ancient East Asian poetry, rhyme was practically unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  • Sonnet: Topic Page
    Genre of 14-line poem of Italian origin introduced to England by English poet Thomas Wyatt in the form used by Italian poet Petrarch and followed by English poets John Milton and William Wordsworth; English playwright and poet William Shakespeare wrote 14-line sonnets consisting of three groups of four lines (quatrains) and two final rhyming lines (a couplet), following the rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg.
  • Ballad: Topic Page
    In literature, short, narrative poem usually relating a single, dramatic event. Two forms of the ballad are often distinguished—the folk ballad, dating from about the 12th cent., and the literary ballad, dating from the late 18th century.
  • Versification: Topic Page
    Principles of metrical practice in poetry. In different literatures poetic form is achieved in various ways; usually, however, a definite and predictable pattern is evident in the language.
  • Pentameter: Topic Page
    [Gr.,=measure of five], in prosody, a line to be scanned in five feet (see versification). The third line of Thomas Nashe's "Spring" is in pentameter: "Cold doth / not sting, / the pret / ty birds / do sing." Iambic pentameter, in which each foot contains an unaccented syllable and an accented syllable, is the most common English meter.


  • Essay: Topic Page
    Short piece of non-fiction writing, often dealing with a particular subject from a personal point of view. The essay became a recognized form with the publication of Essais (1580) by French writer Montaigne and Essays (1597) by English politician, philosopher, and writer Francis Bacon.
  • Journalism: Topic Page
    The collection and periodic publication or transmission of news through media such as newspaper, periodical, television, and radio.
  • Biography: Topic Page
    Reconstruction in print or on film, of the lives of real men and women. Together with autobiography—an individual's interpretation of his own life—it shares a venerable tradition, meeting the demands of different audiences through the ages.
  • Autobiography
    From The Bloomsbury Dictionary of English Literature
    The word came into English at the very end of the 18th century and by the 19th and 20th centuries the writing of the story of one's own life had become a common literary activity.
  • Travel writing
    From The Dictionary of Human Geography
    A genre of prose about the experience of being away from home.

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