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Genres and Forms

Genres are a way to categorize artistic works in literature on the basis of topic, style or overall form. For example, the Homeric poems from ancient Greece are considered to be “epic works.” See the glossary listing for examples. 

TermDefinition
Acrostic

Have you ever heard of an acrostic? Well, chances are you've seen acrostics many times but did not know the proper term for it. An acrostic is a body of text in which the first, last or other specific letters spell out a word or phrase when put in chronological order.

Anthology

The purpose of an anthology is to provide the potential reader with easy access to a wide range of literary works on a given theme. For example, one can have an anthology of poetry from 18th-century England, or an anthology of Existentialist philosophy. Usually, an anthology contains excerpts or selections rather than full works. The idea would be that if any particular work catches the reader's attention, then s/he can pursue the avenue further. 

Autobiography

The purpose of an autobiography is to enable a person to tell the story of his own life as he has experienced and understood it. The autobiography is, of course, different from an ordinary biography, because the latter is written by a researcher who has investigated the life of another person, whereas an autobiography is written by the person himself. The tone and content of an autobiography is thus unique, and such works are often treated as valuable historical documents. 

Ballad

Ballad has acquired two related but somewhat different meanings over time. The original meaning of ballad was a popular poem that narrated a folk story; such a ballad usually did not have a known author, having emerged from deep within the traditions of a given culture or community. The more modern definition of the term is also a popular song (or poem, in a way), but it almost always speaks of love, and it also almost always has a known author. Romantic lyrics are essential when it comes to ballads, as most of them tell a sentimental story through short stanzas.  

Bibliography

A bibliography enables the reader of a scholarly work to follow up on the author's research and potentially immerse himself more deeply into the given subject at hand. In addition, if the author has cited other works within his own work, then it is standard scholarly practice to include a bibliography containing the works that have been referred to over the course of the work, as a means of avoiding plagiarism and/or intellectual dishonesty. 

Biography

In general, a biography is written about a person who is in some way famous or noteworthy for his/her achievements in some sphere of culture. Often, the biography casts light not only on the story of the individual person's life but also the story of the entire cultural and historical milieu within which s/he lived. However, the focus of a biography can also remain much more personal or psychological as well, especially in the case of artists. 

Blank Verse

Blank verse consists of a poetic form in which the writer maintains a consistent meter (i.e. pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables) but foregoing any rhyme scheme. This is somewhat different from free verse, which does away with both formal rhythm schemes and formal rhyme schemes, relying primarily on the cadences of the spoken word itself. Blank verse is thus a little more traditional than free verse.

Copyediting

When one engages in copyediting, one is trying to make sure that a given piece of text is formatted in such a way that it is appropriate for the purposes for which it has been developed and will be used. This could possibly involve revising the content of the text; but the main focus of copyediting work consists of paying attention to style and formatting to ensure that all components of the paper are in their proper place. 

Elegy

An elegy is a poem that is primarily defined by its tone and thematic content. More specifically, its tone is serious, and its thematic content is dark, usually addressing the subject of death or the dead. More technically, an elegy could be defined by its specific poetic meter. However, this technical meaning is no longer really in use today. An elegy essentially just refers to a sad and serious poem. 

Epic

The epic can be defined in terms of both its style and content. In terms of style, it is usually long, and it has a tone of importance: the epic suggests that there is something of decisive significance being conveyed in its words. Likewise, the content consists of narrating the life and actions of a hero who is important to the culture and nation as a whole. In a way, then, the epic is closely related to mythology.  

Farce

Properly speaking, a farce is a genre of drama—and more specifically, of comedy. The purpose of a farce is to make the audience laugh as a result of the bizarre situations and characters that are portrayed within the drama. In a more metaphorical sense, though, farce can also be used to situations that are supposed to be serious, but which end up farcical as a result of the incompetence of the people involved. 

Flash Fiction

As a genre, it can be somewhat difficult to differentiate flash fiction from the short story. In general, flash fiction is characterized by greater brevity. Moreover, from a broader perspective, it can be suggested that flash fiction has by and large been an Internet phenomenon: the idea would that anyone can write flash fiction, insofar as anyone can write half a page. The extent to which flash fiction should be treated as a full-fledged genre is thus a little unclear. 

Myth

Traditionally, myth has been a genre of literature through which different people groups have formulated their own identities and meanings. In this sense, myth has historically been closely associated with religion. In modern times, the term myth has assumed a negative connotation, due to the scientistic idea that a myth is more or less a delusion. This, however, is an overly simplistic conception that ignores the real psychological power contained in a myth.

Novel

A novel is simply a work of art in which various characters are put together within the context of a given set of situations, with the plot emerging and developing as a result of the interactions between these characters. According to the writer Kundera, the novel is a characteristically modern form of art, due to the fact that it seeks to capture the psychological truths of human existence with moral and/or ideological baggage.  

Parody

The purpose of parody is to call attention to the characteristic themes or modes of expression of a given writer or artist, in an exaggerated way, with the purpose of both making the audience laugh and perhaps implicitly critiquing the works in question. A parody could potentially even alter the audience's perceptions of the original work, insofar as they may be more likely to pay attention to the aspects of the work that were targeted by the parody.

Prose

The very term prose can only be understood by contrasting it against the term verse. Verse is writing that is divided up according to meter and rhyme; prose is simply ordinary writing or speech, as it normally emerges from people who are just trying to communicate something. Prose can be more or less lyrical (i.e. close to poetry), or more or less dull; but the point is that prose is not explicitly structured in the way that verse is.  

Rhyme

Rhyme is one of the basic features of traditional poetry. Typically, it consists of the lining up of two words that have the same vowel sounds but differ in their consonant sounds. For example, this is why "fog" would rhyme with "bog" and "dog". Rhyme has everything to do with sound and nothing to do with meaning. This is part of why it tends to be difficult to translate poetry into a foreign tongue.  

Satire

Satire essentially operates by taking a basic prejudice or logical inconsistency within a culture and society, and then blowing it up to such a scale that even the people of that very culture or society can no longer ignore the moral logic that is at play in their everyday lives. The purpose of satire is thus implicitly to raise consciousness; it is meant to make people aware of things in a new way.  

Sonnet

The sonnet is one of the most famous of traditional poetic forms. It has its origins in Italy, although it became fundamental to English poetry as well with Shakespeare's use of the poetic form. The specific rhyme scheme can depend on the version of the sonnet that one has in mind. The Italian sonnet is organized according to a 4-4-6 line scheme, whereas the English sonnet has a 4-4-4-2 line scheme.  

Tragedy

In its purest form, the tragedy emerged with the ancient Greeks, who wrote plays in which the main heroes came up against the forces of fate and were eventually defeated by those forces, despite all their heroic strengths. In common language, a "tragedy" has come to refer to simply any seriously unfortunate event. However, this ignores the deep philosophical cadence of fatalism that surrounds the original meaning of tragedy.

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