Literary Genres

By Kristy Littlehale

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It seems like there is an infinite amount of genres in literature, but in reality, there are actually many sub-genres. These sub-genres stem from the three primary forms of literature: Poetry, Drama, and Prose. Students will typically encounter these forms of literature for most of what they read and write about in school, so it’s important for students to be able to recognize them and know their key characteristics.


Poetry is the most intense form of writing. It allows a writer to express his or her deepest emotions and thoughts in a very personal way. It relies heavily on figurative language, rhythm, and imagery to relay its message to readers.

Primary Sub-Genres of Poetry

Sub-genres of Poetry
Create your own at Storyboard That SONGS AND BALLADS LYRIC EPIC DRAMATIC NARRATIVE • Poetry with a set rhythm, sometimes accompanied by musical instruments • Typically includes repetition, simple language, and a set rhyme scheme • Poetry in which one speaker expresses his or her feelings on a particular subject • Includes forms such as odes, sonnets, and haikus • A long narrative poem, typically about the deeds of gods or heroes • Elevated in style • Includes adventures and expresses values held dear by its culture • A narrative poem that uses invented characters • Ranges from a simple monologue to a full-length production • Can include dialogue, multiple characters, and can be spoken or sung • Poetry that tells a story • Can be in traditional or organic forms • Structured in metered verse SUB-GENRES OF POETRY


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Drama is a literary work written to be performed in front of an audience. It contains dialogue, and actors impersonate the characters. It is usually divided into acts or scenes, and relies on props or imaginative dialogue to create a visual experience for the audience.

Primary Sub-Genres of Drama

Sub-genres of Drama
Create your own at Storyboard That TRAGEDY COMEDY HISTORY MELODRAMA MUSICAL • Traces the rise and fall of a tragic hero with a tragic flaw • Includes conflict, suffering, and catharsis • Can contain elements of comedy (tragicomedy) • Exaggerates or creates improbable situations • Includes humor, through dialogue or physical action • The resolution is usually lighthearted • Details the deeds and events of a particular historical time period • Often features characters of royal lineage, or of legend • Highly emotional and often includes exaggerated characters or situations • Explores interpersonal conflicts • A story told with dialogue, music, and dancing • Can include operas and ballets SUB-GENRES OF DRAMA