Understanding the Definition of Genre: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 11 min read


  1. What is genre?
  2. History of genre
  3. How genres are defined
  4. Common genres in literature
  5. Common genres in film
  6. Common genres in music
  7. Why genre matters
  8. How to identify genres
  9. Genre vs. subgenre
  10. Genre and audience expectations

Have you ever found yourself watching a movie, reading a book, or listening to a song and wondering, "What type of art is this?" If so, you've been thinking about genre. This blog post will provide a straightforward, easy-to-understand definition of genre. It will guide you through the fascinating history of genre, how genres are defined, common genres in different art forms, and why genre matters. Let's embark on this exciting journey to better understand the meaning and importance of genre in our lives.

What is genre?

At a basic level, genre is a fancy word for a group or category. When it comes to art—be it literature, film, music, or painting—genre is a way to sort these pieces into different categories based on their style, form, or content. Imagine if you walked into a library with no sections—how hard it would be to find a science fiction book amongst cookbooks, autobiographies, and poetry! That's where the definition of genre comes in handy.

The definition of genre is: a category of artistic composition, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter. Here's a simple way to think about genre: it's like a label that tells you what to expect from a piece of art.

  • Form: This refers to the structure or the 'how' of a piece. In a poem, form might be a sonnet or haiku; in music, it could be a symphony or a blues song.
  • Style: This is the unique way the artist expresses themselves. It could be the language used in a novel, the lighting in a film, or the rhythm in a song.
  • Subject matter: This is the 'what'—the topic or theme of the piece. This could be a love story, a space adventure, a historical event, or a personal experience.

So, the next time you pick up a book, watch a movie, or listen to a song, try to identify its genre. You might just find that understanding the definition of genre adds a new layer of enjoyment to your experience.

History of genre

Now that we've got the definition of genre down, let's take a trip back in time to see where it all began. The concept of genre has been around for a really long time — we're talking ancient Greece long time! The Greeks were the first to categorize their literature into three genres: drama, poetry, and prose.

Drama was further divided into two types: tragedy and comedy. Tragedy was serious and dealt with heroic struggles and moral issues, while comedy was lighter and often poked fun at human flaws. Sound familiar? That's because these are still common genres in literature and film today!

Poetry was also a big deal. There were epic poems, which told grand stories of heroes and gods, and lyric poems, which were shorter and more personal. Prose, on the other hand, was everything else that didn't fit into drama or poetry.

Fast forward a few centuries, and the concept of genre had spread to other forms of art, like music and painting. As time went on, more and more genres were added to the mix. Today, there are so many genres and subgenres that it would be impossible to list them all here. But don't worry, we'll cover some of the most common ones later in this post.

So, from ancient Greece to the modern world, genre has been helping us make sense of art for thousands of years. It's a testament to the enduring power and usefulness of genre!

How genres are defined

Let’s get real — the definition of genre isn’t something you typically think about on a daily basis. It's usually something that's just there, like air or gravity. But when you really start to dig into it, you'll find that genre is a lot more complex than it seems at first glance.

So who gets to decide what a genre is? Well, it's not just one person or group. It's actually a collective effort that involves artists, critics, and audiences alike.

Artists play a big role in defining genre. They create works that have certain characteristics, like a particular style, theme, or mood. When enough works share the same characteristics, a new genre might be born. Think about how rock and roll came about in the 1950s — artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley started creating music that was different from what was popular at the time, and boom, a new genre was born!

Critics also play a part in defining genre. They analyze and categorize works of art, helping us understand and appreciate them better. But it's not always easy — sometimes, a work of art can fit into multiple genres, or none at all!

And of course, audiences have a say in the definition of genre too. After all, we're the ones consuming the art. Our preferences, tastes, and interpretations can influence what gets categorized as a certain genre. We might even discover new genres that artists and critics haven't noticed yet.

In the end, the definition of genre is a bit like a potluck dinner — everyone brings something to the table, and together, we create something delicious and diverse. And just like a potluck, there's always room for more!

Common genres in literature

Now that we've covered the basics of the definition of genre, let's dive into some specific examples. We'll begin with literature because, well, who doesn't love a good book?

One genre that you're probably familiar with is fiction. Fiction includes any story that's made up, from Harry Potter's magical adventures to the dystopian world of The Hunger Games. Then there's non-fiction, which covers real-life events and facts. Think of autobiographies like Michelle Obama's Becoming or history books about the Civil War.

Another popular genre in literature is fantasy. This genre is all about magic, mythical creatures, and imaginary worlds. If you've ever dreamed about going to Hogwarts or Middle-earth, you've definitely dipped your toes into fantasy.

Let's not forget about mystery and thriller books. These genres keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering who did it or what's going to happen next. From Agatha Christie's detective stories to Dan Brown's conspiracy theories, these genres are all about suspense and surprise.

Finally, there's romance, a genre that's all about love and relationships. Whether it's a classic love story like Pride and Prejudice or a modern romance like The Fault in Our Stars, this genre tugs at your heartstrings and makes you believe in love.

These are just a few examples of the many genres in literature. Each one has its own unique characteristics and appeals to different types of readers. So, the next time you pick up a book, take a moment to think about its genre. You might find that it adds a whole new layer to your reading experience!

Common genres in film

Just like books, films also have their own set of genres. Ever noticed how some movies make you laugh, some make you cry, and some make you hide behind your popcorn tub? That's the power of genre. Let's look at some common genres in film, shall we?

First up is the Comedy genre. These films are all about making you laugh. From slapstick humor in films like 'Home Alone' to the witty dialogue in 'Mean Girls', comedy films aim to tickle your funny bone.

Then we have Action films. Think high-speed car chases, thrilling fight scenes and daring rescues. Movies like 'Mission Impossible' and 'Fast and Furious' are classic examples of the action genre.

If you're into otherworldly creatures and futuristic technology, you're probably a fan of the Science Fiction genre. Movies like 'Star Wars' and 'The Matrix' are iconic sci-fi films that transport us to other dimensions.

Next up, Drama. These films focus on serious, emotional storylines. They make you think and often tug at your heartstrings. Films like 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'Titanic' are perfect examples.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Horror genre. These films are all about fear. From classic scary movies like 'Psycho' to modern thrillers like 'Get Out', horror films keep you on the edge of your seat.

Each film genre offers a different viewing experience, appealing to different emotions and preferences. So, next time you're browsing through Netflix, consider the genre before you press play. You might just discover a new favorite!

Common genres in music

Alright, let's switch gears and talk about music, shall we? Just like movies and books, music also has a variety of genres. Ever noticed how some songs get you up and dancing, some have you belting out the lyrics, and some just help you chill? That's all thanks to the magic of different music genres. Let's talk about some of them.

We'll start with Pop. This genre is all about catchy tunes and memorable lyrics. Artists like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande are big names in this genre. Pop music is usually upbeat and great for a sing-along.

Next, we have Rock. This genre often features electric guitars and drum solos. Bands like AC/DC and Metallica are famous in the rock world. Rock music can be loud and energetic, perfect for letting off some steam.

Then there's Rap or Hip-Hop. This genre usually has a strong beat and quick, clever lyrics. Artists like Jay-Z and Cardi B are well-known in the rap world. Rap music is great for when you want to hear a story in a song.

Let's not forget about Country. This genre often tells a story set to a slower pace. Artists like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash have made country music what it is today. If you want a song with a good tale or a heartfelt message, country is the way to go.

And of course, there's Jazz. This genre often features improvisation and syncopated rhythms. It's the genre of legends like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Jazz is perfect for when you want to sit back, relax, and just enjoy the music.

So, next time you're scrolling through Spotify, take a moment to consider the genre of the music you're listening to. It can give you a whole new appreciation for the tune!

Why genre matters

Moving on, let's explore why genre is so important. You might be thinking, "Hey, as long as I enjoy what I'm reading, watching, or listening to, who cares about the genre, right?" That's a fair point. But let's dissect this a bit more.

First off, genre helps us organize and classify. Think of it like your school locker or your fridge at home. You wouldn't just throw everything in there without any order, would you? It would become a hot mess in no time. The same goes for books, movies, and music. Genres help to keep everything tidy and makes it easier for us to find what we're looking for.

Secondly, genre sets our expectations. If you pick up a mystery novel, you expect suspense, clues, and a dramatic reveal. If you're watching a comedy film, you're looking forward to laughing out loud. This is the power of genre—it lets us know what we're signing up for.

Lastly, genre encourages creativity. You might wonder, "Isn't that the opposite? Doesn't sticking to a genre limit creativity?" Not really. Imagine you're given a challenge to paint a picture using only three colors. Sounds limiting? Perhaps. But it could also push you to come up with unique ways to mix and utilize those colors. The same happens with genre. It provides a framework, but within that framework, there's a lot of room for imagination and innovation.

So, whether we realize it or not, genre plays a significant role in our entertainment choices. It's not just a label—it's a guide, a challenge, and a promise of what's to come.

How to identify genres

Now that we've covered the importance of genre, you might be wondering, "How do I identify what genre a certain book, movie, or song belongs to?" Well, it's not as complicated as it might seem.

When trying to identify the genre of a book, look at the book cover first. It's like a mini billboard advertising the book's genre. A spaceship or alien probably means it's science fiction. A couple in a loving embrace? That's likely a romance novel. But covers can be deceiving, so don't stop there. Read the blurb or summary at the back. This usually gives a clearer idea of the story's genre.

For movies and TV shows, the promotional trailers and posters can give you a hint about the genre. If there's a lot of high-speed car chases, it's probably an action movie. If there's flying broomsticks and magic spells, that's fantasy. The movie's rating can also be a clue. For example, horror movies are typically rated PG-13 or R.

With music, it can be a bit tricky because songs often blend different genres. But there are still clues. The beat, the instruments used, the lyrics, and even the artist's style can hint at the genre. A song with heavy guitar riffs might be rock, while a song with catchy beats and auto-tuned vocals could be pop.

So, identifying genres involves a bit of detective work. But with a keen eye (or ear) and a bit of practice, you'll soon become a pro at it.

Genre vs. subgenre

Now that we've become detectives in the world of genres, let's dive a little deeper into the pool of understanding. We're going to explore the fun world of subgenres! So, what's the difference between a genre and a subgenre? It's simpler than you might think.

Picture genre as an umbrella. It's a broad category, like mystery, romance, or fantasy. Now, if you get closer, under that umbrella, you find subgenres. Subgenres are like the different patterns or colors on the umbrella. They're unique styles or themes within the larger genre.

For example, in literature, mystery is a genre. But under this genre, there are subgenres like detective mystery, cozy mystery, and police procedural. Each has its unique flavor but still falls under the larger 'mystery' umbrella.

In film, action is a genre. But there are subgenres like martial arts films, superhero films, and war films. All of these have the thrills and excitement that define action movies, but each has a unique twist.

And in music, rock is a genre, and punk rock, alternative rock, and hard rock are subgenres. They all have the hard-hitting, rebellious spirit of rock music, but each has its own unique sound and style.

So, the next time you hear about a 'subgenre,' just remember it's a special flavor within a larger genre. It's like choosing between vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate ice cream—they're all ice cream, but each has its unique taste!

Genre and audience expectations

Now, let's turn our attention to the relationship between genre and audience expectations. You see, genres are a bit like promises. When you pick up a book, watch a movie, or listen to a song, the genre gives you an idea of what to expect. It's like a secret agreement between the creator and the audience.

Imagine you're about to watch a comedy movie. You're probably expecting to laugh, right? That's because the comedy genre has set up an expectation for humor. If the movie turns out to be a tear-jerker instead, you might feel a bit confused or even disappointed. That's because the genre promise wasn't fulfilled.

Or let's say you're listening to a country song. You might expect certain musical elements like acoustic guitars, banjos, or lyrics about love and life. If the song suddenly switches to heavy metal, you'd probably be surprised. Again, that's because the genre set up certain expectations.

But it's not just about surprises or disappointments. Understanding the definition of genre helps creators meet—or play with—audience expectations. A mystery writer might add unexpected comedy to surprise and delight readers. A filmmaker might mix genres to create something new and exciting.

So, when you're exploring different genres, think about what you expect from them. And if you're creating something, consider what your audience might expect based on the genre you choose. It's a fun way to deepen your understanding of genres and enjoy the world of creativity even more!

If you're interested in further exploring the concept of genre and how it can be applied to your creative projects, we recommend checking out the workshop 'Visual Development for Fantasy World-Building' by Kit Buss. This workshop will help you enhance your understanding of genre and its importance in the world-building process, specifically within the realm of fantasy. Don't miss out on this opportunity to expand your knowledge and improve your creative skills!